Jason Oliver replaced Mohammad Ehteshami as CEO & Vice President of General Electric’s dedicated additive manufacturing division on January 1st, 2018. During our journey of discovery at Arcam EBM Center of Excellence, we caught up with Oliver to discuss the present and future of GE Additive and growth prospects for AM.
Jason Oliver is not what many would call “an additive manufacturing veteran”. He has over 20 years of experience in the digital world and the 2D printing industry. However, a day at Arcam EBM Center of Excellence makes two things blatant: not only does this "outside view" plays to his strengths, but he remains a leader who “knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”.
In two years, a lot happened at GE Additive. Though many others would have seen hurdles, Oliver & his team saw opportunities to seize and further develop the company. How? By taking the best of each world.
Learning from GE’s experience and enable GE to take advantage of GE Additive
Overseeing the operations of GE Additive requires a complete understanding of Concept Laser, Arcam AB, AP&C and GeonX. – In other terms, key parts that constitute the value chain of an AM workflow: hardware, materials and software.
“From a broader strategic standpoint, there is not that much change. However, we learned a lot about what it takes to make our customers succeed in this business. We have adapted our strategy in many ways to support the industrialization of our customers – at a fast pace. When we look at GE Aviation and how it leads the way in the industry, there is no doubt GE has a lot of experience in industrialization. What we are trying to do at GE Additive now, it’s to take advantage of this experience, to support our customers’ industrialization faster”, explains Oliver.
More specifically, GE Additive has decided to focus on quality and processes, which constitute a major part of its strategy and its expansion of new business models.
GE has the ability to think about and implement plans for scaling and that includes: “new facility – where our employees, customers and suppliers could collaborate well and feel special -, joining engineering teams across locations to work on best practices and shared platforms”, completes the CEO.
In the midst of this exciting growth, as GE plays a key role in helping the aforementioned companies to become the “must-see” players in the additive manufacturing industry, it should be noted that the American multinational conglomerate also benefited from them. Beyond their technological competences, GE benefits from their “entrepreneurial mentality”.
For the company’s spokesperson, “those small companies have this entrepreneurial “let’s go & make it happen” mentality, they are always customer-focused, and that’s always the kind of “new blood” GE needs”.
Learning from GE Additive’s teams: “a pleasant challenge”
“Coming into a company and find so many brilliant people that just want to drive technology and solutions that will enable customers to succeed” is what Oliver calls a “pleasant challenge”.
Under this scenario, the challenge lies in the way the company organizes itself, how to get everyone focus on the same strategic priorities? Indeed, it takes time to learn. “To get all those people working as a team, we have to structure ourselves to do that the right way”, said Oliver.
Diversity therefore is the solution. “I think, given the fact that the industry is still young and immature, diversity is a key strength in the development of a company.” Diversity in terms of technological skills: making an engineer with a background in conventional manufacturing technologies and an AM engineer work together for instance; but also, diversity in terms of professional experiences: an experience in AM might be good but not always enough – especially in leading positions that require a more diversified background.
Only in diversity, one can “create new ways to solve problems.”
Learning from each type of customer
GE Additive is seen and is a major player of the AM industry, which mainly attracts companies of this league. However, reality shows that it works both with SMEs and Fortune 500.
The VP explains that some SMEs usually start with one machine and/or less than 5 machines, but they can also collaborate with universities that already have their equipment to achieve their project, and sometimes this can lead to collaborations that move the industry forward.
Learning from market development
From a technology perspective, GE Additive has quickly expanded its offering in the additive manufacturing industry. In addition to Arcam EBM Technology, the AM division of General Electric also delivers binder jetting technology. Even though he did not go into details, Oliver promises that we might expect a lot from the company at this level.
On the other side, even though its development is less about regions and more about industries, the market advancements enable to produce anywhere an operator wants.
“As long as you get the recipe in your hands, you can turn any model into a physical part anywhere you are in the world. More companies understand that they would be more flexible in manufacturing”, comments Oliver.
For the CEO, one thing is undeniable: “Anybody making a metal part today at some point, will deal with AM.”
While GE Additive customers are always investigating new areas of application, Oliver points out the increasing use of AM in sectors such as tools & dies as well as oil and gas – which can see millions in savings via applications.
In the same vein, the space industry is becoming a major adopter of AM. Players of this industry are mainly based in the USA – for now and as far as GE Additive’s clients are concerned -. They can produce parts fast enough for rockets. In a nutshell, they are doing a lot of things and are capitalizing on the benefits of AM. “This is a fun place to be right now. We are having fun on providing them with all kinds of solutions and they are helping us to improve our machines.”
In the end…?
Despite these positive outlooks on AM, it should be noted that there is still a lack of understanding to what it takes to industrialize the whole process.
For GE Additive, “it's about learning how to play with a new instrument. It is sometimes frustrating for companies, but it can also be frustrating for manufacturers. It takes time to learn something different. The learning curve is too long, especially for certification processes. But we're here to help them and show them that we can shorten that time tremendously. The good thing is that, with the combination of hardware, materials and software, GE Additive will not make the same mistakes as GE or GE Aviation. So, AM is not a small matter. There won't be small companies, but really big companies”. Do they not say that sky is the limit?
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