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Superconductivity at General Electric (1960-1990): from science to technology to products and profits

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1 Author(s)
Abetti, P.A. ; Lally Sch. of Manage. & Technol., Rensselaer Polytech. Inst., Troy, NY, USA

Summary form only given. In this case history, we discuss the evolution of superconductivity from empirical discovery to theory development, to proof of the theory by the General Electric (GE) laboratory experiments, to the development, design and manufacture of superconducting materials and magnets for a limited market, to the breakthrough of application to magnet resonance imaging (MRI) which resulted in the world leadership of GE in sales and profits in the medical diagnostic imaging market. We show how the basic research by GE physicist Ivar Giaever led to a Nobel Prize but did not produce any commercial benefit for GE for twenty years. In fact, GE decided not to enter the superconducting materials and magnets business, and allowed entrepreneurial researchers to spin off a new venture. Only ten years later did GE decide to reenter the business and produce its own magnets for vertical integration within its MRI business to become the world leader. By analyzing the risks involved in new product development and launch, we explain why GE's decision to spin off the business in 1971 was strategically correct, and why the decision to reenter the business ten years later was equally strategically correct

Published in:

Management of Engineering and Technology, 1999. Technology and Innovation Management. PICMET '99. Portland International Conference on  (Volume:1 )

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