Although the 3-D printing craze has captivated investors' imaginations, a lesser-known technology called "direct write," or 3-D inking as General Electric (NYSE:GE) likes to call it, offers the potential to make products and components even smarter. On a high level, 3-D inking is technology that has been around for about 15 years and can print conductive inks in a highly intricate manner. One of the most common applications of 3-D inking today is in cell phone antennas. The video below, featuring General Electric global research division engineer James Yang, demonstrates the 3-D inking process.

Source: General Electric.

General Electric plans to turn 3-D inking into a manufacturing platform capable of printing sensors directly into products and components that undergo high stress and temperatures. With 3-D inking, components inside the harsh environment of a jet engine could one day be monitored for health and performance in ways not possible before, ultimately providing a better value and product for customers. Collectively, the data points gathered around these sorts of 3-D inking applications feed into a bigger vision at General Electric: The Industrial Internet.

On a high level, The Industrial Internet's goal is to make machines smarter by unlocking insights from greater data collection. 3-D inking is an excellent candidate for gathering this valuable data, which will likely pave the way for future product innovation.

In the following video, 3-D printing specialist Steve Heller asks Christine Furstoss, who heads ups General Electric's 3-D printing research division, about her thoughts on 3-D inking and how it may be used in the future.

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Steve Heller has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.