IW Best Plants Conference 2007: Sustaining Continuous Improvement

June 4, 2007
Some of the highlights from the IW 2007 Best Plants Conference.

Indianapolis, home to NCAA Hall of Champions and the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, was the host city for another impressive gathering of champions: The IndustryWeek 2007 Best Plants Conference. Celebrating the spirit of continuous improvement while honoring the achievements of current and past Best Plants winners, the conference featured 15 plant tours, more than 50 speakers and over 800 attendees.

Since nobody could possibly have attended every session and tour, we've put together some highlights from various programs and presentations to give you at least a flavor of what you might have missed. We hope to see you again at the IW 2008 Best Plants Conference in Milwaukee, April 1-3.

Keeping Your Employees Motivated

Vying for a Best Plants award can be a daunting task. But when a manufacturer is named one of IndustryWeek's Best Plants, the effort is well worth it. Plant managers are able to show workers a physical symbol -- the Pinnacle Award -- that commemorates their hard work.

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But what happens after a goal is met? Certainly manufacturers can't become complacent, lest they lose their competitive edge.

In a panel discussion -- Sustaining Your Continuous Improvement Initiatives: Advice from IW Best Plants Winners -- Kyle Hamm, director of manufacturing excellence, North American Operating Division, Schneider Electric, Peru Operations; Greg Tharp, operations manager, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, Camden Operations; and Luis Rosete, plant manager, General Cable de Latinoamerica S.A. de C.V. shared their experiences with winning Best Plants awards in 2006, and how they keep workers focused on continuous improvement (CI) efforts.

All three panelists say that it is easy to get worker buy-in at the beginning of CI initiatives because the results are drastic and the gratification is almost instant. The tricky part is in the fine-tuning.

For example, one of the best ways to continuously improve is to share metrics and goals with all employees.

At Lockheed Martin, Tharp said metrics move all the way from corporate offices to each production worker -- and everyone has their own metrics and goals they must meet. "Everyone sees the challenges they must overcome. Workers say, 'Okay, I'll meet this goal by committing to doing this, this and this. This is where I am at, and if there are problems I'll find the root cause and get action.'"

By empowering employees to take ownership of the metrics, and giving them the tools to achieve goals, Lockheed Martin sees great success and enthusiasm.

Tharp also mentioned his plant's employee suggestion program, which drove a savings of $8.8 million in 2006.

"Every employee submits five or six suggestions -- it gives them a voice," said Tharp. "If there is no turnaround in a month, the suggestion gets placed in front of senior management to figure out why we aren't working it."

See Also

Video Of the keynote address of Dr. Shankar Basu, President and CEO of Toyota Material Handling USA, Inc.

2007 IW Best Plants Conference Presentations in .pdf format

2007 IW Best Plants Slide Show
Schneider Electric takes a different approach to employee suggestions via its "Battlebook," which is a record of barriers to productivity.

"Employees are accountable to complete those items," said Hamm. "If they can't be resolved, then there is an escalation process to the plant and executive level. We try to focus on what is stopping us from reaching goals and what can we do to solve it."

For General Cable de Latinoamerica, keeping workers motivated means keeping workers moving forward in the company.

According to Rosete, during the plant's lean journey, workers learned to do things better and important goals were reached thanks to the process of development within the organization.

However, improvements can only be sustained by motivating people to keep generating ideas and supporting the plant.

"A way to motivate them was to promote people within the organization. In the last three years nearly 16 salaried associates were promoted, including myself. All this has brought us fresh and new ideas. I am grateful to have the capacity to see how people that have been in a position for 10 or 15 years have the potential to learn and implement improvements."

Mining The Suggestion Box

Magee Rieter Automotive Systems in Bloomsburg, Pa., believes its employee suggestion program is one of the unique efforts that make it a better manufacturer. And no wonder: In 2005 employee suggestions accounted for some $1.4 million in annual cost savings at this automotive carpeting maker.

