GE has announced its plans to build the world's largest laser-powder additive manufacturing machine. The device, which will be developed through a new branch of the company called GE Additive, uses a laser to mold metal powders and will be able to build parts measuring up to 1 m3 (35 cubic feet).
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, is making it easier to create everything from toys, food, shoes, prosthetics, and even whole buildings exactly where they're needed. But while most are made by squirting plastic or other liquid building materials through a nozzle, GE Additive's device uses a system called laser additive manufacturing.
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This technique, already in use by organizations like NASA to make rocket parts, involves pointing a laser beam at a layer of powdered metal, which fuses it together at a very fine point. This can effectively draw the required shape in the powder, one layer at a time, and GE says the system can make virtually any shape.
"The machine will 3D print aviation parts suitable for making jet engine structural components and parts for single-aisle aircraft," says Mohammad Ehteshami, vice president and general manager of GE Additive. "It will also be applicable for manufacturers in the automotive, power, and oil and gas industries."
The design is based on a system by Concept Laser, a company that GE recently acquired and rolled into GE Additive. The device will build using powdered titanium, aluminum and other metals, and the initial demo version will be capable of 3D printing objects up to 1 m (3.3 ft) in two dimensions. GE Additive says that the model that eventually goes to full-scale production will be able to do so in the third dimension, too.
GE hasn't given details on the resolution of the individual features on objects or how fast it can print, but it will apparently "equal or better today's additive machines."
Early versions of the machine will be provided to collaborating companies by the end of the year, with the production model made generally available sometime in 2018. GE Additive plans to officially unveil the machine at the Formnext Show in Germany in November.
The process of laser additive manufacturing can be seen in action in the video below.