Engaging Employees Is Key to Continuous Improvement in Your Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing Operation
December 30, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, strategic planning
There is no question continuous improvement is critical to succeeding in today’s market. Case in point: two of the three industrial metal-cutting companies featured here in a case study on top performers listed continuous improvement as an imperative operational strategy and best practice that sets their operations above the rest.
It’s also widely accepted that continuous improvement efforts require “buy-in” from the top-down to truly be successful. This isn’t always an easy task. Articles like this one from IndustryWeek discuss the challenges improvement teams face in getting upper management on board. Perhaps the larger challenge, however, is getting operators and other employees committed to improvement efforts. While upper management support is needed to secure resources, employees are the ones carrying out the efforts, making them absolutely critical to success.
The key, one expert states, is to intentionally engage employees. “For any effort directed towards continuous improvement or innovation to succeed, your employees must feel that their suggestions…are genuinely wanted and in fact encouraged,” Chris Ruisi, leadership expert, writes here in a blog published by the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME). “They must willingly take ownership in the future of their organization—continuous improvement is everyone’s responsibility.”
To facilitate this, Ruisi offers the following strategies:
- Review Outcomes. Ruisi suggests that managers adopt his “study your game films” approach. At the end of every important project, regardless of the outcome, teams should meet and ask questions that encourage improvement: If we had to do this again, what would we start doing; stop doing; do more of or do less of? This simple process ensures that you learn something from every event to make you better the next time.
- Explain the Big Picture. Most employees know what they must do, when to do it, and how to do it. Many do not know why they do it, who they do it for, and where it fits in to the total picture. Armed with the “why, who, and where,” they are better able to identify and suggest ways they can improve and contribute to the company’s larger goals.
- Gather Feedback Regularly. Start meeting with small groups of your team members on a regular basis to actively solicit their feedback on how their work is produced. Start with only one question: What’s one thing we can do today to produce a better result tomorrow? Take the same approach with your better customers. They have a lot to offer as long as you ask and show them that you sincerely want their feedback.
- Encourage Ownership. At the end of every staff meeting, ask “what’s one thing we could do better?” Once an idea is identified, ask the person who suggested it to “own” that project. This encourages feedback and empowers your team members to take ownership in the continuous improvement effort.
If your ball and roller bearing operation is dedicated to continuous improvement, it may be worthwhile to consider some of Ruisi’s suggestions. In addition to helping continuous improvement efforts stick, taking the time to engage employees often builds new levels of trust among employees and management—trust that can provide invaluable benefits like improved morale and employee loyalty.
Does your current continuous improvement plan actively engage employees?
December 25, 2016 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, performance metrics, workflow process
Lean manufacturing is nothing new. Principles based on continuous improvement, streamlining production, and machine efficiency have long changed the way manufacturers operate. Industry leaders like Jorgensen Forge have been using lean manufacturing tools like 5S and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) for years to lower costs, improve responsiveness, and increase efficiency.
However, as stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, lean manufacturing is evolving. “Companies that ‘got lean’ years ago are focusing on continuous improvement, and a growing number of high-mix, low-volume operations are tweaking traditional methods to fit their specific situation,” the eBook states.
A recent article series published by IndustryWeek takes this idea further, arguing that lean manufacturing should be evolving. “I am convinced that for Lean to remain relevant as a strategy for improving manufacturing effectiveness it needs to evolve to the point where expert practitioners are NOT needed for most typical Lean transformations,” consultant Paul Ericksen states here in the first article of the series. “Lean shouldn’t be a mystery or black art that is only successfully conducted by an elite group of practitioners. For this to happen, additional Lean concepts, strategies, metrics, processes, and tools need to be developed.”
Specifically, Ericksen argues that the lean evolution needs to go beyond simple “tweaks” and instead, should change its current emphasis on waste elimination to one of total business performance (i.e., revenue). He calls this Next Generation Lean.
- Lean’s current focus on reducing Cost-of-Goods-Sold waste needs to be expanded to cover all waste associated with Order Fulfillment.
- Introducing an overriding strategy of lead-time reduction to Lean practice will change it from a methodology that produces isolated tactical impacts to one that delivers more comprehensive strategic transformation.
- An industry-wide, customer-focused metric for lead-time needs to be adopted to support strategic Lean practice.
