2003 IW Best Plants - Living The Good Life

Looking for the secrets to manufacturing longevity? IndustryWeek's 2003 Best Plants winners offer their prescription for success.

If you want to live to see your 100th birthday, or 90th at least, you have to stack the odds in your favor. Everyone knows that what we eat, whether we exercise or not, how much alcohol we drink and how safely we drive all play a role in how ripe of an age we reach and how much we enjoy it when we get there.

The same assumption applies to managing a manufacturing operation. What it takes to run a world-class facility is no mystery. IndustryWeek's 2003 Best Plants winners and other pioneers have made incredible changes in the way they run their operations, aligning their production processes with customer needs and harnessing people's desire to make things better.

As they'll be the first to say, all it takes is some skill and the resolve to do what most plant managers already know what needs to be done. A standard longevity test -- such as the one published online by the Alliance for Aging Research -- asks about various risk factors and behavior and then spits out an estimated life expectancy.

2003 IW BEST PLANTS
Autoliv Steering Wheel/Airbag Facility, Columbia City, Ind.
Boston Scientific Corp.
Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina
Dana Corp.
Delphi Corp. -- Delphi Connection Systems' Precision Molding Center
General Cable Corp. -- Automotive Products
Kautex -- A Textron Co., Avilla
Kautex -- A Textron Co., Lavonia
Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors
Collins & Aikman Corp., Guelph Products

Just as in business, where a technological innovation or foreign competitor can suddenly change the rules of the game, some of these factors are beyond our control. Women live longer than men, and family history is a key determinant of health. Such facts of life aren't worth worrying about.

The behavioral factors we can influence are another story. Like life-insurance agents consulting their actuarial tables, the judges for IndustryWeek's 2003 Best Plants competition weighed the management practices reported by the applicants, compared the raw performance metrics and improvement records and came up with their own life-expectancy ratings.

This year's 10 winners:

Exercise more. Where continuous improvement is ingrained in the work culture, there's no such thing as resting on laurels. Through lean initiatives at Boston Scientific Corp.'s Maple Grove operation, managers expect work teams to reduce total floorspace by 40%, cut cycle times by 25% and improve productivity by at least 20%. Then, the following year, to do it again. The end result: The business stays limber and responsive to rapid market changes. Such hard work shows up in a number of areas, including customer leadtimes, which most of the 2003 Best Plants cut by 37% or more over the past three years.

Monitor their health and watch what they eat. Most of us check our blood pressure and monitor our cholesterol levels to find out if we need to cut back on the high-fat foods and eat more fruits and vegetables (whether we act on our doctors' advice or not). Similarly, the Best Plants winners are obsessed by metrics. They track how they're doing on a weekly, monthly and annual basis to see where they need to improve their operations. Not only that, they do what they can to find out how they stack up against other manufacturers. Most of the winners conducted six or more major benchmarking studies last year.

Are not overweight. Excess inventory hides problems, is a chore to manage and costs money. Although Dana Corp.'s facility in Owensboro, Ky., which supplies truck frames to Toyota, was born lean not too many years ago, it's reduced total inventories by an additional 56% over the past three years. Total inventory levels at the top 10 plants follow a similar downward trajectory, dropping an average of 50% over the same span.

Come from healthy stock. Any change initiative that isn't supported by upper management is doomed. Whether prodded or coddled by the corporate office, many of this year's Best Plants winners have earned recognition from headquarters as benchmark facilities within their organizations. Many of these companies have even devised their own formulas for becoming worldclass. Under Kautex-Textron's operating system, followed by two of this year's winners, an eighth form of waste has been added to the standard list of seven: "wasted talent."

Look forward to tomorrow. As people get older, staying engaged is one of the keys to living a long, happy life. In manufacturing this pursuit of lifelong learning manifests itself in non-stop training both in the classroom and on the shop floor. At the Collins & Aikman plant in Guelph, Ontario, job instructions are communicated on personal computers at workstations that not only explain, but show how tasks should be performed. Most of IndustryWeek's 2003 Best Plants dedicated 2.8% of their labor costs and over 70 hours of training per employee last year.

Obey the rules of the road and buckle up. In business it's impossible to predict everything that the market will throw your way. It's best to be prepared. Operations with low levels of inventory and rapid cycle times inherently respond better to fluctuations in demand. On the journey to world class, it's also a good idea to take care of your passengers. With the ultimate objective that all leave the factory at the end of their shift in the same condition in which they arrived, the winning plants achieved Occupational Safety and Health Administration incident rates about half of their industry averages.

Drink in moderation. The Best Plants winners know how to celebrate. Walking through these facilities, you'll find people who smile and project an air of competent comradery. At every opportunity they recognize individual and team achievements. Autoliv's facility in Columbia City, Ind., is home to local superhero Kaptain Kaizen, who congratulates team members on a job well done. Around the corner in Avilla, Ind., increasing participation in Kautex-Textron's annual plant picnic itself has become an indicator of how much happier people are to work there.

One of the key factors of life expectancy calculators that doesn't necessarily hold true for manufacturing plants, is age. With today's pace of innovation, younger plants can be outmoded almost as quickly as older ones. Survival depends on market success that in turn drives ongoing investments in new capital equipment and technology. Over half of this year's winners began life in the 1990s, but the Lockheed Martin facility in Syracuse has had several lives going back to the late 1940s when it was part of General Electric Co.'s Electronics Park.

Yet in the final analysis, manufacturing success is about more than mere survival. It's about living the good life: serving customers well, making a healthy profit and having fun along the way.

Methodology IndustryWeek began accepting nominations for the 2003 Best Plants awards in October of last year. Well over 200 plants were nominated as leaders in their industries and more than 50 chose to participate. A panel of IW editors reviewed the applications, which reported management practices and plant performance in such areas as quality, customer and supplier relations, employee involvement, application of new technologies, productivity, cost reductions, manufacturing flexibility and responsiveness, inventory management, environmental and safety performance, new-product development, and overall market results.

Selection of the final winners from the list of 25 finalists was aided by a team of outside experts: Sherrie Ford, principal, Change Partners LLC; Robert Hall of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence; Peter Ward, associate professor, Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University; John Puckett of Visions of Excellence; and Bill Sandras, Productivity Centers International. Their evaluations, along with additional information provided by the finalists, were considered in the final stage of judging. The selections did not become final until site visits by IW editors to validate the performance data and management practices reported in the applications.

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Conference The best source of knowledge for any journey is a personal guide. IndustryWeek, in partnership with the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, is pleased to announce that representatives of the 2003 winners will be presenting their stories in person at our annual conference scheduled for May 18-20, 2004 in Cleveland. Watch IndustryWeek.com for forthcoming information.

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