Greg Morris, strategy/growth leader for GE Additive, talked with Lee Ann Shay at GE’s Mind + Machines event on Nov. 16 about the company’s investments in additive manufacturing equipment. Morris is one of the founders of Morris Technologies, which GE purchased in late 2012 to advance its 3D manufacturing processes for emerging materials and complex geometries for parts.

GE announced on Nov. 15 plans to acquire a 75% stake in Concept Laser in Germany. This followed an announcement in September to acquire Arcam in Sweden. How will this impact GE’s additive manufacturing business?

Concept Laser’s machine technology is powder-bed laser-based, like the name implies. And the other company is Arcam, which uses electron-beam technology—but both are powder-bed-based technologies. (SLM also makes laser-based machines.)

These investments will get us more vertically integrated into the ecosystem. Up until this point, when we wanted to see innovations in the equipment to make our parts, we fed that to the equipment manufacturers. We need bigger and faster machines with end-process monitoring—and environmental, health and safety things that they don’t have. 

We’ve gotten to the productionization of the technology first. We are producing LEAP engine nozzle tips in high volume. Nobody else is doing that demanding of an application at that volume, so we’ve discovered along the way—great machine—but we need this or that. We fed all of that information back to the OEM to incorporate into their machine and they’re leveraging that value to build better machines. So now we’ll be able to manufacture that machine internally and we’ll retain a lot of that intellectual property.

And more importantly, we’ll be able to incorporate all of the things that we’re still discovering to make those machines better and more productive—and tie into the Predix and the Brilliant Factory concept. All that neatly ties together so that the value proposition that we can offer to the market is really unparalleled. Its value to the customers because we’re going to see machine advancements like nobody has seen in the next 3-5 years.

What do you see as the next evolutionary steps for 3D?

It’s at the intersection of digital and industrial because we start with a 3D CAD model and take that all that way to the physical realm, and continue to leverage the digital inspection. You can put in digital sensing and use the digital output—so there are all sorts of things woven in that make additive the epitome of the digital industrial.

This is why I think it’s so exciting that we’re jumping into the equipment business because we can bring in the digital side with our Predix and then we can leverage our experience on the industrial side of the process to push additive into a realm where it really has never been before. That’s what we’re hoping to see as we evolve into the equipment side and evolve this ecosystem.

Is GE also investing in additive education?

We also announced this week that we are investing $10 million to subsidize equipment for primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities. We want to place equipment into schools so young kids can get their hands on 3D and let them really start to play with it and get them interested in STEM education.

For colleges and universities, we want to place up to 50 metal machines so that they can work on an industrial-level machine. When students graduate from those schools, we’ll be able to pull talent and grow the ecosystem faster. The next generation coming out, we want to help get them to the point where they can design in 3D technologies.

The future design of components is going to be much different and we want to help support that entire ecosystem. That would also help technicians maintaining the components. Making a major contribution like this to 3D education hasn’t been done before.

How will the funding work?

We’re finalizing the details of the program by the end of the year and starting in January, schools will be able to log into a website we’re developing and submit applications. Our intent is to subsidize—we want them to have a little skin in the game. We haven’t finalized the details, but for instance, the polymer machines for primary and secondary schools, that might be a $250 cost for the school and we put up $750. We’d probably do something similar for the metal machines, which are much more expensive. The lowest cost machines might be $50,000-60,000 and up to $500,000, so a much more significant investment.

That’s why $2 million of the $10 million is dedicated to primary and secondary schools and $8 million is for colleges and universities. For the primary and secondary schools, that’s primarily aimed at the next two years to seed about 1,000 machines globally. For the colleges and universities, that’s probably closer to a five-year program. This program is exciting to me because young people already think in 3D and many play video games and already have had their hands on polymer machines, but not everybody—and we want to encourage more kids to think about STEM and careers in advanced manufacturing.

GE Aviation plans to double the number of LEAP fuel nozzle injectors next year—going from 6,000 in 2016 to 12,000 next year—and production of the components is shifting to GE’s additive manufacturing plan in Auburn, Alabama. How’s that going to work?

They’re scaling at Auburn. That means eventually it will have 50-60 machines pumping out parts 24/7. It’s a number games. We’ll invest in the machines, which will produce those parts at a high rate.