How will additive manufacturing change the world? We’re yet to imagine all the places this innovative technology can go and the multiple improvements and efficiencies it will unlock through advanced manufacturing. That’s why GE Additive’s chief technology officer Dr Christine Furstoss describes it as “an industrial revelation”, though additive is also undoubtedly a key component of the fourth Industrial Revolution.
Breakthroughs afforded by additive manufacturing – the industrial version of 3D printing – are being discovered all the time through new materials, innovative designs and the ability to experiment with designs and processes at a fraction of the cost.
“With additive manufacturing, you build with materials, layer upon layer,” said Furstoss, “With subtractive manufacturing, you start with the material – an ingot, a block or any kind of shape – and use drilling, machining and cutting technology to form your shape. Additive flips on its side the way you think about designing, about servicing, the opportunities you can see in repair and adding features. We’re talking about new mentalities.”
GE Additive became its own business two years ago, said Furstoss, adding that for decades GE has been investing in researching and developing its additive manufacturing capabilities, resulting in a range of compelling proof points. In GE Healthcare, additive has seen collimators for X-ray and CT machines being made with 83% fewer parts, and a 30% cost saving. The parts for the radiator cab in a GE locomotive were reduced from 2000 to one, shrinking the space needed and making room for installation of hybrid kit which brings a 23% cost in fuel savings, and reduced emissions. And GE Aviation’s Advanced Turboprop is being made with 35% of its parts made by additive manufacturing, reducing 855 parts to 12, shaving 20% off the costs and halving the time taken to test.
Furstoss looks to the oil and gas industry to describe a future possibility for additive manufacturing. Remote offshore oil rigs or liquefied natural gas plants are too tight on space to hold much inventory and bringing parts in is costly, cumbersome and often punishingly slow. “What if you were able to print parts, or send new information to modify a part to improve it, and all that had to be stored on the rig was a printer and powders? That really opens up new possibilities.”
GE Additive and the University of Sydney signed an agreement to collaborate on establishing Sydney as a global leader in metal additive manufacturing. Furstoss and GE Additive’s chief commercial officer Debbra Rogers were in town for the signing and a host of meetings with government, researchers and developers. Christmas party season was in full swing, so the high attendance at events around the MoU underscored the excitement about the potential of the research collaboration.
“This is the key … the University of Sydney linking with an organisation like GE,” said Niall Blair, whose ministerial portfolios for the NSW government include Trade and Industry. “Linking with industry means there’s a better chance of it being implemented and commercialised. It’s not just [GE’s] commercial expertise and what they’ve learned … when we work out the R&D and get some of the new opportunities discovered, we have that commercial partner… For a government point of view it’s particularly exciting: this is where we get back in the game, particularly in the manufacturing space here in Australia.”
During the 10-year MoU, GE Additive will invest up to $US1 million annually to support research and development projects at the university to accelerate the adoption of metal additive manufacturing in Australia. The mission is to create a full ecosystem, including education and skills development to build a talent pipeline to realise the R&D work. The MoU also reinforces the University of Sydney’s commitment to establish a new 1,000sqm Additive Manufacturing and Advanced Materials Processing research facility.
“This addition to the University’s core research facilities will allow our researchers and research partners to conduct trail-blazing fundamental research, and will directly benefit Australian industry, particularly our aerospace, transport, biomedical and defence sectors,” said Professor Simon Ringer, Director of Core Research Facilities at the University of Sydney.
“GE has great technology and some of the best engineering, scientific and commercial minds in the world … with the exceptional facilities and the people capabilities at the University of Sydney, it’s a great meeting of minds,” said Sam Maresh, country leader for GE Australia, at the MoU signing. He said the new manufacturing ecosystem will deliver to students, industry and researchers. “It will help prepare students for the jobs of the future; it will help local manufacturers create newer, better products, and it will it see researchers develop better materials for additive: stronger, lighter, safer, more sustainable, cleaner.”
“The natural metals here in Australia are a strong advantage, especially combined with the highly educated population,” added GE Additive’s CCO Debbra Rogers. “Australia is such a metal-rich country, and with the University of Sydney we’re really going to dive in on metal characterisation: how it mixes with the machines, how to optimise it better, and how to take those discoveries into industries that additive hasn’t penetrated yet.”
“Additive manufacturing is a casting foundry in a box,” said Furstoss, who’s also a metallurgist. “Everything that you can do in casting, you can do in additive, but so much more. But this is a disruptive technology that requires an ecosystem to drive it: we need to collaborate to take it forward.” Or, as the GE Additive motto goes: Let’s build anything together.