Durham, NC – The North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP), the official representative of the MEP National Network™ and NIST MEP in North Carolina, today announced the winners of its 2018 Manufacturing Leadership Awards at mfgCON in Durham, North Carolina. The NCMEP awards program recognizes manufacturers for their commitment to the North Carolina manufacturing sector, as proven by outstanding performance in the areas of developing markets, advanced talent development, continuous improvement, innovation and sustainability.

“Our state’s manufacturers continue to expand and excel in performance, leading to sustained customer satisfaction,” says Phil Mintz, NCMEP Director and Executive Director of NC State’s Industry Expansion Solutions (IES). “It is important that we continue to nurture and recognize the contributions of small and medium-sized manufacturers as they lead the way in manufacturing growth and innovation throughout North Carolina.”  

The winners of the 2018 Manufacturing Leadership Awards include:

DEVELOPING MARKETS: BROOKWOOD FARMS

Four generations of the Wood family have been serving up pit-cooked barbeque since the 1970s. They believe that real, Southern-Style BBQ is made from roasting the meat low and slow over hickory charcoal. This dedication to tradition means their products are now at the center of the menu at some of America’s favorite restaurants, are available food for k-12 schools, universities (including the Naval Academy) and grocery and convenience stores. They produce over 14,000,000 lbs. of BBQ annually and sell in over 40 states.

One of the largest employers in Chatham County, Brookwood Farms has actively pursued expansion into the food service industry. To meet demands for its products, the company has invested in expanding its Siler City facility and hired new employees. This was notably done without incentives, which they qualified for, but chose not to pursue. When a recent food manufacturer announced it would build a new facility in Siler City, leaders at Brookwood Farms analyzed their own company’s wages to ensure competitiveness in order to retain their workforce. In addition to their direct economic impact, Brookwood Farms is supportive of community development activities that improve the quality of life for area residents.

ADVANCED TALENT DEVELOPMENT: CAROLINA PRECISION TECHNOLOGIES

Carolina Precision Technologies (CPT), a Mooresville precision contract manufacturer, serves the commercial aerospace, medical device and specialty industrial markets. With attention to advanced talent development, they aim to improve workforce productivity, strategic execution and successful innovation. Over time, they have developed strong relationships with the local community colleges to utilize the college’s programs for training and development of their staff on Lean concepts, safety and general industry standards. In addition, they have developed a strong relationship with the Universal Technical Institute/Nascar Technical Institute (UTI), providing an internship for students working through their CNC machining program, And finally, CPT has developed an 18-week internship that allows their students to get hands-on experience in the machining field prior to graduation and offering their students an opportunity for full-time employment placement upon graduation from UTI’s program. It has allowed the students to see the full value of their personal investment in joining UTI’s program, along with providing a strong candidate pool to the CPT workforce.

CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT: AMERICAN WOODMARK CORPORATION

American Woodmark Corporation is one of America’s leading cabinet manufacturers with a strong culture of continuous improvement, accomplished by innovating and reengineering manufacturing processes, supply chain management and business practices. They are committed to providing quality products, designed and produced in their North American facilities. This is clearly evident in their Hamlet, North Carolina facility where they focus on every detail, no matter how small, to help them become more efficient and proficient. The facility has recently completed eight continuous improvement projects with impressive results. For example, they documented that the rate for cell audits in quality was 81.6%.  Their goal was to increase the rate to 95% by training employees on quality plans in order to decrease the number of quality defects. In doing so, they discovered that most defects occurred from air pressure (too little or too much pressure), causing quality issues. Upon completion of the cell audit and the training, the current quality rate stands at 98.71% and has saved the plant $1,196,837. They tackled another project that focused on unscheduled downtime on the rovers. In their analysis, they discovered changing of materials created the greatest percentage of downtime. The original goal was to reduce downtime to 20% but this improvement project helped reduce downtime to 21.9% for a savings of $136,188.97.

