If there is one constant about the manufacturing facilities that vie to become one of Americas Best Plants, its that they defy tidy categorization. Beyond adhering to a few specific qualifications established by IndustryWeek, Best Plants finalists have proven again and again that age, size, geographic location, and the products manufactured have very little bearing on a facilitys capability to achieve great performances -- or to compete successfully in this annual awards program. And IndustryWeeks 1998 finalists are no exception. Selected in the spring by the Best Plants program panel of judges, this eclectic group began their trek to the top from a field of 170 nominees. Their numbers will be further winnowed down to 10 with the announcement of the ninth annual roster of Americas Best Plants in the Oct. 19 issue of IW. But first, some data on the 25 finalists. In terms of employee numbers, Eaton Corp.s Forge Div.-South Bend (Ind.) is the smallest plant with 120 workers. At the other extreme, some 11,000 employees work at Lockheed Martin Tactical Aircraft Systems in Ft. Worth, a facility dedicated to the production of military aircraft. Fifty-six years separate the start-up of the oldest plant (Navistar International Transportation Corp. in Indianapolis began production in 1938) and the youngest (Planters Peanuts in Suffolk, Va., and Timken Co.s Asheboro Plant in Randleman, N.C., both opened in 1994). In terms of geography, two finalists are located outside the continental U.S., one to the north in Tillsonburg, Ont., and the other to the southeast in Cayey, P.R. Within the 50 states, Texas and Illinois boast the greatest number of finalists (each has three), while a total of 14 states each produced at least one Best Plants finalist. The products manufactured are equally diverse. The food-and-beverage industry is represented twice, by the previously mentioned Planters Peanuts plant and by Quaker Oats Co. in Danville, Ill. This sector had no representatives among last years finalists. Manufacturers of automotive products appear with the most frequency among 1998s finalists, producing items such as transmission parts, vehicle structures, engine bearings, diesel engines, automotive exhaust systems, seat assemblies, and steering linkages. A sampling of other products: remanufactured railcars; medical supplies; microwave devices; and wireless, switching, and networking communication products. Despite the diverse nature of the 1998 finalists, they obviously share common characteristics of enviable performance metrics and the successful implementation of best practices that lead to such performances. For example, Best Plants finalists:
- Achieved a median finished-product first-pass yield of 98.6% (and an average of 97.2%).
- Showed significant evidence of improved competitiveness. Their median five-year productivity increase (based on total annual sales per employee) was 44% and the average was 54.8%.
- Embraced employee empowerment. Sixteen of the 1998 finalists reported that 100% of their production employees participate in empowered natural work teams.
- Achieved a median on-time delivery rate of 98.6% among the 16 plants that deliver to a customer request date. Of the nine facilities that deliver to a promised delivery date, the median on-time delivery rate was 98.2%.