10th Annual Best Plants Finalists: Leaders Of The Pack

Dec. 21, 2004

Without exception, the difference between a good, moderately profitable manufacturing plant and America's Best Plants is the employees. Not the laser optical controls, kanban pull system, or the fiber-optic, Web-enabled LAN that allows instant access to production information. Although these are valuable tools, it's the people who set up the equipment, implement improvements, and run the machines that matter most. But that's nothing new. All executives say their people are their most valuable asset. Just ask the judges of the 1999 Best Plants competition who carefully reviewed each of this year's entries. While many plants simply pay lip service to this concept, a select few truly have harnessed the awesome, better-get-out-of-the-way power of a focused, well-trained, and inspired workforce. How do we at IndustryWeek tell the difference? We look at results. The Best Plants panel of judges selected this year's finalists from a record pool of 419 nominees. Weighing the responses to follow-up questionnaires and independent research, the judges will select 10 winners whose facilities will be named and profiled in the 10th Annual America's Best Plants issue published on Oct. 18. Manufacturing mlange One of the perennial delights of the Best Plants program is the diversity and vibrancy of the manufacturing sector it illuminates. In terms of number of employees, roughly three-fifths of the finalist plants employ 500 or more workers. Climax Molybdenum Co.'s Fort Madison, Iowa, facility has the lowest number of employees (110), but it's hardly the smallest with 395,000 sq ft of processing space. At the other extreme, about 8,000 people build tactical missiles at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson. Navistar International Transportation Corp.'s Melrose Park, Ill., Engine Plant is the oldest finalist. The facility turned out engines for B-24 bombers before International Harvester (Navistar's predecessor company) purchased it in 1946. The newest plant, the Uniphase Electro-optics Products Div. in Bloomfield, Conn., was established in 1995. Employees there produce optical components for communications systems. Looking at a map, the 25 finalists are scattered across 15 states. The Delphi Rimir plant, which manufactures automobile air bags, is located just across the Texas border in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. With three plants, Illinois boasts the largest number of finalists. Five of the plants directly supply the auto industry, including Dana Corp.'s Spicer Light Axle Group, Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Delphi's Saginaw (Mich.) Steering Systems Plant 6. Six plants manufacture various forms of electronics and electronic equipment. This group includes Foxboro Co., Foxboro, Mass., a manufacturer of electronic process-control systems that previously won Best Plants honors in 1992. Two finalist companies serve the medical industry: Beiersdorf Inc., Cincinnati, which manufactures support braces, canes, and walkers; and Stryker Instruments, Kalamazoo, Mich., which produces powered surgical instruments for orthopedic and spinal procedures. Other products manufactured by this year's finalists include hydraulic hose, rubber sealing products, truck chassis, forged gear blanks, aerial work platforms, touch screens, power tools, HVAC compressors, and direct-mail printed material. Despite this product and process diversity, these plants share some common best practices that have yielded measurable results. Measures of Excellence The 25 finalists achieved median finished-product first-pass yield of 98.5% and recorded median on-time delivery rates of 98.8%. The finalists reported average five-year productivity improvements (based on annual sales per employee) of 47.2%. During the same time period, order-to-shipment leadtimes were cut an average 44.7%, and days of inventory on hand were slashed 37%. Contributing to these dramatic improvements, the employees at these plants completed an average 8.8 days of training per year. Results like these take years of dedication. IW is pleased to recognize the hard work of this year's finalists.

1999 America's Best Plants Finalists
Aeroquip Corp. Global Hose Operations, Mountain Home, Ark.; hydraulic hose, rubber compounds, insulation; 292 employees. Beiersdorf Inc., Cincinnati; braces, canes, walkers; 155 employees. Climax Molybdenum Co., Fort Madison, Iowa; molybdenum oxides, chemicals; 110 employees. Dana Corp., Spicer Heavy Systems Assembly Div., Lugoff, S.C.; truck chassis; 250 employees. Dana Corp., Spicer Light Axle Group, Cape Girardeau, Mo.; automotive-axle components; 378 employees. Dell Computer Corp., Americas Enterprise Systems, Server Mfg., Austin; Pentium processor-based network servers and storage subsystems; 545 employees. Delphi Automotive Systems, Saginaw Steering Systems Plant 6, Saginaw, Mich.; steering columns; 1,850 employees. Delphi Rimir, Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico; inflatable restraints (air bags); 1,800 employees. Eaton Corp., Forge Div., South Bend, Ind.; forged gear blanks; 125 employees. Foxboro Co., Foxboro, Mass.; electronic process-control systems; 177 employees. Freudenberg-NOK, LaGrange, Ga.; rubber sealing products; 450 employees. Honeywell Micro Switch Div., Warren, Ill.; electromechanical switches; 140 employees. JLG Industries, McConnellsburg, Pa.; mobile aerial work platforms, boom lifts; 2,016 employees. Johnson Controls Inc., Athens, Tenn.; automotive seating frames; 750 employees. Lucent Technologies Inc., Columbus, Ohio; wireless, switching, and networking communications products; 3,500 employees. Microtouch Systems Inc., Methuen, Mass.; touchscreens; 550 employees. Navistar International Transportation Corp., Melrose Park, Ill.; diesel engines, camshafts, crankshafts, cylinder liners, crankcases; 650 employees. Porter-Cable Corp., Jackson, Tenn.; power tools; 1,100 employees. Raytheon Missile Systems, Tucson; tactical missiles and subassemblies; 8,000 employees. Scroll Technologies, Arkadelphia, Ark.; HVAC compressors; 500 employees. Stryker Instruments, Kalamazoo, Mich.; powered surgical instruments; 700 employees. Textron Automotive Co., Rantoul Products Plant 2, Rantoul, Ill.; automotive-trim products; 215 employees. TTX Co., Hamburg Div., North Augusta, S.C.; reconditioned/new rail cars and parts; 504 employees. Uniphase Electro-optics Products Div., Bloomfield, Conn.; electro-optic modulators, wave lockers; 274 employees. Webcraft Direct Marketing, Chalfont, Pa.; direct-mail products; 550 employees.

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