This Maker Space Might Just Be GE Appliances’ Secret Weapon

As luxury kitchen appliance company Monogram showed off its new Statement and Minimalist collections at the brand’s inaugural High Point Market pop-up this past fall, there was one appliance in particular that stood out. While all products boasted high-powered technology and sleek design, only one—the Open Hearth Oven—could also claim an unusual provenance.

Notably, the Open Hearth Oven didn’t come directly from the Monogram research and development facilities. Rather, the ventless oven, which can reach temperatures of 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit and make a crisp Neapolitan slice in two minutes flat, is the first product developed at FirstBuild, the innovative maker space launched by Monogram parent company GE Appliances, to be introduced into the portfolio brand’s lineup.

Monogram Appliances
Monogram’s Open Hearth Oven, which was prototyped at the FirstBuild maker space prior to moving to Monogram’s manufacturing facility.

Photography courtesy of Monogram

Five years ago, GE Appliances set out to cultivate the entrepreneurial energy and ideas arising in the maker movement. In 2014, it opened the FirstBuild micro-factory in Kentucky on the University of Louisville Belknap campus as a sort of workshop wonderland—3D printers, laser cutters, water jets, ShopBots, and HandiBots included—to encourage designers and engineers to prototype and refine their ideas.

New concepts that surfaced included the Bluetooth-connected Paragon Induction Cooktop, the Opal Nugget Ice Maker, and the Forge Clear Ice System—the latter two of which were undoubtedly inspired by the town’s bourbon connoisseurs. With all that innovation unfolding, it didn’t take long for other appliance brands to take note. Whirlpool launched a similar concept, WLabs, in 2015.

First Build
Inside FirstBuild, GE Appliance’s maker space located on the University of Louisville Belknap campus.

Photography courtesy of GE Appliances

Five years after the space’s opening, the Open Hearth Oven is the prime example of the micro-factory’s capabilities. “It’s the best of both worlds: small-batch production by FirstBuild’s artisan makers coupled with Monogram’s sales and branding horsepower,” Larry Portaro, director of FirstBuild, tells AD PRO. “This approach allows us to stay nimble and react to feedback from dealers and consumers while offering a product people will love.”

The appliance company has since launched two more innovation centers—one in Shanghai in 2017, and another in Hyderabad, India, earlier this year. “What’s exciting about FirstBuild is the community decides what it wants to make, and it can be anything that creates value for the owner,” Chandramouli Vijjhala, GE Appliances’ chief information officer in India, said in a statement at the time of the Hyderbad opening.

“You see this in products like an indoor pizza oven that can bring families together, or a talking laundry module that announces the settings on your washer if you have trouble reading the dials,” Vijjhala added. “It’s too soon to know where the path will take us, but we’re eager to let the community lead the way.”

[“source=architecturaldigest”]