Multinational energy, technology, finance and consumer & industrial giant General Electric has long been operating in the 3D printing arena.
Back in October, GE technical director Christine Furstoss stated that she believed additive methods would touch more than 50% of its manufacturing over the next twenty years.
At present, it uses 3D printing in the production of items such as medical devices, large machine parts and product prototypes. This week, GE has announced the addition of a new weapon to its 3D print arsenal: cold spray.
Cold spray involves firing metal powder against a surface at Mach 4 velocity until it forms an object or part of an object. In particular, this is great for repairing metal objects or industrial machinery, as it does not require heat. The repaired part can be essentially rendered as good as new, directly on the machine.
As you can see from the video, the process is incredibly quick, not to mention cost effective. Like any additive manufacturing process, there is little or no wasted raw material. General Electric is going so far as to call the process ‘the fountain of youth’ for industrial machinery, believing it can massively prolong the life span of metal parts.
The process was first utilised by Russian manufacturers during the mid 1980s but has since been adopted by the United States military who use it to repair helicopter parts with magnum alloys. General Electric is using cold spray for lower temperature alloys, such as copper, aluminium and zinc. Also, GE believes it could be an alternative to traditional methods of coating or repairing oil and gas drilling parts.
General Electric’s Coating and Surface Technologies Lab manager, Anteneh Kebbede, puts it this way:
…what’s particularly interesting about cold spray as an innovative 3D process is that is affords us the opportunity to resort parts using material that blends in and mirrors the properties of the original part itself.