Here's How Serious General Electric Company Is About 3-D Printing

Appreciating that GE’s investment in 3-D printing is truly unprecedented.

Jun 29, 2014 at 11:01AM

For competitive reasons, General Electric (NYSE:GE) won't reveal the exact dollar amount it'll be investing in 3-D printing in the coming years, but investors can piece together a series of data points and determine that GE's investment in the technology is truly unprecedented. After all, General Electric has plans to 3-D metal print 45,000 fuel nozzles a year for its upcoming Leap jet engine and has more than 130,000 3-D printed fuel nozzles in its order backlog today. No other company's 3-D printing commitment even comes close to this.  

Part of an even bigger plan
In an effort to keep up with booming aviation demand, GE Aviation has pledged to invest more than $3.5 billion between 2013 and 2017 toward manufacturing plants and equipment worldwide, of which the majority will be spent here in the U.S. General Electric's 3-D printing investment falls within this greater investment plan, which Bloomberg believes will reach the "tens of millions" range.

To get a better sense of GE's scale, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Steve Rengers, R&D manager at GE Aviation's Additive Development Center, or ADC, who helps oversee GE's 3-D printing research and development. According to Rengers, the ADC and GE's Lean Lab are the two facilities that handle General Electric's 3-D printing operations, and each house about 50,000 square feet of floor space. In the next 18 months, General Electric has plans to triple that floor space, and over the next three years, the company will fill it out with new 3-D printing equipment.

As far as how many 3-D printers this equates to would be anyone's guess. Rengers explained that in order to meet its annual production target of 45,000 fuel nozzles a year, General Electric would have to purchase more than 100 machines based on today's direct metal 3-D printing technology -- not a very practical or cost-effective approach when each printer can easily cost upwards of $500,000.

However, in the coming years, it's expected that a host of 3-D printing companies will introduce direct metal 3-D printers with significantly larger build volume and throughput to handle the needs to large-scale manufacturers like GE. This would allow GE to consolidate the number of machines it needs to meet its 45,000 fuel nozzles a year production target and likely save on costs at the same time. In other words, it's a pretty safe bet that General Electric is waiting to significantly ramp its 3-D printing capacity until these next-generation machines hit the market.

A sizable investment
Although General Electric has yet to release any fuel efficiency data related to its 3-D printed fuel nozzles, it's clear that the performance gains over a conventionally manufactured fuel nozzle are significant enough for the company to move forward with expansion plans that'll triple its 3-D printing capacity. Coupled with more than 130,000 3-D printed fuel nozzles already in General Electric's order backlog, it's likely going to take a rather sizable 3-D printing investment from the manufacturing giant in the years ahead.

Warren Buffett: This new technology is a "real threat"
At the recent Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Warren Buffett said this emerging technology is threatening his biggest cash cow. While Buffett shakes in his billionaire boots, only a few investors are embracing this new market, which experts say will be worth over $2 trillion. Find out how you can cash in on this technology before the crowd catches on, by jumping on to one company that could get you the biggest piece of the action. Click here to access a free investor alert on the company we're calling the brains behind the technology.

Steve Heller has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Berkshire Hathaway and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and General Electric. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

4 in 5 Americans Are Ignoring Buffett's Warning

Don't be one of them.

Jun 12, 2015 at 5:01PM

Admitting fear is difficult.

So you can imagine how shocked I was to find out Warren Buffett recently told a select number of investors about the cutting-edge technology that's keeping him awake at night.

This past May, The Motley Fool sent 8 of its best stock analysts to Omaha, Nebraska to attend the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting. CEO Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger fielded questions for nearly 6 hours.
The catch was: Attendees weren't allowed to record any of it. No audio. No video. 

Our team of analysts wrote down every single word Buffett and Munger uttered. Over 16,000 words. But only two words stood out to me as I read the detailed transcript of the event: "Real threat."

That's how Buffett responded when asked about this emerging market that is already expected to be worth more than $2 trillion in the U.S. alone. Google has already put some of its best engineers behind the technology powering this trend. 

The amazing thing is, while Buffett may be nervous, the rest of us can invest in this new industry BEFORE the old money realizes what hit them.

KPMG advises we're "on the cusp of revolutionary change" coming much "sooner than you think."

Even one legendary MIT professor had to recant his position that the technology was "beyond the capability of computer science." (He recently confessed to The Wall Street Journal that he's now a believer and amazed "how quickly this technology caught on.")

Yet according to one J.D. Power and Associates survey, only 1 in 5 Americans are even interested in this technology, much less ready to invest in it. Needless to say, you haven't missed your window of opportunity. 

Think about how many amazing technologies you've watched soar to new heights while you kick yourself thinking, "I knew about that technology before everyone was talking about it, but I just sat on my hands." 

Don't let that happen again. This time, it should be your family telling you, "I can't believe you knew about and invested in that technology so early on."

That's why I hope you take just a few minutes to access the exclusive research our team of analysts has put together on this industry and the one stock positioned to capitalize on this major shift.

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David Hanson owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and American Express. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, Google, and Coca-Cola.We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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