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Rethinking Customer Service in Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

May 28, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,


What does it take to keep your customers satisfied? In today’s demanding market, most industrial metal-cutting companies would say high quality, competitive costs, and on-time delivery. However, those have always been the hallmarks of any good manufacturer, and some might argue that the last few years weeded out any companies that even remotely lagged in these key areas.

So, what does it really take to keep your customers satisfied? Or, as this Inc. article points out, perhaps the better question is whether or not customer satisfaction is what you should be trying to achieve. According to the Inc. author, customer satisfaction is “tepid and minimal”, has “no bearing on future buying decisions,” and can be “safely ignored.”

Instead, manufacturers should be spending their efforts building some level of customer loyalty, the article argues, as well as what the Inc. author calls “product evangelism.” In short, the author maintains that companies need to focus less on simply satisfying customers and, instead, focus more on: 1. bringing value that goes above and beyond, and 2. a strong brand message that is unique and relevant. As the article title suggests, that is how you develop a customer relationship that “trumps all the rest.”

The Inc. author isn’t the only one buying into this mentality. In recent years, many leading companies have endeavored to take their customer service to the next level, creating what consultant Lisa Anderson refers to as the “Amazon Effect.” From no-hassle refunds to 24-hour availability, Anderson believes that manufacturers and distributors have something to learn from the exceptional service standards set by Amazon. “It has become apparent that those businesses that leverage the Amazon Effect will thrive while the rest are left in the dust,” Anderson said in a recent article from Industrial Distribution.

How you “amp up” your customer service game will largely depend on what you already have in place, but the following are a few strategies to get you thinking:

Metal Cutting Tips and Tricks for Forges

May 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


As any industrial metal-cutting leader knows, optimization is not only about high-level thinking and strategy. In a manufacturing environment, it often starts with having the right tools for the job.

In band saw cutting, for example, proper blade selection is key to optimizing cut times, cut quality, and blade life. This is especially true when cutting tougher metals like super alloys, and it is even more critical when cutting forged materials, which require aggressive blades that can get underneath any scale buildup. While a low-cost blade may get the job done, the “right” blade should be efficient, effective, and reliable. It should help keep tooling and maintenance costs under control, quality high, and production flowing.

In some cases, optimization may mean upgrading tooling and equipment. For example, one metal-cutting company featured in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) found that switching from a bi-metal to a carbide-tipped band saw blade provided a substantial improvement in productivity. With the bi-metal blades, the company was having difficulties cutting stainless steel and was missing productivity goals. However, after switching to the carbide-tipped blade, the company reduced cut times by one half and doubled blade life. While the short-term cost of the newer blades was higher, the long-term productivity benefits made it a worthwhile investment.

However, new tooling isn’t always the answer. As this IndustryWeek article explains, a common misconception among managers is that getting “leaner” requires investment. “Lean is not about spending money,” the article states. In fact, the IW author says that “proper lean mindset first looks to avoid spending the capital in the first place.”

While it is fundamentally important to have the right tool for the job, proper utilization of the tool is just as important. In fact, it could help save you money. If you are a forge that cuts and processes metal, here are a few tips and tricks we gathered to help you optimize your cutting operations:

For more cutting tips and tricks, you can download the complete white paper, Understanding the Cut: Factors that Affect the Cost of Cutting, here.

Should Your Machine Shop Undergo ISO 9001 Certification?

May 20, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As the industrial metal-cutting industry becomes more competitive, a growing number of machine shops are looking for ways to differentiate their operations, whether that means offering value-added services or implementing the latest lean techniques.

One best practice that many of today’s leading shops tout is ISO 9001 certification. The standard, described in detail here, is based on a number of quality management principles, including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and continuous improvement. The basic goal of the standard is to help companies provide customers with consistent, good quality products and services, which, in turn, often brings business benefits like improved financial performance.

Metal Cutting Service, a specialty shop based in City of Industry, CA, has reaped the rewards of ISO certification, including improved productivity and quality. The company, featured in a series of LIT case studies, estimates that quality has improved 20 to 30% since it became ISO certified more than 12 years ago.