- Market specific (customer-based lead-time expectations and competitor order fulfillment proficiency), build-to-demand capability is a company’s Lean end game.
- A lead-time metric could then be used to quantify a company’s current Lean status, as well as to define what it means for a specific company to be considered Lean. The difference between their current Lean status and their Lean end game goal quantifies a Lean-ness gap, finally giving Lean practitioners a concrete way to say where a company is in its Lean journey.
While Ericksen’s theory may or may not make sense for your shop, one key point is worth noting: Your approach to lean manufacturing should be continuously improving and evolving right alongside your operation. If your forging operation has been using lean manufacturing tools for years, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate and reconsider how those tools could better serve your company.
December 20, 2016 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, LIT, operator training, productivity, quality, workflow process
With a slew of improvement strategies, tools, and technologies available, many managers have lost sight of one of the simplest ways they can optimize the performance of their operations—standardized processes.
In fact, according to the Lean Enterprise Institute, standardized work is one of the most powerful, but least used lean manufacturing tools. “By documenting the current best practice, standardized work forms the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement,” the organization explains here. “As the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements and so on. Improving standardized work is a never-ending process.”
As defined by iSixSigma, standardized work is the most efficient method to produce a product (or perform a service) at a balanced flow to achieve a desired output rate. It breaks down the work into elements, which are sequenced, organized, and repeatedly followed.
There are several benefits shops can gain from standardizing processes. The following are just a few:
- Reduced re-work due to errors in the production process or between operators
- Reduced wasted time looking for tools, documents, or required inputs to complete tasks
- Better, more comprehensive, training procedures for new staff and retraining of existing operators
- Improved quality, if implemented throughout the production process and focus on quality at the source
Many shops are experiencing these and other benefits of standardized processes. Hard Milling Solutions (HMS), a shop featured here in Modern Machine Shop, standardized its parameters for specific material and cutting tool combinations to manage a highly varied workload with minimal labor. “Our primary goal with this system is to ensure every programmer cuts the same way, and gets the same results,” Corey Greenwald, owner of HMS, tells Modern Machine Shop. “We want customer needs to dictate what comes out of this company, not the experience and ability of any one individual.”
Quality Industries (QI), a metal fabricator based in La Vergne, TN, have seen the benefits of standardized work processes across several business areas. “For QI, the move to standardized work created positive scenarios and brought both obvious and underlying benefits to the business,” the fabricator says here on its website. Below are just a few of the ways QI has made standardization work in its operations:
- Process Documentation for All Shifts. Historically, many of QI’s productive processes were understood only inside the heads of experienced team members. Creating precise documentation to supplement and replace this “tribal knowledge” helps the fabricator to critically evaluate each manufacturing process to ensure that the most productive sequences and work practices were being documented. In addition, the documentation ensured that a given process could be duplicated on all shifts, and in all work cells and departments.
- Reductions in Variability. Once production processes were standardized, variability in product characteristics and quality was greatly reduced. While slight variations still existed due to different machine types, makes or models or tooling types, QI says most of these variations were eliminated because of the achieved consistency of steps and sequences in both material work and downstream activities. This aspect of Standardized Work also delivered tremendous value to the customer, who could rely on consistent finished goods.
- Easier Training for New Operators. In any manufacturing environment, bringing new personnel up to speed quickly is a challenge. For QI, standardized work and well-crafted documentation simplified the process. The best process documents not only spelled out steps in clear language, but were also highly visual—with images, charts, drawings and any other helpful illustrations. This training resource provided a continuous reference for the operators and enabled a new communication system for the team. In the QI shop floor environment, team leaders and others from outside the department were able to determine the level at which each operator is qualified on machines, work cells, and specific operations.
In today’s fast-paced market, process control is essential for shops that want to stay competitive and maintain the high quality customers demand. As stated in the industry brief, “Strategies for Improving Workflow and Eliminating Bottlenecks in Industrial Metal-Cutting,” today’s industrial metal-cutting companies can’t afford costly mistakes that can slow down or stop production. By implementing standardized work processes, many shops are finding they can not only increase productivity, but reduce variable(s?) variable overhead? and improve several other business areas that contribute to the bottom line.
Are your shop’s metal-cutting work processes standardized?
