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GE ventures into crowd-sourced manufacturing

18 March, 2014

GE (General Electric) has formed a partnership with a US-based open-source hardware innovator called Local Motors, to launch a new model for manufacturing.

The two will combine co-creation with micromanufacturing to build and commercialise the next generation of various GE products, focusing initially on kitchen appliances. They will use advanced manufacturing processes and an open innovation approach to engineering with the aim of reducing time-to-market.

The partners will source collaborative ideas from an online community of engineers, scientists, fabricators, designers and enthusiasts, who will focus on identifying market needs and solving engineering challenges, with the aim of delivering breakthrough product innovations. As part of the partnership, a new microfactory – a facility that focuses on prototyping and producing small batches of products quickly – will be established where ideas from the community will be built, tested and sold.

“At GE over the past years, we’ve redefined our approach to innovation, focusing on R&D as well as co-creation, open collaboration and partnership, which has allowed us to engage new audiences and develop a following across various industry sectors,” says Steve Liguori, GE’s executive director of global innovation. “Today, a new era of manufacturing is dawning – and with Local Motors, we are pioneering the future of work, fast-tracking a new model for the manufacturing industry, and improving and expanding GE’s product offering to better meet future customer needs.”

The collaborative platform, called FirstBuild, will be launched officially in the summer of 2014 and will be the home for a global community of innovators who will prototype, iterate and refine existing GE products, as well as coming up with new designs. The most popular innovations may then be chosen for testing, rapid prototyping and small-volume production at the microfactory, which will be open to the public.

In the video (above), Mary Beckmann, GE’s FirstBuild community manager, discusses the partnership with Local Motors – and rides a motorcycle.

GE and Local Motors are asking potential members of the design community to register their interest via the FirstBuild Web site

“GE has demonstrated impressive leadership in its commitment to advanced manufacturing, lean business principles and the power of the crowd,” says Local Motors’ CEO, Jay Rogers. “These three ingredients are critical for building on a rich tradition of innovation.

“Together,” he adds, “Local Motors and GE will provide a powerful platform to discover innovators and, in turn, make revolutionary new products available to consumers. Rapid iteration, rapid development and rapid manufacturing that will make an enduring impression on the world’s manufacturing history.”

The FirstBuild factory will be located in Louisville, Kentucky, on the University of Louisville campus, near GE Appliances' headquarters. GE and the University plan to create an advanced manufacturing hub where students can conduct research while getting training on additive manufacturing and other technologies in the micro-factory setting.

The first set of projects will focus on GE Appliances and the future of cooking. GE and Local Motors are inviting community members to submit and discuss ideas to improve the performance of certain kitchen appliances. The first products are expected to go on sale in the US by late 2014.

GE will then look at applying this new business model across its other operations.

Local Motors has pioneered the online design and hardware co-creation market by making available low-cost tools, efficient small-scale manufacturing capabilities, and strategies that “empower” hobbyist innovators and OEMs. The company already operates two microfactories in the US and plans to open 100 more around the world over the coming ten years.

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