The University of Louisville and GE Team Up For ‘Cutting Edge’ Micro-Factory

A collaboration between the University of Louisville and General Electric announced this week will create a new paradigm of manufacturing, said the dean of UofL’s Speed School of Engineering.

The FirstBuild program is being called “cutting edge” by its collaborators and will give UofL engineering students  the opportunity to gain practical training as they refine existing GE products, such as kitchen ranges and other appliances, university officials said.

Neville Pinto, the dean of the Speed School, said the program is a positive addition to the institution and to the evolving field of manufacturing.

“We expect that will impact the quality of students we attract, the quality of faculty we attract, new faculty that we may hire,” Pinto said.  “It will allow us to leverage that to work on new research problems.”

The FirstBuild micro-factory is the first of its kind and will enable students to solve problems presented by consumers.  At the 35,000 square-foot site, which is still under construction, the students will work to develop and test products to see if they are fit for large scale production. The site that will house the program  will be located on the UofL Belknap campus and is expected to open in late summer of 2014.

“The reason this is different from what has been done in the past is that typically companies have employed a group of engineers to work on the problems,” Pinto said.  “Here, they will be putting those problems out to the world, at large.”

So, say a consumer decides they would benefit from a different design of a stove-top burner.  They would bring their idea into the micro-factory, where a team of engineers and engineering students would then work towards developing a solution to the problem, Pinto said.

“This will then evolve into a new burner design,” Pinto said.  “They will take them into a test kitchen, test them out and see if people like them or not.”

The ability to manufacture small numbers of test products is an economical gain for companies like GE, which, in the past, have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into developing test products that may never garner the desire to for mass production, Pinto said.

“This is much more dynamic, it is a community of engineers working to develop new products,” he said.

Pinto said UofL has had a long running partnership with GE.  Nearly 50 co-op students are working at GE facilities “on any given day,” Pinto said.

Students who graduate after spending time in the FirstBuild program will be in high demand in the workforce, Pinto said.

“I can’t overemphasize how important the collaboration with GE is and how valuable this will be for the vision we have for the institute,” Pinto said.

Jacob Ryan

Jacob Ryan is the Urban Affairs reporter for WFPL.

@jacobhryan

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