December 15, 2016 / Cost Management, industry, maintaining talent, quality, ROI, strategic planning, training
Industrial manufacturers find themselves competing in an increasing uncertain global market with rising customer expectations and ever-evolving technology, according to the 19th Annual Global CEO Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
The survey found that only 24% of manufacturing CEOs think global growth will improve over the next 12 months compared to 34% last year, and 23% think it will worsen compared to 18% the prior year. In addition, just 29% of industrial manufacturers are confident of revenue growth in the next 12 months, but when given a three-year span, 46% of manufacturers think they’ll see growth.
Data also suggests that CEOs believe business risk has increased. According to the survey, 55% of industrial manufacturing CEOs said opportunities have increased during the past three years; however, 61% believe the number of threats has increased.
The PwC survey, which interviewed 205 industrial, manufacturing CEOs in 53 countries, revealed that industrial manufacturing companies are working hard to deliver results year after year, but most understand that the future brings complex challenges. The survey highlights three key focus areas for today’s industrial manufacturing CEOs:
- Great expectations and influences. When asked to describe their company’s purpose, the survey found many industrial manufacturing CEOs believed it was centered on filling customer needs or developing first-class products, but others said it was creating a great place to work for employees or achieving social goals. And the influences that impact that purpose and overall strategy are many. As one would expect, customer demands drive final products, but 89% of industrial manufacturers say their customers and clients have an impact on their overall business strategy. Supply chain partners weigh-in, too, with 88% of CEOs planning to address social and environmental impacts of their supply chain. In addition, competitors and peers are also a focus, with a third of CEOs saying they too have a high impact on strategy.
- Technology and talent. Executives know Industry 4.0 has arrived and are working to invest in new innovations and train their workforce to capitalize on their investments. The survey found that 90% of industrial manufacturing CEOs plan to make changes in how they use technology to assess and deliver on wider stakeholder expectations. However, with new technology comes new skill requirements, and 76% of respondents say they are concerned about the availability of key skills to grow their business. In response, more than half of CEOs are changing their talent strategy.
- Measuring and communicating success. Data showed that 60% of survey respondents said innovation is the number one area where the business could do more to measure the impact and value for stakeholders. Not only are CEOs realizing they need to measure and track business success, but that they also need to communicate that success. The survey found that 68% of CEOs believe R&D and innovation has the potential to drive better engagement with wider stakeholders. Together with customer relationship management, data and analytics take the top three spots—validating smart manufacturing will be a driving force for industry leaders.
Like any industrial manufacturer, PwC’s survey findings can help metal-cutting organizations prepare for another challenging, but transformative, year. As reported in the case study, “Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies,” sometimes this means investing in technology. Jett Cutting Service, for example, hit a record-setting 1.1 million cut parts last year and attributes the milestone to smart investments. “I would like to believe that our increase in sales is due to investing in the latest cutting technology, which increases our capacity and production capabilities,” Vice President Mike Baron said. “The newer technology also allows us to offer competitive pricing, which has led to many new customers.”
However, Jett Cutting also understands that it needs to be just as committed to its employees and its customers. The metal-cutting organization also has a strong training program for new employees, an ISO certification program to maintain high quality standards, and additional training for existing employees every time new equipment or software is purchased.
For many metal-cutting companies, 2016 certainly hasn’t been the best of years, but it also hasn’t been the worst. As PwC’s survey confirms, no one is confident about what next year will bring; however, industrial manufacturing leaders aren’t standing idle. Jett Cutting and many others are investing in new technology and training now to prepare for growth in the future.
How is your industrial metal-cutting company investing in the future?
December 10, 2016 / best practices, customer delivery, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, quality, ROI, skills gap, strategic planning
With all the buzz around connectivity and “smart” factories, it appears as if the manufacturing industry is on the brink of a major shift. Some experts, as we reported here, are calling this Industry 4.0. Even companies in more mature industries like metal fabrication are starting to realize that the demands of today’s customers are not only changing the scope of their work, but the way in which they actually need to do their work.
“Investments in fabricating technology, information systems, and employees will be necessary to stay on top of the growing complexity in the metal fabricating business,” Dan Davis, editor of The Fabricator, says here in a recent editorial. “There’s no other way around it in this world of massive customization in manufacturing.”
While most industry leaders understand the capital and technology investments that may be necessary in the near future, many fail to realize the growing importance of investing in employees and, more specifically, in their training. In today’s lean manufacturing world, metal fabricators and other industry metal-cutting organizations have been conditioned to think in terms of efficiency. This means that secondary activities like employee training are often neglected because they don’t directly contribute to the bottom line.
