Both recipients of 2010 Shingo Prize are assembly plants in Mexico. This is the first time since 1988 that the prestigious operational excellence award did not go to at least one U.S.-based plant. Is this anything to be alarmed about?

When the 2010 Shingo Prize was announced recently, I was surprised to see that neither of the two recipients is located in the United States. Both plants are in Mexico, where Cinco de Mayo is being celebrated today.

Over the last two decades, the Shingo Prize has become widely recognized in the manufacturing community as a bellwether for “world-class operational excellence.” The prestigious award, which is named after Japanese engineer Shigeo Shingo, is administered by the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University.

The two 2010 recipients of the award are American Axle of Mexico’s Guanajuato Manufacturing Complex North Plant and Interiores Aereos S.A. De C.V. Gulfstream Aerospace. Of course, both American Axle and Gulfstream are U.S. manufacturers.

But, as far as I know, this is the first time since 1988 that the Shingo Prize did not go to at least one U.S.-based plant. [silver and bronze medallions are also awarded to manufacturers-a practice that I find confusing-with half of this year’s recipients American facilities].

Is this anything to be alarmed about? Maybe it’s just a weird anomaly. Then again, it could be the start of something.

I know there are many manufacturing plants in the United States that are world class. In fact, the annual Assembly Plant of the Year award (sponsored by ASSEMBLY Magazine and the Boston Consulting Group) is proof of that. Only U.S.-based facilities are eligible to participate and only one plant is honored each year. We'll be announcing this year's winner in October.

Perhaps fewer American plants participated in the Shingo Prize this year due to the economy. Unlike the Assembly Plant of the Year competition, which has no entry fee, the Shingo Prize charges a hefty “processing fee.” Large manufacturers pay $6,000, medium companies are charged $4,000 and small firms pay $2,000 to participate.

Any idea why the 2010 Shingo Prize will have a distinct Mexican flavor when the award is handed out in Salt Lake City in a couple of weeks? Are American plants afraid that winning an award will send the wrong message to their employees (e.g., "we've reached the end of our lean journey, so continuous improvement is no longer necessary")?