GE's Littlest Factory Could Have a Big Impact on Your Kitchen

Rapid innovation finally hits the world of home appliances

The appliances in your kitchen might just be boring boxes, but a tiny division of a giant conglomerate aims to change that.

GE Appliances unveiled its new FirstBuild microfactory today, showing off a space that's ready to create custom-built appliances like self-refilling pitchers and sliding oven doors.

Located on the campus of the University of Louisville, a few miles from GE's mammoth Appliance Park factory, it's a place where engineers from both GE and the larger community have access to the tools necessary to rapidly prototype and market new appliance innovations, without the need for focus groups and corporate approval.

Products born in FirstBuild that make it to production will be marketed by GE Appliances and sold on the FirstBuild website. If they generate enough interest to sell in larger volumes, there's a chance that GE will build them in greater numbers at a traditional factory.

Patterned on makerspaces that have popped up everywhere from San Francisco to Cambridge, FirstBuild features 3D printing, CNC machines, wood and metal shops, and a tiny factory where products can be be built in extremely low volumes—think tens, as opposed to hundreds of thousands.

The first innovation to come from FirstBuild was the Micro Kitchen concept that debuted at Dwell on Design in L.A. last month.

Now, GE is ready to market new innovations, including a water pitcher that automatically refills itself, an oven cavity that slides open for easier access, a low-profile garbage disposal, and even a cloud-connected oven that automatically knows how to reheat a frozen pizza after scanning the barcode on the side of a box.

Even the factory itself was ready in record time. Construction started in a former university storage space in early April, but new products are already in production and expected to ship within the next few months.

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The self-filling water pitcher, a product of FirstBuild, will go on sale soon. View Larger

The opening comes amidst reports that GE's Appliance Park may be put up for sale, but FirstBuild officials stressed that the microfactory would stand on its own merits, regardless of its corporate parent.

If FirstBuild does take off, get ready for the chance to order custom-built home appliances and kitchen gadgets that don't look anything like what's on sale at your local Big Box retailer.

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