If you think all manufacturing plants are the same, consider the QMR Plastics Division injection molding plant in River Falls, Wis., where workers — blue collar and white collar alike — have visual access to the outdoors all day long.
From the plant floor and the offices, employees can gaze out into the sunlight to see trees, woods and critters in their natural habitat.
Employees also can see each other through glass walls, which separate the production floor from the business offices.
The facility is an attempt to unify employees, who otherwise might not see each other from day to day, and to provide an appealing workplace, said plant manager Mike Ehret.
And the plant has been very successful, having received a number of design awards — most recently the Business Week/Architectural Record Award, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects, beating out more than 20 others in the category for private-sector projects in the under-$25 million range.
A spinoff of Minnesota Rubber, QMR, a division of the Minneapolis-based Quadion Corp., has 16 presses making products for such customers as AlliedSignal Specialty Films, Eastman Kodak Co., Caterpillar, Deere & Co., General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Culligan.
Company officials decided early on that the new company needed its own identity, Ehret said.
``We wanted to make a statement, as far as a new approach to business,'' Ehret said.
With Minneapolis architect Julie Snow, QMR built the plant among acres of prairie grass with walls of windows that let sunlight into the production floor and into management offices.
The plant is built over tunnels that house electrical and water lines that lead directly to each machine station. Placing utility lines below the plant floor eliminated the clutter of running electrical lines from the ceiling to the plant floor and removed the obstacle of water pipes.
The result is a much cleaner-looking work space, and allows for the use of a full-size overhead crane to transport molds from storage to the machines and back to storage, Ehret said.
The design also allows for flexibility, Ehret said. ``We can bring in a new machine and have it plumbed and dry cycling within a two-hour time frame,'' thus allowing the plant to increase production at a quicker pace.
The bright, open and clean work space results in an ``appealing, user-friendly building that helps to lend the element of satisfaction to people's jobs,'' Ehret said.
The building, which has won several other awards, ``is a testament to the forward thinking of the company,'' Snow said. ``They deserve credit for believing that architecture can do more than close space around machines.''
Snow said providing functional and attractive workplaces is ``a trend among the cleverer corporations. Corporations give a lot of lip service that they value their employees. These people actually mean it.''
Not only does the building attract and retain skilled workers, its design has translated into a better bottom line on QMR's ledgers.
Ehret said the firm's sales for 1998 will be around $10 million. QMR's sales were $6.2 million in 1997 and $6 million in 1996, according to the Plastic News' rankings.
``There is no question'' that the design of the facility is a factor in the company's annual growth, he said. ``And we do use it as a marketing tool because it is a very clean facility and the operation is very professional. That builds a lot of confidence.''