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The manufacturing giant is weighing additional purchases to expand the fast-growing business, said David Joyce, GE's vice chair in charge of 3-D printing. The burgeoning technology is becoming a new product line as well as a central component of GE's effort to modernize its manufacturing operations, boost productivity and reshape how everything from locomotives to medical scanners to jet engines are made.
In that process, GE is racing to beat out competitors such as Siemens AG and United Technologies Corp., which also are integrating advanced printers into their operations. The moves come as manufacturing is thrust into the spotlight amid the rise of President Donald Trump, who has pledged to revitalize the sector and reverse decades of job losses. While 3-D technology could help bring back factories, it’s unlikely to do the same for factory workers.
The ability to print complex parts is “one of the most disruptive innovations I’ve seen in the manufacturing space in my 37 years here,” Joyce said in an interview in his Cincinnati-area office. As chief executive officer of GE Aviation, he’s helping lead adoption of 3-D technology within the company by incorporating printed parts into jet engines. “Manufacturing is going through a renaissance,” he said.
Industrial 3-D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, uses lasers and other technology to fuse ultra-thin layers of material such as metal powder or polymers, building parts from the bottom up. In a few hours, a machine can construct complex components that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to make. While the process has been used to build quick prototypes, integration into full-scale manufacturing has been limited by material and cost issues.
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