GE Appliances partnership brings autonomous shipping vehicles to the U.S.

Harry Chase, Senior Director for Central Materials with GE Appliances

In late October, GE Appliances, a Haier Company (GEA), announced plans to invest $450 million at its headquarters and manufacturing operation in Kentucky and add over 1,000 new jobs by year-end 2023. Now the company has partnered with Einride, a freight technology company, to bring autonomous freight and shipping vehicles to the U.S., resulting in greener and more cost-effective freight transportation. Einride’s first installation of its Pods in the U.S. will operate at GE Appliance Park in Louisville.

We spoke with Harry Chase, senior director for central materials with GE Appliances, regarding the partnership and what it means.

Tell us about the partnership with Einride.

Chase: We’ve been talking to Einride for about a year now but really started engaging with them last December when they began looking at coming to the United States. They work on several different areas, and we are particularly interested in their work on optimizing the utilization of electric trucks. We wanted to know if we went electric, how would we pull all that together? Do we have charging stations in the right areas for our logistics flows? What they offer is a total approach to the electrification puzzle.

How will the tech be used?

Chase: We move a lot of product between the Appliance Park and our warehouses. In February, we’ll start using electric trucks to run shuttles between our warehouse and Georgia. We’ll also move parts from our warehouse in Louisville just 1.2 miles down the road into the appliance park. In addition, we have two plants that are spread apart by about six miles. We’ll not only shuttle parts between those two plants, but also move finished goods to a warehouse.

So the thought of synchronizing the material flow between those support plants is where we think we’re going to get the ‘biggest bang for the buck.’

When you say ‘bang for the buck,’ do you mean both in terms of cost savings and sustainability?

Chase: Yes. GEA is very interested in reducing our carbon footprint, and electrification drives a lot of benefit. It is also safer—you don’t have to worry about leaking propane everywhere. It is lower maintenance; the motors last longer. Moreover, we get the cost benefit of not having to do maintenance. When we do maintenance on a diesel truck, we’re spending anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 just for preventive maintenance. When we look at doing it for an electric truck, it starts going down to $200.

What did you specifically like about Einride?

Chase: They’ve designed their solution. They didn’t just take a diesel truck, electrify it, and then throw some autonomy on it. They rethought the puzzle and took it from the ground up.

We’re really excited about the fully autonomous solution they call the Pod. It’s a self-driving truck that doesn’t have a cab attached to it. They asked, if you didn’t have to have a driver then why have a cab attached to it? The space-saving aspect really piqued our interest. We got autonomy, but it also provides a safer working environment for our team members.

What was the attraction for Einride to partner with GEA?

Chase: There are different levels of automation, from 1-5. Five is full autonomy. This is where you just let a truck run up and down the road, and it can deliver to a house and can drive on the interstate. Two is where you have a fenced-in area that can’t be accessed by the public in general. That’s where Appliance Park really allows the testing to understand whether this will make it to the third and fourth stages of autonomy. We can test safely inside a controlled area. So they’re excited to partner with us, and we’re excited to be testing out this technology.

What’s the long-term plan?

Chase: If this works successfully in Appliance Park, then we’ll try it on rural roads. As the thought process builds and autonomy technology grows, we’ll be able to actually run these around the road. However, that’s probably four to five years away.

Right now, the thought is the remote driver would be involved 40% of the time. Eventually, as we test this out and improve the safety factors, we’ll get up to where it’s driving by itself 90% of the time. The whole story of sustainability and cost savings is a very interesting proposition for us at GE Appliances.