When we last spoke to General Electric, it was showing off its $1 billion smart energy startup Current, one its attempts to stay relevant with 330,000 staff and a heavy 100-year heritage.
Now, it’s getting deeper into the 3D printing biz, not so it can start churning out plastic jewellery for the masses, but to help it speed up production of all things metal – for itself and, crucially, to sell.
Although the company name screams ‘utility provider’, its portfolio spans power, water, oil, gas, aviation, health and transport – heavy engineering industries being transformed by the ability to digitally design and print new, metal tools and products at scale.
“GE’s aim is to be a digital software company – and a top 10 software company in five to 10 years,” Pete Lau, head of EMEA at GE Current, told NS Tech in June.
This sentiment with echoed today by GE chief executive Jeff Immelt in a statement on the 3D printing purchases: “Additive manufacturing is a key part of GE’s evolution into a digital industrial company.”
GE is bidding to snap up Sweden’s Arcam and Germany’s SLM Solutions for around $1.4 billion in total.
Arcam “invented the electron beam melting machine for metal-based 3D printing”, while SLM makes laser machines for metal-based 3D printing, both specialising in the aerospace industry.
Last year, GM already said it would be using Additive Manufacturing (the process of layering the material to build up the product, generally a synonym for 3D printing) to mass produce 25,000 engine nozzles.
Immelt added today:
“We are creating a more productive world with our innovative world-class machines, materials and software. We are poised to not only benefit from this movement as a customer, but spearhead it as a leading supplier.”
GE said it expects its new 3D printing business to grow to $1 billion by 2020, while the entire global industry has seen forecasts for growth beyond $20 billion in that time.
GE is, therefore, positioning itself to capture a pretty big chunk of the sector.