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GE Brings More Lean to Appliance Park
May 12, 2010
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Lean manufacturing techniques are being leveraged by GE Appliances & Lighting as it prepares to expand production at Appliance Park in Louisville, KY, U.S.

The Appliance Park manufacturing campus is going through some of its most significant changes in decades, with $600 million being invested during the 2010-2014 time period.

The investment will include the addition of manufacturing two product platforms - the GeoSpring hybrid water heater and a new frontload laundry pair. In addition, dishwasher and top-load washing machine platforms currently manufactured at Appliance Park will be redesigned from scratch. All the projects use Lean manufacturing techniques.

The GeoSpring hybrid water heater, the first completely new product line to be manufactured at Appliance Park in more than 50 years, will be developed and manufactured using the Shingijutsu philosophy or Lean production system. GE engineers, quality, production (hourly and salaried), and sourcing teams have co-located in one work area under the instruction of specially trained instructors, called senseis, to execute the (3P) strategy of Production, Preparation, and Process.

"This is a radical departure from our normal engineering and manufacturing processes, which utilize high-tech equipment, involve massive manufacturing equipment and hand-offs from team to team. The Lean process is a hands-on, one team approach,” said Dirk Bowman, GE Appliances manufacturing leader. “Now, the Lean process instructs the teams to learn by doing and to leverage the power of collaboration. No more sending engineering drawings or strings of emails from building to building. They work as a co-located team, which allows them to make adjustments in real-time.”

The new Lean Production Preparation Process (3P) ensures that every skill needed to build a new product is in the room from the first day to product launch. This cross-functional approach cuts product development time and involves all team members in the entire process, from design through production. 3P also emphasizes using full-scale equipment and product mock-ups, enabling the teams to better identify problems early and make adjustments quickly.

GE said the team is already seeing benefits with simpler designs and more flexible equipment requirements.

GE Appliances identified two drivers behind the recent expansion of domestic manufacturing capabilities: the availability of job-creation incentives from state and federal governments and competitive labor costs as a result of the 2009 Competitive Wage Agreement between GE and IUE-CWA Local 761.

GE said it is shifting the overall investment strategy to one that starts with the most efficient possible way to manufacture the product, eliminating waste from the start, and changing the entire strategy of product development.

“The journey will take several years to fully implement,” said Bowman. “But the changes point to a promising future for appliances in Louisville and will strengthen our competitiveness globally."

PHOTO: GE Chairman & CEO Jeff Immelt talks with Willie Lewis, about the GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater and Lean manufacturing principles during a visit to Louisville.

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