GE Additive is a leading AM hardware and materials manufacturer, with the added benefit that GE is also a major AM adopter across its aviation, medical and power divisions. During MTC3 we caught up with GE Additive’s General Manager of Engineering, Chris Schuppe, to learn about the latest achievements and the challenges that still need to be overcome, through the support of partners in the global AM landscape.
3dpbm: How do you work together with Oerlikon, even though you are competitors in some areas?
Chris Schuppe: “We are looking for areas where we can collaborate that are non-competitive. In fact, we have a formal collaboration in place focusing on material properties. In general, there is a lot of work that we can do together and there are other areas where we compete and that’s ok. A great thing about Oerlikon is that they recognized that there has to be little of both. That’s one of the reasons we have been partners of the MTC from the beginning.”
3dpbm: What are some of the toughest challenges you have faced at GE Additive over the past three years?
CS: “When we acquired Concept Laser and Arcam we knew we were buying two small companies, at least compared to GE. Concept Laser was a small family-run company with a very different culture, both in terms of German vs US but as a small-town family-run business vs a major multinational corporation. We have focused on how to combine both sides, taking the best parts of a startup-type business with the scalability of a global presence and the resources of our GE Global Research Center, where we’ve been doing research on additive printing for over 30 years.
3dpbm: How does that translate in practical terms?
CS: “Take for example the M LINE. This system was developed before GE Additive acquired Concept Laser. When we started looking at it from the eyes of our power and aviation businesses, we received a lot of feedback that the original design was not yet ready. So, we’ve gone back and redesigned the machine and we are now working through the initial release of that system, taking it into production. Although it looks the same externally, it is an entirely different system from 3 years ago”.
3dpbm: In a sense, now GE Additive is a “small business” within GE. How big can it get?
CS: “GE would not have gotten into this space without the thought that it could grow significantly. One great benefit is that we can help the rest of GE grow with our applications, so we have our internal user base. Working with companies like Oerlikon, we are looking at how we can broaden that beyond our GE-centric view of the world.”
3dpbm: For example, by moving into new business segments…
CS: “Yes. In fact, another area that we’ve been busy with is binder jet technology. We realized that GE was not the ideal user for binder jet so we started working with different companies – such as Cummins and Wabtec – which operate in the transportation segment and thus have a very different perspective on costs and volumes. We will be working toward more and more partners in this space.
3dpbm: Which key benefits can AM bring to these companies in terms of part production?
CS: “In order to adopt AM, they need to look at system level architecture, not just part replacement. Automotive companies are fantastic system integrators: additive is forcing them to look at this integration on a different level. They now need to look at the entire system and start to design at a system level. This integrating functionality is making an even better case for binder jet so that, when you scale production, it results in a big win in terms of both performance and cost”.
3dpbm: Is this true for your aviation business as well? And where does the fuel nozzle application case stand?
CS: “Yes. The aerospace panel during MTC highlighted how the discussion on AM needs to evolve from part level into system level integration. The fuel nozzle was a particular case where we focused on a specific part in order to optimize emissions and we realized that we could not produce an optimized part without resorting to AM. Now that we understand AM’s capabilities much more in-depth, we can move into understanding how AM applies to the entire system.”
3dpbm: Where do you currently see the primary opportunities for AM in production?
CS: “In the short term definitely aerospace and medical. You can read almost every day an article about medical applications and the percentage of human beings that have 3D printed parts in them is growing exponentially. Automotive will be next but the key there is in getting the repeatability and productivity of the binder jetting process up to par. Combining customization with high volumes is going to be the main driver for AM in the automotive segment.
3dpbm: Will all high volume production center on binder jetting or is PBF also going to scale up?
CS: “I do think that laser PBF technology is going to continue to evolve towards higher productivity and that it is far from leveling out. The casting process is 3000 years old and metal PBF is less than 20 years old. We’ve come such a long way in this time period and we still have a long way to go.”
3dpbm: Is AM evolving so rapidly because it is a digital process?
CS: “When I came to GE as an engineer in 2006, we had a part on an engine model that was late, so we went to Morris Technology (which was later acquired by GE). They printed the part and I was amazed that they could go from a CAD model to a part in just 3-4 days, where it would have taken months otherwise. In a way, AM is the point where physical meets digital. While it is true that companies like GE, Oerlikon and Siemens entering this space is paramount in helping the industry scale, the ability to test from a part perspective is also very powerful. In some cases, I can print a part and test it before I can do a supercomputer analysis, which is stimulating some very interesting competition. If we can transfer these capabilities into production, there are no limits to what we can achieve.”