BOSTON--Less than three months after acquiring controlling ownership of Concept Laser GmbH of Germany, GE (NYSE: GE) is moving quickly to transform the pioneering additive manufacturing firm by expanding its headquarters, growing its employee base and support teams, and investing in next-generation additive equipment and materials.
When GE acquired a 75% stake of Concept Laser in mid-December, the company had about 200 employees. Today, employment has grown to 244 and is expected to reach between 350 to 400 people (mostly engineers and technicians) by early 2018. Concept Laser is bolstering its field service operations in the United States and Germany, and adding engineers in such areas as production, quality control, development and test.
Meanwhile, architectural concepts are being finalized for a significant expansion of the headquarters in Lichtenfels, Germany, with new floor space for manufacturing, product development and test, and administration.
“Over several years, Concept Laser grew quickly and established a strong reputation with our innovations,” said Frank Herzog, company president who began working on metals for the additive process in the mid-1990s, co-founded Concept Laser with his wife Kerstin in 2000, and commercialized the first metal additive manufacturing machine in 2001.
“GE is enabling us to grow our infrastructure and bring more robust processes and greater resources to our operations. Our immediate focus is to mature our machines and apply the additional resources to improve customer responsiveness and mature, grow, and improve our product offerings.”
In addition to the Lichtenfels headquarters, Concept Laser has significant operations in the United States (Grapevine, Texas), China, and a global network of distributors and agents. Concept Laser designs and manufacturers powder bed-based laser additive manufacturing machines. Its customer base is focused on the aerospace, medical and dental industries, with a meaningful presence in automotive and jewelry. Over the past 16 years, Concept Laser has industrialized the technology with its patented LaserCUSING® process and remains at the forefront of the industry.
Concept Laser is collaborating with the GE Additive Technology Center (ATC) in Cincinnati, Ohio. Here, GE engineers are identifying where additive manufacturing can be used to mass-produce sophisticated components for industrial products, including components for jet engines produced by GE Aviation, a world-leading end user of additive manufacturing technology.
“ATC is a critical piece of the puzzle for Concept Laser,” Herzog said. “We’ve been a manufacturer of the machines and materials for years, but ATC is giving us new insights into the process of product and materials qualification because GE is such an important end user of the technology. The learning is tremendous and will accelerate the development process.”
Concept Laser has also teamed with GE to focus on future technologies – including next-generation additive machines. Herzog added: “We are moving closer to a day where we can fully serve industries, such as automotive, where the mass production of several parts using additive manufacturing becomes a reality.”
Additive manufacturing involves taking a digital design from computer aided design (CAD) software and melting/sintering together in a layer-by-layer manner, using a laser or an electron beam as the energy source. Additive components are typically lighter and more durable than traditional forged parts because they require less welding and machining. Since additive parts are essentially “grown” from the ground up, they generate far less scrap material. Freed of traditional manufacturing restrictions, additive manufacturing dramatically expands the design possibilities for engineers.
GE is a leading end user and innovator in the additive manufacturing space. GE has invested approximately $1.5 billion in manufacturing and additive technologies at GE’s Global Research Center (GRC), developed additive applications across six GE businesses, created new services applications across the company, and earned 346 patents in powder metals used for the additive process.