Crowd-Sourced Design and Engineering

June 3, 2014
A new partnership between GE and Local Motors focuses on a manufacturing model that pairs co-creation and micromanufacturing to develop and bring to market new GE Appliances.

Though still relatively new, the idea behind crowd-sourcing and/or co-creation—where an online community provides input to direct the ongoing development of products and services—is beginning to gain some serious traction. Some recent examples include: Anheuser-Busch, which used crowdsourcing to develop Black Crown, a beer designed to be more in tune to consumers’ taste for craft beers; Nokia, which uses its crowdsourcing community to improve its product designs; and FedEx, which used co-creation with external medical staff and suppliers to develop a logistics technology that manages key variables affecting the transportion of medical products, such as location, temperature and pressure. (See more examples of companies using crowdsourcing and co-creation via links at the bottom of this article.)

In case there is some confusion between the terms crowdsourcing and co-creation, from what I can tell there is little, if any, difference between the two. There certainly seem to be groups that prefer one term to the other, but when it comes to what is actually done and who does it, both terms essentially mean the same thing. This blog post explains this in more detail if you’re interested.

While reviewing the crowdsourcing and/or co-creation examples I have encountered over the years, I realized that none of them have involved specific engineering or manufacturing tasks. Certainly the new product directions arrived at through co-creation impact the activities of designers and engineers, but the outside community remains clearly separated from specific design and manufacturing tasks. A new partnership between GE and Local Motors seeks to change that.

According to GE, the partnership will pair co-creation and micromanufacturing to “build and commercialize the next evolution of various GE products. The partnership will source collaborative ideas online from a community of engineers, scientists, fabricators, designers and enthusiasts who will focus on identifying market needs and solving deep engineering challenges to unlock breakthrough product innovations. As part of the partnership, a new microfactory—a specialized facility focused on prototyping and producing a small batch of products at a rapid pace—will be established where community ideas will be built, tested and sold.”
The open platform behind this partnership is FirstBuild, where participants can prototype, iterate, and refine existing GE products, as well as develop new designs. The most popular innovations may be selected for testing, rapid prototyping and small volume production at the microfactory, which will be open to the public. The microfactory includes woodworking, welding, 3D printing, computer aided milling and many other tools to help participants built out their ideas.

GE expects the first product developed from this co-creation partnership to be available to U.S. consumers by late 2014.

Articles citing prominent examples of crowdsourcing/co-creation:
Five Examples of Companies Innovating with Crowdsourcing

Five Examples of How Brands are Using Co-Creation

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