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General Electric Company (GE) Beefing Up 3D Printing Muscle Via Open Engineering “Contests”

General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) is calling on those in the maker community to put their imaginations to work and help it expand the boundaries of what is 3-D printable.

On Tuesday, GE announced at the RAPID 2013 Conference that it’s launching two 3-D printing “quests.” The first is a 3-D Printing Design Quest for an aircraft engine bracket. The other is a 3-D Printing Production Quest for complex and high-precision parts, with potential applications in healthcare. The first quest is open to all, including individuals. The second quest is aimed at 3-D printing fabricators.

General Electric Company (NYSE:GE)

GE’s beefing up 3-D printing muscle to trim costs

Many industries, namely aerospace and healthcare, are increasingly adopting 3-D printing to drive down costs.

General Electric Company (NYSE:GE), for instance, has said that it’s decreased costs up to 25% on some components by using “additive manufacturing,” or 3-D printing, rather than conventional “subtractive manufacturing” methods. This magnitude of cost savings will be separating winners from losers in certain industries. That’s why investors in many traditional industries should pay some attention to 3-D printing even if they don’t give a whit about the 3-D printer manufacturers.

General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) reportedly got a later start in using 3-D printing technology than did The Boeing Company (NYSE:BA), but has been going gangbusters recently playing catch-up. GE is now the world’s largest user of 3-D printing technologies in metals. And its November 2012 purchase of the assets of privately-held Morris Technologies and its sister company, Rapid Quality Manufacturing, gave it a full-scale 3-D production facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, near GE Aviation’s Evendale, Ohio, headquarters.

These “quests” are a great way for General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) to further strengthen its 3-D printing might. In addition to GE likely receiving some winning design ideas, it will also broaden its pool of potential suppliers and employees. In fact, a specific objective of the second quest is to “broaden GE’s supplier network of high-end fabricators with sophisticated production capabilities.” Dangling $50,000 (for up to three winners) in front of 3-D fabricators around the globe, while giving them an opportunity to “audition” as a GE supplier seems an effective way to accomplish this objective.

All this begs the questions: Which companies’ machines are cranking out all those GE widgets? And what’s the industrial metals 3-D printing landscape look like?