General Electric (GE) has just announced the opening of a new Rapid Prototyping Center (RPC) at their Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky. It used to take GE up to ten weeks to prototype each version of a new design and each design could require as many as 20 different prototypes. This process resulted in a giant, time-sucking development loop. Thanks to the new RPC, what used to take months can now be accomplished in days.

The RPC is home to ten new rapid prototyping printers which are capable of building with a variety of materials. Kevin Nolan, vice president of technology at GE Appliances believes that the new lab will help keep GE at the forefront of the consumer marketplace.

"In the fast-paced, highly competitive appliance industry, additive manufacturing gives us the ability to get new, innovative products to market faster, which is key to succeeding in the marketplace," Nolan said. "This new additive lab makes it easier to trial numerous techniques and more quickly uncover the best solution. RP also allows the engineers to be more creative, take some risk they otherwise wouldn't because if a design doesn't work, it didn't take a lot of time and money."

Nolan also believes the RPC will one day be used for more than prototyping. "The RPC has a huge role in advanced manufacturing. In the future, we will expand the functionality from prototyping parts to producing actual parts that will go right into the products. This is especially useful on low-volume production. We won't have to develop expensive tools to make low-volume parts. We will just print the parts we need," he said.

Some of GE's current projects include a new fabric softener dispenser for a top-loading washing machine and grate design for gas ranges.

GE is just one of many manufacturers to discover that in-house rapid prototyping has massive benefits. Chevrolet and New Balance have already achieved breakthroughs with their own rapid prototyping systems. Even the US Army and NASA are learning to forge the future via 3D printers.