General Electric is trying out a new production process that would let consumers customize, build and test new appliances.
The company has opened a “MicroFactory” in Louisville, Ky., where engineers and designers can use tools for woodworking, welding, 3D printing, and computer-aided milling, for instance. (MicroFactory is a subsidiary of GE.)
“Shifting to a market and community-driven innovation strategy will help determine which products we reserve for customization and which are appropriate to transfer to our larger-scale production facilities,” Kevin Nolan, GE Appliances’ vice president of technology, said in a statement.
Some products developed at the MicroFactory will be sold on-site and online; these include a “smart pitcher”, which communicates to water dispensers when it’s filled to prevent spills, or the “Line Cook,” a barcode system on prepared foods that could automatically set oven temperature, for instance.
Online, contributors are work-shopping ideas such as an inventory management system, which could be used to suggest recipes based on the contents of one’s fridge.
The company is also running specific product design challenges — a design for a kitchen appliance bringing outdoor grilling indoors could win $2,500.
Contributors will receive recognition as the initial author of ideas submitted online, according to the company. Some contributors will receive financial compensation for the concepts they suggest online, as well as a 0.5 percent royalty of the product’s sales, per concept. Royalties last for four years after the sale of the first product.