The 1 Thing 3-D Printing Needs in Order to Cross the Chasm

According to General Electric, there’s one major thing that’s holding back 3-D printing adoption rates in manufacturing.

Jul 1, 2014 at 11:35AM

Of all the major challenges that 3-D printing must overcome before it can become a mainstream technology in manufacturing, quality assurance is arguably the most important -- and easily one of the least talked about. Because current generation 3-D printing technology has very limited capability to alert an engineer if things are going wrong during a print job, the greatest concern is when a 3-D printer doesn't crash. despite there being a problem, that the engineer won't be made aware of it. For General Electric (NYSE:GE), which has plans to use 3-D printed fuel nozzles inside its upcoming Leap jet engine, it's absolutely essential that GE can ensure whether the parts it 3-D prints are free from any internal defects.

Ge Additive Fuel Nozzle Photo

This jet engine fuel nozzle was 3-D printed and will take to the skies in the coming years. Source: GE Aviation

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Steve Rengers, R&D manager at GE Aviation's Additive Development Center, who helps oversee General Electric's plans to 3-D print 45,000 of these jet engine fuel nozzles a year, about how GE is working to address this challenge today. Because performing quality assurance in real-time with today's 3-D printing technology isn't currently possible, Rengers explained that General Electric spends considerable time, energy, and dollars to perform destructive and non-destructive testing, to ensure there are no internal defects in its additively manufactured fuel nozzles. As you can imagine, this is a time consuming process that bottlenecks productivity, but is essential to prove out the technology for life-critical applications like jet engine components.

A future goal of General Electric's is to incorporate in-process quality assurance and monitoring into the 3-D printers themselves, so when a part is being printed, there will be continuous monitoring of all aspects of the build, giving General Electric the objective evidence it needs to determine there weren't any issues that presented itself during the build process. While attending Rapid 2014, the largest 3-D printing convention in North America, a prevailing rumor was that U.K-based Renishaw, a precision measurement company turned 3-D printing company, would introduce a successor to its flagship AM 250 laser melting printer with the ability to analyze each layer of the build process.

Although I wasn't able to confirm this rumor, quality assurance technology of this caliber would have game-changing implications for 3-D adoption rates in manufacturing settings, because an engineer would have the data from the entire build process, one layer at a time, to determine if any layer of the process had issues. Bear in mind, the inside of a metal 3-D printing chamber involves high energy lasers, residual heat, and flying metal particles, meaning this undertaking isn't going to be cakewalk for Renishaw, General Electric, or any company to introduce this level of needed quality control.

Renishaw Am

Renishaw AM 125 and 250 metal 3-D printers. Source: Renishaw

The Holy Grail
Given a long enough timeline, the majority of challenges facing the 3-D printing industry today will be overcome. The current lack of labor force experience and organizational readiness can be remedied with improved education and the small build areas plaguing metal 3-D printers are destined to get larger in the coming years. However, without comprehensive data-gathering and analysis capabilities during the build process, there's still added risk for the manufacturer. Until a better solution is introduced, General Electric will continue to spend its time and money testing its 3-D printed fuel nozzles the old fashioned way, relentlessly testing and retesting. Once Rengers sees objective evidence that parts are being made to exact specifications in real-time, he believes the 3-D printing industry at large will probably enter a new era.

Warren Buffett: This new technology is a "real threat"
At the recent Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Warren Buffett admitted 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 onto 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 Renishaw. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.


Compare Brokers