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issue: October 2010 ApplianceMagazine.com

That's Billion with a B - GE Appliances Invests Big in U.S. Manufacturing

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In 2009 and 2010 GE announced plans to invest $600 million in U.S. appliance manufacturing – and on Oct. 18, at added another $432 million to the pot.

GE plans to invest $432 million to establish four U.S.-based refrigeration design and manufacturing "centers of excellence," expected to create 500 new green jobs by 2014.

The new centers for refrigeration products will be located in Louisville, KY; Bloomington, IN; Decatur, AL; and Selmer, TN.

The new refrigeration centers of excellence will co-locate product design teams with manufacturing operations to streamline design development and product manufacturing using Lean processes and practices. GE said this results in improved product quality and service and manufacturing efficiencies that drive down costs.

Kevin Nolan, GE Appliances vice president of Technology, said, "This is a new product development model for us. For years, products have been designed far away from the factory and the people who would manufacture them. By co-locating all the people who are involved in bringing a product to life -engineering, quality, production (hourly and salaried) and sourcing - we increase collaboration and problem-solving and shorten development time. The result is going to be better products for our customers."

The center of excellence approach is being used for the new GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heaters and frontload washers and dryers in Louisville, as well as in the redesign of the dishwashers made there. The team is seeing the benefits of the approach with dramatically simpler designs, elimination of waste, and more flexible plant layouts. This combination has meant greater efficiency and productivity. One of the new products teams achieved double-digit increases in productivity, and manufacture more units per work hour.

Much of the investment will be used to reduce the environmental impact of refrigerator manufacturing. Units redesigned in Louisville, Bloomington, and Decatur will use greener foam insulating process and reduce the overall CO2 or greenhouse gas emissions at these sites by 90% - 687,000 metric tons per year.

The product designs also will improve overall product efficiency and help reduce costs for consumers. All of the new products are being designed to meet the anticipated 2014 Energy Star standards. Most will incorporate smart-grid technology. GE's smart appliances allow consumers to control their energy consumption and save money in areas where dynamic pricing options are offered.

Dirk Bowman, Manufacturing General Manager for GE Appliances, said, "The transformation underway at these facilities is breathing new life into U.S. manufacturing and new life into our products and the future of this business. Our manufacturing teams have demonstrated a desire to compete, and we have no doubt they are uniquely positioned to provide our customers with the outstanding quality and service expected from GE appliances."

Appliance Park Keeps Growing

GE plans an investment of $194 million to establish a Louisville center for bottom-freezer refrigerators - a new product platform for the GE's Appliance Park manufacturing campus. The new center is expected to create 300 jobs.

The refrigeration center will be the third major investment announcement for Appliance Park. The GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater and a new frontload washer and dryer platform will also commence production in Louisville in the near-term.

Bloomington Expanding Instead of Closing

Bloomington, once headed for closure, saw its fortunes reversed on October 1, 2010, when GE said it would instead invest $68 million to upgrade the plant's current product lines.

Now GE plan to invest an additional $93 million to create a GE center of excellence for side-by-side refrigerators in Bloomington. The new center is expected to create 200 jobs. The total investment planned for the Bloomington facility through 2014 is now up to $161 million.

Decatur: $16 Million Plus $43 Million…

GE invested $16 million earlier this year in the Decatur top-freezer refrigerator plant. Now GE plans to invest another $43 million to create a center of excellence for top-freezers and "green" manufacturing. The total $59 million investment, GE said, will help retain more than 1000 Decatur jobs.

Selmer Gets New Monogram Configuration

Monogram Refrigeration Operation, LLC, the wholly owned subsidiary of GE in Selmer, will receive $32 million to redesign built-in refrigerators made there and to produce a new configuration for the high-end market, helping to retain the 166 jobs there.

With the late-October 2010 announcements, GE's total planned U.S. appliance industry investments announced since 2009 have exceeded $1 billion. U.S. jobs created are estimated at 1300.

With these investments, GE will, by 2014, offer the highest percentage of U.S.-made refrigerators among full-line appliance makers.

"With Lean manufacturing and advanced design, we believe that American workers can compete with any in the world. In addition, our employees and union leaders have agreed to innovative wage agreements that further increase the competitiveness of these plants," said Charlene Begley, president and CEO, GE Home & Business Solutions, of which GE Appliances is a part.

James P. Campbell, president and CEO of GE Appliances & Lighting, said, "Appliances is no longer a 'white goods' business. Customers increasingly expect styles, features, configurations and efficiency well beyond the white boxes of yesteryear. With this investment and the commitment of our employees, we will exceed customer expectations with outstanding products that are competitively made in the U.S. to serve the U.S. These moves will transform GE Appliances and are a tremendous win for GE, our employees and plant communities and American consumers."

Campbell said the investments would have been impossible without work underway at the plants to drive down costs and improve productivity and efficiency. "With the new center of excellence model, the adoption of Lean manufacturing and agreements by employees and unions to freeze current wages and adopt competitive wage rates for new employees, these facilities are evidence of a growing American manufacturing renewal."


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