If you're following the disruptive 3-D printing space, you likely know that General Electric (NYSE:GE) is using 3-D printing in its aerospace unit, and plans to use the technology to manufacture fuel nozzles for its new Leap jet engine. In fact, investors in 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and Arcam (NASDAQOTH: AMAVF) are surely awaiting news as to whether their company or companies will be included in GE aerospace's huge 3-D printing capacity ramp-up. Both 3D Systems and Arcam make printers that can print in metals, including the ever-important aerospace metal of titanium.
Until now, GE's 3-D printing efforts have been laser-focused (excuse the pun) on its aerospace division. But the mammoth conglomerate recently announced plans to start using 3-D printing in its power and water business, which is its largest industrial division.
This means that 3D Systems and Arcam, as well as other 3-D printing companies, have another GE business that could potentially be interested in their printers. Beyond this positive, though, it seems to me that the bigger picture here is that GE's planned use of 3-D printing in its largest industrial business gives yet another vigorous nod of approval to this burgeoning technology.
The Advanced Manufacturing Works is slated to open in 2015
General Electric broke ground in June on a technology center called the "Advanced Manufacturing Works" that will be added to its engineering and manufacturing complex in Greenville, South Carolina. As its name suggests, the facility will employ advanced manufacturing technologies, including 3-D printing using both lasers and electron beams.
The entire facility is being dubbed by GE as a "brilliant factory," because it reportedly will be able to "predict, adapt, and react more quickly and efficiently than any factory of the past." This will be accomplished by "linking to the Industrial Internet, using virtual manufacturing techniques, and deploying intelligent machines on the factory floor."
The goal of the new facility is to increase innovation and bring new technologies to market faster. According to GE's press release:
The facility will serve as an incubator for innovative advanced manufacturing process development and rapid prototyping for the Power & Water businesses, including wind turbines, heavy duty gas engines, distributed power gas engines, nuclear power services and water processing. By developing new techniques and production processes at the new facility, the GE Power & Water business will be able to design, test, iterate and bring its products to market for customers quicker than ever.
GE plans to spend some big bucks on equipment -- including 3-D printers
GE plans to spend $400 million on the new facility over the next 10 years, and, according to 3Dprint.com, $327 million of this total is slated to go toward machinery and equipment. The remaining $73 million is the approximate cost of constructing the building. This naturally means that GE's going to be spending some bucks on 3-D printers. And given GE's trumpeting of this technology and the size of its total spending on this facility, it seems likely that we're talking about some pretty big bucks.
Which 3-D printing companies are going to be seeing some orders from the behemoth conglomerate? Well, Arcam is a sure thing if GE plans to equip its new facility with 3-D printers that use both lasers and electron beam melting technologies, as EBM is Arcam's proprietary technology.
As for 3-D printers that employ laser technology, GE was reportedly testing systems from 3D Systems and privately held, Germany-based Concept Laser -- whose printers use a patented laser melting technology called LaserCUSING -- for its aerospace unit's 3-D printing capacity ramp-up. So, it seems likely that these two companies' printers might be considered for inclusion in its Advanced Manufacturing Works facility as well.
I'd imagine printers made by privately held EOS are also very much in the running. GE's 3-D printing facility in Ohio -- which it acquired when it bought Morris Technologies in 2012 -- heavily consists of EOS printers. The Germany-based company's 3-D printers -- which use direct metal laser sintering, or DMLS -- are well respected in the 3-D printing space. Laser sintering is the most commonly used metal 3-D printing technology, with 3D Systems and various other privately held companies also making printers that use this tech.
Foolish final thoughts
General Electric has previously said that it plans to invest "tens of millions" in 3-D printing as part of a larger $3.5 billion investment in its aviation supply chain over the next five years. Now, GE plans to use 3-D printing in its power and water business, which is its largest industrial business. Given GE's might and massive investments, its actions should significantly shape the 3-D printing space going forward. Obviously, any 3-D printer maker that is involved in GE's 3-D printing ramp-ups could see a nice ramp-up in its own business.