Harness the power of ownership to achieve world class manufacturing

J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at smcgroarty@putman.net or check out his .

When a road warrior gets a rental car that she really likes, how does she respond? Does she say “Gee, I’d like to rent this model frequently!” or “You know, I wouldn’t mind owning one of these?” Never mind that for a road warrior, frequent renting might actually provide more driving time with the car. Ownership is the situation that we desire when a vehicle pleases us. Also, anyone who has talked to a rental car worker knows that the treatment received by rental vehicles is very different from that given to personal cars. The typical renter wants to be sure the vehicle is returned in working condition. Beyond that, dirt and wear and tear don’t matter. When the car is our own, they matter very much.

I just returned from a tour of the Belvidere, IL, Chrysler assembly plant. They’ll be featured in the April Plant Profile of our print edition. Chrysler Belvidere has an exciting history of growth and new vehicle introduction, but the level of excitement we found there this week is beyond what one usually sees in a US auto plant, even a very successful one.

Belvidere is participating in a world class manufacturing (WCM) program that has been successful at Fiat and is now being promulgated through Chrysler, since Fiat bought the company. WCM has ten pillars, one of which is autonomous maintenance (AM), similar to operator performed maintenance programs in other companies. AM fields teams of production operators to clean, maintain, and monitor plant equipment. The objective is for the workers to take ownership of the conveyors, robots, and other equipment in their area so that it is ready at all times for safe, efficient operation.

The ownership conferred by AM begins with the assignment of equipment to the worker group, but by the time they have reclaimed old, beat-up equipment and made it look and run like new, the ownership has been earned, and the group is a team. The workers we met were genuinely excited about their corner of the 5 million square foot plant. These were proprietors who were proud to demonstrate that their place of business was in tip top shape. You can even view brief interviews with Regina Metzger, a WCM lead person, and Nick Wells, an AM lead person. The clips help demonstrate the importance of the programs and the attitude they create.

To learn more about the Chrysler Belvidere Assembly Plant and Body Shop, read the Plant Profile, How world class manufacturing made one plant safer, greener and more profitabile.

It is the normal, healthy state for a worker to be proprietor of his own place of business, just as it is normal and healthy for us to earn and own our homes. The fall of communism, the Arab spring, and the fact that car rental companies only get about 40,000 miles from their cars prove this point and demonstrate that it is not just an American phenomenon.

It is a pleasure to visit plants where this natural order of things has been harnessed, rather than suppressed, and people are proud of their workplaces and of the products that come from them. The finest products come from facilities that are worker-owned and maintained. Worker-owned plants also provide the safest and most profitable working environments.

Everybody wins, and people and equipment don’t get treated like rented mules.

Read Stanton McGroarty's monthly column, Strategic Maintenance.