“This is really just the beginning of our story.”
So says Renato Vidal, site leader at GE Aviation’s state-of-the-art production facility in Lafayette, Indiana. Vidal, a veteran of GE’s Brazil operations, took the helm in Lafayette in 2018. Celebrating the facility’s fifth anniversary on October 8, he remarked that the team’s success has been about one thing: the people.
“Today is a celebration of a terrific team whose collaboration and commitment to quality and safety make us better every single day,” Vidal said. “The facility is incredible, the technology we work with is amazing, but ultimately, our people are at the core of our success.”
In March 2014, GE Aviation announced its intentions to build an advanced manufacturing plant in Lafayette as part of the historic CFM* LEAP engine production ramp. The site’s construction was an instrumental piece of a decade-long expansion of GE Aviation’s supply chain footprint, which included similarly advanced manufacturing operations in Auburn and Huntsville, Alabama, and Asheville, North Carolina, among others. The formerly flat, open field along Lafayette’s Sagamore Parkway quickly became a bustling construction site, and a year and a half after the initial announcement, the 300,000 square foot plant officially opened.
“Celebrating this five-year anniversary of the opening of the GE plant in Lafayette highlights a truly inspiring story of the collaboration between local governments, higher education and the community as a whole to be the home of this state of the art engine facility,” said Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski. “Having GE in our community is a tremendous benefit not only from the jobs they create to the tax base that helps support our local police officers, firefighters, teachers and our parks and recreation, but it also places us in a prestigious position in the global economy. This partnership has been a tremendous success and we look forward to a bright future for this facility and Greater Lafayette with all of us working together.”
Support from local leaders like Roswarski, along with city, Tippecanoe County, and Indiana state agencies helped make the project a reality.
“Greater Lafayette is proud to be the home of GE Aviation’s facility to build the LEAP engine. With GE’s selection of our community in 2014, the rapid construction of the plant in 2015, and subsequent growth of sales of the LEAP Engines around the world, Greater Lafayette has become known as community that understands the aerospace Industry and a growth site for other companies,” Scott Walker, the President and CEO of Greater Lafayette Commerce remarked.
Local Hoosier talent was another major factor in the decision to build the Lafayette site. Between the world-class engineering school at Purdue University, the Aviation Maintenance Technology programs at Ivy Tech Community College and Vincennes University, and an already experienced manufacturing workforce, a qualified talent pipeline was another major plus.
“There’s a tremendous amount of engineering and technical talent coming out of these local schools,” says Tony Denhart, GE’s University Relations Manager. “The fact that GE Aviation has an advanced manufacturing operation literally down the street where they can go see the product up close and personal… That shows them how inspiring a GE career can be, and it can be close to home, too. It’s been a win-win.”
The site first opened to focus on LEAP-1B engine final assembly, LEAP-1A engine core assembly and LEAP Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) services. An influx of talent, growing employee experience, and a self-directed teaming approach to each day’s work have all proven catalysts for Lafayette’s success. That success recently translated to a new final assembly line: GE’s Passport engine. The Passport powers Bombardier’s record-setting Global 7500 business jet and is a candidate to re-engine the U.S. Air Force’s B-52 Stratofortress bombers. This move helps diversify Lafayette’s product portfolio.
But perhaps most impressive is that the Lafayette team’s work has continued despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past seven months, the resilience of the Lafayette team has shown. In April, as GE Healthcare was tapped to double its ventilator production rates in the world’s fight against COVID-19, 40 Lafayette assembly technicians answered the call. The team traveled to a GE Healthcare facility in Madison, Wisconsin, to help build hundreds of ventilators that were eventually shipped around the world.
“GE Aviation has been an important part of our local economy and the pandemic has created challenges for everyone, particularly those in the aviation industry,” Dennis Carson, Director of Economic Development for the City of Lafayette, said. “Despite this, GE and its local team have stayed the course, providing good employment opportunities, along with corporate and employee participation in the community. We look forward to our continued partnership.”
“This year has certainly been unlike any other,” Vidal mentioned. “But we stick together, keep each other safe, and continue to deliver for our customers. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this team.”
*CFM International is a 50/50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines