Over the last decade the world's top manufacturers have put their operations under a microscope in an effort to eliminate waste from every process, every procedure, every stack of material. But there's waste that's easy to remove, and there's waste that requires fundamental changes in thinking. As James Womack, founder of the Lean Enterprise Institute, Brookline, Mass., notes, in the lean manufacturing lexicon there are two types of muda, or waste: "Type-two muda is no-brainer muda; it's waste that, if you just had a little courage, you could get rid of today," Womack says, "The real problem is type-one muda -- the things that you do because of the way that you're organized, or the assets that you bought on a forecast that you don't need, or [the processes that] you shouldn't be doing. To get rid of it, you have to transform yourself." The 25 finalists in IndustryWeek's 2000 America's Best Plants competition are at advanced stages in this process of transformation. They have made significant, measurable, and, most importantly, sustainable progress in their quest for world-class competitiveness. As a group, the 25 finalists achieved a median finished-product first-pass yield of 98.7% and an on-time delivery rate of 98.9%. Based on annual sales per employee, productivity at these facilities has improved by a median 54% over the last five years. Such stellar results require that everyone -- not just managers -- take ownership of the process and truly understand various improvement strategies. Consequently, production employees at the finalist plants completed a median 40 hours of off-the-job training last year. As the diversity of the finalists attests, there's no single formula for manufacturing excellence. Many have 5S programs, conduct regular kaizen events, and have black belts championing their Six Sigma programs. Some have established kanban systems internally and with suppliers. Others have implemented flexible work cells and one-piece flow. Some have empowered their machine operators to perform all quality inspections, and others have true pull systems where no product is built until the customer order is received. While these techniques are widely known, managers of the 25 finalists' plants focus their efforts where they will be most effective for the operation, not on the hot idea of the month. Thirteen of the finalists have 500 or more employees. The largest, with 3,500 people, is the Lucent Technologies Inc. plant in Columbus, Ohio. The oldest physical facility, by a 25-year margin, is the BorgWarner, Diversified Transmission Products Inc. operation in Muncie, Ind., which began operations in 1928. The plant originally produced automotive differentials and later became a major supplier of manual transmissions. It now focuses on four-wheel-drive transfer-case production. The youngest plant is also one of the smallest. Sonoco, Consumer Products Div., Winchester, Ky., was established in 1996. Its 92 employees produce plastic caulking cartridges. The IW Best Plants judges selected this year's finalists from a record number of applications. The judges will select the 10 winners based on the responses to follow-up questionnaires, independent research, and the opinions of several industry experts. The winners will be named and profiled in IndustryWeek's 11th annual Best Plants issue to be published Oct. 16. They will appear on IndustryWeek.com Oct. 11. 2000 America's Best Plants Finalists Aeroquip-Inoac Co., Automotive/Exterior Trim, Livingston, Tenn.; rear-deck spoilers; 185 employees. Americas' Software Manufacturing & Distribution, Nashua, N.H. ; software products; 367 employees. BFGoodrich Aerospace Aircraft Evacuation Systems, Phoenix; emergency escape slides; 303 employees. Boeing Co., Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), St. Charles, Mo.; munition kits; 180 employees. BorgWarner, Diversified Transmission Products Inc. ; Muncie, Ind. ; four-wheel-drive transfer cases; 1,300 employees. Continental Teves, Morganton, N.C. ; electronic brake systems; 700 employees. Delphi Rimir, Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico; automotive air bags; 1,800 employees. Double G Coatings Co. LP, Jackson, Miss.; galvanized sheet steel; 87 employees. Eaton Forge Div., South Bend, Ind.; precision forged gear blanks; 132 employees. Imation Corp., Wahpeton, N. Dak.; data storage products; 600 employees. Lockheed Martin Control Systems, Fort Wayne, Ind.; electronic aircraft engine controls; 573 employees. Lucent Technologies Inc., Columbus, Ohio; wireless networking communication products; 3,500 employees. Lucent Technologies, Product Realization Center, Wireless Networks Group, Mount Olive, N.J.; telecommunications hardware; 734 employees. MKS Instruments Inc., Materials Delivery and Analysis Products Group, Methuen, Mass.; measure and control instruments; 200 employees. Monarch Marking Systems Inc., Paxar Corp., Miamisburg, Ohio; adhesive labels, tags, labelers; 1,100 employees. MSA Safety Products Div., Murrysville, Pa.; personal protective equipment, hard hats; 297 employees. Nypro Puerto Rico Inc., Cayey, Puerto Rico; injection molded plastics; 515 employees. PCC Structurals Inc. (Large Parts Campus), Portland, Oreg.; large investment castings; 1,350 employees. Quality Integration Services LLC, Tempe, Ariz.; computer configuration services; 193 employees. Sonoco, Consumer Products Div., Winchester, Ky.; plastic caulking cartridges; 92 employees. Stryker Instruments, Kalamazoo, Mich.; powered surgical instruments; 600 employees. Super Sack VA Inc., Pennington Gap, Va.; flexible storage bags; 120 employees. Superior Graphite Co., ARK Electrode Div., Russellville, Ark.; synthetic graphite electrodes; 130 employees. Textron Automotive Co. de Mexico SA de CV, Planta Saltillo, Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico; automotive instrument panels; 336 employees. Webcraft Direct Marketing, Chalfont Div., Chalfont, Pa. ; direct mail products; 530 employees.