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Celebrating community, technology and partnerships, GE Appliances, a Haier company, officially opened a $70 million, state-of-the-art water heating manufacturing plant in Camden, S.C., on May 11.
The company renovated and retooled an existing refrigerator plant into its new high-volume water heater facility, which will serve as its Center of Excellence for water heater manufacturing. And, with its 259,000-square-foot production facility, has room and capacity for future growth.
Alfred Mae Drakeford, mayor of Camden, thanked GE Appliances for its investment in community and people: “Lee Iacocca, president and CEO of Chrysler. once said, ‘In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. Unless you have a good team, you can’t do the other two.’ It is obvious that GE has placed a first-class team here in Camden.”
The plant currently employs 140 people. More than 50 team leaders and maintenance employees completed more than 5,700 combined hours of training in robotics, welding and mechatronics at nearby Central Carolina Technical College.
The retooled plant is vertically integrated and will produce units starting from coils of steel into high-quality water heaters for U.S. homes. It includes advanced systems for metal fabrication and welding, robotics for material handling and processing, and enameling of the steel.
The plant will manufacture the GE-branded RealMax series gas water heaters. Features include holding a true 30, 40 and 50 gallons of water; delivering 82 gallons of hot water in the first hour; and an integrated electronic mixing valve that delivers up to 60 percent more hot water when needed. As stored water leaves the tank, the valve mixes in cold water to precisely control the selected water temperature, making more usable hot water available.
Investing in the Future
To date, GE Appliances has invested $2 billion in its overall U.S. manufacturing and distribution operations, adding thousands of new employees and additional jobs.
“We are investing in great towns, such as Camden, S.C., which are the backbone of this country,” says Kevin Nolan, president and CEO for GE Appliances. “We are creating possibilities for people and doubling down on manufacturing and showing how we can build a strong future by investing.”
Investing in growth is evident in several forms. “The investment made in the technology in this facility is a demonstration of our leadership for the next generation of manufacturing,” notes Katina Whitlock, senior manager, community engagement at GE Appliances. “And our partnerships with Kershaw County Schools and Woolard Technical Center is a demonstration of our investments in the next generation of manufacturing professionals.”
She adds that two students from the schools were granted paid internships at the plant, allowing students to “take their classroom instruction and bring it here to this facility for real-world, hands-on work experiences.”
The company is committed to delivering on performance, a maximized distribution network, ease of doing business, and staying close to how it services its customers. “We’re investing in our manufacturing expansions and our distribution to serve the growing customer base,” explains Tom Zimmer, executive director, water heating for GE Appliances Air & Water Solutions.
Serving Plumbing, Heating Professionals
In 2020, GE Appliances announced the launch of Air & Water Solutions, a channel dedicated to serving the needs of professional contractors and wholesale distributors in the plumbing, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning industries. Its robust product portfolio includes water heaters, water filtration, water softening, disposals, HVAC and ductless heating/cooling for light commercial and residential use.
Zimmer oversees the water heating division of the group and explains the importance of staying close to its customer base. “With every water heater model we carry, we’re committed to delivering maximum performance for the professional channel and distributors,” he says. “South Carolina local manufacturing, coupled with GE Appliances’ broad distribution system, assures product delivery within days, offering quick access when our customers need it the most.”
To do so, those overseeing the product lines are empowered to make decisions – considered “micro-enterprises” within the corporate umbrella.
“Each product line is allowed to make their product line decision – from how are we going to do XYZ to how are we going to grow and what products are we going to bring to market,” Zimmer explains. This approach allows for a more bottoms-up approach, and ties into what Zimmer calls a zero distance between company and consumers.
“We focus on how we serve the customers, and there is an incredible awareness of what consumer preferences are,” he adds. “The closer you get to the customer, the closer you are to how you can service them.”
An example is the close relationship GE Appliances has with contractors and wholesale distributors. By working in partnership, the manufacturer can better integrate technological wants and needs, coupled with the trusted brand name support.
“Our entrance into the plumbing and HVAC channel is focused on professional contractors who are on the front lines and never stop creating solutions for their customers,” notes Jim Skaggs, vice president of sales for GE Appliances Air & Water Solutions. “We are committed to matching their passion with a broad product portfolio, winning innovation, an iconic brand and on-demand technical support. Our pros never stop, so neither will we — and that includes our Camden manufacturing team.”