Is your company proactive or reactive? If you’re like many small-to-medium manufacturers, you react to challenges when they occur instead of proactively mitigating risks and looking for ways to improve. Maybe it’s because you’re too busy, or maybe it’s because stopping to assess your operations doesn’t seem like the most productive use of your time. These days, there are supply chain and workforce challenges to address, along with rising energy costs and inflationary pressures.
How about some historical perspective? During the 1970s and 1980s, U.S. industry also faced a host of challenges. Some, such as high oil prices, feel familiar today. Others, such as concerns about imports from Japan (instead of from China), seem more remote. By the late 1980s, however, small-to-medium manufacturers had an ally in the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), which is part of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) within the U.S. Department of Commerce.
NIST MEP and the Baldrige Framework
Today, NIST MEP continues to help small-to-medium manufacturers who want to become more efficient and overcome barriers to growth. In addition to state and regional MEP centers, NIST maintains a partnership with the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. Named after Malcolm Baldrige, the U.S. Secretary for Commerce from 1981 to 1987, the program established a framework and assessment tool for understanding organizational strengths and opportunities for improvement.
The Baldrich Framework has evolved since the 1980s, and today it has three main components. First, it seeks to identify and recognize role-model businesses in the form of Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards. Second, the framework disseminates and shares best practices. Third, it establishes a criteria and model for performance improvement efforts. This model isn’t meant to replace Lean, Six Sigma, or ISO initiatives, however. Rather, the Baldrich Framework can reveal where these other initiatives should be deployed, and then support their implementation.
More Than an Award
After Congress passed the Malcolm Baldrige National Competitiveness Action in 1987, U.S. companies that won a Baldrige Award enjoyed considerable media attention. Winning this award is still a great honor, but the journey toward manufacturing excellence is where the true value lies. By helping a company’s leaders to identify key measures of performance, the framework enables manufacturers to allocate resources in ways that will increase profitability and reduce risks to business competitiveness.
In addition to the framework, there are several Baldrich products that manufacturers can adopt. For example, the Baldrige Excellence Builder is a self-administered survey with questions about work processes and operational effectiveness. Baldrige Resources contains a collection of best practices, a management framework, and guidance for continuous improvement and innovation. The Job Quality Toolkit, a new product, will be available later this summer.
How to Get Started
Small-to-medium manufacturers who want to pursue performance excellence can begin their journey online. The first step is to visit the NIST MEP website and download the Baldrige Excellence Builder. This self-assessment tool is available as a free PDF and contains a scoring system. In addition to questions about operations, there are sections about leadership, strategy, customers, measurement, workforce, and results.