I thought I might be in trouble when I walked into the meeting room at Nucor’s Darlington, S.C. Bar Mill and met the powerful gaze of about half of the plant’s 70-odd-person maintenance staff. I knew it when Maintenance Manager Andy Munson said, “Well, Paul, as long as we’re waiting for the newspaper reporter, we’re at your service. Ask anything you want.”
The grizzled veterans gave great advice about what they’d like to see in the magazine (“More articles about stuff that works!” “More girls!”), but fell silent when I asked them, “What gets you out of bed in the morning? Why do you want to come to work?”
Andy jumped in, “Why don’t you guys tell Paul about some of the things you’ve done to make the plant work better?”
The maintenance technician’s stories about suggesting changes and working with Engineering to improve equipment performance, reliability and efficiency kept us all going until the reporter arrived, when we presented the Plant Services 2005 Survivor USA Plant of the Year award to Nucor-Darlington’s team.
After the presentation, Andy gave us a plant tour. Everywhere we went, he introduced us to technicians and operators who not only had no difficulty explaining exactly how their equipment performed, they greeted us with a smile, an extended hand and thorough answers to every question.
But there was tension in the air. High winds in the night had blown two power lines together, crossing phases and taking out a motor on the rolling mill. The arc furnace was coming back up and the four-strand continuous caster was waiting for the melt. Everyone was clearly pleased to meet us, but also focused on making sure their part of the plant was running, about to run or being repaired as quickly as possible.
It wasn’t until the end of the tour that I began to understand. That’s when Mike Gurley, vice president and general manager, explained how Nucor works. Business units like the Darlington, S.C. bar mill have a great deal of autonomy, but solid financial support. Management compensation is largely determined by return on assets, which gives them a strong incentive to find wise investments and make solid cases for the capital dollars they know will pay off. They also want to run and maintain the plant in a way that extends its life and gives the lowest life-cycle cost.
Maintenance crew members are paid a base rate of about $14 per hour. When the plant is producing, they earn a bonus that roughly doubles their income, so they pay a great deal of attention to equipment uptime and productivity. At the end of the year, they also receive a bonus based on the company’s profitability. “That can be significant,” says Gurley. “All told, in a good year, a number of them will wind up in six figures.”
Add together the opportunity to make changes that improve the plant, the positive atmosphere generated by the common goal of keeping the plant always up and running, and a good chance that doing your work well will put you in the top income bracket in your part of South Carolina, and it becomes clear why Nucor’s employees appear to be eager to get out of bed, in the plant and on the job.
Nucor’s system wouldn’t necessarily work everywhere, but it clearly works for them. Other plants have their own strengths that help them survive and thrive while their neighbors drown in red ink.
We’re looking for candidates for our 2006 Plant of the Year. If you work for or know of a plant that is succeeding despite low-cost foreign competition and at least in part due to excellent maintenance, reliability and asset management, please tell us about it. We’ll do the rest.
For more about Nucor’s bar mill in Darlington, S.C., see “Winning the good fight” (October, 2005, page 32). Our Plant of the Year criteria are in “Survivor USA” (January, 2005, page 9). Both can be conveniently accessed at www.PlantServices.com/ThisMonth, or contact me at the address below.
EDITOR IN CHIEF
(630) 467-1300 x433