GE builds a home for domestic manufacturing in Kentucky

By Bill Bregar
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: March 11, 2014 1:48 pm ET
Updated: March 11, 2014 8:21 pm ET

Image By: The Gallery Studios Lou Lenzi, director of industrial design at GE Appliances.

Related to this story

Topics Consumer Products Appliances United States Plastics News Executive Forum
Companies & Associations

WESLEY CHAPEL, FLA. — A U.S. manufacturing renaissance is happening at GE Appliance Park in Louisville, Ky. — where the company is leading one in appliances, Lou Lenzi, director of industrial design at GE Appliances, said at the Plastics News Executive Forum.

GE Appliances has stepped up its research when working directly with consumers in focus groups, even going into their kitchens and laundry rooms, he said. Sometimes consumers give live feedback during product design sessions.

Lenzi showed slides of some of the new features. Refrigerators can dispense hot water to make tea or hot chocolate, and they have a bigger platform so you can fill up pots for cooking. Dishwashers are fitted with jets on the top rack to clean the bottom of sports bottles, travel mugs and baby bottles.

Lenzi said appliance designers used to respond mainly to buyers at big retailers. Now the company is doing much more consumer research of its own.

General Electric had steadily moved work out of the sprawling Appliance Park complex, which is so big it has its own zip code. Beginning in the 1980s, GE began outsourcing much of its production to Asian suppliers, to cut costs.

Then in 2008, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt decided sell off the appliance business. The housing bust, then the Great Recession scotched that idea, Lenzi recalled. Equity markets and lending dried up. The amount of available capital shriveled.

So GE leaders refocused on appliances, looking at the total approach to business, not just chasing low wages, he said. The result was a $1 billion investment in equipment and people at U.S. factories, much of it at Appliance Park, which has adopted lean manufacturing and problem solving by employee teams.

“It reflected the commitment of General Electric to really invest in the appliance business and turn the ship around,” Lenzi said.

“It was built on a cultural change,” he said.

GE Appliance has aggressively recruited engineers, designers and skilled manufacturing specialists. Now, people from all functions work together, as designers, machine operators and molding technicians sit in the same room to plan new products. The company has greatly increased worker training.

It’s a big change from the outsourcing days, when GE outsourced production, then some design, to appliance makers overseas, Lenzi said.

“We were training and equipping our current competitors to come after us,” Lenzi said. “It’s a no-win situation, I guarantee you … We’re fighting, right now, those very same competitors that we’ve trained, from overseas.”


Comments

GE builds a home for domestic manufacturing in Kentucky

By Bill Bregar
Senior Staff Reporter

Published: March 11, 2014 1:48 pm ET
Updated: March 11, 2014 8:21 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Eastman Chemical expanding Tritan co-polyester capacity

March 27, 2015 10:00 am ET

Eastman Chemical Co.'s Tritan-brand co-polyester business continues to grow, with 35 million pounds of capacity added late last year and a second...    More

Image

Wal-Mart: We want to buy American

March 25, 2015 3:41 pm ET

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is looking to boost the number of domestic suppliers as part of its 10-year, $250 billion investment program, according to the...    More

Market Reports

Flexible Packaging Trends in North America

North America represents about 30 percent of the global consumption of flexible packaging. Annual growth in this region is forecast at 4 percent during the next 5 years.

For more insight on growth opportunities, drivers of growth and the outlook for 2015, download this report.

Learn more

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Plastics in Mexico - State of the Industry Report

This report analyzes the $20 billion plastics industry in Mexico including sales of machinery & equipment, resins and finished products.

Our analysts provide insight on business trends, foreign investment, top end markets and plastics processing activity. The report also provides important data on exports, production, employment and value of plastics products manufactured.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events