Taking Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization from On Time to Agile

June 28, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As customers continue to redefine delivery expectations, manufacturers need to have strategies in place to not only meet those changing requirements but, even more so, anticipate them. Getting ahead of customer needs is the key to both retaining and gaining customers in today’s metals industry. As many leading manufacturers are discovering, agility is what sets you apart.

What does it mean to be an agile manufacturer? According to this overview from, agile manufacturing “places an extremely strong focus on rapid response to the customer—turning speed and agility into a key competitive advantage.” An agile company is able to take advantage of short windows of opportunity and adapt to fast changes in customer demand. This tactic can be especially attractive for industrial metal-cutting companies that are trying to gain an advantage over offshore competitors.

Whether you are a high-production machine shop or a low-mix metal service center, below are a few best practices we gathered to help your industrial metal-cutting organization move from an “on-time” service provider to an agile, customer-focused partner:


Safety as a Strategy in Forges

June 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,

While most managers would list safety as a top concern and maybe even a priority, only a select few would list it as a strategy. A growing number of industrial metal-cutting companies are finding, however, that building their operations around this critical business area offer benefits that can improve the bottom line.

As we stated in an earlier blog post, safety has a direct impact on operations. Put simply, injured operators can’t be productive. The concept seems basic, but even leading manufacturers often fail to realize this. In a recent IndustryWeek (IW) article, Craig Long, a vice president at Milliken & Company, admits that this was something Milliken failed to do in its early years. While the manufacturer had always worked hard on safety, it was doing so in a silo. “We saw no connection between safety and operations. We were in survival mode,” Long writes in the IW article.

Long goes on to describe the safety journey of another leading manufacturer, Alcoa, and how its intentional safety efforts improved profitability to record-setting levels. Following the lead of Alcoa and other leading manufacturers, Long states in IW that Milliken spent several years repositioning its operations around safety and, as a result, has seen tremendous financial benefits, including doubling the S&P 500’s rate of earnings growth.

An increasing number of leading-edge forges are also using plant safety as a strategic lever. Every year, the Forging Industry Association (FIA) recognizes three forges for their exceptional safety efforts, and this year’s winners all stressed that safety is at the core of their company’s success. However, as one winner emphasized, the top goal should be ensuring that every employee goes home without an injury. “To us, the impact of an employee being injured, regardless of where it happens, has a negative impact on the injured individual, his/her family, and to our company, in that order of importance,” John P. McGillivray, Safety & Environmental manager at Scot Forge Co., told Forging Magazine.

So how do you build your forge around safety so that both your employees and business benefit? Below are a few tips we gathered to help you begin a safety-first journey:

Best-in-class forges know that a tactical approach to plant safety provides benefits beyond meeting OSHA requirements or winning awards. Today’s managers need to value safety because it actually holds value that can positively—or negatively—impact their workforce and, in the end, the bottom line.

Using Enterprise Resource Planning in Your Machine Shop

June 20, 2014 / , , , , , , ,

According to research quoted in a recent article from MetalForming Magazine, 45% of manufacturers list “improving business execution” as a primary goal for 2014. In today’s uncertain marketplace, this isn’t much of a surprise. In short, agility is key.

However, manufacturers are finding that achieving this goal is a lot harder than it sounds. As the MetalForming article states, companies need to start by clearing “some common hurdles, most notably delays in decision-making due to a lack of timely information, and an inability to quickly react to change.”

This is why more and more companies are focused on data-driven manufacturing. As stated in the 2014 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), best-in-class machine shops are forming strategies, making decisions, and optimizing their operations using hard, quantifiable information. Anything else is just guessing.

The challenge is finding an efficient way to not only gather “timely data” but also store it, interpret it, manage it, and share it across your entire organization. Odds are you don’t have a fully staffed IT department waiting in the wings.

This is where business management software like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) can be helpful. ERP software is typically a suite of integrated applications that allows an organization to efficiently manage their business and automate back office functions. It combines all facets of an operation, including product planning, development, manufacturing, sales and marketing. It can be managed in-house, or as is the case with many machine shops, purchased as software as a service (SaaS).

Why ERP?
Top-tier manufacturers and large enterprises have been touting the benefits of ERP systems for years. They can improve productivity, enhance cross-functional communication, and speed the “quote to cash” cycle. Even so, smaller shops often shy away from these systems because they can also be expensive, complex, and far too often, fail to provide bottom-line results.

