By Sujoy Choudhuri, Partner, PwC and Ryan Hebert, Director, PwC
When you look around at the modern economy, there are few technologies that are taking off as fast and as far as 3D printing. Practically unheard of just a few years ago, 3D printing using metals is now underpinning what some experts are calling the next industrial revolution. Leading the way in this exploding marketplace (estimated to be growing at 15%) are a handful of technology innovators, including a newly minted unit of General Electric called GE Additive.
The company is harnessing next-generation “additive manufacturing” technology to rewrite the rules for how companies design, build and create products. Instead of building things traditionally by “subtracting” materials, 3D printing allows you to literally start with nothing and watch it grow. The technique is driving breakthroughs in manufacturing efficiency. For example, using advanced 3D printing techniques, GE Additive has been able to cut the weight of an engine piston in half and increase the efficiency of turboprops by 10%.
New applications for 3D printing are springing up in industries ranging from medical devices and dentistry to aerospace and defense. The technology is revolutionizing supply chains, reducing the need for dozens or hundreds of external parts suppliers. Now with 3D printing, they can be made in one place.
The days when 3D printing was considered a hobby or too premature for commercial scalability are long gone. Today, the market opportunity is estimated to be worth some $500 billion. In fact, the additive manufacturing market is so hot—and evolving so rapidly—that companies like GE Additive are scrambling to keep up. To meet demand, they have been acquiring 3D printing firms and related technology providers and services at a breakneck pace and have added customer experience centers in Munich, Germany and Pittsburgh, PA. “Our ecosystem is built around our customers” is one of GE Additive’s mottos.
Turbocharged growth like this posed distinct operational challenges for GE Additive. It was on the hunt for a technology platform that could keep up with the pace of growth and lay the foundation for the future. This is what led the company to embrace the cloud—and quickly.
“Demand was coming at us fast and we had to focus on what’s happening tomorrow, not today,” says Brad Stammen, ERP lead at GE Additive. “We needed to get on a common business platform with one integrated supply chain. We needed a platform to scale.” The infrastructure also needed to be flexible because the company knew that what it built initially was probably going to change in the next few years.
Phasing the company’s journey to Oracle Cloud allowed it to launch critical capabilities sooner rather than later—as did management’s insistence on adopting out-of-the-box business processes embedded in the cloud platform and reducing customizations. By the time the company went live, the vast majority of its processes—including those running its financial and supply chain functions—had been adjusted to match the best practices built into the Oracle Cloud solutions it selected.
Oracle ERP Cloud and Oracle Supply Chain Management (SCM) Cloud provided GE Additive visibility into their value chain while PwC helped architect the integrations and guided their overall business transformation. Since working with PwC and moving to the cloud, GE Additive has been able to handle an increase in orders for their machines and has helped them to act as a leading growth engine inside of GE and within the manufacturing industry.
Speed and standardization were at the heart of the solution. By choosing a cloud alternative, the company launched its core financial system at a key business unit in less than five months, and then added supply chain capabilities such as sales and operations planning, procurement, manufacturing, and inventory soon after that. The company completed the entire deployment in nine months.
Application updates arrive at a faster clip in the cloud, enabling GE Additive to take advantage of fixes and innovations sooner than in the old, on-premises world. “It took us awhile to get used to the speed of the cloud,” says Stammen. “But that’s what customers are asking for and that’s what the market is asking for.”
The company is planning to add more cloud solutions to the platform, including analytics that will allow for more accurate revenue forecasting—an essential capability for a company facing surging demand and a growing install base. “The cloud gives us global visibility at the click of a button,” Stammen says.
GE Additive’s unified ERP and supply chain cloud will enable the seamless integration of newly acquired businesses, while supporting the rollout of new capabilities and continuous process improvement across the growing enterprise. “We looked at this as a unique opportunity to add value to customers,” Stammen says.