By Michael Hughes
Out of the darkness came light
Factory work never appealed to me.
In Rock Hill, S.C., The Bleachery (Rock Hill Printing and Finishing Co.), paper mills, textile shops and the Celanese Celriver plant certainly were important to the local economy. But they seemed like dark, dirty places that spit out smoke and shift work, which appeared to be the height of drudgery.
Unfortunately, limited athletic ability spoiled my plans to be a basketball star, so I took up the life of a journalist. Occasionally, the job would have me spend a day at a textile plant, on a tobacco farm, in a machining shop, etc. The farm probably was the healthiest place, but the idea of lifting heavy racks of tobacco into curing barns for days on end didn’t spark my soul. And Carolina summers are scorchers.
But while I wasn’t looking, change happened.
Today’s factories are clean, well-lit centers of innovation and technology. Instead of grinding people down with years of oppression from the dark lords of management, a modern, lean operation wants engaged employees who spur continuous improvement.
For an example, see the Thomas Built Buses C2 factory featured in this month’s cover story. “A Lean, Green, School Bus Making Machine,” by the gentleman on the left, starts on Page 28. A tour of the High Point, N.C., operation is almost like an office visit (except for the necessary ear protection). Smoke doesn’t belch, dust doesn’t fly and the dirt seems to have been filtered out. It even has a joint solar panel operation with the local power company.
You’ll find a few things about lean operations and sustainability at the IIE Annual Conference and Expo this month in Orlando, Fla. (Visit www.iienet.org/annual for more.) Most will talk about lean transformations that happened after the building was completed; however, the C2 factory was planned from the get-go with lean manufacturing in mind.
Thomas’ “greenfield” approach eliminated numerous constraints. A few years down the road, it was key in upgrading the factory to a zero-waste-to-landfill facility.
The C2 factory is a shining example of how lean and sustainability go hand-in-hand. Keep that in mind next time you’re building a factory.
Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at email@example.com or (770) 349-1110.