GE Appliances & Lighting will be getting the most out of the recently announced multi-year (2010-2014), $600 million investment in its manufacturing and other facilities at Louisville's Appliance Park. As part of this investment, two major product platforms – the GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater and a new frontload laundry pair will be manufactured in Louisville. In addition, the dishwasher and top-load washing machine platforms currently made at Appliance Park will be redesigned from scratch – all using lean manufacturing techniques.

The first completely new product line to be manufactured at GE’s Appliance Park in more than 50 years will take a very different journey. The GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater will be developed and manufactured using the Shingijutsu philosophy, or lean production system. GE’s engineers, quality, production (hourly and salaried) and sourcing teams have abandoned the traditional tools of their trade, left their work spaces, and co-located in one work area, under the instruction of specially trained instructors, called senseis, to execute the (3P) strategy – 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 mockups, which allows the teams to identify problems early so that adjustments can be made quickly. The team is already seeing the benefits with dramatically simpler designs and more flexible equipment requirements.

To view a video about the lean process, click here.

Why did GE Appliances pick this time to re-energize its domestic manufacturing capabilities? Two major reasons are the availability of job-creation incentives from state and federal governments, as well as competitive labor costs as a result of the 2009 Competitive Wage Agreement between GE and IUE-CWA Local 761. In addition, the business is shifting the overall investment strategy to one that starts with the most efficient way to manufacture the product as possible, eliminating waste from the start – changing the whole 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. The new investments represent a major commitment by the company to our Appliances business and to our Louisville workforce.”

During a visit to Louisville, KY, GE Chairman & CEO Jeff Immelt talked with Willie Lewis, about the GeoSring Hybrid Water Heater & Lean principles. (Photo: GE)

During a visit to Louisville, Ky., GE chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt talked with Willie Lewis, about the GeoSring Hybrid Water Heater & Lean principles. (Photo: GE)