By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
LORDSTOWN -- The Lordstown Assembly Plant improved its productivity by 9 percent last year, moving up to the middle of pack among other plants.
"General Motors did great, but Lordstown did outstanding," said Maureen Midgley, Lordstown plant manager.
The General Motors plant ranks fifth among 10 subcompact plants in North America and 22nd among all 38 car assembly plants in North America.
Moving up: Lordstown has been creeping up the rankings over the past few years, according to Harbour and Associates, a Michigan consulting firm that released its annual productivity survey Thursday.
The plant was ranked ninth among subcompact plants in 1997 and 1998 and seventh in 1999 and 2000. Among all car plants, its ranking the past four years has bounced between 24th and 28th.
The Harbour Report rates plants on the average number of labor hours per car. Lordstown's number was 26.03, compared with 28.61 a year earlier. Ratings for the two previous years were both more than 29 hours per vehicle.
Midgley said the productivity number has increased as the plant has cut overtime and the number of hourly and salaried workers.
"The goal is to be working smarter," she said.
The plant had 7,500 hourly workers in 1995 but 4,400 now. The plant has added plenty of robotics in recent years to automate activities that used to be done by hand, but just as important is changing how work is set up, she said.
"We're rearranging work to be more effective and more efficient," she said.
Officials are constantly looking at what other manufacturers are doing to try to gain ideas how to improve, she said.
Continual improvement is mandatory, and the Lordstown work force understands that, she said. All of the subcompact plants in the Harbour Report improved over the previous year, yet Lordstown was still able to jump two places in the rankings.
"It just shows that any manufacturing facility that is not improving would not stay level, it would fall back," she said.
Overall, GM's assembly operations were ranked seventh out of the 10 automakers and automaker alliances in North America. Its hours per vehicle improved 9.4 percent, however, to 26.75. That was the biggest improvement among any automaker with more than one plant.
GM had an 8.5-percent improvement among all of its plants -- assembly, stamping and powertrain.
Official's comments: "GM's assembly operations continue to show a substantive, true lean improvement," said Ron Harbour, Harbour president. "The company's progress in its powertrain operations is outstanding, and the stamping gains support the direction GM is taking with its facilities."
Harbour doesn't release information to the press on specific stamping plants, but overall, GM was second with 646 pieces per hour. Its 10-percent improvement in stamping led all automakers. GM has a stamping plant adjacent to the Lordstown Assembly Plant.
GM's engine operations also led all automakers with a 5-percent improvement in productivity. Its engine operations took an average of 4.5 labor hours to build an engine, which was third among the five automakers making engines.
"These gains show that GM's manufacturing and quality initiatives are paying off and making us a more competitive company," said Gary Cowger, GM vice president of manufacturing and labor relations. "But the report indicates that we have more work to do to become the best in the industry."