By Patricia Panchak

At A Glance

  • 96 hours of training before hiring; 24 days per production employee each year thereafter.
  • In-plant defect rate reduced by 82% during the last five years.
  • 0.0003 ppm in-plant defect rate on finished products.
  • Never had a customer reject a product.
  • Every employee on an empowered natural work team.
  • 1% worker absenteeism.
  • 98% first-pass yield for all products.
  • 100% on-time delivery to customers.
  • Manufacturing cycle time reduced by 59.1%.

When the Hellfire II missile technicians returned to work after a brief shutdown caused by Hurricane Opal in October 1995, they had a challenge waiting for them. The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF) had placed an order for 600 missiles that would require the group to nearly double production from 80 missiles per week to 150 per week. If they rose to the occasion, they would add $50 million in sales to the year. If they didn't, they'd lose the contract.

The missile technicians' heart rates quickened only a little as they readied themselves to respond. "It was really exciting when we heard about it," says Don Miniard. "It was a good challenge for us, and we looked forward to it."

"We just had the determination that we would make whatever adjustments we needed to make in our lives to be able to accomplish this," adds Judith Whisenant, who canceled a planned annual vacation at the beach with her family.

The adjustments were not insignificant. Combined with existing contracts, the order required the team to rev up to a grueling schedule of 10-hour days, six days a week, for a period of 10 weeks. At times, says plant manager Dennis Smith, some technicians worked even more. Management at Lockheed Martin Pike County Operations in Troy, Ala., was not surprised by the commitment from its employees. Managers say it demonstrates how a bedrock belief in the workforce; a foundation of flexibility, teamwork, training, and empowerment; and an infrastructure of continuous improvement, a strong recognition-and-reward program, and a family-like atmosphere can build a world-class manufacturing plant.

In October 1993 Smith met with the Pike County management team to decide how they would manage the new facility. "I enjoy my job, and I know you guys enjoy your jobs," Smith says he told the others. "So that ought to be our No. 1 goal: to build the type of operation where people look forward to coming to work every day. I want that to be our legacy."