It’s an adult-sized Legoland for creators.
The GE FirstBuild Microfactory, whcih sits on Brandeis across from the SAC on U of L’s campus, has only been open for a month, but has already been the source of numerous creations.
It allows anyone to submit an idea online where it is voted on by the online community. If the idea gets enough votes, the designer can come in and build a prototype to test it out. Everyone else can still come in and build a prototype, but they just have to bring in their own materials.
The factory is divided up into three parts: a showroom, a production room and a workshop-type room. The showroom has some products they have been working on set up for viewing, including a slide-out oven rack and a self-filling water pitcher. It also includes some hands-on activities that anyone can come in and play with like 3D printers and 3D pens.
There is also a lounge area and a fully-working kitchen. In the production room, you can find any tool you would need along with work benches all around the room. The workshop area is where all the big machinery sits.
“It’s fun, you go in and there’s three sections. The offices are box cars, there’s funky art and it’s just different.” said Phoebe Ward, Board of Trustees member. “When the director was asked how he hired the people, he found many of the people who left GE because they couldn’t stand corporate culture. They’re very innovative and they work in box cars and water cars.”
The microfactory allows for co-creation with the use of the online community. The co-creation part of the website is set up like a Pinterest board where people from all around the world can go in and submit their idea. Users can offer suggestions, comments, questions and more while voting on each idea. Right now they have a refrigerator with Wi-Fi in it, so they have opened it up to the community to see what they can use it for.
“It’s beneficial for students because they can find out how to use prototyping machines and gain experience as an engineer.” said Sam Ellis, Mechanical Engineering masters student working at the microfactory. “The engineers are willing to answer anyone’s questions so it helps promote STEM culture especially with high school and middle school kids.”
GE Firtbuild has also held events to get the community to engage more in the project and plans to hold more. They plan to have workshops like 3D Printer workshops, Rasberry Pi contests and more events with WaterStep. Everyone would be invited to attend.