When evaluating 's Best Plants entries, the judges have always looked at results: quality performance, on-time delivery, productivity improvements and profitability, to name a few. In terms of raw performance the 25 finalists for North America's Best Plants for 2002 are at the head of the pack. As a group the finalists report an average first-pass quality yield of 96.2% and an on-time delivery rate of 98.7%. This compares with a 91.1% first-pass yield and 93.7% on-time delivery rate for all U.S. manufacturers as reported in the most recent IndustryWeek Census of Manufacturers. In tough economic times the 2002 finalists also have chalked up median three-year productivity gains of 19% and profit growth of 23%. But solid performance alone is not enough to make the list of Best Plants finalists. The judges also look for the management tools and strategies that will fuel future results. These include customer-focused organizational structures, empowered work teams, the shrewd application of new technologies, implementation of lean manufacturing concepts, and other approaches that lay the groundwork for continuous improvement. Beyond such broad strategies, the judges frequently zero in on specific practices that may not contribute directly to productivity or profitability, but are reliable indicators of a factory's true character and manufacturing leadership. For example, benchmarking against outside industries indicates that plant management is focused on more than just keeping up with the competition, and is actively seeking new ideas that might offer a competitive edge. The people from the Boeing complex in Long Beach, Calif., where the massive C-17 Globemaster aircraft is assembled, report that they've picked up useful ideas from a maker of personal computers. The search for best practices has taken the folks from the Scotsman Ice Systems plant in Fairfax, S.C., which produces ice machines and storage bins, into factories where they make automotive parts, vending machines, outboard motors, gas pumps and home appliances. Another indicator of manufacturing leadership is how well tuned employees are to customers' needs. Almost every finalist plant shares the results of customer surveys and other feedback with all of their employees, and they actively encourage direct customer interaction. The light-truck frame manufacturer, Dana Structural Solutions Group in Stockton, Calif., takes full advantage of the proximity of its customer, New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) in Fremont, Calif. Team leaders are assigned full-time to the customer plant on a rotating basis. Plus, all product technicians visit the customer site to meet the people who directly receive their product. Not for the squeamish, the associates at the Boston Scientific Maple Grove, Minn., facility make regular visits to local cardiac catheterization labs, where they witness first hand the insertion of the surgical devices they produce. These are but two of the hundreds of practices that we looked for in selecting the 2002 finalists, which include 24 public and one private company, seven union and 18 non-union shops, a 4-year old facility and a 48-year-old plant, one with 66 employees and another with over 7,000. The IW Best Plants judges will select 10 Best Plants winners from the 25 finalists based on responses to follow-up questionnaires, independent research and the opinions of several manufacturing experts. The winners will be featured in the 13th annual Best Plants issue in October.