GE Current, a Daintree company, has begun manufacturing its new line of horticultural LED grow lights in its state-of-the-art facility in Hendersonville, N.C.
Walking through Current’s LED light manufacturing facility in Hendersonville. N.C., you’d be surprised to learn that the plant has been in operation since 1955. Inside this pristine facility you’ll see robotics and digital equipment that you would expect to find in any state-of-the-art manufacturing operation. What is even more surprising as you watch the employees efficiently build the lighting fixtures is that the plant faced potential closure in 2008.
Prior to 2010, the fulfillment lead time for most orders was six to eight weeks with an on-time shipping rate of 60 percent. Today the plant delivers most orders in two to four weeks with an on-time rate over 95 percent.
“We manufacture primarily outdoor lights for highways, streets and parking lots at this facility” said David Martin, who has been the Hendersonville plant manager since 2014. “We have another facility in Acuña, Mexico, that does primarily indoor fixtures. We do manufacture some indoor products as well, including lights used in industrial applications. We have also started to manufacture a new horticultural series of LED fixtures, the Arize Factor, along with the updated Arize Element series, which has been made overseas.
“Recently we started manufacturing a new indoor product that we call our 365DisInFx™ LPU, a UV disinfectant puck. It is a product that is mounted on the ceiling similar to a smoke detector and it sends out UV light that inactivates airborne viruses.”
Building, shipping to order
Martin compares the Current plant to a Subway sandwich shop.
“We have all the ingredients or parts in stock so that we can build a light fixture whenever an order comes in,” he said. “We have a lead time for orders, but it is based more on capacity and orders that are ahead of an incoming order. The ability to make any SKU at any time is something that we take pride in.
“The products are already pre-engineered and then the customers select which ones they want. Customers may order a model with certain features and options and using our flexible manufacturing process we can customize a fixture to meet each customer’s specific needs. We make every fixture from scratch with the features and options that our customers select.”
Growers who order only a few fixtures typically require a shorter lead time.
“If a grower wants a large quantity of lights, we’ve found there are only a few of our customers who can handle receiving hundreds of fixtures that can be installed on the same day,” Martin said. “Normally when we have large orders we work with customers to plan their order deliveries so they receive a certain number of fixtures per week rather than shipping all the lights at one time. This eliminates having the fixtures sitting for weeks at the growers’ facility before they are installed. It all depends on the customers’ needs.”
Switch to customizable LEDs
Up until 2010, lights manufactured by Current at its Hendersonville operation were traditional high pressure sodium and metal halide fixtures.
“HID fixtures were the predominant product for many years,” Martin said. “In 2010 we started building our first LED product. Over the past 10 plus years we have transitioned to 100 percent LEDs.
“Many of the parts used to manufacture the LED fixtures are made in-house. The main component in any LED fixture is the light engine or LED circuit board. We manufacture the PCBA (printed circuit board assembly) here on site. They are made to order for our customers.”
When Current began manufacturing LED lights in Hendersonville it bought the circuit boards from overseas suppliers like other LED fixture manufacturers.
“We were sourcing the boards from overseas because we hadn’t yet invested in the equipment to build our own,” Martin said. “At the time we were still venturing into LED lights. We determined there was a competitive advantage to manufacturing our own boards. We found we could increase the speed of delivering products to our customers by insourcing the manufacturing of these critical circuit boards.”
When Current outsourced the production of the circuit boards it could take up to eight weeks to receive them from its overseas suppliers. Now the plant can manufacture the boards in about 15 minutes. The boards are not manufactured until an order is placed. This flexibility enables Current to deliver its customers different color temperature choices and lumen levels.
“The circuit boards can have many different variants depending on what a grower is trying to produce,” Martin said. “That customization of different types of light in the fixtures is really well suited for this facility. We can make anything the grower may need because the fixtures are manufactured here. We can include any type of LEDs on the boards to tune the fixtures for what the growers are looking for.”
Eliminating economic, manufacturing uncertainties
In addition to updating its equipment, the Hendersonville plant has incorporated LEAN operating principles.
“We use LEAN manufacturing techniques combined with digital tools to enhance the whole manufacturing process,” Martin said. “Even though this plant was built in 1955, it looks brand new with white ceilings, bright gray floors with everything organized and labeled. There is a digital board above the manufacturing lines that indicates the customer order, what fixture is being built, how many have been built for the day and whether or not production is on target.
“One of the main reasons that the new horticultural lights are being manufactured here is we have become the center of excellence for surface mount technology (SMT). That is how the LED circuit boards are made. We have found that with our Intelligent Factory, as we call it, we can use LEAN and digital systems to make the factory much more customer centric.”
Martin said the digitally enhanced factory has become a showpiece for customers to visit.
“We have customers come through the facility and once they see how we manufacture the lights they’re sold by the time they leave,” he said. “Assembly in America may make the fixtures more expensive from a labor per hour cost standpoint, but the efficiencies that we have incorporated in the plant over the years have helped to keep us competitive versus fixtures manufactured outside the U.S. Besides the closeness to our customers, growers need to consider the issues and challenges of buying products manufactured overseas, including tariffs, transportation costs and shipping delays. It really makes sense for our horticulture customers to choose our fixtures.”
For more: GE Current, a Daintree company, Daniel Lee, (216) 375-4618 Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org; https://products.gecurrent.com/horticulture-led-grow-lights.
This article is property of Hort Americas and was written by David Kuack, a freelance technical writer in Fort Worth, Texas.