In recent years, additive manufacturing has lowered barriers to entry for small manufacturers interested in low-volume, customized production, but even some large manufacturers have thrown their hats into the ring. Now, one company that already utilizes the technology, General Electric (GE), wants to make it a bigger part of their manufacturing operation.
One of the aims for GE is to find enough uses for 3D printing for it to be utilized in more than half of their own manufacturing processes within the next 20 years. Currently, less than ten percent of the manufacturing conducted at GE involves 3D printing, from making medical devices to jet engine parts, and even components for washing machines. But as the technology becomes even more beneficial, the desire to do more with it increases. So how does GE plan to boost additive manufacturing's role even further?
"I'm not saying that 25 percent of all parts will be 3D printed, but that 3D printing will touch it in some way," said Christine Furstoss, GE's technical director of manufacturing and materials technologies. "Maybe it's the tool that we are using or the early prototypes we make. We are committed to driving it in as many areas as we can."
While GE wants to make 3D printing a much greater part of their manufacturing process, they still plan on using traditional manufacturing technologies to handle high-volume production.
"We don't have to invest the time and money into making a permanent tool, but we can 3D-print one and be able to see if it really has the type of benefits we dream of," Furstoss said.
While some may question whether or not GE will start to manufacture their own 3D printers, the big 3D printing companies don’t have anything to fear on that front just yet.
"We have a lot on our plates to keep us busy," GE's Furstoss said. "We will always work with our strategic partners to do what's right for our collective companies. But at this point, we are focused on working on growth within GE."