By KHINE KYAW
HAI PHONG, VIETNAM
Speaking to a group of Asean journalists invited to visit its brilliant factory in Vietnam’s Hai Phong last week, Wouter Van Wersch of GE Asia Pacific said the firm’s regional expansion would mainly focus on “optimising” the 23 existing factories in the region rather than establishing new plants.
The regional market is very important to the multinational GE and they are watching it closely, he said. The company is present across all countries in the region and has a steady gaze on optimising its supply chain.
“With constant efforts to see how we can do more and better in the region, this [optimisation] is something that GE is looking at, from the global supply chain perspective.”
The factory in Hai Phong serves as a good example of the firm’s innovations, said the chief executive, pointing to its “brilliant factory” concepts that showcase advanced manufacturing technologies and digital efficiency. As one of GE’s five brilliant factories in the world, the site now exceeds 1,000 employees, half of the firm’s total headcount in Vietnam. To date, the factory has produced more than 6,000 units of generator systems and reached more than US$1 billion (Bt32 billion) in annual exports.
At a “brilliant factory” GE uses the latest technologies to consistently optimise it operations in real time. All staff are trained to collect and analyse data using advanced software and analytics, with better sensors and control systems helping in the collection and analysis process. The approach gives staff a deeper understanding of the factory’s operations, allowing them to easily respond in real time when something is not right.
Van Wersch takes pride in the success story of GE Hai Phong. The factory mainly produces renewable energy machinery and components to export wind-turbine generators and electrical control systems around the world. The facility has plans to expand its workforce to above 1,500 employees in response to the growing demand for renewable energy.
“The market requires it, so we could grow further,” said Van Wersch. “It is always a question of supply and demand.”
The firm has two other brilliant factories in Asia – in Japan and Singapore. The former mainly focuses on healthcare, while the latter prioritises aviation.
All GE factories will be further developed in line with the brilliant factory concept in the future, he said.
“On the brilliant factories front, it is definitely a push we have. We will ultimately make all our factories brilliant. This requires some investment, so we will do it gradually over time. Definitely, all the factories we have will ultimately be brilliant,” he said.
He pledged to be more responsive to the market and do better in terms of efficiency and performance. In this respect, the assessment for optimisation will be undertaken business by business, product by product.
The team fully gets tangible benefits from its use of 3D printing, he said. “We have a dedicated team in every business, and are looking at how we can do more using 3D printing. People are used to working in certain ways, and making changes is always something that we have to do. Honestly, I do not see any issue inside GE on how to leverage this technology in Asia and other parts of the world,” he said.
Van Wersch sees a very promising future in the energy sector in Asean, where around 65 million people still lack access to electricity. He sees renewable energy as a good solution for the long term but there is still a huge demand for fossil fuels and gas turbines, and even coal in some Asian countries including Vietnam and Indonesia.
“We have a very positive outlook ahead. A lot of power plants need to be upgraded to be able to generate more electricity and less emissions. That is going to be a driving force in the electricity market in Asean over the next few years,” he said.
“It is important to bring the best and most efficient technology with reliable suppliers – and GE always does it. We have been part of the region’s development for more than 100 years, and are continuing to be a key player in the world.”
Olivier Fontan, vice president for global supply chain at GE Renewable Energy, considers sourcing an advantage of doing business in Vietnam.
“Sourcing is a big part of our footprint. We will continue to diversify our supply footprint, and this part of the world is really a good place to source for the region and globally,” he said.
According to Fontan, the availability of skilled resources, logistics, and supply in the ecosystem are as important as political stability, incentives and labour advantages. He saw training employees and structuring conceptual designs as the major challenges that faced the transformation of the plant in Hai Phong, and those challenges were successfully addressed.
Trang Vu, the factory general manager, stressed the importance of four main pillars – lean manufacturing, digital maturity, advanced manufacturing and innovative technology.
Productivity will be boosted up to 20 per cent by optimising its manufacturing processes at the factory, she said.
“We have very strong targets in terms of product and service quality, implementing advanced manufacturing technologies and a sustainable improvement culture. We create jobs for locals – only one of our 1,000+ employees is an expatriate,” she said.