Last year at formnext, GE introduced GE Additive. Set for formal unveiling at formnext 2017, GE today introduced its development project, ATLAS. With a build envelope of one cubic meter, the machine is big news — so big, in fact, it’s set to be the world’s largest laser-powder additive manufacturing machine.
This is news we’ve been waiting to hear as GE has been moving to make its mark in additive manufacturing. Last year, the company made a billion-dollar move as it acquired controlling shares in Concept Laser and Arcam, investing heavily in metal additive manufacturing. At Materialise World Summit in Brussels this spring, Mohammad Ehteshami, Vice President and General Manager of GE Additive, let slip in a presentation that GE was working on its own metal 3D printer as well. While the company kept the plans well under wraps — GE Additive’s Dr. Kirk Rogers couldn’t provide any additional details when we chatted earlier this month — ATLAS is now getting ready for the world. The announcement was made today at the Paris Air Show, where 3D printing is really taking off.
“The machine will 3D print aviation parts that are one meter in diameter, suitable for making jet engine structural components and parts for single-aisle aircraft. The machine will also be applicable for manufacturers in the automotive, power, and oil and gas industries,” said Ehteshami.
“We have customers collaborating with us and they will receive beta versions of the machine by year’s end. The production version (yet to be named) will be available for purchase next year.”
For now, ATLAS is shouldering the world of GE’s initial foray into its own metal 3D printing system, and it is set to outsize the current largest player in the game — with which GE is intimately familiar, as Concept Laser’s 800 x 400 x 500 mm X LINE 2000R machine presently holds that distinction. The new machine, larger than those available from Concept Laser, will build on the expertise that company offers in laser additive manufacturing machines, in combination with GE’s own technology. ATLAS is set to have at least two axes of 1000mm (“meter-class”) measurement, and will feature customizable build geometry, scalable for individual customer projects. Resolution and build speeds have not yet been announced, but GE notes that these will both “equal or better today’s additive machines.”
Materials capabilities will include both non-reactive and reactive materials, the company notes. GE Additive has been at work on its own “recipe book” of metal additive manufacturing materials, as the Additive Materials Lab has told us before:
“Up to this point, we have relied upon relatively traditional methods for developing materials for additive,” Joe Vinciquerra, Manager of the Additive Materials Lab, told 3DPrint.com earlier this year. “To date, and with our colleagues from across the company, many of the traditional engineering materials we use in our products have been, or are in the process of being, translated for use in additive. This work comprises the early chapters of our recipe book. We’re just getting started with the combi-chem approach, and this year we will not only demonstrate the speed gains in material development by applying it to a traditional engineering alloy, we will also be applying it toward the development of an entirely new additive alloy system for use in our next-gen GE products.”
GE is also collaborating with other companies for materials development, as Dr. Rogers noted a few weeks ago that he is pushing for an open materials development process that will have qualifications for other materials. Without many details having yet been released about ATLAS or the eventual production system, though mention of capabilities of handling aluminum and titanium as examples, we’ll have to wait to see how the ultimate choice is made to move forward in terms of what materials will be compatible with the GE machine.
While no announcements have yet been made regarding the software the ATLAS system will use, GE has been making a big move to incorporate its Predix platform into Concept Laser machines, so it would be no surprise to see that this has been a universal incorporation in metal additive manufacturing machine development.
“We’ve taken the best technology from GE and applied it to Concept Laser’s additive machines, improving them and making our customers more efficient and more productive,” said Ehteshami of the use of Predix in Concept Laser machines. “We want customers to fully utilize their capacity and realize the full potential of their machines. All of this information will be available to them from the cloud, accessible from anywhere.”
With two years in development and several proofs of concept already having been built, the ATLAS project has been in the works for some time. First deliveries are targeted near the end of next year as GE works with collaborators ahead of the full release.
The announcement at the Pairs Air Show underscores some primary applications for the new additive manufacturing system, which is said to be tailored for the aerospace industry. With the press the famed air nozzle GE created through additive manufacturing technology as its biggest shining star to date in aerospace applications, ATLAS is sure to continue work toward more optimized geometries that will see real-world use. GE Additive has announced intentions of building itself up into a $1 billion external sales business by 2020, and the ATLAS announcement presents another tangible step the company is taking on its way forward.