GE Appliances today opened a plant in Camden, South Carolina, designated as the company’s Center of Excellence for water heater manufacturing. The $70 million plant features several advanced technologies and a workforce with over 50 team leaders that participated in a collaborative training program at Central Carolina Technical College (CCTC).
Robots Provide Welding Perfection
“In tank fabrication, we have automatic robotic welding with integrated seam tracking technology. That means the robot is able to detect the edge between the two metals and position the weld in the right place every single time,” says Engineering Program Manager David Sheldon, leader of the cross-functional team that developed the product, plant and processes. “In the area where the top of the tank shell fabrication is made, there are extensive robotic cells that handle, assemble and weld large numbers of components automatically."
“For material handling we’re extensively using Fetch robotics and Agilox pallet movers to move parts around the factory,” Sheldon adds. The plant also features a 100% autonomous enamel system that detects the size of each tank and adjusts processes accordingly, with no human handling of shells or flues.
College Collaboration Creates Clever Craftspeople
GE Appliances shared its plans for the plant including the technologies the plant would employ and worked with CCTC administration to customize an existing curriculum.
“For many employees this was there first time back in the classroom in more than 20 years, but they did a tremendous job and supported each other throughout the process,” says Frank Scheffel, Camden Plant Manager. “Once back at the plant, we continued their education with training robots, leadership skills, Lean manufacturing and spot welding every week. They are problem solving experts who will definitely be our competitive advantage.”
GE Appliances also announced a partnership with Kershaw County Schools’ Woolard Technology Center, to hire and train local high school students.
“The GEA Woolard Technology Center Intern program is a paid opportunity offering flexible schedules while students complete their high school education,” adds Scheffel. “Our first interns will begin when school lets out.”
The plant currently employs 140 workers and is built for future expansion.