The metals producer, more than 125 years old, makes parts for gas turbines, the engines that plane manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus install to give planes the power to get you to your next meeting. The problem? All that testing takes time. Between tooling, development, and casting, it used to take Alcoa upwards of a year to manufacture one of the nickel-alloy parts that go into an engine, where it must withstand temperatures of up to 2,000˚F. Then the company caught wind of something called additive manufacturing—better known as 3-D printing.
Alcoa started toying with the technology in the early 1990s. But it wasn’t until the past few years that the company began using it to create the dies that shape engine parts. With additive manufacturing, Alcoa has managed to cut in half the time required to develop the process and manufacture the part. Better still, it managed to cut the cost of the process by about 25%. “We’re really at the beginning of what I would call a second Industrial Revolution,” says Klaus Kleinfeld, Alcoa’s CEO. “You go from idea to product in no time. It’s almost like production at your fingertips.”