Can GE and Local Motors Revolutionize Manufacturing?

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General Electric (NYSE:GE) has come a long way since bringing the lightbulb to market. Last week, the global industrial conglomerate announced a partnership with Local Motors, a micro manufacturer specializing in open-source design, marking a milestone in General Electric’s changing role in the 21st-century economy.

The arrangement is a marriage between the ingenuity of the crowd and the advanced manufacturing capacity of General Electric. The traditional model with an industrial powerhouse like General Electric or United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) relies heavily on a strong internal research and development team that is able to outperform the competition. More specialized manufacturers like Ford (NYSE:F) also rely on the ability of their own designers to outperform (or at least keep pace with) their counterparts at a competitor like General Motors (NYSE:GM). Ostensibly, the better product wins in the market place.

The new model, represented by General Electric’s partnership with Local Motors, takes some weight off the shoulders of the in-house R&D team. Instead of relying on the ingenuity of a set of employees, General Electric can tap directly into the creative flow of an enterprising community of creative thinkers and designers from around the world and from every walk of life. The partnership positions General Electric as a sort of curator of the content — the inventions and innovations of the crowd — that can help foster and prototype interesting ideas and then commercialize the good ones.

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