The FirstBuild micro-factory, a collaborative project among GE Appliances, the University of Louisville and Local Motors, a Phoenix-based open-source hardware innovator, opened July 24 on the Belknap Campus.
The 35,000-square-foot facility, located in a former warehouse at 333 E. Brandeis Ave., is a space where home appliances are designed, built and sold using an online co-creation community and micro-manufacturing model. The model is believed to accelerate the development of new appliances with faster testing, customization and small-batch production.
The micro-factory includes a showroom, kitchen demonstration area, metal and wood shops and lounge areas. There, UofL students and researchers have the opportunity to collaborate with GE engineers and entrepreneurs and inventors from the community as they make innovative new appliances.
FirstBuild soon will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. UofL President James Ramsey told a crowd of about 200 that the new FirstBuild facility will be “an incredible resource” for faculty and students, and he predicted that the micro-factory will help transform the way manufacturing is done throughout the community and state. He told reporters that he believes the micro-factory concept provides a way for American companies to remain competitive after losing manufacturing jobs to other countries in recent years.
Kevin Nolan, vice president of technology for GE Appliances, described the FirstBuild model as “a game-changing way to design, make, test and sell incredibly unique products,” and he praised UofL and other partners in the project for creating a sense of community.
“Our community isn’t a gated, closed community,” he said. “It is an open, boundary-less community that embraces an online co-creation community and welcomes anyone interested in making things.”
Through FirstBuild.com, community members can submit ideas for new products, vote on which concepts are pursued and determine whether they move on to production. Prizes and sales royalties will be awarded to community members who make significant contributions.
At the FirstBuild grand opening, attendees got to see some of the first products developed at the new facility, including a refrigerator with a smart-fill water pitcher and an easy-slide oven door that makes it simple to retrieve dishes without reaching into the oven’s cavity.