Temporal illusions – GE Additive are changing 3D printing perceptions

I have this perception that nothing in the 3D printing industry changes, that despite new technologies, new materials, new software, we’re still saying the same things like a broken record. 

“We need to change the way we think about design”

I’m just out of a press conference where I heard those very words and yesterday, as I walked the show floor at IMTS 2018, it kept frustrating me that everything seems the same as it has ever been. 

But my perception is wrong, it’s a distortion of time, a temporal illusion, down to the fact that I live and breathe this industry that I don’t see how fast it is actually moving. 

While speaking to GE Additive Addwork’s General Manager, Chris Schuppe during a tour of GE Additive’s booth, I became acutely aware of just how wrong my perception is. Chris was showing me several additively manufactured parts from a GE Catalyst engine including an inlet screen of an engine. 

“The great thing about a jet engine is that it produces a lot of thrust out of the back, the bad thing is that it sucks a lot of stuff in the front,” says Chris. “It is really good at sucking in things like dust and dirt and ice is a major problem where you have water that freezes into ice and collects on that screen it can clog the inlet of the engine, which is a bad thing. The inlet screen is printed with holes that go through the piece and there is air injected into the bottom that actively deices the inlet.”

It’s just one of many parts on display at the GE booth printed for GE Aviation, and after talking to Greg Morris for the TCT Podcast last month, it struck me just how fast GE has brought these parts to market, Greg only invested in a metal machine in 2004, by 2012 GE was already producing a safety critical part with metal 3D printing. That’s phenomenally quick. 

“If you think about it, number one we had never used 3D printing for a production application number two we’d never used cobalt chrome as an alloy in any engine,” says Chris “A brand-new material, a brand-new process, a brand-new design on a safety decisive part? You can imagine the conversations in aerospace were not tremendously easy out of the gate.”

But GE Aviation did get it out of the gate and Chris tells me how that application has proved a catalyst for the aviation business as a whole.

“If you look at the parts we were making in 2014 there were less than a handful of applications destined for production,” explains Chris. “With additive today, if you went and talked to the GE Aviation guys they’d probably tell you there are over a hundred destined for production. You’ve gone from zero to four or five in eight years, to over a hundred in two years, you’re really starting to get on that ramp.”

GE Aviation is a prime example of why manufacturing businesses must start adopting additive manufacturing now if you wait you’re likely to get left behind and Chris’ AddWorks team is dead set on bringing that mindset to the table.  

“When people ask me what are the biggest barriers to entry for additive manufacturing, I say culture and training are two of the top barriers,” says Chris. “I think education, culture and leadership support is a huge deal, our Addworks team has about 50% focus on education; how do we help enable your engineers to think differently? We often say we wish engineers had a reset button.”

Perhaps it is I that needs the reset button? Perhaps I should stop rolling my eyes when somebody says, “complexity is free” or “it’s a green technology”. Perhaps because I’m stood staring at the industry, I’m experiencing the temporal illusion known as Chronostasis, where the second hand of an analogue clock appears frozen in time. 

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