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Continuous Improvement Is the Heart of the Best

Sept. 15, 2022
Without a mindset geared toward improving, always, the future is dim.

Continuous improvement is on my mind as I write this column. Of course, it’s generally never far from my mind, but it is particularly up front and center now because we just announced our 2022 IndustryWeek Best Plants Awards winners. This annual award is one of the ways our staff celebrates manufacturing excellence in North America—by sharing the stories of extraordinary plants and people with the IW manufacturing community.

I’ve long coordinated this awards competition and get a particular thrill when we finally announce the winners. The competition is a rigorous process that demands a lot from participants, and we appreciate their efforts.

This year’s honorees are four manufacturing facilities that demonstrate the kinds of successes that are possible when you bring together the right people and the right processes, focused on doing the right things for the right reasons.

One of those “right things” is continuous improvement. Whether it be employing lean, Six Sigma, a homegrown production system or simply a shared mindset, no IW Best Plants winner—or any high-performing facility for that matter—will tell you that a laser sharp focus on improving, continually, isn’t a key component to their success.

If you do hear that it isn’t, also be prepared to hear less and less from that manufacturer—because without a mindset geared toward improving, always, the future is dim.

I bring this up not only because continuous improvement is almost always on my mind, but also because I was irked the other day to overhear a discussion that boiled down to “continuous improvement is passe.” So yesterday. Thankfully I didn’t hear those words from someone I work with closely. I won’t say fisticuffs would have ensued, but my response likely would have been more vocal than anyone desired.

No plant ever got better without someone first saying, “There must be a better way.” The difference is that in a manufacturing enterprise populated by a continuous improvement mindset, the workforce never stops saying that. One improvement leads to the next, and so on and so on.

Sometimes that improvement is a process change. Sometimes it’s a technology change. Sometimes it’s as simple as rearranging shelving or as important as removing a well-worn hose. And sometimes it means trying something out, discovering it’s not the right fix and letting go. Because improving through failure is also valuable.

I’ve visited many IW Best Plants Award winners over the years, and not one has ever remarked that they set aside continuous improvement as means to success. If anything, the exact opposite is true. They’ve doubled down. Moreover, continuous improvement isn’t the mindset of just the leaders; it’s the mindset of everyone.

So, as I applaud the 2022 IndustryWeek Best Plants Awards winners, I also applaud what all the best facilities and enterprises know: They can and will be better tomorrow.

Hear from the Best

I’m closing with a little plug, two plugs, in fact. First, don’t miss your opportunity to hear directly from the 2022 IW Best Plants winners at the upcoming Manufacturing & Technology Show, which is being held in Cleveland Oct. 18-20. Not only will this year’s winners be honored during an awards ceremony, but also they will be sharing their knowledge and experiences during a panel discussion.

Secondly, the 2023 IndustryWeek Best Plants competition will get underway soon, so be on the lookout for announcements at www.industryweek.com. As far as we at IndustryWeek are concerned, we can never celebrate manufacturing excellence too much.

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