A lot of bad stuff can happen between the moment your manufactured product rolls off the end of a production line and the moment it reaches a customer. In the wrong hands, on the wrong wheels or improperly packaged, a high quality item may arrive at the end user dinged, destroyed or missing key pieces.

Intertape Polymer Group, located in Danville, Va., plays a role in making sure such mishaps don't occur.

Located in Pittsylvania County, this 2016 IndustryWeek Best Plants winner manufactures carton sealing tape and stretch film, ubiquitous and vital products in shipping departments and among packagers around the globe. Indeed, the Danville site itself is a consumer of the finished goods it produces.

The foundation of IPG's pursuit of manufacturing excellence is the Intertape Performance System, which the Danville site began implementing in 2012. In September 2016 it completed the IPS Gold Phase.

The IPS takes a multiphased approach to improvement and promotes cross-functional teamwork to deliver excellence in such areas as quality, safety, productivity and others. Its implementation revolves around model machines, those identified as the most critical to the business, and begins with machine cleans to improve performance and reliability. Both measures are critical to Danville, which runs a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week operation with heavily automated production lines.

"The more you can minimize downtime, the more you can improve throughput and quality," says operations manager Michael Jones.

The machine cleans are much more than operator-led maintenance or 5S activities. "A machine clean is a training event," says Jones, who has more than a passing interest in education. In addition to leading the Danville site, he is an adjunct professor in operations management at nearby Averett University.

Intertape Polymer Group Inc.

Danville, Va.

Employees: 289, non-union

Total Square Footage: 300,000

Primary Product/Market: Carton sealing tape and stretch film

Start-up Date: 1987

Achievements: first-pass quality yield improvements of 26% for tape products and 21% for stretch film products; no lost time injuries in more than 4 years; ISO 14001; 90.4% of plant's production workforce participates in empowered or self-directed work teams; implemented 4.79 suggestions per employee in the previous year

His point is that a machine clean promotes both learning and using a host of tools, such as visual management (red tags, for example, document the need for a fix), as well as building problem-solving capabilities among the cross-functional teams. How do you fix a machine abnormality once it is discovered? What can we do to improve safety near this equipment? Why are we having yield issues here?

"My job," says Jones, "is to create the environment, tools and training so that our people can do their jobs properly."

The operations manager is a familiar face on the manufacturing floor. He's at the gemba every day. "The operators know I'm coming and they can talk to me," Jones says. "It is also a chance for me to say, 'Hey we are working on addressing that need. It just helps communication." Given that he has a mechanical engineering background, Jones is not above wading in to address issues as well.

Asked to identify the biggest benefit of the Intertape Performance System, Jones answers with a single word: engagement.

"We've got a lot of good folks here. They want the company to do well, and they want to help," Jones says.

That attitude and assistance is paying off for this 2016 IW Best Plants winner. For example, the Danville team has reduced its scrap and rework costs as a percentage of sales by 76% for stretch film in the past three years. In the past four years, energy "treasure hunts" identified more than $500,000 in savings and reduced carbon emissions by 3,300 metric tons.

And in November 2016, Intertape Polymer Group revealed that it would invest $22 million in its Danville site to improve the facility and add new machinery and product lines. It's a new challenge, but one that plays right to the attitude of the plant's workforce.

Says Jones: "We understand our mission. We come up with a plan. We get it done."