3D Printing

Is manufacturing really new?

Mike Bacidore says material inflation, capacity, and labor rates drive change.

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor

We are on the verge of the third industrial revolution. So said Christine Furstoss, technical director, manufacturing and materials technologies, at GE Global Research in Niskayuna, New York. Furstoss offered her take on manufacturing and its future at the fourth annual American Manufacturing Strategies Summit in Schaumburg, Illinois.

"We are on the precipice of tremendous changes," heralded Furstoss. " We have material inflation, we have overcapacity, and we have changing labor rates. There's material inflation. Due to shortages and shutdowns, material inflation drives how we have to behave. In many industries, there is overcapacity. Lighting standards will be changing in 2015 that will encourage investment in LED lighting. Today production capacity of LED lighting is over 300%. We need to look at adjacencies for the capabilities we have. No longer is there drive to look at varying labor costs. We closed our plant in Mexico and now manufacture all of our appliances in Kentucky."

The need to innovate differently should be at the top of everyone's change order. "The investment has been made in design tools," she explained. "More and more, hardware meets software.  People are excited about manufacturing, and 3D printing or additive manufacturing has driven this. There's a democratization of manufacturing through computational tools and physical manufacturing tools."

lead-Mike-Bacidore.jpgMike Bacidore is chief editor of Plant Services and has been an integral part of the Putman Media editorial team since 2007, when he was managing editor of Control Design magazine. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning a Gold Regional Award and a Silver National Award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at 630-467-1300 ext. 444 or mbacidore@putman.net or check out his .

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Additive manufacturing is changing the way people think, explained Furstoss. "It's the first major change in the manufacturing business model in years," she said. "The previous one was 30 years ago with CNC machining. Now, with the Maker Movement, anyone can be a manufacturer. Manufacturing is part of the innovation cycle. Manufacturing can be the lead."

The new digital thread is what makes it possible. "A digital thread forms the 21st century assembly line for smart manufacturing," explained Furstoss. The "brilliant factory" is part of that thread. It's fed by virtual product design and virtual manufacturing.

"One of the most recent factories GE opened is a battery plant," said Furstoss. "These are very large-capacity energy batteries for backup power at a cell tower or remote location to run energy product. We put this brilliant factory to work. We tied together more than 10,000 sensors to understand how to optimize our factory, where to do preventive maintenance."

GE located this $170 million Durathon battery plant in Schenectady, New York. "We believe in the power of innovation," explained Furstoss.

GE also will be introducing its first 3D-printed metal part into an aircraft engine, the CFM LEAP turbofan aircraft engine. The parts are being produced by Cincinnati-based Morris Technologies, a relatively recent acquisition of GE Aviation. Mass production of precision parts is a big step from custom one-offs, such as the robotic hand that Senior Technical Editor Stanton McGroarty wrote about in June.

"Specialty materials are driving manufacturing needs," added Furstoss. "And specialty processes include advanced lasers, water jet machining, in-process sensing and inspection, 3D painting/cold spray, electrochemical processes, and surface engineering. Don't fear the democratization of manufacturing. Help shape and define it. Evolutions in materials and processes will define future needs. Find strength in numbers and become more connected into manufacturing ecosystems. Manufacturing is a system. The future is here for us to grab."

Read Mike Bacidore's monthly column, From the Editor.