Teijin Automotive Technologies’ impressive journey to winning the 2024 Manufacturing Excellence Award is a testament to its unwavering commitment to innovation, efficiency and employee empowerment. While Teijin Automotive in Lenoir has consistently been recognized as a favorable workplace, it recognized the need for revitalization in 2020, leading to the initiation of “Our Way,” a Lean Continuous Improvement Operating System, approximately 3.5 years ago.

Teijin Automotive Technologies is a global leader in compounding and molding composite components for the automotive and transportation industries. It supplies parts for renowned companies such as GM, Stellantis, Ford, and Toyota. The organization’s corporate “Our Way” initiative enhances standardization, fosters accountability, and boosts employee engagement. This innovative system required a deep understanding of how various business aspects intersect and impact each operational or functional area within the facility.

“Our culture is what makes us unique and drives our business forward. Culture plays a significant role in our continuous improvement efforts. Accountability and ownership are central to our culture, ensuring that every organization member understands their responsibilities and leads their areas independently. As the plant manager, I focus on setting key performance indicators (KPIs) and goals everyone works towards. If any department or individual needs assistance, we have systems to generate actions and support them in improving their processes. This approach fosters a sense of collective responsibility and empowers employees to contribute to our overall success,” stated Tracy Gray, the plant manager responsible for managing KPIs and ensuring financial and profitability goals are met across the facility.

Under this transformative operating system, Teijin Automotive prioritized cultivating a “people-centric” culture geared towards success. Teijin Automotive installed operator boards at each work center, allowing operators to take ownership of their work centers and directly address maintenance or tooling issues, displaying metrics in red or green for quick performance assessment. This approach instilled a profound sense of ownership and accountability across the enterprise, shifts, and work cells.

“We have implemented effective communication tools throughout our platform, extending to our production boards where employees can share comments or requests. These range from equipment needs like a new grinder or sander to requests for amenities like water availability on the floor. Recently, we responded to such requests by installing a refrigerator on the floor and providing free water to our employees. These seemingly minor adjustments improve workflow and overall job satisfaction. By keeping communication lines open and responding to employee needs, we strive to serve as a supportive resource, constantly seeking ways to enhance the work environment,” said Mark Parsons, the operations manager who manages the production workforce to ensure efficiency and smooth operations. 

Respect is fundamental to Teijin Automotive’s workplace culture. At the Lenoir, North Carolina Teijin Automotive facility, mutual respect is evident in how team members support each other without being asked. If someone sees a colleague struggling, they offer assistance willingly, fostering a collaborative environment. This level of respect extends to everyone taking pride in their work and understanding that individual success contributes to the team’s collective success. “We all recognize that to succeed, we need each other’s support. This shared understanding motivates us to work together, ensuring everyone is capable and equipped to exceed expectations in managing our business,” stated Gray. 

Teijin Automotive’s commitment to excellence extends beyond employee engagement to include strong and sustained environmental health and safety metrics. Achieving Best-In-Class health and safety standards, Teijin Automotive has demonstrated remarkable progress in customer and internal quality metrics year over year. By shifting continuous improvement projects from management-driven to employee-engaged initiatives, Teijin Automotive has witnessed significant improvements in production efficiency, transforming from average to top-performing with a remarkable 10% gain in just 12 months.

For five years, Teijin Automotive has collaborated closely with Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI) to facilitate site visits and implement customized training programs tailored to the organization’s unique requirements. This partnership has been made possible with key individuals such as Rick Shew, Associate Dean of Business and Career Services, Dr. Mark Poarch, President of CCC&TI, and Betty Silver, Associate Vice President of NCEdge Customized Training. Together, they have worked to design and deliver training initiatives that address Teijin Automotive’s specific needs and support its ongoing success.

Teijin Automotive – Lenoir is currently pursuing the prestigious Shingo Prize, which has not been won by a US company since 2019. CCC&TI will assist us in this endeavor by providing customized training to meet the rigorous requirements of the Shingo Model. This includes addressing various training prerequisites as part of the Shingo Prize Challenge, with support from CCC&TI internally and through the Shingo Institute.

