In an interview at Formnext, Brian Birkmeyer, the Product Line Leader for Binder Jet at GE Additive, and Chris Schuppe, General Manager of Engineering and Technology at GE Additive, discussed the advancements in GE Additive’s Binder Jet technology.
The GE Additive Binder Jet Line Series 3 was announced in October 2022. The metal AM system builds on technology development work conducted since 2016.
Birkmeyer, with a 13-year tenure at GE and significant experience in the additive sector, highlighted the progress made from the previous year in developing the Series 3 metal binder jet 3D printer. “We’re just giving it a road test, if you will, putting enough mileage on the machine that whatever we put out in the marketplace will be robust,” said Birkmeyer. He pointed out the substantial improvements in the printer’s reliability and uptime. A critical aspect of their development process involved reengineering certain systems within the printer that were underperforming during validation. Birkmeyer emphasized their focus on the entire process, from 3D printing to sintering, ensuring that the end product meets customer needs. He mentioned that their technology can produce parts with precision within casting tolerance levels, even for large parts, and stressed the importance of thorough testing to ensure robustness and reliability in the market. “On a statistical basis, we’re very comfortably within CT8,” a measure of casting tolerance, “and by and large, CT6 also,” said Birkmeyer.
Chris Schuppe, with a background in mechanical engineering and over two decades at GE, leads the engineering team at GE Additive. His experience in additive part development in GE Aerospace has been integral to the progress in Binder Jet technology at GE Additive.
Metal Binder Jetting in the Spotlight
Birkmeyer acknowledged the spotlight on metal binder jetting, particularly in the context of market share and production methodologies. He didn’t provide exact figures but mentioned that “we field in the tens” of GE Additive’s Series 2. Applications focus primarily on stainless steels but also on materials like cobalt chrome, copper alloys, and tungsten carbide. The Series 3 machine, he explained, is designed for greater capability, including handling reactive materials and competing with traditional casting methods. Emphasizing GE Additive’s ambition, he noted their capacity to produce large parts, with examples over 25 kilograms showcased at their booth. “We’re not limiting ourselves to parts that are the size of a tennis ball. We’re targeting large parts as well,” said Birkmeyer.
Addressing the concern of high costs associated with additive manufacturing, Birkmeyer highlighted that GE Additive’s suite includes laser, electron beam, and binder jet technologies, allowing for a range of applications depending on the need. He pointed out that binder jetting is the more cost-effective option when considering raw material costs and production speed. The technology uses about 80% cheaper raw material feedstock and operates significantly faster (approximately 13 seconds per layer), enabling the production of large parts in less time. This efficiency leads to lower costs per cubic centimeter of printed material. “If its straight dollars per cubic centimeter is what you’re after, and the modality can achieve it, Binder Jet is definitely your lower-cost way,” Birkmeyer believes.
What is the GE Additive Advantage?
Birkmeyer acknowledged the challenge of projecting exact numbers for future system installations. GE Additive aims to target customers with scaled production volumes, focusing on installations involving tens of machines for substantial output. He emphasized their system’s capability to efficiently produce large quantities of small parts, suggesting a significant market impact if they penetrate their target segment.
Discussing the unique selling points of GE’s binder jetting system, Birkmeyer highlighted several key features
High Green Strength: Developed through proprietary binder chemistry, it ensures strong as-printed strength, enabling better handling and small feature tolerances.
Efficient Binder Usage: Only about 2% by volume, allowing for easy removal and ensuring good material properties post-processing.
Scalability and Automation: The equipment is designed for scale, with automated processes adaptable to various customer needs.
Safety Standards Compliance: The system operates without special hazard zoning.
Large Part Production: The high green strength allows for the production of larger, thicker parts.
Additionally, Chris Schuppe emphasized the system’s ability to produce larger parts, a direct consequence of the high green strength of the binder.
Birkmeyer also detailed their advanced software capabilities, including simulation and compensation for shrinkage and distortion, and an inspection-based compensation system for ensuring dimensional accuracy. He mentioned a typical shrinkage range of 15 to 20% for dense parts, in line with industry standards.
Birkmeyer emphasized GE Additive’s flexible approach towards sintering in their production process. Historically, they used batch furnaces, but more recently, they have installed a continuous furnace to validate the translation of batch cycles to continuous ones. Despite not being necessary for GE’s own capacity, this installation was undertaken to demonstrate to customers the viability of continuous processing. They have successfully tuned their sintering process to yield good-quality parts from the continuous furnace.
Regarding commercial partnerships, Birkmeyer mentioned that Cummins remains a key partner for GE Additive, alongside ongoing collaborations with Kennametal on tungsten carbide. He noted that many customers prefer confidentiality for competitive reasons.
In terms of profitability in additive manufacturing, Birkmeyer identified key factors that contribute to financial success: part consolidation, performance improvement, and supply chain simplification. He argued that the greatest gains are found when any of these factors are present, such as when a part can be lightened or several components can be consolidated into one. The choice of additive technology—whether it be laser, electron beam, or binder jet—depends on the specific requirements of the part, including material, tolerance, and the intricacy of internal structures.
Birkmeyer was limited in sharing specific customer applications due to confidentiality but did mention one public example involving a diesel after-treatment nozzle produced using binder jet technology. This product, as explained by Schuppe, enhanced the performance of diesel engines, offering new functionality to customers and extending the service life of legacy fleets.
Regarding releasing new binder jet technology, Birkmeyer stated that GE Additive plans to share more details next year. He emphasized the importance of ensuring the technology is robust and reliable before its release.
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Featured image shows GE Additive’s Series 2 Beta and Series 3 3D printers side-by-side. Photo via GE Additive.