In the early 1980s, the state of affairs at Engelhard Corporation's Huntsville site was abysmal. Yearly employee turnover was about 150 percent. Productivity and quality were at unacceptable levels. And the business was losing money.
By the time the operation earned its 1991 Best Plants award, however, it could point to such achievements as a 324 percent productivity gain, superb quality levels, and an incredible safety record.
The larger of the site's two manufacturing plants uses slurries containing extremely expensive precious metals in its catalyst coating line. Material conservation is a high-priority task. Between 1988 and 1991, employee suggestions helped to reduce slurry-yield losses caused by improper coating levels by 67.6 percent, as well as "accidental"losses resulting from leaks, spills, and inadvertent slurry cross-contamination.
In 1990, a task team of 20 employees identified 252 ways that loss incidents could be prevented. "We spent about 30 hours in meetings and got the most incredible payback I've ever seen," says Ken Rogers, manufacturing manager for the catalyst plant. After implementing the most practical ideas, the frequency of loss incidents was reduced from one in every 100 material transfers to one in 1,749.
A Total Quality Management effort including the use of Taguchi methods and operator involvement in statistical process control has earned the plant an impeccable reputation for quality. A major turnaround in quality occurred in the early 1980s when the plant shifted its emphasis from detection to prevention.
Of all their achievements, however, the feat most often mentioned by employees is the outstanding safety record: eight years (nearly four million labor hours) without a lost-day injury.