What defines a “winner”? In the world of football, it’s someone with team spirit who plays by the rules and hustles to the ball on every play. In the world of manufacturing, it’s a plant that assembles products more efficiently than anywhere else in the world.

Many people believe that the golden age of American manufacturing is long past. They claim the good old days vanished some time in the late 20th century. However, I believe we are entering a new golden era. New developments, such as flexible electronics, fuel cells, metamaterials, nanotechnology, photovoltaics and other emerging technologies will fuel that growth.

Although the mainstream media doesn’t talk much about it, U.S. manufacturers stack up admirably against tough competitors in China, India, Mexico and other overseas locations. The three facilities that the have received the Assembly Plant of the Year award from ASSEMBLY magazine reflect that sentiment and represent all things that are good about American manufacturing today.

We inaugurated the award in 2004. After witnessing several years of negative news, such as plant closings, downsizings and offshore frenzy, we created the competition to show what American assembly lines are capable of doing. We want to continue reporting on these plants that embody cutting-edge innovation and ingenuity. So, we want to hear about any plant-yours or one you know of-that is using world-class production processes.

The Assembly Plant of the Year award showcases truly outstanding facilities in the United States. So far, the award has been presented to Kenworth Truck Co. (Renton, WA), Xerox Corp. (Webster, NY) and Lear Corp. (Montgomery, AL). I was reflecting the other day on how each of these diverse facilities is both unique and similar. Although the three plants operate in totally different industries and are located in opposite corners of the United States, they share many things in common.

As I visited the assembly lines and met with engineers and operators, several things popped out at me. For instance, each plant has applied new technology to stay on the leading edge. Employees are equipped with a wide variety of tools to maximize productivity, such as paperless work instructions, radio frequency identification (RFID) systems, DC electric tools and ergonomic fixtures. Each facility has also harnessed the power of lean manufacturing to create value, focus on customer needs and minimize waste.

How can your plant follow in the footsteps of Kenworth, Lear and Xerox? The first step is to enter your facility-or one that you think deserves recognition-for the 2007 Assembly Plant of the Year award. The competition is open to any manufacturer, whether it’s a big plant engaged primarily in manual assembly or a small plant that’s fully automated.

However, the deadline is fast approaching-April 16. If you haven’t nominated a plant yet, I encourage you to consider doing so by using our online application form. We look forward to hearing from you.