Employees at 1993 Best Plants award-winning Marlow Industries Incorporated think back to how the Dallas firm used to make its thermoelectric coolers and components, and they shake their heads in disbelief. "We had no standards, no specifications," says Peggy Holmes, supervisor in the thermoelectric material growing area (where ingots are formed).
Give credit to the organizational changes introduced in 1988 that broke manufacturing down into three materials minifactories and five assembly minifactories, each with its own process engineer. Employees were given responsibility for quality and the minifactories were focused on customer and project needs, not functions, through market-segment teams. Says plant manager Chris Witzke, "Each minifactory has its ownnot a corporateoverhead. Each team manages its own factory, improves its own process, performs its own maintenance, and recycles or disposes of its own materials."
As a result, by 1993, manufacturing costs were 37 percent lower than in 1990. Since 1987, productivity improvements have averaged 10.6 percent annually. Waste disposal costs are down 57 percent from 1988.
Because supervisors had not immediately bought into the program, change did not really take hold until CEO and company founder Raymond Marlow began to educate managers and implement quality expert Philip Crosby's 14 quality steps.
Ironically, while quality was the original driver behind the changes, quality as a separate program was eliminated in 1991. "Eight of our ten strategic objectives were all quality-related," says Marlow, "so we merged the two. We have no separate quality plan. Instead, we have one strategy, one mission."