All five recipients of ASSEMBLY Magazine'sAssembly Plant of the Yearaward are customer-driven organizations.

This year, ASSEMBLY magazine is celebrating the 5th anniversary of itsAssembly Plant of the Yearaward. Although the facilities that have received the award operate in different industries and are located in different regions of the country, they share several common attributes.

For instance, each of the plants has openly embraced new production technology to stay competitive. All five facilities also adhere to lean manufacturing principles to minimize waste and improve productivity. In addition, each operation focuses on customer needs.

All the recipients of theAssembly Plant of the Yearaward are good examples of customer-driven operations. For instance, at IBM’s high-end server plant in Poughkeepsie, NY, there’s intense focus on meeting and exceeding customer expectations through order responsiveness and quality. Once a customer order is received at the plant, prefabricated parts are used to assemble the order. Customers can even make alterations on their order up until the time that it ships. Believe it or not, that happens about 20 percent to 30 percent of the time.

Assembly line activity is also driven by customer demand at Schneider Electric/Square D (Lexington, KY). Warehouse inventories across North America are updated every 90 minutes with actual values based upon current shipments. Software programs allow plant-floor management to accurately schedule daily production requirements. Simple color-coding of catalog references at various inventory levels defines the correct order priority.

Assemblers at the Lear Corp. plant in Montgomery, AL, have to satisfy two types of customers: the nearby Hyundai assembly plant and the people who buy the vehicles that are assembled there. Lear employees are constantly focusing on quality, because signs hanging above numerous workstations read “J.D. Power Hot Spot!” Those signs serve as a visual reminder that Hyundai vehicles and Lear seats score high on J.D. Power’s influential initial quality study (IQS). Management walks the line with the IQS questionnaire and identifies all steps in the assembly process that could affect the overall IQS score. The hot spots alert operators to watch out for things such as squeaks and rattles, material sags, and loose or parting seams.

At Xerox Corp., 80 percent of employees have regular contact with customers. That’s because the company is keenly aware that it takes five times as much effort and money to attract a new customer as it does to keep an old one. By listening and learning, Xerox has discovered that its customers want help in reducing costs, improving productivity, growing revenue and creating value for their customers. The company’s Webster, NY, plant houses a multimillion customer center that encourages visitors to tour the plant floor and get a first-hand look at the assembly processes and technology that’s used to build their products. That provides customers and assemblers with plenty of one-on-one interface.

Assemblers at the Kenworth Truck Co. plant in Renton, WA, pride themselves on providing heavy-duty trucks that meet each customer’s unique requirements. Every vehicle is custom-engineered, from bumper to taillight, with multiple configurations. In fact, Kenworth offers more factory-installed options than any other truck manufacturer. Because every vehicle rolling down the assembly line is different than the next, operators are trained to adapt to changing assembly requirements.

When it comes to being customer-focused, is your plant world-class? If so, nominate your facility-or one that you think deserves recognition-for the 2009Assembly Plant of the Yearaward. The competition is open to any manufacturer in the United States that assembles discrete parts and components, whether it’s a big plant engaged primarily in manual assembly or a small plant that’s fully automated.

Clicknomination form to nominate a plant for the 2009 award.