We got the chance to make our first visit to a full production Rapid Prototyping and Micro Manufacturing Center the other day, when we stopped by First Build in Lousiville, KY.
I had to chuckle when our guide started out the tour saying " I have never been to a makerspace, people tell me I am spoiled".
A collaboration between GE and University of Louisville, but open to the public- First Build provides local makers ( or distant ones traveling through) access to all the tools you know how to use. Upon logging in, creating an account and signing the waver, you are a "member" and are granted access to their Maker area. This includes basic power tools, 3D printers, soldering/electronics, board reflow ovens, graphic design/CAD capable computers and laser cutters. The more powerful tools are in the Craftsman area, which is accessible only when you have passed competence assessment on the tool you want to use. There are 4 pieces of large equipment in the Craftsman area that no one other than staff are allowed to use ( impact of downtime is too large for their production needs). You can, however put in orders for those pieces of equipment and pay reasonable costs for machine time. It is important to note that First Build does not provide any training, so if you want to use some equipment here, you need to hit up youtube or other training sources before making use of the facility.
The GE staff who are located here have a goal to design at least 12 new product designs/product upgrades each year. If you are an appliance geek, you can design along with them- they have collaborative online designing capabilities. If your designs are used, you will share in royalties as well. Everything here is open and shared with contributors, a true breathe of fresh air in approach from a large corporation. The Opal ( for the good ice) is an example of a GE product birthed here.
University of Louisville students frequently use the space for class projects, and GE staff mentor engineering students for their capstone project. It is a win/win- with the students having access to production level equipment to learn from and GE sourcing great potential new employees from the students who pass through.
Since First Build is fully owned subsidiary of GE, they implement full 5S practices in the space and have daily 8:15 staff stand up meetings to discuss the priority of short batch production orders that have come through from GE and other special orders. A typical short production order ranges from 100-1500 parts. The electronics components they have for sale are all the standard GE parts, allowing them to go from prototyping to production easily.
We loved their signage, especially how they put links to manuals or instructional videos in the Maker room on or near all the equipment.
Like everyone else, we can tell them they are spoiled, but are glad this resource is reasonably close and available for others to share.