The Changing Landscape of Innovation: Manufacturing Excellence in the ‘80s

Posted on Sep 20, 2018 4:18:57 PM, by Mollie Williams

"Quality is free." - Philip B. Crosby

Arboretum_May_allee-1The ‘Green Vase’ Japanese Zelkova has long been a focal point as part of a dynamic and colorful Milliken allée, first planted in our Spartanburg headquarters during the 1980s. Its graceful, vase-shaped upright arching branches are a reminder of the growth that Milliken continues to strive for and experience. 

In the early 1980s, the Japanese automotive industry took the world by storm when they introduced reliable, fuel-efficient cars. Then, their business model spread to other industries, including textiles. Milliken saw this emerging manufacturing revolution first-hand in 1979 when a group of Milliken leaders went to Japan for a machinery show. While in Japan, they visited a Japanese textile plant that was 25 years older than any Milliken facility at the time. The plant was operating at a higher productivity, better quality, lower cost and better safety results. The U.S. textile industry was faced what seemed to be an insurmountable hurdle as manufacturing continued to move overseas.

An organization heavily rooted in textiles, Milliken aimed to differentiate from these global competitors by embracing quality in all forms: the quality of our products, the quality of customer service, the quality of manufacturing facilities, and lastly, the quality and style of Milliken leadership. The result: manufacturing excellence. 

It was, and still is, imperative that every Milliken associate is passionate about the concept of quality. We challenged our associates to ‘own’ the charge — to feel like they, individually, could make a difference in the quality of the company. Therefore, Milliken transformed our leadership structure from a traditional vertical approach to a horizontal structure where manufacturing associates were challenged to make suggestions for improvement, and own their role in providing the best quality product possible.

The floor plan of our working environments was also modified to put quality at the center. Offices for planning, engineering, development, design, and the controller were placed in the middle of the production floor — allowing ease of collaboration and reducing problem-solving time through impromptu meetings. Low-profile cubicles were implemented throughout Milliken facilities to encourage team collaboration and communication.

We also began to challenge how we could bolster our manufacturing efforts to consistently provide the same quality products, so our customers knew they were going to receive reliable products for their supply chains. In 1989, the International Organization for Standardization introduced a rigorous manufacturing certification for quality management systems, ISO 9001: strict guidelines and processes on how to create quality products through thorough and streamlined processes for product design, development, manufacturing, and quality control. 

The Milliken Chemical division was one of the first three chemical companies to achieve ISO 9001 certification in 1991, and continues to maintain it today after regular updates to the certification. In fact, our company has continued to maintain ISO 9001 certifications across numerous facilities for 25 years with annual third-party audits for continuous improvement, proof of our commitment to be a stable, able, and reliable manufacturing partner.

The Milliken quality revolution ultimately led to numerous awards, including the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) Prize Award. In 2007, Milliken introduced the Milliken Performance System (MPS), a consulting service that applies these practices to help other companies improve manufacturing performance and safety. 

Today, Performance Solutions by Milliken continues to lead a myriad of manufacturing industries by focusing on quality for manufacturing excellence. MPS was born through decades of developing highly successful techniques, resulting in optimal safety, quality and efficiency. However, what makes MPS unique is the way we examine and ultimately change a business culture from both the bottom up and the top down, creating long-lasting, sustainable improvement.

Our continuous dedication to quality allows Milliken to thrive, rather than survive, in the evolving textile industry. You will find the same level of quality in our floor covering and performance and protective textile innovations today that existed years ago.

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Topics: Innovation

Mollie Williams

Written by Mollie Williams

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