General Electric Co. is pushing further into 3-D printing, spending $1.4 billion for a pair of small European firms to expand its ability to make aircraft components and other parts with the new manufacturing technique.
GE said Tuesday it would launch tender offers to buy Sweden’s Arcam AB and Germany’s SLM Solutions Group AG, redoubling its efforts to expand in additive manufacturing technology, which GE is already using to produce fuel nozzles for its newest commercial jet engines.
The deals are part of the industrial giant’s drive to make for itself the machines it will use to produce more 3-D printed parts over the next decade. GE said it can produce complex metal parts at lower weights and cheaper engineering costs than traditional forged or cast parts.
“Eventually, companies here are going to hit escape velocity in terms of scale,” GE Chief Executive Jeff Immelt told investors on a conference call, referring to the makers of additive manufacturing machines. “We want to be one of the companies that does that.”
The driving force behind GE’s experiments with additive manufacturing has been its huge jet engine business, but the conglomerate has also begun to use the machines as it develops new products in its power turbine and medical equipment business, said David Joyce, the CEO of GE Aviation.
GE said it expected to purchase about 1,000 new 3-D printing machines over the next decade. By bringing the two firms in-house, GE says it could cut costs by $3 billion to $5 billion across the company, since the technology could reduce design and material costs.
Arcam and SLM Solutions are two of the world’s leading producers of machines used for 3-D metal printing. Each reported roughly $70 million in revenue last year and have around 300 employees.
GE offered 285 Swedish kronor ($33.32) a share for Arcam, or about $700 million, and EUR38 ($42.38) a share for SLM, about $761 million. Both were all-cash offers. By late morning Tuesday SLM shares were up 38% at EUR38.38, while Arcam had jumped 54% to 285.4 kronor.
GE “is paying a very high price” to gain access to the printer technology, analysts from Germany’s equinet Bank said. The SLM acquisition comes only about two years after the northern Germany-based company went public and a decade after its founding.
Arcam, founded in 1996 and based in Sweden near the city of Gothenburg, invented an electron beam melting machine used in the aerospace and orthopedic implant industry.
The acquisitions also means GE could position itself as the supplier of such machines, as well as the powder metals used in additive manufacturing and the service contracts need to maintain them.
GE said it expected to boost annual revenue at the new additive business to $1 billion by 2020.
GE, with more than 300,000 employees, has invested about $1.5 billion in manufacturing and additive technologies since 2010. Those efforts deepened with its 2012 purchase of Morris Technologies, a Cincinnati-area firm whose technology helped lead to the 3-D printed fuel nozzles in GE’s new LEAP jet engines, as well as other components being engineered for military engines.
Mr. Joyce said additive designs enabled GE to eliminate 845 parts from the design of a new turboprop engine it will launch in 2018, significantly cutting the engine’s weight.
One challenge will be improving the speed of production with 3-D printers. GE is hoping to boost production speed by two to three times over the next few years, said Greg Morris, who leads the aviation unit’s additive manufacturing efforts. In the future, the company hopes to boost speeds as much as much as 100 times or more, he said, though those developments are likely years away.
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