Top Plant winners focus on thriving, not surviving

By Bob Vavra, Editor December 1, 2008

The show, “Survivor” is a reality TV game. It’s not, however, real. “Reality television” is the greatest oxymoron ever created, easily outdistancing “jumbo shrimp” and “congressional oversight.” Nothing on television is real, so winning a show called “Survivor” is not really like having survived anything but being really dirty for a few weeks.

Manufacturing’s current challenges are many and daunting, but when I saw recently that one manufacturing plant was honored as “Survivor of the Year,” I was a little surprised. It was especially surprising when you read the story and noticed that this plant wasn’t surviving in these tough economic times %%MDASSML%% it was thriving.

This is a result of doing all the things we talk about every day and every month, in print and on line. You have to run your plant efficiently every day %%MDASSML%% not run to failure, but run to optimization. You have to look carefully at all cost areas in your plant. Can you change light bulbs and improve lubrication and collect data that will lead to better run times and better overall efficiency? The means to do all those things and more are out there.

And you can’t do it without people. Even with unemployment spiking this winter, and with the prospect of more spikes by spring, this is the time to find, develop and incent the best of your people. This is where you tap into their knowledge and their skill. You can save jobs by saving money throughout your plant. Engaging the people whose jobs may be affected can be a way to preserve both their jobs and the capital needed to keep the plant moving forward.

No matter how tough these times are, this crisis is not about simple survival. This is about finding ways to thrive.

Plant Engineering’s 2008 Top Plant winners couldn’t be more different. One is part of a global manufacturing giant. One is a small manufacturer making a specialized product. One can call on an army of engineers and designers to bring 24/7 product development to solve problems. The other is driven by an engineer who doubles as an owner who doubles back again as a mom.

What Square D ‘s Columbia, MO plant and the Quality Float Works plant in Schaumburg, IL have in common is that they’ve faced those manufacturing challenges we’ve all faced %%MDASSML%% tight money, global competition, energy costs %%MDASSML%% and beat them back with a combination of planning and execution.

It’s simple to talk about, but it’s very hard. It requires the will to make tough choices and the courage to spend money on a belief in those choices. It requires the expectation of better days ahead and the foresight to be prepared for those days to arrive.

None of that implies surviving the current crisis. Those who merely survive won’t be strong enough to meet the next challenge. Even that one manufacturer who was deemed a “survivor” this year is already strong enough to meet whatever challenge comes next.

Our Top Plant winners for 2008 offer a blueprint out of our current crisis, and an example of how to thrive in these tough times. Right now, survival isn’t enough.