That’s not to say you should write off ERP systems all together. It just means a little research is in order. Below are a few resources we gathered to help you dig a little deeper into the benefits ERP can offer your machine shop, along with a few pointers to ensure success.

Building Strategic Supplier Relationships that Benefit Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

June 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,

Most manufacturers understand that they are only as good as their supply chain. Quality starts well before a product enters the doors of a production facility.

Industry leaders, however, are finding that with a little strategy, the supply chain can add a lot more than a quality service or product. When positioned correctly, they can add value.

A recent report from Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium confirms this philosophy. After polling 172 supply chain professionals, a strong 80% of respondents reported that they felt that the supply chain is an enabler of business strategy. A majority of companies also felt that supply chain is a source of business value and a competitive advantage. This, along with the report’s other findings, led the Consortium to conclude that the importance of an integrated supply chain and overall business strategy cannot be ignored. “The better the level of alignment is, the more likely it is that companies are achieving their objectives for cost reduction, customer service, and other metrics,” the report stated.

What’s interesting, however, is the report revealed that a fairly high 35% consider the supply chain a standalone function. This indicates there still is some work to be done. Positioning and treating your supply chain as trusted partners—not just as independent service providers—can be an effective strategy in helping you achieve company goals. For instance, if your goal is to increase productivity, perhaps your suppliers can offer troubleshooting expertise and even training in specific areas of your operation. Or, as was the case with leading metal service center Aerodyne, they may even be able to provide useful, practical tools like free software to help your operators work smarter.

As this Forbes article states, long-term, worthwhile suppliers should treat manufacturers as more than just clients. They, too, should treat you like a partner, which means they should be willing to offer more than one-dimensional service. If that isn’t the case for your organization, it may be time to reevaluate your supply chain or, even more so, reevaluate how you are utilizing your supply chain.

How do you position your supplier relationships to bring value to your company? A recent white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following strategies:

In the end, today’s competitive marketplace requires manufacturers to focus more on value than on cost if the objective is long-term success. While cost-effective products provide short-term benefits, aligning the right suppliers with your business strategies—and then leveraging their services to achieve company goals—will likely offer a greater ROI than any product ever could.

Long Term Solutions for Improving Cut Quality in Metal Fabrication

June 10, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When quality hiccups or bottlenecks occur, the first instinct is to blame the machine. A quick blade replacement or tooling adjustment is the go-to response, and in the short-term, the problem is addressed. Production continues, and the order is eventually filled.

However, industrial metal-cutting leaders know that quick fixes are not doing anyone any favors, especially when quality is involved. Fabricators with high quality standards need to be sure that all areas of their cutting operation are optimized; otherwise, their costs are going to go through the roof. For instance, an operator that doesn’t understand the proper speed setting for a specific type of metal might end up going through a half a dozen blades to maintain a square cut, when the job should have only required two blades.

The harsh reality is that today’s customers are demanding tighter tolerances and higher quality without the added cost. While it is tempting to make knee-jerk responses to meet tight timetables, fabricators that want to remain competitive need to focus on long-term solutions to improve cut quality. Really, you can’t afford to do it any other way.

With the right strategies in place, maintaining premium cut quality doesn’t have to cost a premium. Here are a few to consider:

Developing a Lean Culture in Your Metal Service Center

June 5, 2014 / , , , , ,

As the manufacturing industry evolves and the dynamics of the market change, many companies are adjusting their lean strategies. Metal service centers that “got lean” years ago are focusing on continuous improvement, and a growing number of high-mix, low-volume operations are tweaking traditional lean methodologies to fit their specific situation. In fact, this article from the Harvard Business Review actually criticizes traditional lean methods and suggests that today’s companies should be nuancing their approaches.

While lean strategies are shifting, most experts agree that creating a lean culture is a critical aspect of any successful implementation. Unfortunately, many companies fail to understand this basic principle. Oftentimes, manufacturers treat a lean initiative as a one-time project, and as a result, aren’t able to achieve sustainable results. As most experts would attest, lean is not an event; it’s a culture change.

Of course, creating culture change within an organization is not nearly as simple as it sounds. According to, a peer-to-peer network of companies focused on operational excellence, “most lean implementation failures are not due to failure to grasp lean tools and techniques, but a failure of change management.”

Below are a few resources we’ve gathered to get you thinking about what makes up a lean culture and, even more so, how you can create it: