General Electric’s CEO explains his company’s recent bets on 3-D printing and software. There are lots of ideas that pass for interesting and important in Silicon Valley (‘Hey, I’m building a social network for pets!”). Manufacturing technologies aren’t usually on the list. General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt thinks that’s going to change. Next year, Immelt predicted as he addressed a software and dotcom-heavy crowd at a conference GE hosted San Francisco today, “is a time when manufacturing becomes sexy again.”
GE, which did $142 billion in business last year selling engines, turbines, and hospital equipment, has been closely tracking advances that are happening in 3-D printing and additive manufacturing, even developing a way to make fuel injectors for its jet engines through an experimental laser printing process. This month, its aviation business acquired two additive-manufacturing companies that had previously been making parts for GE’s LEAP engines.