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Twenty-Eight Years of Manufacturing Excellence

We write the success stories of the IndustryWeek Best Plants because great work deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. We write the success stories of the IW Best Plants to inspire you to be better, to think bigger and to begin writing success stories of your own.

Twenty-eight years. That’s how long IndustryWeek has been presenting the IW Best Plants Awards, our annual salute to manufacturing excellence. If my math is correct, we have named 262 winners across North America and countless finalists since the competition launched in 1990.

The impetus for the program, however, dates back to the 1970s through the mid-1980s, when American manufacturing was struggling. Fortunately, as we write in IndustryWeek Best Plants: The Story Behind the Stories, “after a series of wake-up calls, many of today’s leading companies responded to the challenge, embracing total quality management, just-in-time manufacturing and other world-class manufacturing strategies.”

IndustryWeek editors were there to see, appreciate and write about the successes of those early achievers. It also occurred to them that “there were probably many such stories out there just waiting to be told.”

IndustryWeek has always wanted to be the one to tell those stories. Led by the now-retired John Sheridan, the IW staff developed a set of criteria—based on the body of science around world-class manufacturing—to identify those leading manufacturing facilities.

And, boom, the IW Best Plants Awards were born.

We write the success stories of the IndustryWeek Best Plants because great work deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. We write the success stories of the IW Best Plants because the people behind that great work deserve accolades. And we write the success stories of the IW Best Plants to inspire you to be better, to think bigger and, to paraphrase Sheridan, to begin writing success stories of your own.

I’ve been the director of the IW Best Plants Awards Program for at least a decade; I’m not exactly sure when I took the reins. And I’ve been on the IW Best Plants team for much longer than that. To this day, participating in this program is one of the highlights of my job. I get to meet enthusiastic people intent on improvement, who want and like to be integral parts of making their workplaces more competitive.

My editor asked me how the IW Best Plants Awards—or perhaps he meant the pursuit of operational excellence?—has changed since I joined the team. Certainly, some of the tools and terminology have changed. Technology plays a much greater, and smarter, role on the plant floor than it did even five years ago, so the skills of the workforce have grown commensurately.

However, I think the more interesting question is what hasn’t changed in all this time.

What hasn’t changed is that the best manufacturing plants work hard every day to engage all their employees in making the operation a success. And, nonetheless, they still struggle at times, too.

What hasn’t changed is the imperative of a supportive leadership. Without it, the best you can hope for is pockets of excellence.

What hasn’t changed is the need for training, and for trust, and a little bit of patience. Excellence rarely comes quickly or easily, and maintaining it is a daily struggle. The best factories don’t call it a struggle; they call it a challenge. 

What hasn’t changed is that continuous improvement programs, even successful ones, are fragile things. It doesn’t take much to derail even a flourishing, productive CI environment. I agree with every person who has ever said that daily nurturing is a requirement if you want to sustain a culture of continuous improvement.

Taking this morning to reflect back on all of this, I can’t help but feel lucky. Over the past decade or so, I have been privileged to explore many incredible manufacturing facilities doing many incredible things, meeting hundreds of individuals and teams all fighting to make a difference.

I’ll end this now with a pitch and an invitation to join the IW Best Plants club. Let us share how astute manufacturing managers and motivated employee teams in your manufacturing facility are working smarter and getting better. Download your entry form for the 2018 IndustryWeek Best Plants Awards competition here: iw.com/2018-best-plants-application.

We look forward to another 28 years of IW Best Plants success stories and manufacturing excellence. At least.       

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