DECATUR, Ala.—GE Appliances (GEA), a Haier company, recently completed a $125 million investment at its Decatur, Alabama refrigeration plant that boosted production capacity by 25 percent and created 255 new jobs, the company said in a release. The investment also ensures early compliance with 2022 refrigerant changes. It also allows GE Appliances to increase production to meet growing demand for its top-freezer refrigerators.
“Decatur is a great example of how we are infusing digitization and other new technologies to improve safety, quality, and manufacturing efficiency in our nine U.S. factories,” said Bill Good, vice president of supply chain for GE Appliances, in the release. “Smart factories help us better connect with the consumer by creating a digital thread from the moment the appliance goes into production. We can monitor the production lines from anywhere and pinpoint issues quickly, allowing for production to continue smoothly and efficiently, ensuring we surpass our consumers’ expectations of supply chain speed and reliability.”
The Decatur plant’s latest Industry 4.0 technology additions include data visualization, 3-D scanning, rapid prototyping, and other “smart” automation that provides the operations team with real-time data to make better and faster decisions, the release said.
For example, autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) are being deployed to move materials throughout assembly processes, reducing damage and eliminating ergonomic issues. More than 50 robots perform heavy lifting operations, repetitive tasks, and other precise or ergonomically challenging jobs. The newest and most advanced fabrication equipment in the industry, which was engineered and fabricated in the U.S., builds a steel refrigerator case in seconds. And the plant’s new common product architecture and redesigned assembly lines provide the flexibility to build many different size models to meet shifting customer demand.
“The company’s generous investment helped transform this 42-year-old facility into a Manufacturing Center of Excellence for top-freezer refrigerators,” said Renee Story, plant executive director for GE Appliances. “Adding technology and increased production capability helped our already amazing team move manufacturing to the next level.”
Educating and developing employees to thrive in this modern manufacturing facility is a high priority. The GE Appliances Decatur team has paid special attention to talent and workforce development to help employees operate the advanced manufacturing machinery and equipment. The team has partnered with Alabama Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (ALFAME), conducted hydraulics training through a local supplier, and implemented on-site training for programmable logic controllers (PLCs).
The state of Alabama, the city of Decatur, the Morgan County Commission, the Morgan County Economic Development Association and the Tennessee Valley Authority have been important partners in the expansion, the release said.