Friday, May 21, 2010
By Catherine Godbey
GE plant keeps refrigerators rolling off the assembly line
Some companies display plaques. Others display trophies. General Electric displays refrigerators.
“We have the first one that came off the line, the one millionth and the last type of this model made all here,” said Decatur’s Plant Manager Tom Rossi, gesturing to the row of refrigerators in the GE lunchroom.
On Wednesday, GE produced the newest addition to the “trophy case.”
Thirty-three years after the plant produced the first GE refrigerator in Decatur, the 25 millionth rolled off the assembly line.
“The 25 millionth will go in the lunchroom beside the other special refrigerators,” Rossi said.
For now, the guardian of ice cream and keeper of foods, sits at the end of the assembly line, serving as a backdrop for pictures.
Veteran and rookie workers paused temporarily to gather for photographs but quickly returned to their stations, not wanting to interrupt the assembly line.
Machines continued to cut rolls of steel. Hooks continued to lower white basins into the skeletons of the refrigerators. Conveyor belts continued to transport the products. Production continued.
Each year, the 700,000-square-foot facility produces about one million 16- to 18- cubic feet refrigerators, used primarily in multi-family homes and apartment buildings. From Decatur, the white, beige and black appliances travel throughout the United States, to Canada, Puerto Rico, Europe and the Middle East.
“Back in 1977, we were making about 67 a day,” Rossi said. “Production really stepped up when GE invested $150 million into expanding the plant and that added 700 jobs.”
Staying aware of competitors, a qualified work force and commitment to product quality provided the basis for the plant to produce 25 million refrigerators, Rossi said.
“Twenty-five million says two things — longevity and success,” said Human Resources Specialist Tyrone Orr.
The 25 millionth refrigerator is a milestone not only for GE and the workers, but also the local community, Orr said.
“This plant has been running for 33 years and employs 1,100 workers. Everybody in the community either knows someone who has worked at GE or worked there themselves. Decatur and GE are connected,” Orr said.
According to the Morgan County Economic Development Association, GE is the largest manufacturing employer in Morgan County.
Adapting to the ever-changing market and focusing on customers’ needs will keep the plant rolling out a refrigerator every 20 seconds.
“The first refrigerator made here was manual defrost. You had to use a hair dryer or ice pick to melt the ice,” Rossi said. “Now we are making energy-efficient appliances. That is the trend now.”