Smart manufacturing: GE working on world's largest 3D printer

by Autocar Pro News Desk , 23 Jun 2017


GE Additive, which is part of global conglomerate General Electric (GE), is creating the world's largest laser-powder additive/3D manufacturing machine – ‘Atlas’ – which is capable of producing an entire engine block for a car or truck.

Tailored for the aerospace industry, the machine will be able to print in a ‘build envelop’ of one metre cubed (1000mm x 1000mm x 1000mm). Atlas will be unveiled in November at the Formnext Show in Frankfurt, Germany.

"The machine will 3D print aviation parts that are one metre in diameter, suitable for making jet engine structural components and parts for single-aisle aircraft," said Mohammad Ehteshami, VP and GM, GE Additive. "The machine will also be applicable for manufacturers in the automotive, power, and oil and gas industries."

Atlas, the laser/powder machine, will be 'metre-class' (1000mm) in at least two directions. The GE team has been developing the machine over the past two years and several proof-of-concept machines have been built.

In the machine's production version (1000mm x 1000mm x 1000mm), the build geometry will be customisable and scalable for an individual customer's project. Its feature resolution and build-rate speeds will equal or better today's additive machines. It is also designed to be used with multiple materials, including non-reactive and reactive materials such as aluminium and titanium.

"We have customers collaborating with us and they will receive beta versions of the machine by year's end," Ehteshami said. "The production version (yet to be named) will be available for purchase next year." GE is targeting first deliveries of the machine in late 2018.

Leveraging an acquisition
GE had bought a controlling stake in Germany-based metal additive manufacturer Concept Laser in October, 2016.  The company has combined its technology with expertise of Concept Laser's in laser additive machines.

Concept Laser currently has the largest laser-powder bed additive machine on the market with a build envelope of 800mm x 400mm x 500mm.

“Concept Laser machines are being used by leading manufacturers of medical, aerospace and dental components in series production as well as for prototyping and design. We are hitting an inflection point in demand as customers increasingly understand the possibilities that additive manufacturing presents and the technology advances to be able to turn these possibilities into reality. With GE’s broader investment into additive manufacturing, we believe that this process will only accelerate,” said Frank Herzog, founder, Concept Laser.

The company sees a huge potential with this decision for additive components. As they are typically lighter, more durable and more efficient than traditional casting and forged parts because they can be made as one piece, requiring less welds, joints and assembly. Because additive parts are essentially ‘grown’ from the ground up, they generate far less waste material. Freed of traditional manufacturing restrictions, additive manufacturing dramatically expands the design possibilities for engineers.