However, ISO certification isn’t a quick fix nor should it be taken lightly. Like any company-wide initiative, it requires time, money, and strategic planning. Here are a few points to consider before undergoing ISO certification:

Using Collaboration to Improve Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

May 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,


One of the foundational principles of lean manufacturing is employee engagement.  As we covered here, one way for executives to do this is to literally walk the shop floor and interact with operators. This not only allows management to see firsthand what happens on the floor, it creates a more team-centered approach to decision making and empowers employees. In the best-case scenario, it also births innovation and improves productivity—both of which can improve the bottom line.

Although a growing number of manufacturers have adopted these types of collaborative lean strategies, Evan Rosen, author of The Bounty Effect: 7 Steps to The Culture of Collaboration, argues that most companies still operate within the age-old paradigm of “command and control.” In other words, a few people are paid to think, while the rest of the employees are expected to simply carry out orders. Rosen, however,  believes our culture is in the midst of a major shift that will require companies to adopt a more collaborative, “all hands on deck” approach to business.

Based on Rosen’s model, collaboration goes far beyond employee engagement. In a recent column in IndustryWeek (IW), the author provides five ways that manufacturers can adopt a more collaborative structure. These include the following:

To read more about these strategies, you can read the entire IW column here. You can also check out a review of Rosen’s book here.

For some great examples of what these strategies might look like in an industrial metal-cutting environment, check out this case study from ThomasNet.com, which describes an industry-wide collaboration, and this LIT white paper on how to create more collaborative supplier relationships.

What are some ways your company has taken a more collaborative approach?

How Fabricators Can Identify Skills Gaps

May 10, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


There is no question that the skills gap is one of the most pressing issues for industrial metal-cutting companies and, of course, the manufacturing industry at large. According to a recent article from the U.S. News & World Report, it is estimated that more than half a million skilled manufacturing jobs remain unfilled due to the labor skills gap in the U.S., and that number will likely increase as more and more Americans age out of the workforce.

As we covered here, this has prompted industry leaders like GE and industry associations like the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) to take action. Just last week, JPMorgan Chase & Company announced a $5-million commitment to the city of Dallas to help shrink the skills gap within several industries. The move is part of a five-year, $250-million national initiative Chase launched in December to provide job training and fund local research to identify the areas most in need. As this video explains, the banking giant is using real data to identify real needs and then investing in those needs to fill the actual gaps.

While these types of large-scale initiatives might be left to large-scale companies, Chase’s strategy is one that just about any fabricator can apply to their own operations. Like Chase, fabricators that want to make a real difference in their business need to identify the actual gaps within their own company walls. This is especially true if a large number of your workers are headed for retirement. Once you have identified the gaps within your organization, you can determine the skills that are needed and then adjust your training and hiring programs accordingly.

The following are two strategies that can help you determine if (and where) there are skills gaps in your operation:

As the skills gap is proving, investing in your human capital is just as critical as investing in your technology and equipment. Taking the time to identify strengths and weaknesses within your operations staff—and then encouraging and rewarding improvement—is one way industrial metal-cutting leaders can equip themselves for today, as well as the future.

Gemba Walks May Be the Key to Lean Success in Metal Service Centers

May 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,


Most manufacturing executives know that developing a lean culture requires top-down support. Everyone—from the CEO and vice president of operations to the maintenance manager and band saw operator—needs to be on board, or it’s just not going to work.

Unfortunately, many companies have discovered that creating a successful lean environment isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, as this blog post explains, there are a lot of ways to do this incorrectly. For instance, leadership is not “committed” simply because they have enthusiastically funded a lean program. They need to actually be involved. At the same time, key improvement decisions can’t be made in an ivory tower.

Change—effective change—needs to start at the ground level, where the work is happening and where the value is created. This place, defined as “gemba” in lean manufacturing terms, is believed to be the key to unlocking true transformation.

“Gemba,” the Japanese term for “actual place,” has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In an IndustryWeek blog post, Bill Wilder, director of The Life Cycle Institute, calls gemba the “beating heart” of an organization, which for manufacturers, is rarely found in the marketing department or an executive desk. Instead, it is almost always found on the production floor.

This means that to make any real change, metal service center executives need to literally take a walk—known as the “gemba walk”—to see their operation from the front lines. Getting out of the office and taking a gemba walk, Wilder says, is the best way for leadership to see, firsthand, what works and doesn’t, and many experts believe it should be the first step in any lean transformation.

In theory, this sounds great, but what should a gemba walk look like in practice? Here are a few tips we gathered to help you “walk the talk” and put you on the path toward an effective top-down lean program: