FirstBuild is a new factory concept for manufacturing white goods and accessories that has been established to maximize the benefits of crowdsourcing and micro-manufacturing. And in this case, micro-manufacturing does not refer to the size of the parts being manufactured, but rather the volume of parts produced, enabled, of course, by 3D printing and advanced manufacturing technologies.
So who is behind establishing FirstBuild? That would be GE Appliances, a subsidiary of the General Electric Company; the University of Louisville; and Local Motors, the company behind the Strati 3D printed car that made its debut at IMTS last week. However, it’s not all about cars, Local Motors positions itself primarily as a company that “combine[s] co-creation and micro-manufacturing to bring hardware innovations to market at unprecedented speed.” And these are the values being fully adopted by FirstBuild to create, develop and commercialize the next evolution of various GE appliances and accessories by leveraging 3D printing, and other advanced manufacturing processes in an open innovation approach to engineering.
The 3D printing partner, announced just yesterday, is Stratasys, and it’s not difficult to see how this came about, with Bre Pettis on the board of both Stratasys and Local Motors.
The premise for this initiative is to change the way things are made — focusing on the people that buy and use those things and allowing them to be involved in creating their own things. The inherent safety standards of manufacturing kitchen appliances and electrical goods is not something that can be overlooked, and that is why FirstBuild is about building a community — both online and physical — that allows customers to put forward their ideas for a refrigerator / dishwasher / vacuum cleaner (you get the idea) and the concept is crowdsourced out to a talent pool of designers, engineers, and makers that understands how to bring the product into the physical world in line with design constraints and standards. The partnership with Stratasys brings sophisticated 3D printing technology into the mix at the FirstBuild micro-factory located in Louisville, Kentucky — primarily for concept development and functional prototyping. FirstBuild will then manufacture and deliver the home appliances to customers.
The way that Gilad Gans, President of Stratasys North America sees it is thus: “the prospects of tapping into the hardware innovation scene 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.”
While Natarajan “Venkat” Venkatakrishnan, Director of FirstBuild and Director of Advanced Technologies for GE Appliances sees 3D printing as central to the FirstBuild offering. He said: “Incorporating Stratasys’ leading additive manufacturing technology into our micro-factory capabilities provides an enormous benefit in both product development and production by saving us time, money and resources. It will also give the University of Louisville engineering students and others who work on this equipment at FirstBuild a significant advantage as they pursue jobs in technical fields.”
The FirstBuild micro-factory is actually based on the University of Louisville campus and will produce products and sell them through FirstBuild’s website and physical retail store, also located at the Louisville facility, as well as through traditional retail channels. Indeed, I have it on good authority that the Louisville facility is the first stage in a major new technology innovation and pilot production campus being set up by the University of Louisville Foundation. The university’s additive manufacturing group is all set to be a key anchor to that new campus.