General Electric is making a new reach into the “innovation” ether with a partnership agreement that links it to Local Motors, an open-source design and hardware market that provides low-cost tools, small-scale manufacturing capabilities, and marketing strategies for hobbyist as well as OEMs. Together, the new partners will pool development efforts and micro-manufacturing capabilities to commercialize new GE products.
In its statement, GE boasted the partnership would yield “a new model for the manufacturing industry.” More concretely, it said the venture’s first projects would concentrate on GE Appliances and “the future of cooking”: an online “community” of engineers, scientists, fabricators, designers, and enthusiasts will be invited to submit ideas to improve the performance of major kitchen appliances.
The first product is expected to be available to U.S. consumers by late 2014, GE noted. GE will evaluate applications for its other business units in the future.
The work of the partnership will be centered at a dedicated “microfactory” where prototyping and small-batch production will be carried out at an accelerated pace. The microfactory — which will be open to the public — also will house product testing and marketing for the products developed there.
The entire initiative is consistent with GE’s recent focus on product development and innovation, a strategy that has seen it embrace additive manufacturing, among other things.
“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,” explained Steve Liguori, 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,” Liguori continued.
Local Motors is not new to the open-source/co-creation/engineers/manufacturing business. At IMTS 2012, Local Motors built a Rally Fighter vehicle in five days. Continuing that arrangement with AMT – The Association of Manufacturing Technology, Local Motors’ will build and deliver a 3D-printed, production-scale urban electric vehicle at IMTS 2014, in September.
The open platform that Local Motors and GE are establishing will be called FirstBuild. It will launch in the summer of 2014, drawing together innovators from around the world to prototype, iterate and refine existing GE products, and advance new designs.
The most popular innovations may be selected for testing, rapid prototyping, and small volume production at the microfactory.
“GE has demonstrated impressive leadership in its commitment to advanced manufacturing, lean business principles, and the power of the crowd,” Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers said. “These three ingredients are critical for building on a rich tradition of innovation. Together, 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 … will make an enduring impression on the world’s manufacturing history,” Rogers predicted.