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OM in the News: Industrial Firms Embrace 3-D

November 23, 2016
GE's Additive Development Center in Cincinnati

GE’s Additive Development Center in Cincinnati

A typical reaction a few years ago—when a wave of hype about 3-D printing’s promise had yielded little but a niche market of prototypes, toys and novelty items mostly for consumers– is no longer the case in industrial manufacturing. “The application of the technology to industrial parts has shifted 3-D printing from the theoretical into the practical in high-tech fields like aerospace,” writes The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 12-13, 2016).

General Electric recently agreed to buy two European 3-D printing-machine manufacturers, Sweden’s Arcam and Germany’s SLM Solutions Group, for more than $1 billion. GE sees 3-D printing with metal alloys, which it calls “additive manufacturing,” as an important part of its future, especially for its $25 billion jet-engine business.

The interior of the GE engine’s fuel nozzle is being made entirely through printing, and the company built a $50 million 3-D printing factory in Auburn, Ala., to make the parts in bulk for the new engines. GE has 28 of the machines in use at the Auburn facility and plans to have more than 50. It will produce 6,000 fuel nozzle injectors at the facility this year, and double output next year. GE says it can make a set of 9 of the fuel nozzle interiors in 5 days, rather than the weeks it takes using conventional techniques.

GE says 35% of the company’s new advanced turboprop engine will be made using 3-D printing, a technique that has allowed the company to eliminate more than 800 parts from the engine, cutting 5% of the engine’s weight. Printing metal parts makes it easier to build complex structures inside the walls of a part and eliminates multiple stages of casting and welding.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. What is additive manufacturing?
  2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of industrial 3-D printing?
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