IW's Ninth-Annual Best Plants Honor Roll

Employees at 1998 America's Best Plants Winner Borg-Warner Automotive in Frankfort, Ill., talk about looking for "BOBs" -- best-of-the-best practices. Theyll find a BOB while on a benchmarking visit, running to the bank at lunch, or while vacationing. BOBs are everywhere.

In conducting IndustryWeeks Americas Best Plants program each year -- the culmination of a yearlong search for the finest manufacturing facilities in North America -- the staff of IW, too, uncovers a lot of BOBs.

The following special section on the winners and the stories behind this years 10 honored facilities is chock full of BOBs.

One point is clear from the roster of this years winners and the paths of their success: BOBs are not merely an indicator of plant strategies that deliver achievements; they represent corporate strategies.

1998 Best Plant Winners
Allegiance Healthcare Corp., Convertors El Paso Plant, El Paso, Tex.

Baxter Healthcare Corp., Mountain Home, Ark.

Borg-Warner Automotive, Automatic Transmission Systems Corp., Frankfort, Ill.

Dana Corp., Parish Light Vehicle Structures Div., Hopkinsville, Ky.

Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems, Ft. Worth

Navistar International Transportation Corp., Indianapolis

Quaker Oats Co., Danville, Ill.

Solectron Corp., Milpitas, Calif.

Stryker Osteonics, Allendale, N.J.

TRW Canada Ltd., Linkage & Suspension Div., Tillsonburg, Ont.

The best companies across the U.S. share best practices internally, from plant to plant, and its reflected in this years designated facilities. TRW Canada Ltd., a maker of automotive linkage and suspension components, is the third TRW facility to be named a Best Plant and is the first Best Plant in Canada. (TRW now claims a Best Plant in three different countries -- the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.)

Lockheed Martin landed its fourth plant on the lineup with the naming of Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems in Ft. Worth. Dana Corp. now carries three winners, thanks to the Dana Corp. Parish Light Vehicle Structures Div. in Hopkinsville, Ky., and Baxter Healthcare recorded its second Best Plants winner with the naming of its Mountain Home, Ark., plant.

In addition to identifying a corporate affinity for sharing BOBs -- as well as pursuing the Best Plants award -- the 1998 salute to manufacturing excellence yielded a remarkably diverse cross-section of American industry. The Quaker Oats Co. facility in Danville, Ill., has been cooking up the cereal products that grace American tables since 1969.

Lockheed is arming the nations air defense with F-16 fighter jets. Stryker Osteonics satisfies the human need for orthopedic implants. Solectrons Milpitas, Calif., operation is a cutting-edge electronics contract manufacturer -- and, by the way, adds one more trophy to the companys mantle that already holds two Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards.

All of the 1998 Best Plants proudly admit they grab good ideas wherever they can, but they also are pursuing new practices and strategies that you may not be aware of, unless youre supplying one of the plants or receiving their products. For instance:

  • TRW deploys a total-productive-maintenance strategy that brings together manufacturing, engineering, and maintenance representation to predict equipment failure, reduce downtime, and increase productivity. The result -- just 15% of the maintenance currently performed is related to equipment breakdowns vs 90% prior to 1992.
  • At Baxter Healthcare, production employees receive an average 24 days of training per year, and more than 400 employees have completed an eight-month training curriculum that carries college credits. The intensive training drives the success of the plants Quality Leadership Process, a structure that guides all activities at the manufacturer of disposable medical devices.
  • Solectron solicits feedback from all its customers on a weekly basis via a Customer Satisfaction Index Report Card. The form grades quality, delivery, service, communication, and overall performance for each week, and grades of C or lower trigger a complaint-resolution process that includes the program manager responding to the customer within 24 hours.
  • Allegiance Healthcare Corp., which makes surgical gowns and drapes, works with its suppliers to improve the internal material yield at vendor plants by better utilizing order schemes that minimize waste. The effort produced savings of $300,000 for one supplier.
  • At Navistar International, one of three union facilities to win the award this year, plant staff and the union bargaining committee formed the Joint Leadership Committee in which members share information biweekly, discuss business decisions, and examine competitive strategies, as well as conduct benchmarking visits.

As a group, the Best Plants have achieved an average:

  • 43% five-year productivity increase (value-added per employee).
  • 64% five-year productivity increase (sales per employee).
  • 21% five-year reduction in manufacturing costs, including purchased materials.
  • 73 annual work-in-process turns.
  • 151% plant-level return on assets (profitability divided by average net assets deployed).

Although the results above a historical perspective that enabled IW editors to confidently name these facilities as America's Best Plants, it is still the underlying best practices -- and best-of-the-best practices -- that will enable these facilities to be winners well into the next century.

Best Plants Process

Starting in October 1997, IW began soliciting nominations for the 1998 Americas Best Plants awards. Some 170 plants were nominated and sent entry form/questionnaires and guidelines, and 70 plants responded with completed materials.

A panel of IW editors reviewed the 20-page questionnaires submitted by each entrant. Plants reported on performance metrics and practices in the categories of benchmarking, community involvement, corporate connections, cost reductions, customer focus, employee involvement, environment and safety programs, inventory management, maintenance, manufacturing operations and flexibility, market results, new-product development, process flow, productivity, quality, supplier management, and use of technology. Twenty-five plants were chosen as finalists from the pool of applicants, and their initial entries were then reviewed by a panel of outside experts: Sherrie Ford, principal, Change Partners LLC; Robert Hall of the Assn. for Manufacturing Excellence; John Mariotti, president of The Enterprise Group; and Rick Purcell, Larry Robertson, and Jack Tamargo of the Best Manufacturing Practices Center of Excellence.

The evaluations of these manufacturing experts, combined with IW evaluations of follow-up questionnaires posed to the 25 finalists, produced 10 winners. Each winner was validated following a plant visit in late summer. Each Best Plants winner will receive a commemorative award at ceremonies held in their communities. And representatives from the facilities will help plants across the country become more competitive next spring by telling their stories at Best Plants conferences in Orlando, Chicago, and a location to be named.

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