Tomorrow is the last day of the year and perhaps a good moment to peer into the future. At GE, this does not require tea leaves. Some of the technologies that will help shape the world already exist in the company’s research labs.
Take a look at manufacturing. Sometimes, the disruptive innovation is not what is being made but how. For more than a century, people made complex goods such as engine parts, turbine blades, and precise sprocket wheels by machining and taking away material to obtain the finished product. However, a new approach called additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, eliminates most of that laborious process.
According David Abbott, who is a senior engineer in non-conventional machining at GE Aviation, “additive manufacturing is being developed on a global scale at GE.” Abbott, who was also a speaker this year at the International Conference on Additive Manufacturing in Loughborough, England, said that the GE businesses pursuing applications of the new method include the company’s aviation, energy, oil and gas, and healthcare units.
This makes good business sense. Yesterday, the Financial Times newspaper published a profile of new manufacturing technologies. The article, which featured Abbott, stated that 3D printing promises to resolve the problem “how to make complicated and novel items accurately in small quantities. The struggle has been to accommodate the opposing aims of speed and efficiency on one hand, and flexibility and variety on the other.” With additive manufacturing, “customer choice over how the artifacts look will increase, with only minimal compromise concerning quality and cost.”
In 2011, GE Reports took a trip to GE’s Global Research Center, a hub for additive manufacturing research. We have gathered videos and images of some of the products being made there. They range from transducers for ultrasound scanners, to fuel nozzles and even Christmas tree ornaments. Together they show the vast scope of 3D printing applications. Take a look: