Harris Products Group has scooped IndustryWeek’s prestigious and nationwide Best Plant award after continually demonstrating assessed improvements during a three-year period.

Speaking exclusively to gasworld after receiving the award, the President of the company was joined by Vice President Dan Marascalchi and Plant Manager for the Mason facility Rob Temple.

The trio were quick to stress the commendation received by the company is tribute to the hard work ethos of all employees which they demonstrated continuously during the three-year assessment period.

Speaking about the decision to apply for the award, Mr Nangle said, “Dan Marascalchi wanted my support, which he had, and then we took on Rob (Temple) to carry on his view. It’s a three year assessment, where you have to demonstrate improvements in every area of your business year on year.”

“This really was a three-year journey for us all.”

Harris Products, a subsidiary of Lincoln Electric, manufactures brazing and soldering alloys along with brazing rings and return bends. The alloys are used in the manufacture of OEM products in HVAC/R, transportation and automotive, mining and energy, heavy fabrication and other industries. The products manufactured in Mason are sold in the US and exported to 96 countries.

Dan Marascalchi explained the thinking behind wanting to apply for the award.

He said, “Tier one companies, the likes of Air Products, Airgas, Praxair etc are our customers. They use our products.”

“We want to let our customers know of our success in winning this award. We all got such an excitement from participating in the assessment for this award as there was great satisfaction gained from us all in the knowledge that we were doing this for our customers.”

“There was some doubt, in the beginning, about if we could keep pushing ourselves to meet the criteria. But after each audit that we passed, we were given a boost by the results that we received.”

Mr Marascalchi explained that auditors were surprised at just how open the company was when IndusrtyWeek representatives came to assess the workplace.

“They felt like they could just go up to anyone and ask a question they needed answering,” explained Marascalchi, adding “everyone on the floor had an equally important role to play and just shone when they were called upon.”

“We felt that we didn’t have to select specific people to be prepared for the visit of the assessors. We just everyone say what they thought as all of our staff our engaged.”

Rob Temple supported this and said, “Over the last few years we have seen our attendance figures go up and up which shows what is happening. We’ve been around for 99 years and it’s easy to lose your edge in that time.”

The lengthy application process used operations metrics from 2008 as a benchmark and compared them to progress made over a three-year period, 2009-2011. In the application, The Harris Products Group stressed five primary objectives:

1.    Safety & Environmental Responsibility

2.   Quality Built into All Operations

3.   Customer Service Driving Improvement

4.   Beat Project Improvement Goals

5.   Team-based Problem Solving Using Lean/Six Sigma Tools

After making the first initial cut in the process, the Mason facility was then asked to submit responses to six additional questions, concerning cost improvement projects, first-pass yield, cycle times, on-time delivery, inventory reduction and productivity improvement. The follow-up concluded with testimonials from customers and information about the plant’s distinction as the 2011 Lincoln Electric EHS Chairman’s Award winner for environmental impact, safety and quality.

Then a site visit in December by an editor from IndustryWeek reviewed and validated the claims made in the application process. Harris hosted a roundtable at that time for team leaders and supervisors to share their success stories, projects and passion for continuous improvement.

“The feeling was great. When it was announced we had been shortlisted and saw the companies we were up against, we were impressed to be that far,” said Mr Marascalchi.

“But then when we discovered we had won, we all just though – wow. We’ve beaten some big companies to win this award.

“Then, at the awards ceremony, we had people from our company speak about their experiences and what it felt like to win. It was a bit like being a proud parent as we never realised just how much winning this award meant to them all.”

Finally we asked what is next for Harris Products?

“Harris isn’t perfect – but we could be,” said Mr Marascalchi, adding, “we have a confidence now. We all think, bring it on. We can do anything.”

“It’s nice to have this, especially as we can’t apply for this same award for another three years.”

“But our Georgia branch will be applying for it, and the Poland branch is looking to see if there is anything similar in their area.”

“It’s our work force that is driving us though as they are asking us, ‘What’s next to achieve?’ – which is great.”

And here are some quotes from the Harris Products staff.

Chris Goble said, “One of our most famous quotes was ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’. Now, it’s ‘what can we do to make it better?’.  And, we’re there, we’re definitely there.  We’ve got the support, we’ve got Lincoln 100% behind us now - we’re only going to get better.” 

And Polly Chandler said, “My way of defining the process of Lean (manufacturing) includes … making decisions based on data and not wishes.”

Mike Erwin said, “Lean and Six Sigma is probably the biggest program that’s been the driving force of that (change), but it’s actually been the people behind it that’s accepted those tools and actually started to use them that’s made the difference.  All the departments in the whole facility, from the front office all the way down to the warehouse - everyone using this together … just doing their part, helping out, contributing in some small ways and some very large ways to helping us get better as we go.”

“Now that these programs are in place and we keep seeing the changes that we’re making … it makes you just thankful, thankful that you’re a part of it.” 

Whereas John Polhamus expanded by saying, “[We’ve] been able to transform a culture that has went through this so-called Lean journey many times with failure - not because we did not want to succeed, but rather the failure to understand the theories and concepts of Lean and their relationship to the entire business not just manufacturing.”

“We have seen that Harris Products Group is committed to continue to move forward and to not be satisfied with what we have accomplished over these last three years, but to rather be focused on what we can do to continue this journey of being real, transformed, connected and poured out … I look forward to continuing this journey with Harris Products Group and Lincoln Electric, because at this point we have not seen the full potential that Lean can have.  But yet, with this celebration we are now definitely seeing that it is worth the time.”