Although the 1,465 employees at Mountain Fuel Supply Co. won a prestigious award for their productivity, they aren't resting on their gas meters and plan to continue cutting costs and improving service.

Several task forces are evaluating ways of improving various aspects of the company's operations, such as natural gas vehicles and methods of improving the efficiency of processing customers' payments, said Nick Rose, Mountain Fuel president.The company also has expanded its quality assurance program, through which it measures customer satisfaction with various aspects of the natural-gas service, he said.

Several months ago, Mountain Fuel received the Institute of Industrial Engineers 1990 Award for Excellence in Productivity Improvement for a five-year effort from 1984-1988. The same award that went to Ford Motor Co.

The utility's industrial engineering department prepared the material for the award and the entry was sponsored by the Salt Lake Chapter of the Institute of Industrial Engineers.

The judges ranked Mountain Fuel as exceptional in the application of a wide range of industrial engineering tools by all employees, the "competitive edge" training program and the application of personal computer technology.

"This award is fitting recognition of the quality service Mountain Fuel's employee team provides to our customers. Our employees worked hard to implement productivity improvement measures, many of which resulted from employees' suggestions," Rose said.

At first, Mountain Fuel officials may have been a little naive about the impact of the award, but that changed when they started receiving inquiries from several public utilities and even had contact with Thailand's ministry of industry, management development and productivity center.

National Fuel Gas, Buffalo, N.Y., sent its manager of industrial engineering and distribution engineering and one of its industrial engineers to Salt Lake City to see Mountain Fuel's efforts in person.

Rose said Mountain Fuel started the productivity program because of the extreme competition in the energy business. He cited an aggressive electric utility and improved technology that made electricity more competitive in the residential and commercial markets and decreased natural gas usage because of warmer weather as reasons for starting the productivity campaign.

One of the goals facing Shahab Saeed, Mountain Fuel's director of industrial engineering, was to help employees understand the competition they face in the marketplace and how they can meet the challenges.

In 1985, Rose met with employees at various locations to explain the five-year plan to increase productivity. "It has been very interesting to see what ideas they came up with," he said.

In an office in Sandy, employees partitioned a children's play area where customers can leave their children while conducting business. Others designed a water-filled plastic paint brush tub in which paint brushes are kept and they last longer.

Rose said listing all of the ways employees have been more productive and cost-conscious would be impossible, but the company is continuing the program that should result in some improvements on the improvements.