GE has partnered with 3D printer maker Stratasys to build and commercialize household appliances and accessories.
With help from design firm Local Motors, GE Appliances created FirstBuild, an affiliate that will develop a new prototyping model.
The business plan is to use crowdsourcing to gather ideas (individuals design and submit concepts) and then engineering students from the University of Louisville will work with Stratasys 3D printers at the FirstBuild's "micro-factory" to rapidly prototype and test the concepts.
FirstBuild has created a global online community where anyone can register and submit design ideas, according to GE spokesperson Kim Freeman. FirstBuild has already run idea "challenges" to prompt feedback from its global online commmunity to solve issues with current or future products.
"Then there are ideas people just post, and those grow organically," Freeman said.
Natarajan Venkatakrishnan, director of FirstBuild and Advanced Technologies for GE Appliances, said the 3D prototyping program will also give University of Louisville engineering students and others who work on this equipment at FirstBuild "a significant advantage as they pursue jobs in technical fields."
FirstBuild will manufacture and sell the next-generation of "promising" appliances on its website or through a regional retailer.
"If it's something that really takes off, it could be moved up to mass production at GE's factories," Freeman said. "FirstBuild, though, is for hundreds of something, not hundreds of thousands of things."
Gilad Gans, president of Stratasys North America, said in a statement that the prospects of tapping into the hardware innovation scene through FirstBuild's model "are very promising."
"This is an outstanding opportunity to help revolutionize the way things are made. This is an open-innovation environment where FirstBuild users will be able to use our cutting-edge technology to accelerate product development phases and create real products."