GE Intensifies Focus on Additive Manufacturing

GE has created a new lab in the field of additive manufacturing. Here, GE researchers expose a pattern in UV light to print the intricate patterns on an ultrasound probe all at once, avoiding hours of cutting and refinement. They believe this could greatly reduce labor and production costs. In addition, printing can enable more flexibility in how the probe is designed. GE has created a new lab in the field of additive manufacturing. Here, GE researchers expose a pattern in UV light to print the intricate patterns on an ultrasound probe all at once, avoiding hours of cutting and refinement. They believe this could greatly reduce labor and production costs. In addition, printing can enable more flexibility in how the probe is designed.

Developing the next generation of manufacturing technologies that will replace traditional approaches that cut and machine parts down with new methods that build parts up, GE Global Research, GE’s central technology development arm, has established a new lab in the field of additive manufacturing. Additive manufacturing is the practice of building up material to directly form a net-shape product rather than forming a product by traditional methods such as forging, casting or machining material away.

GE scientists already are studying additive manufacturing techniques to reduce the labor and production costs of ultrasound systems. To learn more and see a video demonstration, visit Edison’s Desk at http://ge.geglobalresearch.com/blog/additive-manufacturing-building-blocks-for-the-future/. In ultrasound, continued advances in electronics miniaturization have dramatically shrunk the size, weight and cost of the imaging console. However, the transducer, or ultrasound probe, the device placed on the body that transmits and receives signals that generate the real-time ultrasound images, has largely remained unchanged. It has become the most costly and labor-intensive component of the ultrasound system, as the materials used require extensive, time-consuming cutting and refinement to make the probe. This is needed to create the very intricate patterns near the probe’s face that enable high quality ultrasound images of the body.

GE researchers are applying new additive techniques that can print these intricate patterns on the probe all at once, avoiding hours of cutting and refinement. They believe this could greatly reduce labor and production costs. In addition, printing enables more flexibility in how the probe is designed. This technology also could impact other ultrasound sensors used for the inspection and measurement of high-value, safety-critical aerospace and industrial components.

“For as long as the world has been making things, manufacturing has been a game of subtraction where you cut and machine parts down into the product you want,” said Prabhjot Singh, a mechanical engineer and project leader on the ultrasound transducer project. “While these processes have improved, valuable time and excess raw materials are still lost. With new additive manufacturing processes like 3-D printing and laser deposition, the traditional ways of manufacturing are being turned upside down. By adding instead of removing material to design and build a product, you can dramatically reduce the time, cost and amount of material required to make it.”

Singh added, “The practice of additive manufacturing supports our goals through GE’s healthymagination initiative to improve access to health care. Imagine if we could print transducer probes like we print newspapers – super fast and at very low cost. It would help make ultrasound systems more affordable and more accessible to underserved regions where health care services are limited.”

GE’s healthymagination initiative is built on a global commitment to reduce costs, improve quality and expand access to healthcare for millions of people. New advancements in healthcare manufacturing could help reduces costs and enable more advanced designs of imaging systems that make them more accessible in parts of the world where they cannot be located today.

In addition to healthcare, GE researchers also are exploring additive manufacturing techniques in aviation to reduce the amount of raw material consumed in the manufacturing of complex aircraft engine components. The techniques also afford product designers new degrees of freedom in the design of components. Layer-based additive manufacturing methods are much more flexible in the geometries they can produce compared to conventional manufacturing methods.

The formal establishment of new lab dedicated to additive manufacturing underscores GE’s commitment to infuse advanced technologies into its manufacturing processes. Global Research is investing in a diverse array of more than 100 manufacturing and inspection technology programs and inventing new ways to make products. In October 2009, GE opened the Advanced Manufacturing and Software Technology Center in Michigan that is dedicated to accelerating the development of next generation manufacturing technologies for GE’s industrial products. Together with GE’s Global Research network, the new Center is a vital part in GE’s strategy to successfully transition promising new technologies and processes from the lab to the manufacturing floor. These breakthroughs will redefine how products are made in the future.

For more information visit: www.ge.com/research

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