Watch Mohammad Ehteshami's keynote address at formnext powered by tct.
At formnext powered by tct 2016, General Electric made its intentions clear: it is going big with additive manufacturing. That should be no surprise, since 2010 the company has invested $1.5 billion in manufacturing and additive technologies at its Global Research Center (GRC) in Niskayuna, New York and at the Frankfurt event, Mohammad Ehteshami, Vice President and General Manager at the recently launched, GE Additive addressed the crowd with bold plans to lead the additive revolution and grow its new additive business to $1 billion by 2020.
When a major player comes into the industry, there’s a worry we will be spoon-fed the benefits of additive manufacturing (AM) for the hundredth time whilst trying desperately not to shout “we already know this”. With GE, the tone is a little different as the company is keen to endorse its external efforts (the goal is to install 10,000 machines outside of GE, around the world, in the next 10 years) rather than pushing why its offering is the first or better than its counterparts. That’s largely a product of how this new venture came about with the high-profile acquisition of two major metal AM companies laying the foundations for a new subsidiary, GE Additive.
In case you missed the recent headlines, which were responsible for two consecutive “stop the presses” moments at this very magazine, GE announced in September it was to acquire both SLM Solutions and Arcam for the impressive sum of $1.4 billion. Whilst the industry was quietly celebrating a deal that many believed would finally rubber stamp the technology, behind the scenes the SLM agreement fell through due to GE failing to meet the terms after activist investor Elliot Advisors, who have a 20% stake in SLM, rejected the bid making it harder for GE to reach the 75% minimum threshold. Without wasting a second, enter another German metal AM leader, Concept Laser, which agreed a $599 million deal to give GE a majority stake in the company. So now GE has two metal technologies at its disposal and a new vertical, which aims to take additive to the next level.
“We want to grow, once we go through the legal procedures and we acquire those companies, our goal is expand them to make sure they serve their present customers and grow, and develop the technology, the speed, the capability of the machines so we can serve the industry better,” Mohammed told TCT. “Our goal is to produce 10,000 machines over the next 10 years for our customers around the word, in addition to 1,000 or so for internal consumption of GE.”
In the same way Avio Aero is branded as a GE Aviation business, the idea is that Concept Laser and Arcam will, in time, be known as GE businesses, meaning their technologies will continue to serve their current customers but GE will be able to influence and expand their respective technologies. With both Arcam’s electron beam melting (EBM) and Concept Laser’s powder bed-based laser additive processes, GE Additive is fully focussed on becoming a leading supplier of additive machines, materials and software.
Investing in future talent
In a press briefing at formnext, Mohammad explained how GE wants to make AM as intrinsic to the next generation as using an iPhone. Similar to how smartphones have become second nature, GE wants to provide the necessary tools in schools and colleges to educate young people about AM so that they grow up with a thorough understanding of the technology. That’s a big ask, but it’s making a serious $10 million investment in two education programmes starting in 2017 aimed at developing future AM talent to ensure that it happens. It’s planning to spend $2million in the first two years to subsidise up to 2,000 desktop polymer printers for primary and secondary schools, then the remaining chunk of investment will be spent on implementing metal 3D printers in colleges and universities across a five year period.
“We have to make sure that children get exposed to technology at an early age,” Mohammad explained. “If you look at my son versus my generation, my son got his iPhone when he was five years old, I didn’t have an iPhone until I was 40-50 years old so when they grow up with it, it becomes second nature. We are committed to give $10 million over the next few years to both elementary and grade schools, and also higher education, universities and colleges around the world to print both plastics and metals so students get used to AM and this becomes second nature and something that we can collectively collaborate and push forward.”
Mohammad has been a GE man for over 30 years. During the briefing he explained how he was all set to retire from the company but put his plans on hold when the GE Additive opportunity came knocking and it’s easy to understand why. Mohammad’s enthusiasm for the technology is palpable, describing it as a “totally different game” for the manufacturing industry after first coming into contact with it in 2007 and then in 2011 when working on the LEAP engine in one of those Eureka moments you hear about when the team was so excited they stayed at the office all night. Now he's passionate about the ways in which GE can take the technology further.
“We want to make sure we can continue to print larger and larger parts, more and more accuracy, faster speeds,” Mohammad continued. “It’s all about speed size and ability to change the game and I believe that AM is transformational, it will be the next industrial revolution, I truly believe it.”
GE has invested significantly in AM technologies building dedicated facilities across the globe focussed on R&D, metal powders, machines, engineering and production. It already has 12 Arcam machines running non-stop at Avio Aero and is planning on pushing additive in all verticals of the business such as power, medical and automotive, to find out where it can add real value.
Mohammad’s keynote address at formnext (available to listen to in full here) centred on “accelerating the additive revolution”, which for some will be a contradiction to the epiphany that additive hasn’t exactly been the industrial revolution it set out to be. Yet with increased investment and GE’s credentials, maybe being bold is a good thing and a welcome reminder about how revolutionary additive can be when used effectively. As deals are finalised and investments are put into action, GE Additive will certainly be one to keep a close eye on over the coming months.