GE Additive Developing World’s Largest Laser-Powder Machine
Ian Wright posted on June 22, 2017 |
ATLAS production version to have build volume of 1,000mm x 1,000mm x 1,000mm.
(Image courtesy of GE.)
(Image courtesy of GE.)
Despite recent advancements, additive manufacturing (AM) has yet to displace subtractive processes like CNC machining. Speed is one major reason for this. Although 3D printing may save time by consolidating multiple components in a single part, it’s slow going compared to something like 5-axis milling.

Of course, there are ways around this limitation.

HP’s Multi Jet Fusion technology offers an order of magnitude increase in production speed over conventional selective laser sintering (SLS) for nylon parts. On the metals side, Desktop Metal’s recently unveiled Bound Metal Deposition (BMD) technology is reportedly 100 times faster than powder bed fusion (PBF).

Unfortunately, game-changing technologies offering productivity gains like these tend to be few and far between. However, upgrading your 3D printing tech isn’t the only way to get a speed boost.

Manufacturers can also go big.

Really big.

That’s the approach GE Additive is taking with the ATLAS: a “meter-class” laser/powder machine. Designed for the aerospace industry, the machine (which GE Additive says will be the world’s largest) will have a build envelope of 1,000mm x 1,000mm x 1,000mm.

"The machine will 3D print aviation parts that are one meter in diameter, suitable for making jet engine structural components and parts for single-aisle aircraft," said Mohammad Ehteshami, VP and general manager of GE Additive at this year’s Paris Air Show. "The machine will also be applicable for manufacturers in the automotive, power and oil & gas industries."

The mention of the automotive industry is particularly intriguing in this context.

(image courtesy of GE.)
(image courtesy of GE.)

The aerospace, power and oil & gas industries all deal in high-mix, low-volume manufacturing, a perfect fit for AM. In jet engines, for example, even a one percent reduction in weight can make an enormous difference to fuel efficiency—if AM can provide that, then its well worth the upfront costs.

In contrast, although the automotive industry has become increasingly concerned with lightweighting, it’s still a high-volume business. 3D printing could certainly reduce the weight of many automotive components, but these gains are outweighed (pardon the pun) by the longer production time that’s typical of additive manufacturing.

Again, speed is the limiting factor for 3D printing, with size as the way around it. We’ve already seen this approach taken by Local Motors, which purchased two Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) systems from Cincinnati Incorporated last year. The key difference is that the BAAM systems don’t work with metal.

GE Additive has stated that the ATLAS will have resolution and build-rate speeds that are “equal or better [than] today’s additive machines.” The company has also stated that it will work with multiple materials, including non-reactive and reactive metals, like aluminum and titanium.

(Image courtesy of GE.)
(Image courtesy of GE.)
ATLAS builds upon GE technology, combined with Concept Laser's expertise in laser additive machines. Concept Laser currently has the largest laser-powder bed additive machine on the market, with a build envelope of 800mm x 400mm x 500mm.

"We have customers collaborating with us and they will receive beta versions of the machine by year's end," Ehteshami said. "The production version (yet to be named) will be available for purchase next year."

GE is targeting first deliveries of the machine in late 2018.

For more metal AM news, check out our video on The Increasing Diversity of Metal Powders for Additive Manufacturing.

Recommended For You