Technology makes the world smaller. This is pretty much old news for anyone who has an Internet connection or iPhone. What was once impossible has quickly become the norm. From e-mailing colleagues in Bangalore to holding face-to-face meetings with teams in Shanghai, technology has allowed us to instantaneously connect with billions of people around the world.
This drastic shift in the way we communicate is ushering in new ways of doing business. Many companies embrace telecommuting and/or freelancing, which eliminates geographical boundaries and helps to lower costs. Others utilize online marketplaces, like Amazon and Etsy, which provide exposure for those who have limited resources. This combination of remote talent and online markets has created an influx in virtual communities that use input from its contributors – crowdsourcing – to drive change and innovation.
As a company with the tagline “imagination at work,” it is no surprise that GE is at the forefront of this evolution. This month, GE Appliances, GE Garages, and Local Motors are collaborating to launch FirstBuild™, a social community that will harvest ideas from industrial designers, scientists, engineers, makers, and early adopters to develop the next generation of major appliances. FirstBuild will help GE identify market needs while pairing our deep technical domain knowledge with a broader community to unlock breakthrough product innovations. The best designs from the community will be manufactured at low volumes and sold to validate market potential.
The idea of using virtual communities to crowd source ideas and promote collaboration has also sparked interest from the U.S. federal government. In February, President Barack Obama announced that the Department of Defense (DoD) would fund the multi-million dollar Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation (DMDI) Institute. Led by UI Labs, the Illinois consortium – which includes GE and 72 other companies, nonprofits, and universities – will create an online community to spark smarter, faster, and more efficient manufacturing.
Businesses and individuals will be encouraged to share their engineering models, design ideas, and concepts within the community. Larger companies can then seek out these ideas to improve their current manufacturing processes and/or materials. It creates diversity in the supply chain and provides individuals with the opportunity to market their application-specific ideas or inventions to potential buyers.
Streamlining innovation and closing the gap between engineering development and the end product can transform the way we manufacture. It promotes competition, reduces overall costs, and moves visions to the marketplace faster. For a company like GE, it connects us to the brightest minds and most ingenious creators so we can build, cure, move and power a better tomorrow.