OpExChange Announces 2023 Engagement Awards

As the foremost manufacturing benchmarking group in South Carolina, the OpExChange recently concluded what may be considered its most successful year of engagement and peer-to-peer collaboration in its twenty-two-year history. In mid-December, the group organized its third annual year-in-review and awards ceremony, a virtual gathering that attracted over one hundred participants from sixty-one manufacturers and distributors. The event aimed not only to reflect on the year but also to commend exceptional engagement among its members. Mike Demos, Coordinator of the OpExChange for the SCMEP and President of Demos Company Connections, led the event and presented the awards.

The OpExChange Continues to Grow!
The strategy plan put together in late 2019 by the OpExChange advisory board targeted to have 250 sites engaged by the end of 2026. By the end of 2023, there were 191 member sites, marking an almost 80% increase in the last three and a half years. There were forty-one sites that joined in 2023, bringing total membership to 191 sites across thirty-nine counties in SC, four in NC, and two in GA.

Mike remarked that, at the current pace, they might reach their 2026 goal a year earlier than expected. Additionally, the representation of counties has expanded across the state.

2023 Events at a Glance
The OpExChange Board tasks Mike with coordinating between six and nine events each quarter, with a maximum of thirty-six events throughout the year. In 2023, a total of thirty-four events took place, including twenty plant visits and fourteen workshops and webinars. Among these were three half-day workshops sponsored by the SCMEP, conducted multiple times across the state.

The plant visits were conducted at member sites throughout the Upstate, Midlands, Metrolina, Pee Dee, Low Country, and Central Savannah River regions. The typical plant visit includes a presentation on some operational improvements made, a site tour, and then a collaborative discussion among peers on lessons learned and opportunities for further improvement. Topics covered the gamut of operations including lean manufacturing, leadership, and advanced manufacturing.

The content covered in the workshops included Practical Analytics (teaching participants Power BI for dashboard creation), Five Generations @ Work (an interactive session on effectively collaborating with the five generations in teams) and Leading a Kaizen (a hands-on simulation on guiding a Kaizen team).

All plant visits and virtual events are documented on the members-only online Portal, providing event recaps, shared documents, and templates, and even videos and pictures from events.

Engaged Yet Competitive
In 2023, the level of engagement within the OpExChange achieved new heights. Nearly 1,200 participants were involved throughout the year, with many individuals traveling across the state to observe the techniques and methodologies employed by their peers. While a strong sense of camaraderie exists within the OpExChange, there’s also inherent competitiveness among the sites, as many strive for recognition through the annual awards.

Awards were presented to four companies and one individual, acknowledging the most engaged company of the year, the company that most effectively utilized the OpExChange for employee development, the most engaged individual of the year, and the coveted Gieselmann collaboration award. A new award category, the Ambassador award, was introduced for the OpExChange company that best propagated the OpExChange mission to non-OpExChange companies. Each winner received an elegant plaque or trophy to display at their respective sites.

Most Engaged Company – FN America
There were twenty-five companies that made the top ten list each quarter and were candidates for the most engaged company award. Congratulations to FN America in Columbia for winning this award! They were one of two companies to earn a top ten spot in each quarter of 2023.

FN was represented at seventeen different events and were close contenders for the employee development award. FN has been an OpExChange member for over thirteen years and is always one of the most engaged companies.

FN America in Columbia is the Most Engaged Company of 2023

Employee Development Award – Schaeffler – Schaeffler in Fort Mill has been a member of the OpExChange for a little over a year, but immediately began getting many of their employees involved in both the plant visits and the workshops. In the last year, they have had seventeen different people participate in fourteen events.

Schaeffler also hosted a plant visit in October to showcase their digital transformation. In this event, they demonstrated how employee development is foundational to their core values. They even have their own “Schaeffler Academy” and use innovation in developing their employees.

Schaeffler in Fort Mill takes home the 2023 Employee Development Award

Gieselmann Collaboration – AFL Conductor Accessories
One of the most prestigious OpExChange awards is “The Gieselmann,” named after Missy Gieselmann, a highly active collaborator in the history of the OpExChange, who retired last year. Although there were many sites in contention for this recognition, the OpExChange board voted unanimously to award this to AFL Conductor Accessories in Duncan.

Their General Manager, Eric Borowicz offered their site to host the practical analytics workshop for the upstate. As part of this six-hour event, they included a plant tour that focused on how they are using Power BI to dramatically improve both their bottom and top lines. They also shared that this machine shop in Duncan has a safety record of over 23 years without a lost time accident while maintaining a world-class retention rate of their employees.

Since this session, AFL hosted several deeper dive benchmarking visits for other OpExChange sites. As Eric accepted the award, he indicated that they are open to even more benchmarking visits with peers. He told the group that “You’ve just got to ask.”

AFL Accessories is the 2023 Collaborator of the Year

Most Engaged Individual – Kevin Batten – This award goes to the individual that exhibited the most engagement throughout the year. Kevin is the plant manager at Graphic Packaging International in Prosperity. Kevin participated in fifteen live events this year. He also has accessed and completed sixteen courses on the online portal.

Kevin joined the OpExChange Board during the year and is extremely active in propagating the OpExChange mission across the region. Mike Demos, reflecting on his first encounter with Kevin during a leadership workshop, commended Kevin for sincerely caring for his employees and exemplifying this commitment at the plant.

Kevin Batten with Graphic Packaging International
is the Most Engaged Individual of 2023

Ambassador Award – Dantherm Cooling
This recognition goes to the company that has done the best job in spreading the OpExChange message to other manufacturers and distributors. Dantherm Cooling won this award in its inaugural year. Kevin Lanford, the COO of this site, has been a promoter of the OpExChange for years. He served as Vice-Chair of the OpExChange board for the past three years and has referred several companies to join the OpExChange since. Their small facility in Spartanburg is a showcase facility for visual manufacturing. Several larger organizations, both in and out of the OpExChange, have visited them to see how lean manufacturing should be done. Dantherm is a two-time winner of the Gieselmann collaboration award. This will be their third OpExChange plaque to proudly display in their lobby.

Dantherm Cooling is the 2023 Ambassador of the Year

2024 Events – Even Better!
The OpExChange is anticipating an even more engaging and collaborative year in 2024.

Plant visits begin in early January at RX Industries in Hilton Head. Several other plant visits are also scheduled including Sealevel Systems in Liberty, Current Lighting in Hendersonville, Rolls-Royce in Aiken, Honda in Florence, Mactac in Moore, Sargent Metal in Anderson, BW Flexible Systems in Duncan, Starbucks Roasting Plant in Gaston, and Michelin in Lexington.

In addition to the plant visits, there will also be three half-day workshops held four times across the state. ILD Coach will be conducting their first workshop on advanced communication in January in Columbia. The Kaizen Resource Group will have their first workshop on lean fundamentals in February in Greenville, and CESMII, the SMART Manufacturing Institute, will hold their first workshop in March in Summerville. Each of these will be offered three more times across the state.

About the OpExChange
The OpExChange, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is a peer-to-peer network of manufacturers and distributors in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practice sharing. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If your company is interested in participating in this collaborative effort to improve both the competitiveness of your operation and South Carolina, contact Mike Demos (Mike@OpExChange.com). More information and upcoming plant visits are available on the OpExChange website www.OpExChange.com.




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