How the Community Helped General Electric Company Solve an Age-Old Problem

Thanks to the design freedom offered by 3-D printing and the varying perspectives of the community, General Electric achieved greatness.

Jul 13, 2014 at 7:32PM

Ge Original Bracket

Source: GE Aviation.

Pictured above is a model of a traditionally metal casted jet engine bracket, 3-D printed by General Electric's (NYSE:GE) aviation division. The design doesn't take advantage of any of the built-in benefits that 3-D printing offers to manufacturers.

Below is a picture of a jet engine bracket identical in terms of functionality and strength but reimagined for 3-D printing. The reimagined bracket is 84% lighter than the above bracket and just as strong. As far as the aviation industry is concerned, the fuel-savings implications could be game-changing.

To be fair, General Electric's massive achievement wouldn't have been realized without the help of the worldwide engineering community.


Source: GE Aviation.

Late last year, General Electric hosted a contest where anyone in the world could submit designs for a jet engine bracket that harnesses the power of 3-D printing. Because 3-D printing requires no tooling during the manufacturing process, the technology excels at creating complicated designs. And by leveraging the power of the worldwide engineering community, General Electric received nearly 700 submissions from 56 countries, allowing it to gain unique insights into design from varying perspectives in a matter of weeks.

In the following video, 3-D printing specialist Steve Heller asks Stephan Biller, chief manufacturing scientist at General Electric, how the company learns to innovate by leveraging the power of the community. During the segment, Biller states that that the bracket is much more "pedestrian" than a jet engine bracket, but he stands corrected. The bracket was in fact modeled after a jet engine bracket.

Going forward, General Electric investors should monitor how the company uses the power of the community to drive future innovation.

A full transcript follows the video.

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Steve Heller: I wanted to switch gears here for a second. I wanted to talk about these brackets here, and what you've [General Electric] learned from these, and how can you apply them to the higher-level factory?

Stephan Biller: This used to be our original bracket. This is a bracket from the aviation business. Try to feel that.

Heller: This is probably a solid 10 pounds.

Biller: We have been doing that for a long time. What we wanted to do was challenge and try out the new crowdsourcing movement. You might be thinking, "You know, for aviation, you really want to think of crowdsourcing? That's a good idea?"

Yes. What we did was put that challenge out there, and we had about 700 people submit designs for this bracket, with the same functionality. Now feel this. This has been designed and additively made.

Heller: It's 84% lighter, is that correct?

Biller: It's 84% lighter.

Heller: This is a jet engine bracket. This is a model of a jet engine bracket, that holds a jet engine to the wing, is that correct?

Biller: I think it's close to the door. I think it's much more "pedestrian" than that. But the key here is that this bracket is a lot lighter, and the winning design came from Indonesia, from a guy we had never heard of.

Heller: The power of open collaboration there is really...

Biller: Yes, and I think it's fair to say we are just getting into this. We really wanted to test this out. We don't really know exactly where it's going, Steve, to be honest with you. But look at the power. What we wanted to demonstrate to our businesses is, this is a very, very powerful tool you should have in your hip pocket, and try to figure out new stuff.

Whether that ends up on an engine or not, I don't think it's as important as for our engineers and our managers to learn that this is a tool.

Heller: To make fundamentally better products.

Biller: Yes.

Steve Heller has no position in any stocks mentioned. 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.

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