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But just how does its employee suggestion program work to produce such stellar results? Mel Stojakovich, Magee Rieter's manager of continuous improvement, provided some insight during the session How and Why to be a Best Plants Winner.

The suggestion system, he explained, is a formal process that allows employees to submit improvement suggestions in the areas of productivity, safety, quality, cost and customer satisfaction. In addition to monetary awards for each implemented suggestion, all employees who submit suggestions are eligible to participate in a monthly random drawing for a gift certificate. In addition, yearly awards are presented in several categories.

Employees submit suggestions via a paper-based suggestion form, which is submitted back to the appropriate department personnel for further action and follow-up. In addition, all of the suggestions are entered in an electronic database located on the company's intranet, which allow them to be reviewed by status, type and department, updated as necessary, and exported into Excel spreadsheets for custom reporting. One Magee Rieter location has eliminated the need for paper suggestion forms by establishing a kiosk that allows employees to submit their suggestions directly to the intranet.

Of course, all employees are kept aware of the status of suggestions. The Bloomsburg plant provides updates on communication boards in the work cells, and via a monthly newsletter and monthly departmental meetings. Such visibility of the suggestion program helps to raise its awareness with employees, Stojakovich explained.

The "Perfect" Plant

What does the "perfect plant" look like? Of course, there isn't any such thing, but if there was, SAP's Tom Westerlund suggested in the session ERP for Small- and Mid-Size Manufacturers that it would offer visibility into all manufacturing operations, including production performance and assets. In effect, you would have a 360-degree view of your total operations. "This visibility provides the ability to respond faster to operational issues and minimizes the impact to your business and bottom line."

While the perfect plant may be an impossible dream, Westerlund observed that adaptive supply chain networks allow manufacturers to shift away from "selling what I make" to "making what I sell." The three principles behind these networks are:
  • network-wide visibility, collaboration and analytics
  • synchronize supply and demand
  • sense and respond with adaptive fulfillment networks.

It's important, he added, to involve end-users from the start of any enterprise-wide project, and it's equally important to get senior-level involvement at your own company.

Touring Subaru

Plant tours were popular among all the conference attendees, including the trip to Subaru of Indiana Automotive Inc. (SIA). In addition to producing the Subaru Legacy, Outback and Tribeca, this plant has begun production of the Toyota Camry, which means management and production workers alike are being schooled in the Toyota Production System. The addition of Camry production at this facility is expected to add 1,000 new jobs at the site.

The tour began with an introductory video at SIA's welcome center, where participants learned how the factory became the first assembly plant to achieve zero landfill status. Tour participants then were able to view the production floor from an elevated catwalk and ask questions from the tour guide.

A Total Safety Culture

Sherry Perdue, project manager with Safety Performance Solutions, led a session titled, Making Safety A Culture, Not Just An Initiative. In a total safety culture, she explained, "safety is held as a value by all employees. Each individual feels responsible for the safety of their coworkers as well as themselves." That level of trust and shared responsibility will result in a work environment where each individual is willing and able to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of others.

A useful tool to creating a total safety culture, Perdue explained, is a safety culture survey, which serves several purposes:
  • It identifies the strengths and weaknesses in current safety systems, which helps identify and prioritize areas of focus
  • It provides a means to compare performance against a benchmark, both externally and internally
  • It provides a performance metric of improvement initiatives, through repeated administration.

Employee engagement, Perdue observed, is the key to achieving a total safety culture. Employees know about unsafe conditions, she noted, and they know when and where at-risk behaviors occur. Keeping them involved in the process will increase the likelihood of safe behavior.

For more information on the IW Best Plants Conference, including information regarding the 2008 Conference and the ability to subscribe the IW Best Plants Conference Connection Digital Magazine and receive regular conference news, highlighting exactly what you will see, hear and learn at individual sessions, keynotes and plant tours, please see the IW Best Plants Conference Web site.

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