OREM -- There are thousands of carats of diamonds flowing through Utah County, but the majority don't end up on anyone's finger.
US Synthetic in Orem is the nation's largest manufacturer of polycrystalline diamond. The company makes long-lasting diamond inserts for tools used in the mining, energy production and exploration and other manufacturing fields. It was started more than 30 years ago by Louis Pope.
According to company president Rob Galloway, 50 percent of all drilling globally is done with US Synthetic equipment.
US Synthetic takes carbon-based synthetic diamond grit and applies heat and pressure to create the diamonds for manufacturing use. It puts about 10 carats of synthetic diamond in every product it makes.
"Synthetic diamond is a super material and we're constantly looking for new applications for it," Galloway said.
Some of US Synthetic's research has led it to open Suncrest Diamonds, an arm of the company that takes natural diamonds and using chemical processes changes the color. In the past, many artificially colored diamonds were painted, but Suncrest is actually changing the chemical make-up of the diamond that produces the color.
Marketing director Marc Modersitzki called it an unusual and beautiful product.
"We're the only ones making pink without a coating," chemist Sonny Pope boasted. He's not satisfied there though.
"I want the whole rainbow," Pope said.
The company's accomplishments don't end there. Its lean manufacturing practices earned US Synthetic the 2011 Shingo Prize, the top manufacturing award in the world. Business Week called the Shingo Prize "the Nobel Prize for manufacturing."
Modersitzki said lean manufacturing is about "how can we make the best products as fast as possible with the highest quality. It's about eliminating waste."
Galloway said the Shingo Prize is unique because it separates the market forces from the actual contributions of the employees. It's about practices, not growth or market share. It focuses on the approach that everyone in the company is a contributor.
After receiving word they'd won the Shingo Prize, the company gave each of its 850 employees an iPad.
"It took the whole team to win and so we celebrated as a team, as a family," Galloway said.
The every-employee-is-valuable philosophy is permeates US Synthetic from the executive offices to the people on the shop floor.
"It's about empowering everyone's mind to help us continually improve," Galloway said. "We believe that those on the floor are close enough to the process to make suggestions and improvements."
Case in point -- the company implemented more than 30,000 employee suggestions last year.
Brenda Smith has worked as an operator on the floor for the last two years. "There's a feeling of equality. I feel as though we're looked up to as specialists instead of looked down on as people on the floor," she said.
"I feel like they're hiring a problem-solver rather than a robot on the line," team manager Daryl Merkley said. He said the environment feels like family. For his birthday he got a letter and gift card from the CEO. "Not a lot of companies do that for you," he said.
Merkley is in school and said employees on the executive level have taken the time to mentor him.
Supervisor Mike Hall said US Synthetic is interested in the development of its employees. "We don't make diamonds, we make leaders in our community," he said.
US Synthetic is also a leader in the community. It invites local classrooms for "engineering days." It gives scholarships to local students, adopts trails, helps at food banks and gives micro loans to women in Africa.
"We want life to be better for those who associate with US Synthetic," Galloway said.
US Synthetic by the numbers
30+ years in Utah County
Pressure used to make a diamond: 1 million PSI (pounds per square inch)
10 carats of synthetic diamond go into each product
30,000 employee suggestions implemented last year