General Electric Co. (Boston) intends to sell 10,000 3D printing machines in 10 years, building upon acquisitions it announced last year.
“It’s a big number,” Tim Warden, senior sales director of GE Additive, told a tour of people attending SME’s AeroDef Manufacturing show. “That’s why they’re investing heavily,” he said, referring to GE.
GE last year announced the acquisitions of Concept Laser (Lichtenfels, Germany) and Arcam AB (Mölndal, Sweden). The tour took place at Concept’s Grapevine, TX, facility, near the AeroDef show in Fort Worth.
GE controls Concept after agreeing in October to buy an initial 75% stake in the German company, with plans to acquire the rest over an undisclosed number of years. The Boston company turned to Concept Laser after a previously announced deal with SLM Solutions fell through.
The race to produce small-series parts on demand, on location, will determine the shape of a $400 billion market.
Roughly half the use of 3D printing is now for prototyping, but experts think that, by 2020, 80 percent of the global production capacity of 3D printers will be dedicated to the manufacture of finished products. GE, for example, expects to make 40,000 jet-fuel nozzles by 2020.
3D printing of finished products is likely to totally transform the value chain, especially for small series production of complex parts. Spare parts—for planes, trains, elevators, cars—is a big and lucrative business, both for manufacturers and logistics companies that move the right part to the right place at the right time. But, as 3D printing is getting faster and cheaper, both the manufacturing and logistics sides of the market are beginning to go digital.
It seems that 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, may be crossing a threshold from a period of hype and experimentation into one of rapid deployment and maturation. The technology has long been touted as a potentially revolutionary development for manufacturers. That optimism quickly gave way to a chorus of skeptics and falling stock prices.
But 3D-printed parts and products are quickly making their way into end products — from a printed car to athletic shoes to a working NASA rocket engine. 3D printers are helping small companies prototype and manufacture at low costs with increasing quality while industrial 3D printers, once almost exclusively used for prototyping, are being rolled out on production lines. Filaments are getting stronger, resolutions higher, and a wider variety of materials can be printed with additive manufacturing, including metals.
So has 3D printing delivered on its promise of a manufacturing revolution?