Originally published on Wouter Van Wersch’s LinkedIn. Wouter is the President and CEO of GE Asia Pacific.
At first glance, it’s hard to see a connection between jet engine parts, an innovative housing project in the Netherlands, prosthetic limbs, and futuristic sneakers sought-after by teens around the world.
The common factor linking these is Additive Manufacturing (AM) – AM solutions were integral in their respective designs, and production, and AM tech is predicted to be one the key drivers of the fourth industrial revolution.
Although AM solutions, including 3D printing, have evolved steadily over the past 25-30 years, significant advances in recent years thrust them into the limelight, capturing the imagination of government and business leaders. Fear of missing out led many companies to jump on the AM bandwagon – the ability to create highly customized products and parts, reduce production costs and time, and manufacture closer to customers was compelling. In many cases however, the initial enthusiasm wasn’t supported by a solid business case, and quite a few projects stalled.
Optimizing AM investment, and potential remains an issue for a lot of companies, and GE Additive was founded in 2016 to help current and new customers better understand the business case behind AM. Often this involves taking a fresh look at product design – from components to systems level – to create plans designed to improve products, manufacturing operations, and potentially open-up entirely new business models. GE Additive draws on our AM pedigree – established largely in GE Aviation – to offer solutions covering additive machines from Concept Laser and Arcam EBM, additive materials, and additive engineering services through our AddWorks consultancy.
The AM opportunity across all industries is immense, according to a study from A.T. Kearney, 3D printing is used to create less than one percent of the world’s manufactured parts. A.T. Kearney projects however, that 3D printing will triple its market value from $8.8 billion to more than $26 billion by 2021. And research collated by research agency, SmartTech shows that an estimated $13.3 billion has been spent on 3D printers, print materials, software, and services over the past four years. Investment in these solutions alone,is projected to grow to more than $280 billion in the next 10 years.
While GE can support the ambitions of a wide range of customers, some markets and customers are more AM-ready than others. In APAC, our initial focus will be on the markets where major design, and manufacturing decisions are made. For example, we are currently in close discussion with established manufacturers to identify new opportunities to integrate AM solutions into their design, and manufacturing processes.
Given GE’s reputation as an AM leader in aviation, aerospace will remain a key focus sector. It’s a “long-game” industry however, because new designs/tech can take years to implement due to comprehensive trial, and regulatory processes (this also applies to medical implants). We believe there are also very good prospects in energy, healthcare, and diverse industries such as dental that could adopt AM innovations more quickly.
Although it’s early days for GE Additive in APAC, our Arcam Electron Beam Melting technology was spotlighted in a recent video covering a project by Air New Zealand and NZ company, Zenith Tecnica to develop 3D printed metal parts for aircraft and tools.
Inculcating basic design thinking, data analytics and coding among students around the world is another important focus and we support this through the GE Additive Education Program.
Now in its second year, the 2018 program attracted submissions from more than 3,000 schools – from these, 600 schools from 30 countries, were selected to participate including 103 from Australia, the largest such educational roll-out of the game-changing technology.
I was fortunate to visit one of the selected schools – the North Sydney Demonstration School – during a recent business trip to Australia and I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the kids and by how quickly they understood the potential on this new technology. You can read more about the program here, or watch this video to see how the program has inspired the students to stretch their imaginations, and expand their creative boundaries.
The two videos, in their own way, nicely showcase how AM has the potential to significantly enhance design quality, cost and time savings, and mass customization. The clip also reinforces GE’s commitment to supporting our customers, and communities, through continuous innovation, and sharing of ideas, expertise, and experience developed globally over 130 years.