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GE Makes a $1.4 Billion 3-D Printing Play

The digital industrial giant is acquiring two European additive manufacturing equipment makers--both of which are active in the medical device space.

Chris Newmarker

GE Arcam SLM
A custom cranio-maxillofacial implant (left) made with Arcam technology and tooth caps (right) made with SLM technology. (Images courtesy of Arcam and SLM

GE, which has a medical device operation among the world's largest, is spending $1.4 billion to acquire 3-D printing equipment makers Arcam AB (Mölndal, Sweden) and SLM Solutions Group (Lübeck, Germany).

Both companies will report to GE Aviation CEO David Joyce, who will lead 3-D printing initiatives across the entire company. The acquisition comes on top of the $1.5 billion GE has already invested in manufacturing and additive technologies since 2010.

GE officials think they can grow their new 3-D printing business to $1 billion by 2020.

"Additive manufacturing fits GE's business model to lead in technologies that leverage systems integration, material science, services and digital productivity," Joyce said in a news release.

A $68-million-a-year business with roughly 285 employees, Arcam is a metal-based additive manufacturing pioneer, credited with inventing the electron beam melting machine. It also produces advanced metal powders. Besides its site in Sweden, Arcam operates AP&C, a metal powders operation in Canada, and DiSanto Technology, a medical additive manufacturing firm located in Connecticut. Arcam's electron beam melting technology, among other things, is being used to create orthopedic implants. The Brazilian company BioArchitects won FDA clearance earlier this year for a patient-specific, titanium skull plate that is created using Arcam's technology.

SLM meanwhile has a $74-million-a-year, 260-employee business producing laser machines for metal-based additive manufacturing. SLM boasts that its systems simplify the manufacturing process for dental components including tooth caps and crowns. The company also supplies the dental sector with CoCr nickel-free metal powder.

Find out how process innovations in 3-D printing are enabling next-generation medical devices at the MD&M Minneapolis conference on September 22. Qmed readers get 20% off with promo code Qmed16.

GE's $1.4 billion investment in the 3-D printing space comes at the same time that other major medical device companies are making moves in the area. Stryker, for example,is creating a 3-D printing plant in Cork, Ireland after enjoying some success with 3-D printed ortho implants.Johnson & Johnson has forged 3-D printing partnerships with companies including Hewlett Packard, as well as Google-backed Carbonand its high-speed CLIP (Continuous Liquid Interface Production) process in which objects quickly rise out of ultra high-performance urethanes.

GE, in fact, is also interested in Carbon. GE Ventures recently joined the latest $81 million funding round for Carbon, which brought Carbon's funding total to $222 million.

Chris Newmarker is senior editor of Qmed. Follow him on Twitter at @newmarker.

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