By the end of this year, GE's small-batch manufacturing site, FirstBuild, plans to meet its first challenge. This Louisville, Kentucky, arm of GE Appliances and Local Motors hopes to foster innovation in a creative community of makers once it cuts the ribbon in July. FirstBuild will provide resources and knowledge to ambitious inventors, allowing them to create prototypes of interesting products that might not otherwise have seen the light of day in a normal massive manufacturing environment. The first two challenges it hopes to tackle are micro kitchens and indoor grilling.
Now, GE has announced official plans to start manufacturing micro kitchens through FirstBuild by the fourth quarter of this year. Aiming for the increasing number of millennials and baby boomers that have flocked to small urban living environments, the design concept currently referred to as a "monoblock" will fit all of the functionality of a high-end kitchen into a single 6-foot-wide unit that can be customized to blend seamlessly with the cabinetry.
The current design for the micro kitchen includes three columns that looks like typical cabinets. The interior is anything but typical. On the right, a walnut cutting board covers a sink with a retractable faucet. Underneath is a high-end dishwasher. Move to the middle and you'll find compartments that serve as a freezer or a fridge, with the option to convert pieces back and forth as necessary. Finally, the left third houses premium cooking technology. The top has an induction heating element beneath an unbroken glass surface to allow cooking with any size and shape of pot. The middle pulls out an Advantium microwave. The bottom contains an oven with convection heating.
The team at FirstBuild is still finalizing the exact concept, but the above configuration is estimated to retail at about $15,000. Interested parties will be able to preconfigure the micro kitchen to match the design of their home or office, and can order it from FirstBuild or online. Additionally, GE plans to allow customers to customize their own configuration of modules if they so desire.
For $15,000, GE is certainly limiting the appeal of its product to the most demanding of consumers. Micro kitchens of varying specifications can be had for around $2,000-$3,000, but part of GE's goal with this monoblock is to compact a great kitchen into a small space.
For the extra money, GE says you're not just getting standard appliances. Advantium microwaves can cost a couple of thousand on their own. Induction cooktops offer faster and more energy-efficient heat than gas or electric, and convection ovens use fans to help your food cook evenly. Combine that with a pull-out faucet with a touch sensor for changing the water temperature, the convertible fridge and freezer unit, and the dishwasher, and you start to see the justification for the cost.
Still, if you're a design-conscious gourmet cook, it also stands to reason that you'll regularly need more space to keep refrigerated and frozen food than a couple of drawers. You also probably have room for a full-size refrigerator, as all but the smallest apartments can fit them, and if you can spend 15 grand on a set of appliances, you may not be living in the smallest of apartments. That said, the ultra-space-conscious might already make a habit of frequent grocery shopping for the freshest meals and be less interested in storage space.
Because of the cost, the pressure on GE to deliver its best in each and every component will be high. With so many heating and cooling elements needing vastly different temperatures in adjacent compartments, it won't be easy. If FirstBuild can pull it off, a compact kitchen with top-quality capabilities might find its market, even if it's an exclusive one.