SUSTAINABILITY: HYSTER YALE

At Hyster-Yale, the goal isn’t just to build the best lift trucks possible, but to create solutions that enable their customers to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of their businesses. Product development is informed, on-going and proactive to ensure lift trucks are some of the most innovative in the industry. They recently developed a Hydrogen fuel cell to power their material handling equipment.  The only byproduct of this new fuel cell is water, creating a more environmentally friendly machine. It also provides a cost savings to its customers since they will no longer have to purchase batteries or charging stations for their equipment. Downtime is also decreased due to the time saved by the re-charging process. With former forklifts, recharging took about four hours; now the machine can be refueled with hydrogen in just one to two minutes.  Customers can purchase new hydrogen cell-powered equipment or they can choose to retrofit their older models with a battery box replacement (BBR), easily converting their older machine to the new technology.

INNOVATION: MERIDIAN SPECIALTY YARN GROUP

Meridian Specialty Yarn Group (MSYG), like the rest of the textile market during 2001-2010, felt the impact of job and market losses, but survived by doing things that no one else would do. They could have closed their doors, but chose to invest in their people and the community. Currently they have 270,000 square feet at their plant in Valdese and are in the midst of a major, multi-million-dollar expansion of another 116,000 square feet, along with an extensive modernization of their existing plant. This will require the addition of at least 25 employees but it will make the facility one of the most modern yarn and fiber dyeing facilities in the world.

In this modernization effort, significant savings will be achieved by reductions in water, chemical and utility costs. Dye and chemical dispensing will be performed robotically including unloading and centrifugal extraction of dyed yarns. These changes will also create unparalleled capabilities to run variable quantities of endless colors of yarn. This enables MSYG to address the demands of the marketplace for quick turns and to maximize the color and fiber choices of its customers. The days of having long runs of the same color and fiber are over, and it takes a certain mindset and specialized equipment to respond to these demands. Not only did MSYG undertake modernization of their plant in Valdese, they upgraded their Ranlo, NC plant as well to bring wool spinning for carpet production back to North America. The wool will be offered in various blends and colors using naturally colored wool along with a complete range of shades of top dyed wool. The new wool carpet yarn operation expanded the Ranlo plant’s production capacity by an estimated 25%.

MANUFACTURING EXCELLENCE:  80 ACRES FARMS

80 Acres Farms demonstrated exemplary practices across multiple areas of manufacturing excellence, earning the organization the NCMEP Manufacturing Excellence Award.  The company has perfected a process where a discarded international shipping container can be repurposed to grow 80 acres of food in a single cycle using hydroponic methods. 80 Acre Farms manufacturers  all of the equipment needed to achieve their goal of creating a national network of hydroponic farming operations in Granite Falls, North Carolina. The systems are utilized not only in North Carolina, but also at 80 Acres Farm sites in Arkansas, Alabama and Ohio.

Arriving in Caldwell County in 2016, 80 Acres Farms began with two employees in Granite Falls. The company has grown to 17 employees, with plans for additional expansion. 80 Acres Farms applies Six Sigma best practices toward the evolution of its farm operation and grow zone engineering. Utilizing this process, the company has reduced the grow cycle times of leafy greens and herbs by more than 30 percent as compared to conventional growth methods. In addition, by optimizing nutrient management, 80 Acres Farms can control the grow zone environment that allows the company to double the yields realized by traditional farming methods. Within the employee-driven Kaizen process, 80 Acres Farms has conducted trials for light spectrum, temperature and nutrients.

This innovation is made possible by the company’s engineering department working directly with the farm operations team to design, build and deploy grow zone equipment that is both user friendly and able to meet product standards. Just recently, the engineering unit redesigned a pump system to reduce electricity usage by 15 percent. In fact, each generation of grow zone designs has seen a 5 to 28 percent reduction in electricity usage.

80 Acres Farms has partnered with Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute (CCC&TI), Caldwell Early College and Caldwell County Schools to provide educational tours for students and instructors, speaking about vertical farming and grow zone engineering career opportunities.  The company also has worked with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation to hire interns for the farm operations. Since locating in Granite Falls and Caldwell County, 80 Acres Farms has hired employees from N.C. State University, CCC&TI and Catawba Valley Community College.

ABOUT NCMEP

The North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP) is the official representative of the MEP National Network™ and NIST MEP in North Carolina. The MEP National Network™ is a unique public-private partnership that delivers comprehensive, proven solutions to U.S. manufacturers, fueling growth and advancing U.S. manufacturing.