In the pursuit of manufacturing excellence, there is no substitute for objective evaluation by highly trained experts. But self-assessments are also a vital – and often under-tapped – tool in the Quality arsenal. Here’s how we make the best of both.
Since Corning began its Quality journey more than three decades ago, we have consistently increased the rigor of our manufacturing oversight. Our pursuit of excellence has evolved from mastering manufacturing basics like compliance, to ensuring close alignment with strategic objectives, to making continuous improvements in terms of increasing efficiency and reducing costs. In my 32-year career, I’ve had the opportunity to observe this evolution firsthand. Now, as the leader of Corning’s Global Manufacturing, Quality, and Safety functions, I have the privilege of helping to create the current state-of-the-art. I’m particularly excited about the standard we have set with our Achieving Manufacturing Excellence (AME) program.
AME defines key criteria for each element of our manufacturing process, which we then use to determine what we’re doing well, where we can improve, and how to make those improvements. My team often refers to it as our “Manufacturing Bible.”
Corning takes a comprehensive view of manufacturing, breaking it down into eight elements:
(1) Manufacturing Strategy, Cost, and Metrics; (2) Technology and Innovation; (3) Quality Architecture and Systems; (4) Process Understanding and Control Systems; (5) Supply Chain; (6) Lean Manufacturing Systems; (7) Safety, Health, and Environmental Management; and (8) Employee Engagement and Development. For each, we’ve established a rigorous set of criteria based on corporate strategy, customer specifications, and best practices that we’ve developed over time. Taken as a whole, these criteria define what “excellence” looks like in practice. We then measure performance against these criteria through formal analysis and self-assessments.
The criteria are different for each element. For example, In Quality Architecture & Systems, a key criterion is to ensure that error-proofing plans are tied to improvement of controls, capability improvement, or inspection reduction. In the area of Safety, Health, and Environmental Management, a key criterion is to ensure there is a process for conducting risk-assessments of both routine and non-routine activities that includes the evaluation of occupational safety industrial hygiene and process safety risk. Each criterion must be measurable and supported by evidence. Facilities must provide proof that a process is in place, that it is fully deployed, and that it’s effective.
Assessors Bring Fresh Eyes and Deep Experience
The heart of the AME program is a team of deeply qualified and highly trained assessors who visit the plants to observe operations and conduct a comprehensive series of interviews with key personnel about how things are working. There is a dedicated assessor for each of the eight elements. They score the facilities on each criterion, provide recommendations on how they can improve, and identify resources that can help. They also compile best practices from all the sites, which we can then share broadly. If a facility has a gap somewhere, they don’t need to start from scratch to correct it. Best of all, the process also connects plant employees to peers throughout the organization, creating new relationships that strengthen our corporate culture and help dissolve the distance between our global facilities. The process is separate from individual performance reviews, so our plant managers understand that the assessors are true allies.
There’s a high bar to become an assessor. Each of Corning’s assessors has approximately 20 years of manufacturing experience. They must be nominated by both their divisions and members of our Quality team, and they must complete a certification program. We also made a deliberate strategic choice to use active manufacturing leaders as our assessors. The manufacturing field is constantly changing and growing, and we want to ensure that our assessors are fluent in current best practices.
Our assessors visit each facility every third year, but we support AME every day. In between formal assessments, our manufacturing teams use the AME criteria to develop their road maps and evaluate their own performance.
Self-Evaluations Add Significant Value
Self-assessments are another vital tool in our AME arsenal and have been even more valuable than anticipated. Here are four ways they enhance our manufacturing effectiveness.
They help factories prepare for and maximize formal assessments.
By using the AME criteria to evaluate themselves prior to a formal review, plant leaders get a strong sense of what’s working well and where they can improve, which helps them formulate good questions and have richer, more productive discussions with the assessors. The assessors can also identify disconnects if a facility scores itself much higher than the formal assessment. They may determine that more training on the Quality program itself would be helpful in addition to any recommendations they make regarding the individual elements.
They supplement the formal assessment process.
Facilities can use the self-assessment during the “off” years to help catch and correct issues before they escalate and have a negative impact on the business or our people.
They help accelerate the ramp of new facilities and acquisitions.
The construction of new plants is an exciting opportunity to build things the right way from the ground up. By making the self-assessment tools widely available, new facilities can use the AME criteria as a roadmap to design-in quality. Self-assessment tools can also help facilitate the integration of plants added through acquisitions. The criteria show new members of Corning’s family that manufacturing excellence has a clear definition and is not just an aspiration, which helps them understand expectations and the actions they need to take.
They help employees maintain their focus on priorities during periods of volatility.
Global technology companies like Corning will always be subject to a certain amount of volatility. Growth surges, setbacks, and course corrections can all place new demands and stresses on plant managers, and it’s easy for employees at all levels to get distracted by the items right in front of them. The AME criteria help plant workers understand their priorities and maintain their focus, so we sustain operational efficiency no matter what is happening in the near term.
After three years in its current incarnation, the AME program has already delivered significant benefits to Corning. Our assessors have identified and documented more than 15 leading practices that can be used as benchmarks for our global facilities. For example, they observed an extremely effective project-portfolio tool at one of our plants that helps the site manage multiple priorities. The tool scores projects on criteria such as on strategic value, financial impact, and degree of difficulty, which helps them allocate resources effectively. The tool is now one of our global best practices. At another site, our assessors observed a particularly strong culture of engagement. We invited the manager to speak at our annual plant managers meeting, and he continues to make himself available to provide advice to his peers. In addition, the self-assessment criteria helped one of our recently acquired Life Sciences plants develop its manufacturing roadmap in time to meet an ambitious integration schedule.
The key to our AME program’s success has been ensuring that the assessors are experienced, credible, and committed, and that the criteria are rigorous, measurable, and actionable. If you get those things right, the combination of expert assessments and self-evaluation is a winning formula.