“We initiated a training program for operators to understand and apply quality criteria, enabling them to conduct their inspections. Operators ensure that parts are manufactured accurately by utilizing precision gauges and taking ownership of the inspection process. This shift to operator-led inspections significantly enhanced our quality scores over the past few years. Operators now have direct accountability for quality assurance rather than relying solely on inspectors from other departments. While we maintain a dedicated quality department and engineers for auditing purposes, empowering operators to oversee quality at the source has proven instrumental in maintaining high standards in our day-to-day operations,” said Ryan Biddix, the continuous improvement manager overseeing initiatives at Teijin Automotive to enhance operations through employee empowerment, innovation, automation and waste reduction while prioritizing environmental sustainability. 

In recent years, Teijin Automotive’s profitability in Lenoir has soared, showcasing greater resilience against negative impacts while consistently meeting or exceeding monthly financial commitments. Esteemed organizations have recognized their exceptional achievements, including the NCDOL, which has honored the Lenoir Plant with Silver, Gold and Million Man Hours Awards for seven consecutive years. Teijin Automotive Technologies corporate office has also lauded the Lenoir, NC, facility as having the Best EH&S program for six consecutive years.

Teijin Automotive has established a comprehensive training infrastructure to ensure its employees are well-prepared for success. This includes designated focus areas specifically dedicated to training. Their facility has a spacious indoor classroom equipped with practical examples. Before introducing individuals to the production floor, they undergo classroom sessions in this designated area. The organization has allocated space on the floor solely for training, providing a segregated environment where employees can focus on acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge. 

“At Teijin Automotive, our approach to training differs from conventional manufacturing practices. Training falls under the purview of continuous improvement rather than human resources. The rationale behind this is to ensure that all employees, whether full-time or part-time, receive equal treatment and opportunities for growth. We believe in adapting our training methods to accommodate individuals with varying experience and skill sets. For instance, we recognize that the training needs of someone new to manufacturing, like a schoolteacher transitioning to the industry, may differ significantly from those of a seasoned manufacturing professional. Therefore, we prioritize humility in leadership and training, acknowledging everyone deserves an equal chance to succeed and providing the necessary support and resources to facilitate their development,” claimed Biddix.

When Teijin Automotive examines its internal processes and how they translate to its operations and performance on the production floor, it’s evident that transparency is critical. “Our daily operating review is digitally displayed on a touchscreen accessible to operators, maintenance staff, and forklift drivers alike. This user-friendly interface allows anyone to easily navigate our metrics and assess our performance. The simplicity of the red and green indicators makes it clear whether aspects are meeting expectations or requiring attention. This accessibility fosters a culture of self-research and empowerment, as individuals can readily understand how we’re faring without the confusion of deciphering complex graphs on paper,” stated Gray.

Technology is integral to the organization, driving significant advancements over the years. From manual operations, they’ve transitioned to automated processes, leveraging robotics to enhance precision and consistency. This evolution has been instrumental in achieving the desired parts per million levels and driving continuous improvement across the facility’s operations. The adoption of automated processes has not only improved efficiency but also contributed significantly to their overall progress and success.

Notably, Teijin Automotive Technologies received the prestigious Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Award of Excellence, marking a historic milestone as the first composite and molding manufacturing facility to earn this esteemed recognition.

Through their dedication to continuous improvement, unparalleled safety standards, and innovative approaches to manufacturing, Teijin Automotive Technologies has truly set the standard for excellence in the industry, making them a worthy recipient of the 2024 Manufacturing Excellence Award.

“Winning the 2024 Manufacturing Excellence Leadership Award fills us with immense pride for our team. We take a lot of pride in what we do. It’s challenging to express the depth of my pride in this group of individuals because it’s not just about me, Mark or Ryan—it’s about the collective effort of our entire organization. We function as a cohesive unit; this award is a testament to our collaborative spirit and dedication. It validates the hard work and commitment our organization has put in, and we are truly grateful for this recognition,” exclaimed Gray.