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    This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
    To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, please click here.

    Photo by Mickie Winters

    The smell of burnt plastic never vacates Doug Tucker’s office — Building 4 at General Electric’s Appliance Park, a roughly one-million-square-foot brick colossus with an American flag hanging from the rafters. Hissing machines, that’s a constant too. And the slow plod of forklifts blinking orange warning lights. Tucker, a barrel-chested 58-year-old with light-blue eyes, thinning white hair and a trim mustache, works as a mold setter in GE’s plastic-injection-molding operation. Those plastic baskets that hold utensils in the dishwasher? That gadget that lets dishwasher racks glide in and out? An ice bucket in your freezer? Tucker makes it all. And about 300 other plastic bits for appliances.

    To truly understand what he does, a Russian-doll approach may help. In Building 4, 77 mold-injection machines — each nearly the size of a boxcar and worth $700,000 — line the floor. Every day, Tucker stands at those machines, swapping out thick metal plates with cavities carved into them. Those plates clap together, 700-plus tons of pressure demanding a tight seal. Plastic pellets that look and feel like lead pencil tips blast into the machine, injecting into the cavities, melting in the process. Water then cools the now-molded plastic. Plates open. A robot suctions the pieces up and carries them over to a conveyer belt. “It’s complicated, but simple,” Tucker says. And magnificent. All that might for obscure parts often weighing less than a pound and earning zero attention from the consumer, who will excite only over the appliance as a new and shiny whole.

    Of Appliance Park’s 3,000 production employees, Tucker is one of 12 mold setters pumping out about one million plastic pieces a day. Some bits get hauled to Building 1 — dishwashers. Others to Building 5 — refrigerators. With 21 years and 10 months at GE, his handiwork is in thousands, maybe millions, of homes. “I’ve opened my friends’ refrigerators and I can see when it was made and know exactly what parts I made,” he says with a laugh. 

    Tucker’s a talker. He can pack a lot into a 25-minute conversation, one thought pulling the next like train cars. He starts with his first GE job on the assembly line, then his dad’s retirement from GE in 1993, seniority, the four levels of training it takes to land his job as a mold setter, his team (“the A-team”), his supervisors (“What the hell do we call them now? Process engineers. They’re outstanding”), his high IQ (“You need to understand hydraulics, pneumatics, electronics for this job”), a Bill Collins Ford commercial he was once in, and his upcoming appearance in "Louisville Magazine" (“Can’t say I’ve ever read it”).

    He’s the only worker among Building 4’s 300 men and women who routinely sports a white jumpsuit over his clothes, a leather belt cinched over the jumpsuit at the waist. It is a messy job. A new grease streak appeared at his hips a few minutes into work this morning. “My wife will stand on the dining room table with a scrub brush. I tell her, ‘It’s work clothes.’ She says, ‘No, you’re not going to work looking like a bum.’ So to save her, I wear this,” Tucker says.

    This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
    To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, please click here.

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