LOUISVILLE, Ky. – April 22, 2021 – GE Appliances (GEA), a Haier company, will graduate its first engineer from its newest workforce development training program – the Industry 4.0 Development Program – targeting recent engineering college graduates or mid-career employees who want to work in the company’s nine smart factories in the U.S. As a digital transformation sweeps across GE Appliances, the Supply Chain team is focused on developing talent to master technology and deliver results from the $1 billion of investments the company has made over the last five years. The new two-year program has four highly technical rotations in industrial controls, robotics, testing and data visualization.

“To help us bring in and sustain much more advanced, automated equipment, we need people who understand it and can ensure it’s designed correctly to fit into our digital environment,” said Trent Ingrim, Senior Director – Advanced Manufacturing/Industry 4.0 for GE Appliances. “A lot of younger people want to grow their careers quickly. When they realize they can gain a lot of experience and seven or eight advanced certifications in just two years, they get excited.” The company plans to triple the number of engineers in the program over the next couple of years.

Collie Crawford has the distinction of being the company’s first graduate of the new Industry 4.0 Development Program. With most of his co-op and prior work experience in industrial controls, Crawford was intrigued by the job posting and learning more in the other three areas. “I loved learning from the engineers during my rotations and finding new applications and ways to do things,” said Crawford. “There are so many considerations on how to make things work that you can’t learn in a class.”

Developing talent in-house

During a 2019 Trustbelt conference speech in Louisville, GE Appliances President & CEO Kevin Nolan encouraged attendees to embrace their own valley – that your workforce development challenges aren’t going to be solved by Silicon Valley or somewhere else. In the Ohio Valley, where GE Appliances is headquartered, the company is creating the Industry 4.0 talent pipeline to help solve the skills gap and ensure the company has the engineering talent it needs to support the recent investments in its U.S. plants and distribution centers.

GEA’s Industry 4.0 Development Program is ideal for people with degrees in computer science engineering and mechanical engineering or graduates of mechatronic programs. The format of the program helps engineers see how systems work together and elevates their problem-solving skills.

The four rotations provide the skillsets for today’s modern supply chain engineering roles.

  1. Industrial controls – The machinery in today’s modern plants is complex, with industrial and electrical controls that need to be programmed, including human machine interfaces (HMIs) or touch screens, PLCs or program logic controllers that make the machine work. In addition, there are many safety controls, such as light curtains and area scanners, to ensure nothing comes in contact with the operator that may pose a safety hazard while the equipment is operating. During this rotation, program members participate in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) design reviews and run-offs to learn how to ensure the equipment is compatible with GEA’s digital plant environment.
  2. Robotics –The rotation after industrial controls is robotics. Participants learn to incorporate the use of robots and other types of controls to work with the equipment – including the use of vision or cameras to drive expanded flexibility and capabilities in the factories.
  3. Test group – The third rotation is focused on testing with a twist from the past. The GEA team decided it would be a strategic advantage to create software and programming in house for test systems and equipment, which has been a “resounding success” with first pass yields up as much as 10%. The improved data is being reported or fed into the company’s Brilliant Factory data visualization system. To finish out the rotation, participants develop competencies in high-level programming and database use.
  4. Brilliant Factory – In the fourth and final rotation, participants continue to develop and refine GEA’s factory data visualization tool – Brilliant Factory – bringing new features to the platform on a weekly basis.

“After completing the program, we want them to understand how a smart, interconnected factory works, and identify what they like most and feel the strongest about as they look for their first assignment off program,” said Ingrim.

As Crawford graduates, he’s taking a controls engineering position in dishwasher manufacturing and hitting the ground running. He’s already been able to contribute with problem-solving on the new dishwasher wire rack line. “The program has made me a better automation engineer, prepared to solve broad problems within the plant,” said Crawford.