Each year, North American manufacturing facilities are pressured anew. They are pressured to do more with less; to provide better service, faster; to rein in costs but increase quality -- and to do it in the face of increasing competition and less-certain economic conditions. Some manufacturing facilities rise to the challenge; others do not.

IndustryWeek is proud to announce the 2011 class of IW Best Plants winners, 10 manufacturing plants that have risen to meet the challenge. Their weapon of choice: operational excellence.

The differences among the facilities are profound. Carrier Collierville, for example, manufactures air conditioners and heat pumps in large volumes, with a workforce that exceeds 1,000 employees and a manufacturing space greater than 800,000 square feet. At the opposite extreme, L.B. Foster Co., Allegheny Rail Products and its team of 19 in Pueblo, Colo., build insulated rail joints for the railroad industry in 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

Two plants are in Texas, the second-largest state in the Union. One sits in tiny Rhode Island. Six other states and Mexico play host to the seven additional members of the class of 2011.

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That said, it is their similarities that define the 2011 IndustryWeek's Best Plants winners. They are united in their pursuit of operational excellence. They know that creating a culture of continuous improvement is as important as the tools of continuous improvement. They are united in recognizing that seemingly good ideas sometimes fail, and the response should be to learn from the effort and grow, not cast blame.

They are united in the questions they ask themselves: How can we deliver more value to our customer? How can we work better with our suppliers to drive down costs for both of us, yet improve quality? What do I as plant manager need to do to be a better leader? Where are we falling short in engaging the entire workforce in a singular pursuit of excellence? What do we do about it?

IndustryWeek's Best Plants winners don't ask those questions, and others, just once. They ask them routinely; they determine the answers, and they take action. And then they ask again.

Below are the stories of the 2011 IW Best Plants winners. Their stories will educate, inspire and hopefully spur you to actions of your own in pursuit of operational excellence.

2011 Best Plants Winners

Carrier Collierville
Collierville, Tenn.

Ethicon Inc.
Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico

General Cable Corp. Lawrenceburg Plant
Lawrenceburg, Ky.

General Cable Corp. Lincoln Rhode Island
Lincoln, R.I.

Klein Steel Service
Rochester, N.Y.

L.B. Foster Co., Allegheny Rail Products
Pueblo, Colo.

Life Technologies
Austin, Texas.

Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Lufkin Operations
Lufkin, Texas

Swagelok Company Main Plant
Solon, Ohio

Toyota Industrial Equipment Mfg. Inc.
Columbus, Ind.