GE and Local Motors recently announced the launch of a crowdsourced innovation platform, “Fuse.” The Fuse model is to publicly post problems as a challenge, potentially with a cash prize to solicit submissions, and then evaluate the results. It is part of Local Motors’ new Forth division, and may be joined by similar initiatives with other partners besides GE. As of this publication, Fuse already has four posted active projects related to GE’s innovation needs in non-destructive testing. Fuse will also have 3D printing resources to produce prototypes or for small-batch manufacturing. One GE official claimed that the Fuse model can reduce product development time by 50%, but at this point it is unclear whether that degree of improvement can generalize beyond a few chosen use cases.
GE has long been a leader in both additive manufacturing and novel approaches to improve design (client registration required). GE Aviation held a Fuse-like public contest in 2013 to solicit jet engine bracket designs; the winning design came from an engineer with no aviation experience. Since November 2015, it has been using 3D printing to allow production of military-grade engine parts on-site by the South Korean air force (client registration required). In September 2016, it announced plans to acquire Arcam and SLM Solutions, two world-leading 3D metal printer and printable metal powder manufacturers (client registration required).
GE Appliances has also been working with Local Motors for over two years through the FirstBuild initiative to develop better ways to use additive manufacturing and open design approaches to improve the product design process (client registration required). In that project’s first year, it produced 7,500 design submissions, leading to three new appliances, one of which entered small-batch production via 3D printing.
Local Motors’ more general Forth initiative has the potential to help competitors catch up to GE in terms of access to open design methods. However, GE’s longstanding and ongoing lead in the use of additive manufacturing in aerospace, appliances, and other markets means that it is better positioned than its competitors to quickly and efficiently act on the rapid innovation results that crowdsourced Fuse projects can generate. Those involved in part design and manufacturing should consider working with Local Motors to determine whether crowdsourced design can speed up their innovation processes, and to determine if they have sufficient additive manufacturing expertise to make good use of the results.
By: Anthony Vicari