Road To Excellence

Dec. 21, 2004
IndustryWeek's 2003 Best Plants finalists' journey to world-class follows disciplined approach and resources dedicated to improvement.

A lost driver on the side streets of Cleveland once stopped for directions and was told, "You can't get there from here." And so it is with manufacturing facilities hoping to reach an operational destiny marked by higher levels of performance: Without first putting themselves in a position to improve, they just won't get there. This year's 25 North America's Best Plants finalists understand that the road to world-class requires a starting point marked by a structure for organizational improvement and the dedicated resources to improve. Each of the 2003 Best Plants finalists devotes three people (median) to improvement programs or projects (average of 12 people per plant). These "black belts," "change agents," or similar leaders account for about 1% of their total plant labor force. North America's Best Plants finalists interject their catalysts for change into a labor pool that's been primed for improvement; the finalists budget a median of 2.1% of their annual labor costs to training. The investments are well worth the labor costs and time. In the most recent calendar year, the finalists reported median documented costs savings from specific improvement programs or projects of $3.9 million per plant or nearly $6,500 per plant employee. Further proof of the importance of a systemic approach to improvement is also found in the median operational and financial measures of this year's top 25:

  • Three-year productivity improvements (change in annual sales per employee) of 23.4%,
  • Three-year manufacturing cost reductions (change in cost per unit of product shipped including purchased-material costs) of 11.3%,
  • Operating equipment efficiencies of 85% (roughly equivalent to recording 95% machine availability, quality yield and percent of optimal production rate), and
  • Profitability increases over the last three years of 18%.
The Best Plants finalists extend their improvement processes to their value chains. For example, all finalists have a formal customer-satisfaction program in place, and they conduct a median of two customer-satisfaction surveys each year, gauging such factors as costs, delivery performance and quality. (Twenty-two of the facilities reported 100% customer retention over the last three years.) Suppliers to the North America's Best Plants finalists also keep up -- a median of 83% of key suppliers provide just-in-time deliveries. While the world-class performances and the paths taken to get there are fairly uniform across the Best Plants finalists, the characteristics of the 25 are diverse: Two are just 4 years old, while the octogenarian Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products plant in Cleveland, Tenn., started when Woodrow Wilson was U.S. president. Products manufactured by the plants range from cardiology devices that extend life, to caskets for those whose lives have reached full extension. Staffing ranges from 127 workers at Collins & Aikman in Williamston, Mich., to 2,310 employees at the sprawling Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems complex in Syracuse, N.Y. The finalists roster consists of 21 public and four private companies. Four plants have "some" workers represented by unions, and five report "all" workers having union representation. This summer IndustryWeek's Best Plants judges will select the 2003 Best Plants winners from the 25 finalists based on responses to follow-up questionnaires, independent research and the opinions of several manufacturing experts. The 10 winners will be featured in the 14th annual Best Plants issue to be published in October.
IndustryWeek's 2003 Best Plants FinalistsAmerican Axle & Manufacturing de Mexico, S.A. de C.V.,Silao, Guanajuanto, Mexico; front and rear axles; 1,266 employees. Affordable Interior Systems Inc.,Hudson, Mass.; office furniture systems; 170 employees. Autoliv Steering Wheel Facility (AWC),Columbia City, Ind.; steering wheels, airbags; 357 employees. Batesville Casket Co. -- Manchester Operations,Manchester, Tenn.; steel burial caskets; 482 employees. Boston Scientific Corp., Maple Grove Operations,Maple Grove, Minn.; interventional cardiology devices; 1,054 employees. Bridgestone/Firestone South Carolina,Graniteville, S.C.; light truck and passenger tires; 1,067 employees. Collins & Aikman Greenville Operations,Greenville, S.C.; automotive carpet; 735 employees. Collins & Aikman, Guelph Products,Guelph, Ontario, Canada; plastic automotive components and instrument panels; 613 employees. Collins & Aikman Port Hope Operations,Port Hope, Ontario, Canada; automotive instrument panels; 877 employees. Collins & Aikman,St. Clair, Mich.; automotive floors, trunk interiors; 159 employees. Collins & Aikman, Williamston Operations,Williamston, Mich.; automotive headrests, armrests, other interior components; 137 employees. Dana Corp.,Owensboro, Ky.; automotive frames; 313 employees. Delphi Adrian,Adrian, Mich.; automotive instrument panels; 503 employees. Delphi Packard, Cortland Molding Plant,Cortland, Ohio; plastic components for electrical systems; 154 employees. dj Orthopedics de Mexico, S.A. de C.V.,Tijuana, Mexico; orthopedic arm and knee braces, slings, rib belts; 704 employees. General Cable -- Automotive Products, Altoona Plant,Altoona, Pa.; aftermarket automotive ignition wire sets; 262 employees. Honeywell Engine Systems & Accessories,Tempe, Ariz.; aerospace controls and systems; 1,153 employees. Kautex -- A Textron Co.,Avilla, Ind.; automotive fuel tanks; 365 employees. Kautex -- A Textron Co.,Lavonia, Ga.; automotive windshield washer systems, fuel tanks; 266 employees. Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems,Syracuse, N.Y.; radar systems; 2,310 employees. Maytag Cleveland Cooking Products,Cleveland, Tenn.; gas and electric cooking products; 2,044 employees. Maytag Herrin Laundry Products,Herrin, Ill.; washers and dryers; 1,369 employees. North Star BHP Steel Ltd.,Delta, Ohio; hot-rolled steel; 330 employees. Northrop Grumman Corp.,Rolling Meadows, Ill.; electronic defense systems; 1,850 employees. TRW Automotive,Fowlerville, Mich.; automotive slip control products; 355 employees.

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