2018 Manufacturing Awards

The Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing hosted its sixth annual Manufacturers’ Awards Banquet in connection with National Manufacturing Day. Over one hundred and fifty business, government and community leaders from all across Southwest Virginia gathered at the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center on Thursday, October 4th, to celebrate manufacturing and its achievements over the past year. The focal point of the dinner was to award manufacturers – providing recognition to their success and the various ways they positively impact the community. Six manufacturers from all across Southwest Virginia received awards.


Community Impact Award presented to Universal Fibers, Bristol, VA

The Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing gave the Community Impact Award to a manufacturing company who has gone above and beyond to give back to the community. By giving this award, SVAM hopes to bring recognition to the efforts of manufacturing companies to better their communities.

The Mission Statement of this year’s award winner contains words and phrases such as “Our principals guide us to value lives”, “We will better what we find..” and “.. in service to humanity”. They are proud to say that they are doing just that. This company is involved in a long list of community outreach areas. From a number of community service organizations and programs, to education and art programs to local schools. Their impact affects several health, wellness and medical programs, and civic organizations. They are proud to add to this list each year.

One of their beliefs “to better what we find.” is what drives their impact to remain positive and grow over the years. More than 90% of their workforce has some involvement with at least one of their impact area commitments within the community.

While serving the community is vitally important to Universal Fibers company, they also have a focus on coming together to meet their employee needs. An example of this, which happened this year, was one of their shift team leaders was notified that an employee had lost his home due to a house fire, displacing him and his family of 7. An outburst of support from their employees, with monetary funds and donations of clothing, appliances and furniture as well as assistance with helping them locate and temporarily fund housing for him and his family, was the company’s swift response to this need.


Environmental Excellence Award presented to Universal Fibers, Bristol, VA

SVAM chooses to offer the Environmental Excellence Award as a way to show the community that manufacturers truly care about the environment in which they live and go to great lengths to minimize their environmental footprint.

Universal Fibers has been a sustainability industry leader since its founding in 1969. Its commitment to environmental stewardship and supporting deliverables is steadfast and unwavering. This company’s eco-journey has been one of adaptation and growth. It began with a commitment to resource conservation and has evolved into a program called EnLIST – a four point commitment to environmental stewardship. The first, Life Cycle Analysis, includes recycling, resource conversation, C02 emissions and the like. The second, Impact, refers to their footprint. The third, Social Responsibility, begins and ends with ensuring a safe and prosperous environment for their more than 600 dedicated associates as well as the communities in which they live and work. The fourth, Transparency, demonstrates how this company is committed to provide transparency for their products and processes as well as the ingredients they use to produce their products. In 2016 the company introduced Thrive, the most sustainable solution-dyed nylon carpet fiber in the world. Universal Fibers says they seek opportunities to better what they find and use less to produce more.


Excellence in Safety Award presented to Tempur-Sealy, Duffield, VA

SVAM chooses to offer the Excellence in Safety Award as a way to show the community the great lengths that manufacturers go through to ensure a safe work environment for their employees. The winner of this year’s award strongly believes in safety first from upper management all the way down to contractors. In the past year, Tempur-Sealy has made many changes to their safety practices which have made significant impacts.

Over the past 5 years this company has reduced the recordable incident rate from 2.28 to .98 by getting employees more involved, in reporting near misses, changing safety culture, and making ergonomics and safety improvements on existing equipment as well as new equipment prior to installation. They have implemented a strong wellness program which includes a stretching program along with having a physical therapist onsite to help with work related and non-work related strains and pains.

The company promotes safety through a positive work environment, believing, “too serious a mindset can hinder creativity.” They believe, having fun during work allows one to be relaxed and that’s where one tends to get inspired with creative ideas. They also have a strong safety employee committee that bring ideas and solutions to the table. When ideas or solutions are brought to the table, employees, safety committee, supervisors, and engineer team start communicating and brain storming to arrive at the best solution. As the culture is changing they are seeing employees transitioning to becoming more pro-active than re-active.


Innovations in Manufacturing Award presented to Electro-Mechanical Corp, Bristol, VA

In Southwest Virginia Manufacturing you’ll find a breeding ground of innovative companies, ideas, and people. When you take a look, it is truly exciting to see all of the new products and processes that are being created and established in our own backyards.

The winner of this year’s Innovation in Manufacturing Award produces switchgear and transformers at one of its company locations.  Both product lines have experienced growth over the last several years.   Lean methods have been applied to the switchgear value stream doubling their capacity, reducing their inventory 50% and improving their quality significantly.  This accomplishment was recognized by SVAM in 2017.   However, this success created a bottleneck upstream in one of the supply processes, the internal fab shop.  The fab shop was operating in a PUSH mode with large batch sizes, all of which increased inventory and affected on time delivery to  the  two customer value streams. To support this increase in business growth, the fab shop had to improve it’s lead time.

Through Lean thinking, it was identified that there were two phases to improve the operation…one had to occur before the second phase could even be attempted.   Phase I involved organizing the fab shop.  Phase II was to establish a pull system.  By recognizing the challenges and embracing the opportunities this project presented, Electro-Mechanical Corp. was able to successfully develop a pull process that reduced the lead time from 3  days to 1 day, improving delivery time to the two value streams.


Community Choice Award presented to Utility Trailer, Atkins, VA

Utility Trailer is one of the largest employers in the region, and also one of the most present community servants.  Each week, Utility Trailer in Atkins provides a meal to their employees for meeting certain efficiency performance metrics.  Last April, the employees came together and requested that their company forgo one of these employee meals each week and allow them to use the savings to direct donations into their communities where their employees live.

Since its inception, the fund called Utility Employees Changing Communities has distributed more than $316,000 across the region!  Please understand that these thousands of dollars are JUST from the meals that their employees are forgoing one week a month.  In addition to this, their company supports many community efforts, including United Way of Southwest Virginia, where they are a key corporate partner and supporter.  When we think about bringing people together to be united around a cause, Utility Trailer in Atkins is one of the top on the list.


Manufacturer of the Year presented to Scholle IPN, Chilhowie, VA

This year the applicants for Manufacturer of the Year were unique and presented an eccentric collection of topics:

One company completely reinvented a manufacturing process due to overwhelming market demands. Another utilized their own understanding about ergonomics and applied them into the assembly process. One applicant blended and blurred the lines of organic material versus synthetic by creating a brand new product. Then there was human programming. Programming won in the categories of innovation, citizenship, employee advocacy, and environmental stewardship.

It won because Scholle IPN focused on its core strengths. People. Today’s environment is quick, reactive, and constantly changing. So much to the point that manufacturing as a sector is now forced to redefine the culture of work as not a destination, but a journey.

The awardee is located in the foothills of Southwest Virginia, the modest facility houses 15 pieces of machinery, which runs around the clock by a smidge of over 100 people who clock in and out daily.

Seconds matter at this facility. Why do these seconds matter? The team is responsible for producing about ten food grade items per second. These items are representative of their core beliefs which are: quality means value, their customer brand has to be protected, their employees are responsible for outcomes, and employees are responsible for improvements.

Anyone who has every worked in manufacturing understands that manufacturers all have a very high threshold for acronyms. This application embedded over 100 different acronyms. One stood out, the PI camera. PI stands for Python Interpreter. What does the PI camera do? Its sole job is to capture six seconds when a machine breaks down. 3 before and 3 after. This company’s success is measured by how effective its aggressive and fast employee programming can be implemented to prevent those six seconds from ever happening or ever happening again.

Scholle IPN’s programming is management monitored, but employee driven. Employees are asked to solve problems as a transparent community with due dates and boards. Although the desired outcomes is to always be better, their journey is different each time because their programming is designed with intentions to be fun and competitive.

The problem solving abilities of their employees aren’t just confined to operations or human resources, it also stretches into the community. It recognizes itself as a minimal waste producer, it does so by making its employees responsible for hosting and leading community recycling and up-cycling projects and events. In a region with generational and structural poverty, employees are responsible for creating social impact initiatives. This has led to them to sponsor adopt an angel programs, back to school supply drives, clothing drives, school breakfast preparation, walkathons, and athletic sponsorships. With regards to nonprofit fundraising, employees created a community chest which allowed employees to make monthly contributions based upon the five charitable causes of their group’s choosing.

Congratulations to the Pioneer of Bag-In-A-Box Applications, Scholle IPN Packaging of Chilhowie, Virginia!

Thank you to Mary Anne Holbrook and Te-Kai Shu for contributions to this article.