However, as stated in the brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” research shows that investing in areas like training can provide a host of benefits, including better quality, faster on-time customer delivery, higher revenue per operator, and lower rework costs. “Put simply, companies can’t afford to neglect one of its greatest assets,” the brief states. “By investing resources into the workforce, industrial metal-cutting leaders can better equip themselves for today, as well as the future.”
For shops that want (or need) to beef up their training programs, an article from Foundry magazine provides some insight on what it takes to create an effective training program. According to the article, training programs should include a strong combination of education, engagement, and use: “Training must educate by teaching skills, transferring knowledge, cultivating attitudes and hitting other specific targets. But training that is purely educational doesn’t get results. That is why training must present information in ways that are engaging, interactive and require the learner to think and use the information learned.”
The article goes on to describe a method often used in training known as VAK Attack. VAK is an acronym describing the three ways people learn, as spelled out below:
- Visual learning happens when people watch materials that can include videos, PowerPoints, charts and other visual elements.
- Auditory learning happens when people learn by listening to people who might be other trainees, compelling trainers, visitors and others.
- Kinesthetic learning happens when people get out of their seats and move around as they take part in work simulations, games, and other meaningful exercises.
According to the Foundry article, effective training should include all three of the VAK principles so that employees can better learn and absorb the information presented. The author also suggests hiring an outside trainer to ensure long, impactful results. (You can read the full article here.)
It would be hard for anyone to ignore the advancements of the manufacturing industry; however, too many companies are ignoring the role employees play in today’s increasingly complex production environments. By investing in employees and their training, today’s metal fabricators can prepare for the future and, more importantly, stay competitive today.
How is your fabrication shop investing in employee training?
December 5, 2016 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, industry news, operator training, Output, productivity, Safety, workflow process
Workplace safety is a priority for nearly every manufacturer. However, when industrial metal-cutting organizations need to do more with less to stay competitive, safety priorities can sometimes fall to the wayside—creating severe and costly consequences for workers and businesses alike.
Here’s the good news: According to OSHA’s “Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses,” private industry employers reported 48,000 fewer nonfatal injury and illness cases in 2015 compared to the prior year. Unfortunately, the bad news is that the manufacturing industry had the highest proportion of accidents. As reported by OSHA’s Severe Injury Reporting Program, manufacturing accounted for 57% of all amputations and 26% of all hospitalizations, closely followed by construction, transportation, and warehousing. In addition, of the Top 25 industry groups reporting severe injuries, architectural and structural metal and fabricated metal product manufacturing came in at 17 and 20, respectively.
Of course, workplace injuries come with a cost—not only to employees’ health but to businesses as well. According to the 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the most disabling, nonfatal workplace injuries amounted to nearly $62 billion in direct U.S. workers compensation costs. That’s more than a billion dollars a week.
Workplace injuries also create production inefficiencies. As reported in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, a cleaner, safer work environment is a more productive, profitable environment. Often times, safety incidents may be rooted in issues such as lack of training, an unorganized shop floor, or poor workflow layout and ergonomics. Neglecting safety issues can lead to reduced output and, ultimately, a lower profit.
One way manufacturers can reduce workplace injuries is to not only make safety a priority, but to create a culture of safety throughout the organization. Tire manufacturer Goodyear, for example, reduced worldwide incident rates by 94% by creating an engaged safety culture in 49 facilities across 22 countries for its 66,000 workers.
In an interview with New Equipment Digest, Michael Porter, Global Environmental Health & Safety Director at Goodyear, said the key to building this type of culture is integration from the top down. “Starting from the highest levels of the company, we tie our EHS strategy down into our company’s overall strategy roadmap,” Porter explained. “Then that cascades down into how we operate on a manufacturing level.” This, he adds, includes everything from workforce organization and equipment care to continuous skills development.
To help create a culture of safety, there are a few strategies metal service centers can consider. Dave Stauffer, director of SBM Management, recently told attendees at the 2016 Safety Leadership Conference the eight building blocks his company has used to create a culture of safety in its 500 operating locations. The following are SBM’s top four strategies (You can read all eight here, as reported by EHS Today.):
- Employee observations. Coach and mentor employees to validate that they are doing their jobs safely. Ensure employees are wearing their personal protective equipment (PPE). Observe employees to make sure they are working effectively.
