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Europe Leads as Industrial 3-D Printing Takes Shape

Posted by hkarner - 7. Mai 2017

Date: 06-05-2017
Source: The Wall Street Journal

General Electric pushes into metal additive printing of aircraft and other parts

TURIN, Italy—For General Electric Co. and its rivals expanding their manufacturing operations using 3-D printing, Europe is emerging as a dominant source of the latest technologies.

GE is placing Concept Laser GmbH of Germany and Sweden’s Arcam AB, which the U.S. industrial giant bought in November for a combined $1.5 billion, at the core of a new business unit it is spinning out of GE Aviation. Arcam and Concept already are working closely on printed airplane-engine parts with European aviation-component makers that GE bought over the past decade. GE is investing about $100 million to expand Concept’s headquarters and plans to double its staff of 200 by early next year.Last month GE said it will open in Munich the first of several marketing centers it plans world-wide dedicated to the new technology, known formally as metal additive manufacturing, in a nod to the European companies’ outsize role in the technique’s development. The new hands-on demonstration facility, which will have up to 10 operational 3-D printers from the two companies, will be built next to GE’s existing research center at a cost of roughly $10 million.

Concept, Arcam and other European companies that GE bought over recent years “bring great technologies that were developed independently here,” said Riccardo Procacci, a GE veteran previously with the conglomerate’s oil-and-gas division. He is now chief executive of plane-part maker Avio Aero, near Milan, which GE bought in 2013. One of Avio’s specialties is 3-D metal printing, thanks to a decade of work with Arcam.

GE is considering European locations for the headquarters of its new GE Additive division, now being created. Executives have said they want to generate $1 billion in revenue from 3-D printing by 2020, up from $300 million today.

An early mover into 3-D printing, GE is aggressively expanding its operations in part because rivals are getting more active. Siemens AG of Germany last year bought British additive-manufacturer Materials Solutions Ltd. for an undisclosed amount and opened a 3-D printing facility in Sweden. Siemens has focused on parts for gas turbines, an industry in which it competes with GE.

Meanwhile, United Technologies Corp.’s Pratt & Whitney, which competes with GE in airplane engines, is expanding its use of 3-D printing for making quick prototypes to accelerate engine development.

Siemens and UTC declined to comment for this article.

Siemens, UTC and others “are now taking additive manufacturing much more seriously,” said Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates, a consulting firm focused on additive manufacturing. “But they have some catching up to do” with GE, he said.

With the purchase of Concept and Arcam, GE is now the world’s No. 2 producer of metal additive-manufacturing machines, measured by units, with 21.5% market share, according to Wohlers Reports 2017, an annual review. The leader, with 25.9%, is Germany’s EOS GmbH, an early developer of the technology.

It was a desire to crack Pratt & Whitney’s domination of the turboprop market that helped GE’s European recent push coalesce.

GE is developing an advanced propeller-plane engine at a Prague factory it bought in 2008. Designers are replacing 855 traditional engine parts with 12 printed components, significantly boosting efficiency.

“We needed something truly disruptive from a performance perspective,” said Brad Mottier, vice president of GE’s business and general aviation division. “Pratt has a huge, enviable franchise in the turboprop market.”

Pratt is “not standing still,” said Nicholas Kanellias, vice president of general aviation programs at Pratt & Whitney Canada, where the company makes turboprop engines. “We will continue to invest in our products.”

Even if GE ends up basing its new additive division in the U.S., its two European companies will expand quickly.

“We want to exponentially grow these companies,” said Mr. Procacci at Avio.

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