The GE Aircraft Engine Bracket Challenge: An Experiment in Crowdsourcing for Mechanical Design Concepts

Carter, W.T.
Emo, D.J.
Abbott, D.H.
Bruck, C.E.
Wilson, G.H.
Wolfe, J.B.
Finkhousen, D.M.
Tepper, A.
Stevens, R.G.
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University of Texas at Austin

An emerging international engineering design trend has resulted from widespread use of social media: a large number of people are engaged in collaborative engineering design activities to build their design expertise through interaction with other designers, to compete for recognition or prizes, or simply for the enjoyment of doing so. The term “crowdsourcing” was introduced in 2005 and implies soliciting contributions from a large group of people, usually an online community, in order to get a broad perspective from various points of view. This community-generated creativity is contrary to conventional practice in most manufacturing companies, which prefer tight control of engineering designs and practices because they represent key intellectual property and know-how. Recognizing that crowdsourcing represents a potential resource, GE embarked on an experiment to see how a for-profit company might benefit from soliciting new design approaches from this non-traditional source. The design of a specific part, an aircraft engine bracket, was released to an online community of engineers with an invitation to submit improved designs in an open competition. Entrants were encouraged to consider additive manufacturing as the fabrication method. Hundreds of designers submitted concepts and some achieved 80% reduction in weight.