As additive technology continues to transform the manufacturing world with lighter and stronger parts, there has been an increasing demand from many industries for additive machines that are bigger and faster. Project ATLAS (Additive Technology Large Are System) is GE Additive’s company-wide program to develop the next-generation large additive machines.
This first BETA machine was developed in nine months and caters to industries that require large complex metal parts, such as aviation, automotive, space, and oil and gas industries. It is said to offer "the world’s largest" direct metal laser melting (DMLM) build envelope.
“The machine can 3D print aviation parts suitable for making jet engine structural components and parts for single-aisle aircraft,” said Mohammad Ehteshami Vice President and General Manager of GE Additive. “It’s sized for the CFM LEAP engine and the resolution and features of the part are amazing.”
The new BETA machine builds on technology previously developed by GE and combines DMLM expertise from the German 3D printer manufacturer, Concept Laser—which GE acquired in December 2016. The first few BETA machines are currently being evaluated by a small group of customers and more will be available for delivery in 2018, with production occurring in Lichtenfels, Germany and Cincinnati, OH.
“Irrespective of industry, every customer has its own specific needs and its own unique levels of complexity. We regularly hear that next-generation machines need to be customizable and configurable. The new meter-class machine we’re debuting is our response to that feedback—a solution that is scalable and customizable and meets the needs of our industry, as it matures,” said Ehteshami.
The big volume (currently 1.1 x 1.1 x 0.3 m) is suitable for large titanium, aluminum, and alloy components with high resolution and complex geometries that are typical of aerospace-class parts. The BETA machines incorporate 1-kW laser technology and are reconfigurable to incorporate additional lasers as well as a proprietary discrete dosing methodology to reduce powder consumption by 69% when compared to current traditional machines.
The printer also incorporates process and machine health monitoring through GE’s cloud-based “industrial internet” operating system, Predix. The system is currently in use on Concept Laser’s new M2 printers, which use Predix to monitor analytics to identify potential production issues.
GE is actively using additive manufacturing in several of its business units, including GE Aviation—which prints LEAP engine fuel nozzles. GE is also working on the Advanced Turboprop, which is soon to be the first commercial aircraft engine where more than one third of the components are designed and built using additive manufacturing methodology.
In addition to the $1.4 billion investment in Concept Laser and Arcam, GE has also invested approximately $1.5 billion in manufacturing and additive technologies over the past 10 years. In 2016, the company established GE Additive to become a leading supplier of additive technology, materials, and services for industries and businesses worldwide.