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Additive machines need to up productivity, says GE's Andy Martin

Andy Martin, supply chain manager for additive manufacturing at GE Aviation, has told Laser Systems Europe that factors such as low productivity, the steep learning curve faced by new users, and the limited availability of powder materials are holding back 3D printing from becoming a mainstream industrial process.

Martin was commenting in an article for Laser Systems Europe. He also spoke on a 3D printing panel discussion at SPIE Photonics West in San Francisco at the end of January.

GE recently acquired stakes in Arcam and Concept Laser, the latter company for €549 million, to bolster its additive manufacturing capabilities.

In the article, Martin noted that one of the ways to increase productivity of additive manufacturing machines is to integrate multiple lasers, but he added that this brings challenges in terms of coordinating the beams, especially if the lasers overlap on the part. ‘If you switch from one to four lasers you can build close to 400 per cent faster if all four lasers are working constantly,’ he said.

GE Aviation’s Advanced Turboprop (ATP) engine is designed specifically with additive manufacturing in mind, according to Martin. Designing the engine around additive manufacturing has allowed GE’s designers to apply the technique very broadly throughout the engine. ‘About 30-40 per cent of that engine is additively manufactured,’ Martin said in the article. ‘What’s really remarkable is that we have been able to use additive manufacturing to lower the weight of the engine, improve the fuel consumption of the engine and also massively consolidate parts.’

Through the improved design, GE Aviation has consolidated 850 engine parts down to a total of 12. ‘That engine will now have more design-for-additive content that any engine in the aviation industry on the commercial side,’ Martin said.

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