February 1, 2015 / best practices, circular sawing, continuous improvement, Cost Management, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, preventative maintenance, quality, ROI, strategic planning
When it comes to industrial metal cutting, there are a host of functional strategies companies can use to get the most out of their equipment and tooling. Day-to-day activities such as constant coolant checks, proper speed and feed rates, and strategic blade choice are well-known best practices among industrial metal-cutting companies looking to prolong blade life and reduce downtime.
However, operations managers need to be sure they don’t stop there. In today’s competitive marketplace, managers need to make higher level business decisions that strategically position their operations to address changing market demands. As this article from Chron explains, the goal is to line up long-term strategic goals with day-to-day operational decisions. Unfortunately, the Chron author says, many companies fail to do both:
“In some instances, companies are very good at articulating or designing a strategic plan but fail to execute a short-term operational plan, which comprises the toolkit required to achieve the strategic plan. Likewise, having short-term plans without a long-term strategy results in a lack of direction or focus as to the corporate vision and values of the company. By combining these two planning components, a company is able to set a general path based on company values, goals and objectives, while having the ability to adapt to changing environments.”
As the article explains, it is critical for today’s managers to coordinate operational short-term plans that are effective in achieving the overall strategy set forth in the business plan. For instance, if the goal is continuous improvement, then make sure your metrics, your daily practices, and communication with your team all point to that overall strategy. Here are two examples of what that looks like:
- L.B. Foster Rail Technologies Corp., one of IndustryWeek’s 2014 Best Plant winners, has taken the idea of being “lean” and made it part of the company culture. In a recent article on the manufacturer, IndustryWeek notes: “You don’t actually see lean in action … as much as sense it.” Work groups and team collaboration are hallmarks of how the company chooses to function, and the results are visible, both on paper and around the company. “The focus is apparent in the lab, in the administrative and executive offices, and, of course on the plant floor,” the article states. “But more interesting is how continuous sustainable improvement efforts bridge the boundaries between and among the groups.”
- A.M. Castle Company, a metal service center featured in a case study from The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), has made several operational decisions that line up with its overall goal to always improve. Glen Sliwa, the manager responsible for keeping the band saw and circular saw operations up and running at the company’s Franklin Park location, says continuous improvement starts at the plant level and requires input from everyone, including operators. “We are always doing something to upgrade,” Sliwa says. About 7 years ago, the operation underwent a lean transformation, including major changes in workflow and equipment placement as well as simple improvements like color-coding material. Sliwa says the facility continues to use the lean tool known as 5S, which eliminates waste by keeping work areas clean and organized. More recently, Sliwa and his team added extension tables to all of the machinery to hold more material and increase production during all three shifts.
Of course, these are just two examples. If the goal is to decrease costs, operational strategies such as quarterly preventative maintenance checks can play a huge role in reducing maintenance expenses and costly breakdowns. If the goal is to increase productivity, perhaps regular brainstorming meetings with operators would be useful. Or if the goal is to keep quality high, ongoing training can help reduce instances of rework, according to LIT’s benchmark study.
The point is that instead of simply implanting a series of best practices, managers need to be strategic, especially in the way they run the day-to-day operations. As the Chron article stresses, every operational decision should be made with the larger company goal in mind.