In the first entry in this series, I discussed why the Maker Movement, sometimes dismissed as quaint and cutesy by people not familiar with it, should in fact be taken seriously as the source and stimulus for the next wave of manufacturing innovation.
This installment is a report on a highly unusual organization at which this innovation and stimulation are underway. It’s unusual because it represents the collaborative efforts of a very old, very large, very successful worldwide corporation, and a community of very new, very small, very local entrepreneurs.
This is of course the FirstBuild “microfactory,” established in Louisville, Kentucky, two years ago as an offshoot of GE’s Appliances division, whose large “Appliance Park” manufacturing center is on the southeastern edge of Louisville. To give an idea of its micro-ness: GE Appliances as a whole has something like 12,000 employees; the full-time staff of FirstBuild is about 20.
As noted in the previous installment, this week GE completed the sale of its whole Appliances division, including little FirstBuild, to the Haier “white goods” company of China. GE had originally planned to sell to Electrolux, of Sweden, but because Electrolux already has a large position in the U.S. appliance market, and Haier does not, that sale ran into U.S. anti-trust obstacles. You never know until you see how things develop, but Haier contends that it will leave the management, production plants, and staff of the appliances division fully in place, including for FirstBuild. The new logo, which you see above, says in larger type “GE Appliances,” with “a Haier company” modestly underneath. (From the start, the FirstBuild logo, which you see below, has not included GE, and it does not now include Haier.)