The 3D Printing Production Quest challenged entrants to use additive manufacturing to produce complex parts with high precision using refractory metals. In case you don't know about the materials, refractory metals are likely to transform how components are manufactured for x-ray-based medical imaging systems such as mammography, cardiac catheterization and computed tomography.

Refractory metals feature high density characteristics which allow them to very effectively block x-rays without the environmental and health hazards associated with lead. With their very high melting temperatures (up to 6,000°F), they're used in x-ray systems to control the path of x-rays from the source through the patient's body as well as certain components such as x-ray source tubes that take advantage of the high melting temperature.

General Electric, working with digital strategy firm Undercurrent and open innovation leader NineSigma, created the two-phase quest.

"Ideation – through open innovation – creates customer value and drives advancements across industries," said GE Executive Director of Global Innovation, Steve Liguori. "GE's engineers, the global maker community and other fabrication leaders are applying additive technologies, including 3D printing, to address customer needs more efficiently and effectively."

The global medical imaging market is expected to reach $35.35 billion by 2019, and GE envisions additive manufacturing enabling new component designs that greatly simplify manufacturing and reduce cost, while improving image quality and diagnostic capability.

"Harnessing the power of the crowd is essential to disrupting current processes and accelerating the pace of innovation," Liguori said. "GE's Quest program taps into the world's greatest minds to create products that bring new values to our customers and speeds the time from mind to market."

The winners were selected based on a statistical analysis of their dimensional capability as well as several qualitative aspects of the entries. Participants represented research teams from academia, start-ups and established businesses from six countries.

 The winners are: Martin Leuterer, EOS GmbH, Germany; Rob Snoeijs, LayerWise, Belgium and Bernhard Tabernig, PLANSEE SE Innovation Services, Austria.

"Through open innovation, we're able to uncover fresh perspectives from experts in new areas, accelerate the pace of innovation and transform industries, faster," said Denys Resnick, vice president of Strategic Programs at NineSigma. "This is the beauty of harnessing the power of a global network of connected innovators from across industries."

GE is leading the way in global additive manufacturing and more than 200 such technologies are used in over 80 plants around the globe. Additive manufacturing is just beginning to find a place in medical imaging systems, and the results of the 3D Printing Production Quest are aimed at finding new opportunities in x-ray systems.