GE investment in Welland “Brilliant Factory” to bring 220 jobs

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Rendering of the new Welland Brilliant Factory being built by GE.

After announcing that Welland, Ontario would be the site of a new multi-modal “Brilliant Factory,” GE Canada broke ground for the facility last Friday (August 26). The factory will manufacture reciprocating engines, components for compression, mechanical drive and power generation, and components for GE transportation diesel engines, according to the company. It is expected that the factory will create 220 jobs, with operations commencing in 2018. The first phase of the investment is $165 million US.

GE, which has operated in Canada for more than a century, says that the “first-of-its-kind” facility in Canada will combine decades of experience building innovative industrial machines with cutting-edge data science and analytics expertise to enhance efficiency and streamline production.

The concept of the “brilliant” factory is a sort of industrial-grade equivalent to the “smart home” concept, in which equipment and computers communicate with each other over the Internet in real time, making decisions that affect all aspects of the business. GE says its Brilliant Manufacturing software can help manufacturers “predict, adapt, and react more quickly and effectively” by linking design, engineering, manufacturing, supply chain, distribution and services into one intelligent system. The first GE brilliant factory opened in India in 2014.

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Groundbreaking for GE’s Brilliant Factory in Welland, Ontario on August 26.

The president and CEO of GE Canada, Elyse Allan, said at the official groundbreaking ceremony that the plant is “reimagining how we manufacture,” incorporating all the concepts of “lean” manufacturing with “everything that is coming down the pipe in digital technology.” Among the technologies to be employed will be lights-out, i.e., fully automated machining, wireless sensors and gauges, and data analytics.

The plant will become a base for GE’s distributed power business, and may also support the transportation division by manufacturing diesel engine components.

The decision to build the plant in Ontario, hailed by the provincial government as a move that will strengthen Ontario’s position as a hub of advanced manufacturing, is being called a major blow to manufacturing in the state of Wisconsin. GE is closing its Wisconsin engine factory, throwing several hundred employees out of work in the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha. But the vice chairman of GE, John Rice, said that the company had to work within the realities of global trade, and that “we cannot walk away from our customers.”

Export Development Canada’s (EDC) commitment to building global business activities and the outstanding support offered by the Ontario government, Niagara Region, and City strongly influenced our decision to build the factory in Welland. I look forward to continuing our outstanding collaboration to create jobs and economic growth.

He was referring to the fact that the Ontario government provided a grant of $20.5 million for the Welland factory, while Export Development Canada (EDC) offered financial support for GE’s global business. The US equivalent, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which provides loans, guarantees, and insurance for exporters, is limited to transactions up to $10 million.

In seeking to justify the move from Wisconsin to Ontario, Rice explained that many of GE’s customers required Export Credit Agencies financing, such as that provided by EDC, in order for GE to bid on projects. “Without it, we cannot compete,” he said. Elyse Allan also acknowledged the role EDC had played in the company’s decision to build in Welland, as well as the “outstanding” support of the Ontario government.

About 80 per cent of the Welland plant’s output will be for export, mostly to the United States.

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