Photographer: Ross Mantle for Bloomberg Businessweek
Photographer: Ross Mantle for Bloomberg Businessweek

Inside the Lab Where GE Builds Its Future

Explore General Electric’s 125,000-square-foot Center for Additive Technology Advancement.

At 125,000 square feet, General Electric’s five-month-old Center for Additive Technology Advancement is as big as a factory. But the $40 million facility near Pittsburgh feels like a lab. Within, engineers and technicians experiment with new ways to make things, using lasers, for example, to fuse metal powder into machine parts, or a 3D printer to layer one polymer on top of another. Once they’ve perfected their methods, full-scale production is turned over to the company’s individual businesses. Jennifer Cipolla, who runs CATA, says the center is focused on the question: “How do we stay on the cutting edge of technology at all times?” —Photographs by Ross Mantle for Bloomberg Businessweek

A technician prepares to add metal to a direct metal laser melting machine to begin a new build. Reading from a CAD design file, the machine’s lasers fuse one fine layer of metal powder onto another. Each layer is from 20 to 80 microns thick, which is less than the thickness of a human hair.

Photographer: Ross Mantle for Bloomberg Businessweek

Shutter cams for GE Energy Connections are placed in a curing oven, where they’re heat-treated. Temperatures in the curing oven, which is filled with argon or nitrogen, can reach 2,000F.

Photographer: Ross Mantle for Bloomberg Businessweek

The Fortus 900 is one of a number of printers at the facility that create products from polymers. This machine extrudes heated polymer filaments in layers.

GPS housing covers made in a Fortus 900 using Ultem, a thermoplastic.

For rapid prototyping, layers of fine sand are mixed with a fixative that hardens them into a mold. It’s then dispatched to a foundry to be cast in metal overnight.

The sand mold core for a flow cell valve for GE Oil and Gas, shown alongside the final part.

A technician vacuums excess sand from the sand-jet binder. CATA staff are meticulous about salvaging materials, partly to prevent contamination.