Assembling a Community of Makers and Builders with GE CoCreate Stamford
GE CoCreate Stamford held the grand opening of its 67,000-square foot state-of-the-art micro-factory, showroom, and collaborative community maker space this past October. Since then, the space has run on an appointment-only basis, but it will soon be a place for creating, connecting and inspiring the public.
“An elevator pitch I use to describe [CoCreate] is it is our community creative playground,” explained Experiential Design Director at GE Appliances Michelle Donovan. CoCreate is a collaborative space at its core, allowing customers to be involved in formulating ideas for new products. “If you have a new idea or we have a new idea that we are looking to bring onto the market, we co-create with customers,” Donovan continued. “We bring the idea to you and say, ‘What do you think we need to do to make this better?’”
Donovan walked Connected Design through the new facility and detailed all it has to offer for prospective customers, creative inventors and the local community
More Than Showrooms
Upon entering CoCreate, one of the first things visitors will notice is the showrooms for GE Appliance brands lining the front of the facility. Walking through these showrooms, Donovan energetically explained, “I don’t think people realize the full breadth of brands and offerings that [GE Appliances has] in [its] portfolio.” The showrooms feature brands from across the GE Appliance spectrum that appeal to a variety of clients, such as Monogram, Café, GE Profile, Hotpoint, Haier and the classic GE.
But the showrooms are not the chief attraction of CoCreate. While customers can come in and preview the GE Profile UltraFast Combo washer-dryer or experience the Monogram Forge ice maker before deciding whether to take it home, CoCreate is a joint effort between the customer and the manufacturer to achieve the best possible experience with their appliances.
“We started to think about how we can become a resource center for people,” Donovan stated as she showed us the Café section of CoCreate. Café is a brand under GE, known for higher-end appliances designed with trendy, tech-savvy individuals in mind. A Bellissimo Espresso Machine and a Professional Series 30-inch Smart Built-In Convection French-Door Double Wall Oven adorn separate show kitchens, each with their own design accents and personalities on display in the cabinetry, countertop and hardware choices.
CoCreate does not supply these elements, but they “have preferred partners that do specialize in [those areas],” so the facility brings them into a dedicated space, called CoDesign. “We can be a complete solution for someone looking to renovate their kitchen from beginning to end.” One such featured partner is the plumbing manufacturer Kohler, which designed smart hardware in custom colors and finishes to match Café appliances.
The experience center also features a test kitchen outfitted with Monogram appliances. In this space, CoCreate will host cooking classes and demonstrations. Four corner hubs face a central chef island, each of which are outfitted with the exact same Monogram appliances, cooking tools and equipment. Monogram “is the top of the line for [GE] appliances,” explained Donovan. “We figured if you can operate the top of the line, then you can operate any of our appliances.”
The test kitchen also serves as a space for Monogram appliance owners and buyers to test out the features of their new appliance. “It is almost like buying a car,” explained Donovan. A customer can go for years not knowing all the perks and features their connected appliances have to offer. What CoCreate is doing differently is offering customers who have already purchased a Monogram appliance “a tutorial on how to make the best use of it,” taking the guessing out of the equation. Not only is this exceptionally useful, but it also makes the buying experience more personal by guiding the customer throughout their purchase journey.
Fostering Innovation in the Maker Space
Another offering from CoCreate is the Maker Space. Originating with the Louisville, Ky.-based manufacturer FirstBuild, the Maker Space at CoCreate is a place for anyone in the Stamford community who wants to bring their ideas to fruition with tools and equipment provided by CoCreate.
The area is divided into two rooms. The first room is what Donovan describes as for the novice makers: those who can utilize easy-to-operate machines such as a 3D printer, laser cutter and a wall of hand tools to make whatever they want on dedicated workspaces. The second room is for more experienced builders, over 18 years of age, and has more sophisticated machines.
What is unique about the CoCreate Stamford Maker Space is that it is open to the public. Usually Maker Spaces “operate on a membership model” where “you pay a membership fee and you can come in and use the facility,” began Donovan. However, because GE Appliances CEO Kevin Nolan “is extremely passionate about the Maker Space, he refuses to charge” for use of the facility. The only fees are for supplies.
CoCreate aims for the Maker Space to be a resource for the local community. The week before our tour, CoCreate hosted middle schoolers, who created wood and rubber holiday-themed stamps, which were then used to create holiday cards for the charity Cards for Hospitalized Kids. CoCreate has also partnered with West Hill High School in Stamford to provide “a place of practice” for a teacher who is building a manufacturing class into the school’s curriculum and is looking for a workshop “where his students can actually practice what they have learned at school,” Donovan explained. Down the line, the CoCreate Maker Space will have classes in cabinetry, welding and metalwork.
The Maker Space is also a place where people can bring their ideas for potential products to life. If someone has “a new idea that they want to bring to the marketplace, we will work with them,” said Donovan. CoCreate will bring in engineers to hone a creative vision and help determine the best way to make a product idea happen and sell well.
Bringing Back Manufacturing in a Big Way
In addition to purveying consumer appliances, CoCreate is also boosting the manufacturing industry in its micro-factory. The brick-laid exterior of the CoCreate micro-factory is a replica of the now-closed Bridgeport, Conn. factory
Until recently, the U.S. manufacturing industry was on a steady decline. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the number of domestic manufacturing jobs declined by one-third between 2000 and 2010. Jobs “had been relatively stable at 17 million since 1965, [but] declined to below 12 million in 2010.” It was not until 2016 that this number increased to 12.3 million. Reasons for this change include income inequality, competition with international markets and a decentralized labor force that lacks proper training.
CoCreate aims to help remedy this by offering training and jobs to college students, such as those at the University of Connecticut and Norwalk Community College. Prior experience or educational background is not necessary for students looking to get involved in manufacturing at CoCreate. “If you have an interest in learning how to build something or manufacture something, we will educate and train you,” elaborated Donovan. “We want kids to come here and see that manufacturing is very different than” what “[people] think [it] is.”
The CoCreate factory is a micro-factory that manufactures two small appliances: the GE Profile Smart Stand Mixer and the Monogram 30-inch Hearth Oven. In the micro-factory, the two products are assembled, quality-controlled and packaged by hand for shipment to a distribution center. From there, the products go to a dealer to be sold. “It is very different [from] a traditional manufacturing plant,” Donovan told Connected Design, explaining that many factories today have incorporated robots into their manufacturing and production processes. “[Robots are] amazing, but [CoCreate is] very different than what people are expecting.”
Donovan likes to call this method “flexible manufacturing” because “we’re able to adjust according to what product needs to be made.” A small-scale operation like this is also optimal for those using the Maker Space to test out product ideas before developing them for the market.
Building a Community
CoCreate Stamford is planning to open to the public in January 2024. Despite the number of resources it offers already, the facility has at least two more projects planned to make CoCreate even more useful. First is the CoDesign Education Center, which will be on the upper level of the facility and will serve as a learning center and hub for people in the industry looking to expand their training and gain certifications. The second focuses on what it takes to build a net-zero home, which will consist of an illusion of a two-story home with products from GE Appliances and a coalition of partners.
The center’s mission, however, is to foster and build communities through ideation, creativity and education. On December 9, CoCreate will have hosted its first annual Winter Village, an event that speaks to CoCreate’s purpose. For the event, the facility partnered with five community groups, such as REACH Prep and the Boys and Girls Club, to build things that will be on display in each brand’s section. The premise behind this idea, Donovan explained, is to be a sign to the community that their work matters and that CoCreate will be there every step of the way. “I want to display something that you built here,” concluded Donovan. “Because, again, that is the idea behind CoCreate.