Over the last six years, General Electric spent $1.5 billion in 3-D printing technology and on Tuesday the company announced that it would be investing nearly the same sum to purchase German manufacturer SLM Solutions Group and the Swedish firm Arcam.
Both companies specialize in "additive manufacturing," the industrial form of 3-D printing. The techniques developed by the company are already in use on a smaller scale, but GE plans on cultivating them until they are capable of creating — one ultrathin layer at a time — critical components of jet engines.
Whereas conventional manufacturing techniques would require using heavier materials and involve a labor-intensive and wasteful welding process, if the same parts were produced via additive manufacturing, lighter materials could be used and, thanks to the accuracy of the printers, very little waste would result.
Or as GE's Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt put it, "Additive manufacturing is a key part of GE’s evolution into a digital industrial company. We are creating a more productive world with our innovative world-class machines, materials and software. We are poised to not only benefit from this movement as a customer, but spearhead it as a leading supplier."
Both companies would remain independent, but function under the aegis of David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation, who noted that the most significant advantage of additive manufacturing is that it frees designers of "traditional manufacturing restrictions," thereby "dramatically expand[ing] the design possibilities for engineers.