NOTE: This originally ran on January 15, 2014.
GE Aviation has so much faith in 3D printing that it will soon relocate its Sharonville facility to a much larger space. GE bought what used to be called Morris Technologies in 2012. Morris was the first to introduce 3D metallic based technology to North America.
The technology works by taking a very fine grain metal powder and thinly layering it using a laser. This is different than taking solid material and subtracting it to make a part, like is done in machining.
GE Aviation plans to produce its fuel nozzels for the Leap 56 engine this way. Greg Morris says, "I think it's just a phenominal step forward. GE is taking a very big swing at this technology, putting a lot of faith in this technology to be game changing for them and driving much better fuel efficiency, at least for this engine and I expect we will see a number of different applications of additives for other engines going forward."
This facility does primarily prototypes. These 3D printers cannot yet produce replacement parts for aircraft. Morris says that will be 10 to 20 years down the road.
Besides aviation, 3D printers are taking off in health care and the oil and gas industry, to name a few. The Consumer Electronics Show this month showed some possibilities. A company called Makerbot says it can make a prosthesis, normally costing tens of thousands of dollars, for five dollars.