GE has been promoting manufacturing—note especially its Super Bowl ad. I’ve noticed other ads where GE is touting its manufacturing heritage. Where Jack Welch was enamored by Hollywood and investment banking, Jeff Immelt is returning the company to its roots. Note also in this release the wisdom of the union leader. Lean principles do not mandate reducing workers. A key Lean principle is respect for people.

According to a recent news release, GE opened a new $38 million manufacturing plant in Louisville, the first in the city since 1957. Workers at the factory will make high-tech GeoSpring hybrid water heaters whose production GE repatriated from China. “Being able to make a new thing in the U.S., that’s a big morale booster,” Patti Beyl said. “It gives me a lot of pride.”

GE managers decided to build the new plant in Louisville during two tense weeks in 2009. The country slogged through the worst recession in decades, costs rose and sales slumped. Keeping GeoSpring production abroad required a large investment. The team in Kentucky then ran costs calculations and determined that opening the plant would be worth it. If they brought in Lean manufacturing methods and cut waste, they could make the heater in the U.S. The local union was on board. “Taking waste out does not always mean taking out headcount,” said union leader Jerry Carney. “If Lean takes a job out on the line, it creates another one somewhere else.”

To learn more about how the plant came into existence, check out the most recent story on GE Reports.

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