GE’s Immelt Hops Onto 3D Printing Craze

Chief Executive Officer of General Electric (NYSE:GE) Jeffrey Immelt has apparently gotten swept up in the 3D printing craze, saying he believes the technology would be useful in the production of GE engines in the future.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, uses a digital model to build an object from multiple materials. The process is different from traditional manufacturing methods, also called subtractive manufacturing, which remove material through drilling and cutting. In 3D printing, an object is created by the machine laying down layers of different material.

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The technology has grown leaps and bounds in the last year. At the Euromold convention in November, companies released new ideas for the technology, ideas which have grown in both physical size and revenue. At Euromold, Stratasys Ltd. (NASDAQ:SSYS) unveiled its Objet 1000, a printer so large it requires a palette jack to unload. Bigger is better in 3D printing, with the bigger printers being capable of holding more additive materials and building bigger products. Instead of just making a bike helmet, or bike parts that have to be put together, the Objet 1000 can make an entire bicycle.

While the technology is still very new, Immelt hopes that it could eventually be used to build something as complex as a jet engine. Immelt said the 3D printing technology would be ideal for making some of a jet engine’s biggest parts while cutting back on waste.

“We make a turbine blade that is made of some of the most expensive high-heat material in the world,” Immelt said. “We put that blade through the fabrication process and the excess material is essentially waste.” Immelt is hoping that the process, which essentially eliminates waste, could be put to use to make engine parts in a more cost-effective way. The technology also has the capability to cut the time spent designing and building an engine in half.

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Immelt is confident enough in the technology that he’s vowed to put GE’s weight behind acquiring it. “We’re a company that wants to own our supply chain,” he said. “This is going to be a great place to put capital.”

The 3D printing industry is estimated to be a $3.1 billion enterprise by 2016.

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