Crowdsourcing was the buzzword from GE and NAMII at SME RAPID Conference in Pittsburgh last week

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers is a serious technical group, so I was not prepared for the amount of cool crowdsourcing that took center stage at the RAPID meeting last week in Pittsburgh.  I was expecting good papers on industrial applications of Additive Manufacturing (AM) and 3D Printing.  While there was a nod to the arts with a fantastic 3D Printing art show in the exhibition hall sponsored by GeoMagic, the almost 3,000 attendees got their fill of real world AM success stories from the factory floor.  The papers and exhibition were not as jazzy as Inside 3D Printing last month in New York where focus was more on cool rather than industrial applications.  But to those of us looking to the future of a real industry driven by manufacturing, the meeting was more than exciting even without utilization of the new innovation strategy.

21st Century buzz was generated by crowdsourcing initiatives announced by both the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) and General Electric.  These programs are designed to speed up the innovation process through outreach to the world, technical and not.  Here’s what the two groups are offering:

The NAMII Whiteboard

The NAMII Whiteboard

NAMII’s Return to Sticky Notes

NAMII hit the national consciousness when the Institute was mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union Address earlier this year.  If you looked further into the group however, the high membership fees that start at $15,000 appeared to make participation prohibitive for small business or entrepreneurs.  NAMII has answered that observation beautifully with a full court press into the crowdsourcing arena.

At the opening Keynote address Ed Morris, the Director of NAMII, announced that input for their Strategic Investment Plan would be crowdsourced starting with the RAPID exhibition.  The NAMII booth was in fact one of the coolest – and lowest tech – I’ve ever seen at a technical conference.  A wrap-around whiteboard invited exchange of ideas through questions posed by NAMII staff.

The simplicity should not have been a surprise, since the booth and crowdsourcing activities were developed in the model created by Maya Design, a design consultancy and high tech research lab, whose tagline is “Taming Complexity”.  Show attendees could answer a question such as “What kind of training programs do you need in AM?” on a sticky note and add it to the white board.  I have to say it was pretty cool and changed by view of NAMII as a group of elites.

It will be interesting to see how NAMII utilizes the information it receives, and where non-members without big bucks can fit into future funding opportunities.  If this is any indication of where they are headed, I’d guess we’d better stay tuned to Twitter for the answers!

3D Printed part from Morris Technologies for GE

3D Printed part from Morris Technologies for GE

GE Offers Two Serious Crowdsourcing Rewards

At first glance GE’s newly announced crowdsourcing initiatives offer nice financial incentives to technical innovators, but in fact there is an even greater potential reward for any company that can fit into the giant company’s supply chain.

The first GE Quest is to create a new 3D-printable design for an aircraft engine bracket.  The challenge that is open to anyone with an idea is looking to make jet engines lighter by using AM.  It’s a 2-phase program with Phase I giving the top 10 designers $1,000 each, followed by manufacturing and testing by GE.  Winners in Phase II split $20,000 in total prize money, although GE didn’t specify how that would be divided.  The Quest is going on now and you only have until July 26 to submit an application.  Here’s the link to submit your genius ideas.

It’s the 2nd GE Quest that offers rewards beyond the initial financial reward. Prabhjot Singh, Manager of the Additive Manufacturing Lab at GE Global Research in

Schenectady, New York sees the challenge as a way to bring new vendors into the GE supply chain long term.   “GE had unexpected success with our Ecomagination project to bring ecological solutions to all sorts of business problems.  We want to duplicate that for Additive Manufacturing.”

Dr. Singh explains that GE often happens upon new technologies, processes and products, such as Morris Technologies who provide a 3D Printed part that can also serve as a heat exchanger due to its complex interior structure.

The 3D Printing Production Question is in search of high precision processing and advanced materials.  GE is looking to identify 10 top groups of 3D Fabricators who will get $5,000 each in Phase I.  The 3 Groups going on to Phase II get $50,000 each. Dr. Singh goes on: “We want to find the next Morris with this Quest.”  For details, check out this link.

Watch this space for progress in these crowdsourcing programs!