Things We Learned in the Storm

Manufacturing success requires relentless pursuit of operational excellence and a committed, engaged work force. IndustryWeek now has two national benchmarking programs to measure and recognize the best-performing manufacturers in each area.

"There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm," novelist Willa Cather wrote in "The Song of the Lark." For manufacturers, the economic storm of 2008-09 offered dramatic reinforcement of what most had known for some time -- competition is global, relentless, internal and external, and unforgiving. Manufacturing is no place for timid spirits.

There is certainly nothing timid about the 10 facilities we are honoring as our 2010 IW Best Plant winners. Visit any of these facilities and you will find competitors who are smart, tough, energetic, innovative and driven to succeed. We have enormous respect and admiration for these people who strive every day to make their operations more efficient, productive, safe and profitable. You'll find a profile of each winner in this issue and additional information in our Best Plants coverage on our website.

Even for the best-performing plants in North America (and for that matter, anywhere else in our newly flattened world), there are no guarantees. Labor rates, technology introductions, currency valuations, trade rules and a host of other factors force businesses to be constantly alert to new opportunities. The plant that was in Michigan 20 years ago moved to China 10 years later and may be moving to Vietnam next year.

Proof of the constancy of change was the sad news that Philips Professional Luminaires' plant in Sparta, Tenn., which we honored as a Best Plant just a year ago, would be closing soon. Silvie Casanova, a spokesperson for Philips Lighting, told the Cookeville Times that it was a business decision that had "no reflection on performance at the plant."

But as our Best Plant winners this year will attest, if there are no guarantees in manufacturing, there also is no shortage of opportunities to change, improve and succeed. TakeSnap-on Power Tools' Murphy, N.C., plant, which has employed its lean manufacturing prowess to absorb five manufacturing lines from a shuttered plant in 2009 and still has room to take on new work. Or IEC Electronics' Newark, N.Y., plant, which faced closing five years ago but turned new equipment, lean concepts and a focus on product development into a recipe for profitable growth. Or Raytheon's Michael Shaughnessy, who says that the success of continuous-improvement initiatives at the Andover, Mass., facility has led not to a dead end but to an unfolding of more opportunities to achieve significant improvements.

Over the 21 years of the Best Plants competition, hundreds of manufacturers have used this unique benchmarking activity to see if their operations measure up as world-class. For those who do, it offers a satisfying affirmation of a job well-done. And for those who are not named winners, participation often serves as an incentive to pursue further improvement.

For 2011, we have launched a new benchmarking opportunity, Best Places to Work in Manufacturing. This assessment, using well-established criteria developed by Best Companies Group, is a two-part process designed to gather detailed data about each participating company. In part one, the employer completes a questionnaire and in part two, employees complete a survey.

The collected information from the two instruments is combined to produce a detailed set of data that showcases the strengths and opportunities of the company. Participating companies receive a free Employer Benchmark Survey. We'll report on the highest-ranked companies in August.

As a manufacturing leader, you know how incredibly important your workplace culture is to the success of your enterprise. Build a team of committed individuals focused on a common purpose and you've gone a long way to unlocking the energy and ideas needed for success. So it is more critical than ever that companies have unbiased, reliable insight into what their employees think about company leadership, communications, work environment, training, supervision and other key issues. Engaging in the Best Places to Work in Manufacturing process can provide you just that visibility.

Best Plants and Best Places to Work in Manufacturing. Take advantage of the insights they provide to help you no matter what weather you're facing.

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