Co-Created Products Come to Market

May 21, 2015
One year after the launch of FirstBuild, some of the first co-created products—designed though crowdsourcing of engineering and consumer input—are being released for sale. Manufacturers of all kinds should be paying attention.

Last year, GE and Local Motors launched a partnership to leverage the idea of co-creation and micromanufacturing to build and commercialize the next evolution of GE appliances (see my blog post on the launch). The partnership is built around FirstBuild, GE Appliances’ physical and online community dedicated to conceiving, designing, engineering and building the next generation of major home appliances. According to GE, FirstBuild “fosters co-creation among engineers, designers, makers and home enthusiasts worldwide by enabling them to participate in the development of appliance breakthroughs to ensure FirstBuild brings products to market people actually want.”

At the Maker Faire Bay Area event held last weekend, FirstBuild showcased two new products developed through its co-creation model: ChillHub, a refrigerator with two USB ports and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity, and the Opal Nugget Ice Maker for home use.

In addition to Wi-Fi connectivity, the ChillHub refrigerator has 18-cubic-feet of storage space, a top-mounted freezer, and an open-source iOS app that allows users to access sensor data and control the refrigerator’s components. GE claims the system on which ChillHub is built to be “a first-of-its-kind platform that enables the development of new hardware products that can operate inside a cooled space. It’s also an open development platform designed for makers, hackers, tinkerers and developers to customize and create new uses for the refrigerators through the rapid design iteration capability on the website and in the microfactory through collaboration with other community members.”

The countertop Opal Nugget Ice Maker, for fans of the chewy nugget ice typically only available at stores, can make ice at a rate of one pound per hour.

Though the products designed at FirstBuild are very consumer oriented and may not, at first glance, appear relevant to industrial manufacturing operations, the process by which FirstBuild products are being created and built will very likely have a direct impact on industrial manufacturing in the near future. Watching how the co-creation idea develops over the next few years will provide key insights for manufacturers of all kinds—from consumer goods manufacturers to machinery OEMs.