3D Printed GE “The Future of Additive Manufacturing” Google+ Hangout. Source: Dusit/Shutterstock
3D Printed GE “The Future of Additive Manufacturing” Google+ Hangout. Source: Dusit/Shutterstock

Industry leaders in additive manufacturing met as part of a Google+ Hangout sponsored by General Electric to discuss what’s next for additive manufacturing. They discussed not only commercial printing, but also the impact consumer printing was having on the industry. The online conversation was open to everyone and participants could watch and ask questions via Twitter, using the hashtag #GEResearchLive, and through a comments area on the GE website.

The discussion was facilitated by Christine Furstoss, Technical Director of Manufacturing and Materials Technologies at GE Global Research. Other panelists included Avi Reichental, President and CEO of 3D Systems, Terry Wohlers, Principal Consultant and President at Wohlers Associates, Dr. Ryan Wicker, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director and Founder of the Keck Center at the University of Texas at El Paso, and Rob Gorham, Deputy Director of Technology Development at the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) and National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM).

The conversation provided some insight into what companies are currently doing with 3D printing technology today, and what they are looking to do in the future. GE, for example, is currently the largest user of additive technology for metallic parts in the world. “To me [3D printing] is really signifying the start of what I believe will be the third industrial revolution,” said Furstoss. “A new way of thinking about manufacturing as being as important as any product.” Furstoss stated that GE has used 3D printers to produce prototypes in the past but is now going to start using the technology for production parts as well.

The group talked about some of the biggest changes in 3D printing over the last couple of years. Much of the change has been brought about by the sudden surge in media coverage. “The interest in 3D printing is widespread. I have not run into any sector in industry that is not interested in figuring out ways to incorporate these technologies in some type of product development or production environment,” said Wicker.

As the conversation continued, the topic moved from commercial 3D printing to consumer printing and the maker movement. All of the panelists agreed that the consumer is playing an important role in advancing 3D printing technologies. Gorham explained that NAMII is most excited about what is happening in the consumer market. “One of the things here at NAMII that we continue to be intrigued about is really how the technology has changed from something that was very, very expensive and required a tremendous amount of investment to something that now we’re seeing people put on their kitchen table and work with their kids with,” Gorham said.

Reichental agreed that consumers will continue to be an important asset when it comes to development and advancing additive manufacturing. “The innovation is going to come from all corners of the universe,” said Reichental. “It’s not just going to come from research institutions and big companies. It’s going to come from individuals.”

The discussion ended with predictions about where 3D printing will be 50 years from now. Answers included bio-printing tissues and organs, printing food, much more 3D printing in the consumer market, integrated electronics, and printing in space. Wohlers said, “What’s most exciting is what we don’t know about where this is going in the future.”