During the Paris Airshow held in June, General Electric revealed that it was building what has been described as the biggest laser-based metal 3D printer. This 3D printer will be suited for the aerospace sector but it can also be used in other industries such as oil and natural gas, power and automotive.
“The machine will 3D print aviation parts that are one meter in diameter, suitable for making jet engine structural components and parts for single-aisle aircraft. The machine will also be applicable for manufacturers in the automotive, power, and oil and gas industries,” said vice president and GE Additive’s general manager, Mohammad Ehteshami.
Technological demonstrations will be done on a machine known as Atlas, whose development has been taking place for the last two years. At present the biggest 3D printing system that is laser-based is made by Concept Laser, a firm that counts General Electric as a major owner.
This was a strategic move on the part of General Electric since in the 3D printing sector the fastest-growing segment is metal 3D printing. The 3D printer that General Electric intends to build will possess a build volume of one cubic meter and the technology demonstrator is expected to be launched later in the year in Frankfurt, Germany during the Formnext trade show.
Commercial launch of the 3D printer is slated for next year and initial deliveries are expected to be made in late 2018. The speed and resolution of the 3D printer is expected to be equal or higher than that of existing metal 3D printers. It will also be designed for use with various metals including aluminum and titanium.
GE’s metal 3D printer is being made by GE Additive, a business unit which was launched in 2016 after the conglomerate had acquired Concept Laser. At about the same time GE also acquired another metal 3D printing firm based in Europe transforming it from being the largest user of metal 3D printing technologies to being a serious player in metal 3D printing. The acquisitions saw GE garner a market share of about 20%.
Currently, revenues at GE Additive amount to approximately $300 million but the conglomerate expects this figure to rise to $1 billion in the next three years. GE Additive is also expected to save the entire parent company product costs amounting to between $3 billion and $5 billion in the next decade. To put it in context two of the biggest 3D printing firms that are publicly traded, Stratasys and 3D Systems, generated revenues of $672.5 million and $633 million in 2016 respectively.