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GE is a large user of 3D printing with metals. In 2012 GE bought Morris Technologies and Rapid Quality Manufacturing which both specialize in additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing. At the time of purchase, Morris Technologies had thirty-five 3D printers. GE plans to invest further in 3D printing technology, likely tens of millions of dollars over the next 5 years.
Fuel nozzles for the Leap Jet engine will be 3D printed by GE. Each engine has 19 nozzles and needs to withstand 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit. 3D printing is preferrable to conventional manufacturing for these nozzles because one finished part can be printed. With conventional manufacturing 20 individual parts would be required and would then need to be fused together. Heat treatment may also be necessary for the combo of parts. 3D printing one part is easier, risk is reduced and cost savings are realized.
GE financial investment will likely benefit a private 3D printer manufacturer. Most metal 3D printing is done using laser-sintering technology. Companies such as Arcam and Concept Laser may benefit from GE's fuel nozzle manufacture.
GE will need to produce 45,000 nozzles each year. To achieve this output requires 60+ printers and at $1 million each it is cost prohibitive. Therefore GE is investing to develop the next generation of printers and hoping to increase capacity 3 to 4 fold.
Currently 3D printing is less accurate than traditional subtractive manufacturing. If parts require tolerances greater than 5 thousandths (inch) additional finishing process may be required. For complex parts determining dimensional accuracy with respect to a tolerance may be difficult and require an additional investment in equipment. It is also not currently possible to monitor the process of the 3D printer while printing so if the process goes out of specification the part may need to be scrapped resulting in lost time and cost.
Aerospace companies such as GE have identified 3D printing as the future for their industry. GE and others have committed to significant financial investment in the 3D printer technology to overcome any existing limitations. GE has an interest in being able to rapidly manufacture quality specialized parts such as their jet engine nozzles.