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issue: August 2012 ApplianceMagazine.com

New Dishwasher Production Exemplifies a Changing Culture at GE Appliances

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Opening soon at GE's Appliance Park: a dishwasher manufacturing line built using the expertise of the operators who actually work the line.

GE is in the midst of a multi-year, $1-billion expansion project at several plants in the United States. About $800 million of that billion will be invested in GE's iconic Appliance Park manufacturing campus in Louisville, KY.

This huge complex of appliance factories was once the largest single appliance manufacturing site in the world. Appliance Park, which saw no new appliance manufacturing operations come on-line for 50 years, has been the setting for two new manufacturing operations in 2012. A GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater manufacturing facility opened in February and an operation to manufacture highly energy efficient refrigerators opened in March.

One of the facilities with a new lease on life is an Appliance Park dishwasher manufacturing line. With an investment of $150 million, it leverages newly designed products and new manufacturing processes, as well as the insourcing of a large number of the components that go into the dishwasher.

Planning for the new dishwasher designs and new manufacturing line posed several challenges:

* Installing new production lines in a space-constrained factory, where existing lines would continue to operate.

* Creating a process to leverage Lean manufacturing principles and thus reduce the time it takes to make each dishwasher.

* Reducing operational costs and unnecessary work by employees, to improve productivity while increasing quality.

Intent on developing a new culture of continuous improvement, with a collaborative work environment fostered by Lean manufacturing principles, GE rounded up employees from every discipline needed to design, build, and operate the new lines and co-located them together. The intent was to make communication instantaneous and fluid. Each member of the team had a voice and a role--from engineering, to advanced manufacturing, to the operators who assemble the products. These employees were put on a single team with the common goal of improving the processes and products.

"To be competitive, we have to look for every opportunity to improve efficiencies and productivity while increasing quality. Lean manufacturing principles have improved every aspect of our processes," said Cynthia Fanning, product general manager for dishwashers at GE Appliances.

Production Time Reduce 65%

The dishwasher Lean team came up with solutions to reduce production time and improve the production process and work environment for the production workers. Among their initiatives:

* The team reduced the size of the new dishwasher lines by more than 50% compared to traditional assembly lines, which also reduced production time, increased efficiency, and improved quality. Shorter lines allow problems to be identified and solved more quickly and improves communication on the line.

* The team significantly decreased transportation time within the plant by positioning the new assembly lines in the back of the factory, closer to staging areas for parts, such as dishwasher racks and tubs, and closer to where other parts come into the factory.

* The team included production workers in the design of workstations and processes, which improved efficiency and ergonomics by reducing parts inventories and movements to complete tasks. Production workers also helped develop new job instructions to help eliminate quality issues and improve safety. Finally, production workers helped improve the timely supply of parts to work stations. The overall production time per unit was reduced by about 65%.

"Before we implemented Lean, it was hard to address issues real-time," said Dwight Young, Lean team leader. "Now we are there to listen to the operators. When they identify a problem, we are right there to help fix the issue, so it doesn't have to be addressed later in the process. Lean gives all of us an opportunity to make more of a contribution, to improve quality and productivity, which makes us feel good, more valued."

More U.S. Parts

The new dishwashers will be manufactured with more made-in-the-USA parts. About 85% of the parts in the new dishwashers will be made in the United States, and a growing number of them will be made in Appliance Park. The Park's plastic injection molding facility is now considered the largest in Kentucky and the fourth largest in the U.S. Dishwasher parts will include:

* In-house dishwasher racks: production will increase from 40% to 100% in Louisville's dishwasher factory.

* Production of stainless steel inner and outer doors will be moved from overseas to Louisville.

* 90 additional plastic custom parts/components will be made at Appliance Park for dishwashers.

* 10 more stamping processes will be added at Appliance Park to support dishwasher parts/components.

"When our investment is complete, we will be offering dishwashers with industry-first features in the highest quality products available," said Fanning. "From the innovation in these products to our U.S. employees who work every day to improve how and what we do, we have a lot to be proud of."

Billion-Dollar Success

GE Appliances billion-dollar plan to revitalize its U.S. manufacturing operations started in 2009 and should be complete by 2014. When complete, it will include new manufacturing Centers of Excellence in refrigerator plants in Louisville as well as Bloomington, IN, and Decatur, AL, as well as in a cooking appliances plant in Lafayette, GA. That's in addition to the new Appliance Park water heater plant, making a first-of-its-kind hybrid appliance with advanced energy efficiency levels. And the new refrigerator plant product line has already seen demand increase - GE announced after just a few months of operation that it would add a second shift to increase production. A new Appliance Park clothes washer and dryer plant will begin production in 2013.


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