Industry Leaders at GE’s 3D Printing Summit Discuss Printing the Future, One Layer at a Time

GE’S NYC Summit plays host to big names (and bigger ideas) looking to prepare for the new normal presented by additive manufacturing.

(Image courtesy of GE.)

(Image courtesy of GE.)

A number of manufacturing industry leaders recently gathered in New York City’s West Village for a first: an Industry in 3D summit, hosted by GE. The company is a strong voice in favor of not only taking advantage of the benefits of additive manufacturing, but also making it into the new standard. The technology’s potential has already been seen in industries including biomedical, industrial and large-scale architectural applications, markedly altering supply chain processes as well as what’s feasible in the design process. This trend seems poised to accelerate. A study by research firm A.T. Kearney predicts spending on additive manufacturing to triple to at least 26 billion by 2021.

Many prominent names made their presence known at the summit, including Boeing, for whom printing parts has become a major part of its production line. It printed over 60,000 parts in 2017 for aviation purposes and the International Space Station. It is far from alone. BMW Group brought additive manufacturing on board to the tune of 140,000 components annually, according to Dominik Rietzel, head of non-metal additive manufacturing. It uses 3D printing to bring to life both old and new designs, printing parts for a 1950’s BMW 507 as well as next-year’s models of the Rolls Royce Phantom and BMW i8 Roadster.

Jason Oliver, head of GE’s Aviation division, spoke to a standing-room only crowd on how a principal reason for additive’s popularity is the ease with which it allows manufacturers to obtain custom parts to their specifications. He discussed how the ability to print parts helped them dig themselves of what he called “an impossible task” while designing a new, super efficient jet fuel nozzle. When suppliers were unable to make a crucial part, it was Cincinnati-based 3D-printing pioneer Greg Morris who ended up being able to meet the demand.

The word revolutionary is frequently tossed around, but both Oliver and GE CEO John Flannery described the effects 3D printing has on the supply chain as “transformative.” Even while marveling at its benefits, former GE Aviation head Mohammad Ehteshami acknowledged apprehension at what it could mean for traditional supply chains. According to him, this technology could eliminate what GE has done for years and put pressure on its financial model. Oliver noted that an 855 part design used to result in potentially a combined 60,000 miles of travel. Now, custom parts are accessible with a jog across the parking lot.

Due to the seismic nature of this shift, a large emphasis for GE at the summit was getting ahead of the curve, adapting to suit the new world approaching and preparing the next generation of engineers for a whole new way of thinking about design.

“We’re very bullish on Additive,” Flannery said.

To carry out this goal, GE Aviation opened an Additive Technology Center equipped with 90 3D printers and actively participates in educational outreach by donating printers to institutions such as Auburn University. Instead of dwelling on manufacturing limitations, Oliver summed up the goal as getting the new wave of workers and employees to “free their imaginations” in pursuing new, daring possibilities for additive design.