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.