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GE’s 4th Quarter: The Industrial Crystal Ball for Embedded Hardware in 2012?

General Electric released its 4th Quarter 2011 earnings today. As many know, GE has grown from its humble beginnings in light bulbs to provide a spectrum of products from aircraft engines to financial services. While GE Intelligent Platforms makes embedded hardware, GE as a whole goes far beyond the world of embedded.  As a former GE engineer myself, I have seen firsthand the world-class technology GE brings to market. Since it is a global company with diverse industries, it is typically seen as a bell-weather indicator for the general economy that drives the vertical markets of the embedded industry.

So, what can we glean about the future of the embedded hardware markets from GE’s 4th Quarter Earnings announcement?

First, off, CEO Jeff Immelt mentions “continued volatility for 2012” and restructuring GE’s business in Europe to match market conditions. Obviously, volatility is never a reassuring term. And the situation in Europe appears uncertain. VDC expects that this will mean fewer embedded hardware shipments to Europe, shifting the market share percentages towards the US and Asia-Pacific regions.

Total GE revenues for the quarter were $38 billion - down from many analysts’ expectations, and down 8% from the 4thquarter of 2010. However, this was mostly due to the impact of GE’s sale of its majority stake in NBC Universal. GE is most likely making the right decision to focus on its core competency: industrial products.

But, GE’s global direction aside, what do their division results say for the future? Energy Infrastructure was up 16% Y-o-Y, which is promising. This energy infrastructure would have opportunities for a host of embedded processors, from smart grid applications to wind farms to gas power turbines. For GE, that meant $43.7 billion dollars in revenue. Lots of opportunities going forward assuming this kind of growth continues. Aviation and Healthcare were a more modest 7% growth Y-o-Y, but still over $18 billion in revenue for each segment. Surely there is some embedded hardware associated with that project revenue as well: microcontrollers into engine related equipment; CPUs, GPUs, and more into MRI, CT, X-ray, portable medical equipment, etc. Perhaps most impressive from a revenue growth perspective is Transportation: 45% Y-o-Y.  In 2009 and 2010, this segment posted revenue declines. 

What are the embedded hardware opportunities in transportation?  First, a closer look at what GE defines as Transportation.  This segment includes diesel locomotives, transit propulsion equipment, motorized wheels for off-highway vehicles, and a variety of other motor and system devices.  As the BRIC economies continue to expand, they are no doubt demanding a range of transportation technologies such as the ones GE offers, which all will likely require embedded hardware at some point in their deployment, so the opportunities for embedded hardware here are substantial.    

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