GE Appliances is signaling a big change in plastic parts sourcing in an expansion of its Louisville, Ky., appliance products operation.
The firm said Aug. 6 that it will make more than 90 additional plastic parts and components for its dishwasher production expansion in Louisville. In-house dishwasher rack production will increase from 40 percent to 100 percent in the site's dishwasher factory. As well, GE will expand in-house production of metal components and back out of overseas imports.
The in-house sourcing program will make that GE plastic injection molding facility the largest in Kentucky and the fourth-largest in the U.S., GE claims. In total, about 85 percent of the parts in the new dishwashers will be made in the U.S.
Production has begun for the first phase of a $150 million investment in the new dishwasher lines. The project is part of an $800 million investment GE will have made in “Appliance Park” by 2014.
GE started the new Louisville in-house plastic component sourcing program on a modest scale in late 2011. The program began with a 12-employee operation costing $2 million to start changing the way GE sources plastic parts in Louisville. The first components off the six new injection presses were plastic control panels for dishwashers made in Louisville. The molding operation included robots and other auxiliary equipment.
GE is extensively employing lean manufacturing to churn out the new dishwashers. The firm reduced the size of the new dishwasher lines by more than 50 percent in the space-constrained factory. Repositioning the lines cut transportation time within the plant. Workers' input helped design workstations and processes, improving ergonomics, efficiency and quality. Production time per dishwasher was cut by 65 percent, according to GE.
“To be competitive, we have to look for every opportunity to improve efficiencies and productivity while increasing quality,” said Cynthia Fanning, GE Appliances product general manager for dishwashers. “Lean manufacturing principles have improved every aspect of our processes.”
“Before we implemented lean, it was hard to address issues real-time,” team leader Dwight Young said in a news release. “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.”
The new dishwashers feature increased capacity and other innovations designed to encourage consumers to replace their older appliances with the new generation or to start a household with dishwashers offered by GE.
GE's move to more U.S. production is part of a trend flagged by the Commerce Department, whose chief economist, Mark Doms, reported Aug. 3 that the U.S. private sector added 172,000 jobs in July. Overall employment rose by 163,000. The U.S. economy has added a total of 4.5 million jobs over the past 29 months, Doms said in a DOC blog. “Today's employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to recover from the deepest recession since the Great Depression,” Doms said.
Other appliance majors do some in-house plastics processing, but GE seems ready to do more. Electrolux Group's large refrigerator plant in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, is one facility that molds, forms and foams a large volume of plastics.
GE is spending $1 billion to upgrade all its product lines and create new plants for products not previously made in the U.S. Those products include its new GeoSpring hybrid water heater plant in Louisville, and new operations for the production of bottom-freezer refrigerators and front-loading clothes-washing machines. The company said it plans to open a new plant to make front-loading washers and matching dryers in early 2013 in Louisville. It also, by 2014, will upgrade factories making side-by-side refrigerators in Bloomington, Ind.; top freezers in Decatur, Ala.; and cooking products in Lafayette, Ga.
GE has hired more than 1,000 production workers and nearly 500 engineers since planning the made-in-the-USA push in 2009.