This article evaluates how GE can use additive manufacturing in its product development process to improve quality and decrease costs throughout the product life cycle of its commercial jet engines. Jet engines represent a large opportunity for additive manufacturing for many reasons. For one, the materials used in jet engines are often very expensive because of the demanding strength and temperature requirements found in this application. In these situations, any subtractive manufacturing’ process generates costly waste. Additionally, additive manufacturing can improve product development by simplifying the manufacturing of jet engines by replacing complex sub-assemblies with simpler parts. This was previously impossible in many situations due to the complex geometries and requirements needed by many parts. However, additive manufacturing allows for the combination of components and reduces the need for some parts such as fasteners. Additive manufacturing allows GE to develop products as improvements of existing products, rather than requiring that GE start from scratch. Furthermore, simplifying assemblies can reduce manufacturing time, as well as reduce cost in parts that had significant material waste. This will ultimately lead to an increase in product quality because lighter parts can improve performance, thus increasing the value of the jet engine.
GE has been working on developing additive manufacturing capabilities for over a decade.  To do this, GE has used a mixture of small-scale implementation of parts made through additive manufacturing and strategic inorganic growth. GE has been evaluating areas to test additive manufacturing in jet engines by evaluating parts that could be used as pilot programs to use additive manufacturing. GE identified a fuel nozzle in its recently launched LEAP engine that would be an ideal candidate for additive manufacturing. This part would go on to be the first FAA approved part in a commercial engine created using additive manufacturing. This new, cheaper fuel nozzle combined 20 parts into 1, and reduced weight by 25%. Additionally, the part is five times more durable than a conventionally manufactured alternative. Now that GE has succeeded in getting FAA approval for a part made by additive manufacturing, it is incorporating it into its simpler product development, as seen in the ATP program. This program scaled the technology across an entire engine by redesigning 855 parts on a previous engine down to 12, enabled by additive manufacturing. This helps GE redefine its product development process to focus on improving an existing design, thus shortening the time it took to develop the engine by 33%. However, this is a relatively inexpensive and small volume engine; the real test is to see if this pays off on larger commercial programs or those built from scratch.
To enable the development of this technology, GE has focused on improving its capabilities. In the last few years, GE has acquired various manufacturers such as Morris Technologies and Avio Aero to gain access to talent and technology. Additionally, GE has invested in Arcam and Concept Laser, manufacturers of 3D Printers. GE then created a standalone group, GE Additive, to build an organization to coordinate technological development across businesses. It also serves as a supplier to companies looking to use additive manufacturing. GE can use this to both develop its capabilities and serve as a revenue stream.
Going forward, GE must consider how to use this technology at scale throughout the value chain. In product development, GE must consider how to develop a clean-sheet engine that uses additive manufacturing to improve engine efficiency. GE should expand the “boot camps” at its Additive Training Center to train its design engineers to understand the full capabilities of additive manufacturing. Furthermore, additive manufacturing allows GE to rapidly prototype, shortening the development cycle, and GE must make sure its supply chain is equipped to support this. There is additional opportunity in using additive manufacturing to enhance GE’s service and support. In 2017, over 60% of revenue of GE Aviation was from “Services.” Traditionally, GE generates revenue from spare parts sales well after launch. GE should evaluate how additive manufacturing can be used for parts in existing programs to reduce cost and avoid cannibalizing this revenue in the future. This could include using additive manufacturing to repair engine-run parts, or manufacture legacy parts more cost effectively.
As GE tries to use its GE Additive group to scale, a few questions that emerge. How does GE balance using additive manufacturing to improve its existing engines versus thinking about how additive manufacturing can enable clean-sheet design? How does GE address the risk of a change to their business based on a potential reduction in spares revenue through more durable parts such as the LEAP nozzle? Finally, given GE Additive is looking for customers that need additive manufacturing, how does it serve aerospace customers who may be suppliers to its current competitors?
 General Electric, “The Blade Runners: This Factory Is 3D Printing Turbine Parts For The World’s Largest Jet Engine,” https://www.ge.com/reports/future-manufacturing-take-look-inside-factory-3d-printing-jet-engine-parts/, accessed November 2018.
 General Electric, “An Epiphany Of Disruption: GE Additive Chief Explains How 3D Printing Will Upend Manufacturing,” https://www.ge.com/reports/epiphany-disruption-ge-additive-chief-explains-3d-printing-will-upend-manufacturing/, accessed November 2018.
 GE Additive, “Who we are,” https://www.ge.com/additive/who-we-are, accessed November 2018.
 General Electric, “An Epiphany Of Disruption: GE Additive Chief Explains How 3D Printing Will Upend Manufacturing”
 General Electric, 2017 Annual Report, p. 52-55, https://www.ge.com/investor-relations/ar2017/downloads, accessed November 2018.
 General Electric, “Scan and fix: GE Aviation uses additive technology to fast track engine component repairs,” https://www.ge.com/additive/case-studies/scan-and-fix-ge-aviation-uses-additive-technology-fast-track-engine-component, accessed November 2018.