As part of its $600 million investment in Louisville’s Appliance Park, GE is not just bringing jobs to Kentucky – it’s re-imaging the entire manufacturing process. GE Appliances & Lighting’s new GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater — which is the first completely new product line to be made at the factory in more than 50 years — is being developed using the Shingijutsu philosophy, or lean production system. It involves building the most efficient factory design via full-scale models using everything from cardboard barrels to Lego toys. As Louisville’s The Courier-Journal described it: “GE factory workers, engineers, designers and managers tore apart the GeoSpring hybrid water heater now produced in China …, examining in minute detail how the water heater will come together when the work moves to Louisville next year. ... GE’s Japanese consultants call the approach ‘Kaizen,’ which means ‘continuous improvement.’ The Louisvillians call the build-from-scratch method ‘moonshining.’”

The approach cuts product development time by allowing the teams to identify problems early so that adjustments can be made quickly. In addition to the water heater, GE’s dishwasher and top-load washing machine platforms currently made at Appliance Park will be redesigned from scratch — all using Lean manufacturing techniques.

Pointing to Toyota’s use of the manufacturing philosophy, The Courier-Journal noted that, “outside the auto industry, lean manufacturing techniques still are relatively rare and have been adopted in only 15 percent to 20 percent of non-auto factories in the U.S.” The paper went on to note that “in China, workers now strain to hoist a 20-pound compressor atop the upright GeoSpring water heater and connect the pipes… The Louisville team rearranged the assembly process so the compressor could be attached while the GeoSpring lies horizontally. … Also in China, factory workers now thread their fingers through tight spaces behind the water heater’s control panel to plug in 17 electrical connections. At Appliance Park, the GeoSpring’s control panel will instead swing open like a glove box.”

Not only is the GeoSpring Hybrid Water Heater getting a new home – it’s also an award-winner, having just taken the top honors in the Lifestyle and Social Impact category of the Edison Awards – which has been dubbed the “Oscars of Innovation.”

As The Daily Beast describes it: “Each year, the Edison Awards honor the inspiration, perspiration, and downright coolness behind the most innovative and cutting-edge new products and services. Two thousand business executives judge recent inventions handpicked by the Awards Steering Committee for their ingenuity, impact on society, and the creativity with which they were introduced to the public.” The Beast editors add: “Thomas would be proud.”