September 09, 2016      

Robotics and related technologies aren’t just for small startups. Older companies with vision for the future can make strategic moves to guarantee their relevance. One such established company is General Electric Corp., which this week said it plans to buy 3D printing companies Arcam AB and SLM Solutions Group AG for a total of $1.4 billion.

“Additive manufacturing is a key part of GE’s evolution into a digital industrial company,” said Jeff Immelt, chairman and CEO of GE. “We are creating a more productive world with our innovative world-class machines, materials, and software.”

GE has already invested $1.5 billion in additive manufacturing for prototyping and production, and its European acquisitions will work with its Global Research Center in Niskayuna, N.Y., and Pittsburgh development facilities.

“We are poised to not only benefit from this movement as a customer, but [also to] spearhead it as a leading supplier,” Immelt said. “Additive manufacturing will drive new levels of productivity for GE; our customers, including a wide array of additive manufacturing customers; and for the industrial world.”

General Electric said it expects its additive business to grow to $1 billion. Last year, GE and The Boeing Co. showed off 3D-printed components for jet planes. GE is also working with Safran Aircraft Engines (Snecma) and Cessna Aircraft Co.

GE Aviation had already been working on advanced manufacturing with France-based Snecma through the CFM International joint venture.

The melding of such major metals additive manufacturers should help the 3D printing industry, but it also poses a competitive challenge for players such as Stratasys Ltd., noted analysts.

European metalworks

Arcam works with metal-based additive manufacturing for the aerospace and medical industries. Its operations include Advanced Powders & Coatings Inc. in Boisbriand, Quebec, and DiSanto Technology Inc., a surgical implant and instrument maker in Shelton, Conn.

General Electric plans to buy Arcam, which 3D prints implants.

Arcam makes 3D-printed medical implants.

Molndal, Sweden-based Arcam’s proprietary Electron Beam Melting technology uses electron beams for more speed and a wider range of usable materials.

SLM Solutions Group makes laser melting systems for detailed 3D printing with metals. The Lubeck, Germany-based company also provides training services and metal powders for additive manufacturing for the aerospace, energy, healthcare, and automotive industries.

Arcam and SLM Solutions will report to David Joyce, president and CEO of GE Aviation, but they will keep their operations in Europe. The boards of the companies were open to the acquisition.

“We chose these two companies for a reason,” he said. “They each bring two different, complementary additive technology modalities as individual anchors for a new GE additive equipment business to be plugged and experience as leading practitioners of additive manufacturing.”

More on Advanced Manufacturing:

General Electric is expanding its 3D printing portfolio.

General Electric’s imagination at work

General Electric has been diversifying beyond energy and engineering to software and services, particularly through its Predix cloud-based platform as a service for the industrial Internet of Things. Robotics and 3D printing stand neatly at the intersection between mechanical and software spheres.

GE Robotics is working on improving industrial automation and medical imaging, and the company’s Global Research Center is also investigating aerial drones and infrastructure inspection.

General Electric initially invested in 3D printing when it acquired Morris Technologies in 2012. In April, GE opened advanced manufacturing facilities in South Carolina and Florida.

In May, GE opened two automated nozzle-production lines in Talamona, Italy. It spent $11 million on the operation, which will begin 3D printing of burners for gas turbines next year.

According to Bloomberg, General Electric “expects to print 40,000 fuel nozzles for jet engines by 2020.”

“GE’s aspirations in additive [manufacturing] fit our long-term business model,” said Immelt. “We have world-class industrial businesses that leverage systems integration, material sciences, services, and Predix.”

As part of its reinvention of its identity, General Electric recently moved its headquarters from Schenectady, N.Y., to Boston.