- Safety engagement. Establish rapport with employees to help reduce unsafe conditions and at-risk behavior in the workplace. Actively involve all employees in the health and safety of the workplace. Verify employees are engaging in the correct safety behavior.
- Employee recognition programs. Reward employees for safe job performance. Reinforce and recognize positive work culture. Celebrate employee successes.
- Interactive audits. Supervisors and managers should complete the observations daily and document them. Engage in conversation about safety and assure each employee has the skills, knowledge and training to perform their job safely.
The Metal Service Center Institute also recognizes the importance of safety and recently partnered with the National Safety Council (NSC) to release new safety resources optimized for the metal industry. The new tools include:
- Access to NSC safety reports
- Local access to the NSC’s Advanced Safety Certificate program
- Resources and approved model programs to help members create their own safety programs
While there is no magic formula for creating a “zero-incident” service center, industry leaders are taking steps to ensure their operations are safe. Creating a culture of safety can help identify and eliminate process bottlenecks, improve production, avoid costly injury implications, and most importantly, keep operators and workers safe.
What safety programs do you have in place at your metal service center? Do you consider your center to have a culture of safety?
December 1, 2016 / agility, best practices, blade selection, industry news, material costs, productivity, skills gap, strategic planning
Over the last few years, uncertainty has plagued the manufacturing industry. Currency fluctuations, material costs, customer demands, labor shortages, and political issues are just a few of the factors feeding into an overwhelming feeling of doubt and apprehension among manufacturers.
Instead of fearing change, most companies have come to expect it. This has led many industry leaders to focus their efforts on becoming more “agile” so they can quickly respond to changing customer demands. As explained here in a blog post, “agile organizations operate on a ‘sense and respond’ mode rather than the ‘predict and control’ mode.”
An agile company is able to take advantage of short windows of opportunity and adapt to fast changes in customer demand. According to a previously published blog, this tactic can be especially attractive for industrial metal-cutting companies that are trying to gain an advantage over offshore competitors.
However, the question is whether this renewed focus on agility should come at the cost of long-term planning. While short-term goals and gains are important, is it really wise for today’s manufacturers to ditch long-term strategic planning because the future looks uncertain? Does it really pay to be shortsighted?
An article from Forbes suggests that the answer to that question is no. According to the article, one of the top-five questions managers should ask during a strategic planning session is where they want to be in the next three years. “While some might balk at long term plans, they help people to frame a future vision,” the article states. “When teams don’t articulate long-range goals, they get trapped into incrementalism. Each year a little more growth is expected, a few changes are made and revenue and profit targets are increased. The result is a business that probably inches forward.”
According to an editorial from IndustryWeek, there are also risks associated with companies that are fixated on the short term. In fact, the article asserts that short-term goals can often lead to long-term problems. “I am a firm believer in capitalism but capitalism cannot thrive if we remain focused on short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability,” the article author states.
From an operational standpoint, this theory holds some weight, as short-term decisions can have long-term consequences. The white paper, Tackling the Top Five Operating Challenges of Industrial Metal Cutting, gives two examples:
- Some metal-cutting operations use the “pick for speed” method to meet growing demand and improve short-term productivity. This means operators are grabbing fresh material every time and ignoring scrap. However, many industry leaders are finding that “pick for clean” is a better long-term solution. In most cases, using remnants first and striving to keep inventory low leads to increases in productivity and quality in the longer term because operators take the time to perform cuts right the first time. This also keeps material costs low, which affects the bottom line.
- One machine shop found that upgrading to a carbide-tipped band saw blade provided a substantial improvement in efficiency. Previously, the shop was using bi-metal band saw blades to cut stainless steel, which could take up to two hours. Now, with the carbide-tipped blade, cuts are performed in minutes, which has provided huge time savings and has freed up the sawing equipment to do more cutting. While the short-term cost of the newer blades was higher, the machine shop found that the long-term productivity benefits were well worth the investment.
While there is no question that today’s companies need to be able to adapt to change, long-term thinking and planning are still an important part of business success. An article from Harvard Business Review puts it this way:
“Don’t just say that the future is uncertain, and that you will act when it gets here. It is the responsibility of a forward-looking leader to share a point of view about the role the company might play in specific scenarios. Communicate how customers are changing, and how your organization can address those needs in the future.”
What is your company’s long-term point of view?