Is 3D Printing Overrated? Not at All, Says GE's Jeffrey Immelt

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3D printing is "worth my time, attention, money, and effort," Jeffrey Immelt, chief executive of GE, said at an Atlantic conference today on the future of manufacturing in Washington, D.C.

Also known as "additive manufacturing," 3D printing involves a machine using a digital model to design a solid, complex product from various materials, from a simple sculpture, to a shoe, to -- perhaps? -- an airplane turbine.

Immelt said he understood the difference between "a cartoon" and an idea that's "worth spending a lot of time on": and that 3D printing clearly fits in the latter category.

"3-D printing helps you make the product from the core up so you have less waste," he told Greg Ip, economics editor of The Economist. "The tool is cheaper, the time is faster. If all I thought 3-D printing could do was shoes, I wouldn't be talking about it."

He predicted that manufacturing employment would rise, not only in nominal terms, but also, perhaps, as a share of the economy. One wonders how that might change with the rise of artisan machines.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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