IndustryWeek asks many questions of the manufacturing plants that participate in our annual Best Plants program. For example, the entry form asks whether the facility participates in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Programs or similar government-sponsored initiatives in Canada or Mexico. We ask the question not based on a an priori belief that participation in this proactive safety initiative is a key driver of world-class performance. We ask it because we've noticed in past years that an unusually high percentage of top performers had achieved "Star" status through the VPP program, which requires plant managers to submit an application and undergo an onsite evaluation by a team of OSHA experts. For the vast majority of manufacturing companies, the idea of inviting OSHA into their facilities would be like requesting an IRS audit, or asking the dentist for a root canal. It's simply incomprehensible. This willingness to go the extra mile by the 25 Best Plants finalists, and eventually the Top 10 winners, is just one sign that they are in a class by themselves. The 10 winners will be selected from the finalist ranks and profiled in the October issue of IndustryWeek. There are other signs that these factories operate at world-class levels. Recognizing that if significant progress is going to be made, someone has to take responsibility, these manufacturers have dedicated people full-time to improving their operations. Whether they are lean manufacturing coordinators or Six Sigma black belts, they have helped the facilities achieve annual cost savings upwards of 4.7%. The finalists also dedicate significant resources to training, typically 2.3% of total labor costs, or 80 hours per employee per year. Injury and illness rates among most of the finalists are 60% of the industry average or less. A sign of trust, almost all of the finalists share details on financial performance with employees. The returns from such initiatives show up in a median annual turnover rate of 4.9% and absenteeism of 1.9%. A diverse lot, the finalists range in number of employees from Dana's facility in Franklin, Ky., where 44 people make stainless steel oil ring expanders for automotive applications, to Lockheed Martin's System Integration facility in Owego, N.Y. The largest also in terms of total floor space at 1.76 million square feet, Lockheed Martin Owego's almost 3,000 associates perform systems integration, develop hardware and manufacture avionic systems as well as products for the U.S. Postal Service. The finalists range in age from Maytag's laundry appliance facility in Herrin, Ill., which has been producing washers of one brand or another for almost a half-century, to the National Gypsum plant near Tampa, Fla., which is just over 3 years old. The facility makes half-inch wallboard at a rate of 470 feet per minute, enough to load five tractor-trailers each hour. How does IndustryWeek reconcile such product and industry differences when we select the Top 25? The answer lies in the fact that a factory making the same product and using the same technology and production processes as a competitor down the road can be doing it more efficiently, with better quality and delivering product to customers in half the time at twice the profitability. How well a plant manufactures what it was designed to make depends on the people who work there, the tools and other resources at their disposal, and how hard they push to be the best.
Dedication to excellence catapults companies to IndustryWeek's 2004 Best Plants finalists list.