The Explosion of 3D Printing at GE

DECEMBER 11, 2013

GE produces one of the world's most powerful engines

GE, on the hunt for ways to build more than 85,000 fuel nozzles for its new Leap jet engines, is making a big investment in 3D printing, reports BusinessWeek (Dec. 2-8, 2013). Usually the nozzles are assembled from 20 different parts. Also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing can create the units in one metal piece, through a successive layering of materials. The process, discussed in Chapter 5,  is more efficient and can be used to create designs that can’t be made using traditional techniques. The finished product is stronger and lighter than those made on the assembly line and can withstand the extreme temperatures (up to 2,400F) inside an engine. There’s just one problem: today’s industrial 3D printers don’t have enough capacity to handle GE’s production needs.

“With today’s technology, it would take too many machines,” as many as 60 to 70, to efficiently make the nozzles, says GE. As part of a $3.5 billion investment in its aerospace supply chain, GE will spend tens of millions of dollars to invest in new technology and, over the next five years, triple the size of its 70-person 3D-printing staff and expand its factory floor fourfold.

The company’s embrace of 3D printing throws the weight of the world’s largest jet-engine maker behind the technology. Today, Boeing uses the process to make plastic air-conditioning ducts for its 787 jet, and Nike has a football cleat made on 3D printers. But “GE’s investment changes everything, and it’s also unprecedented,” says an industry expert. Expanding 3D printing will give GE clout with manufacturers, an opportunity to guide the growth of the industry. “There doesn’t exist a supply chain out there right now for this kind of work,” a GE VP says. “GE has to be involved in developing it.”

This post provided courtesy of Jay and Barry’s OM Blog at www.heizerrenderom.wordpress.comProfessors Jay Heizer and Barry Render are authors of Operations Management , the world’s top selling textbook in its field, published by Pearson.

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