In October 2019, GE Additive and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) signed a five-year R&D agreement to jointly accelerate the industrialization of additive manufacturing. The partnership, which builds upon ORNL’s preceding work with Arcam (acquired by GE in 2016), seeks to establish reliability and consistency in the metal AM process to ensure that critical applications—such as those in aerospace—can be carried out.
Recently, GE revealed how the partnership is being supported—and literally sped up—by ORNL’s scientific supercomputer, Summit. With the ability to perform 200 quadrillion calculations per second, Summit is considered the most powerful scientific supercomputer on the planet.
ORNL and GE Additive are leveraging the computer’s power to rapidly analyze information gathered from metal additive manufacturing systems. That is, GE Additive has equipped a series of Arcam EBM 3D printers—in use at various GE facilities like Avio Aero in Italy—with sensors that have been collecting data from every part built.
The data from each print, which can amount to a full terabyte, would take a long time to process and analyze using traditional computers, which would slow the industrialization process down significantly. By using Summit, however, the partners are moving forward steadily.
“That kind of computing power unlocks some exciting potential. We can analyze the data much, much faster,” said Brian Thompson, GE Additive’s manager of design and development. “That data will be plugged into sophisticated computer models to help researchers understand how the many variables interact, and fine-tune the process. Those findings in turn can be integrated into AI-driven software that can make adjustments to the equipment during a build, in real time.”
Ultimately, the goal is to ensure the reliability and consistency of the metal AM process, a critical factor in promoting the adoption of 3D printing across various industries. As Thompson added: “The holy grail is being able to just push a button and have the product come out.”
There is still much work to be done, but GE Additive and ORNL are confident that their continued work will contribute positively to the industrialization of metal additive technologies. “This industry is still in its infancy,” said Christine Furstoss, Vice President of Advanced Manufacturing at GE Additive. “We don’t have 50 or 60 years of processing knowledge and people studying it, like traditional manufacturing. That’s why relationships like this are so important.”