January 25, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, emplo, Employee Morale, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, productivity, skills gap, strategic planning
Teamwork is essential to any manufacturing operation. Most experts agree that it is the cornerstone of any successful improvement initiative, and many of today’s industry leaders understand that collaboration and decision-making go hand in hand. From the shop floor to the executive office, everyone’s input carries value.
Unfortunately, building strong teams isn’t as easy as sitting a bunch of people in a room together once a week. As one article from IndustryWeek points out, just because a company works in teams doesn’t mean it is good at teamwork. Simply building a team isn’t enough. The goal has to be building an effective team.
What does this look like in a forging environment? For many companies, it starts with creating a sense of unity. According to an article from Reliable Plant, the goal is to remove the barriers that often exist between the departments by taking a one-plant, one-team approach. Specifically, the trade publication suggests removing any team or function name that directs the function of the team to one specific department or function. For example, change the name of total quality management to total quality manufacturing and then develop improvement teams consisting of personnel from each department within the plant. “This begins to create a common workplace interest and supports a one-plant, one-team environment,” the article states.
Another important step is for managers to consistently ask employees for input and, more importantly, to make some of their ideas a reality. According to the white paper, The Top Five Operational Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal, communicating with shop floor employees and actively including them in operational decisions promotes a team atmosphere, and, therefore, motivates employees to achieve company goals. To see this principle in action, check out this video, which shows one manufacturing floor operator’s reaction to implementing a high-performance team culture in his organization.
An article appearing in the Harvard Business Review confirms that effective teams are hard to build, especially in today’s diverse, dispersed, and digital world. However, it is possible. Quoting research from J. Richard Hackman, a pioneer in the field of organizational behavior who began studying teams in 1970, HBR says there are three “enabling conditions” that lead to strong, thriving teams. The following is a quick summary of those conditions, as described by HBR (You can read the full article here.):
- Compelling direction. The foundation of every great team is a direction that energizes, orients, and engages its members. Teams cannot be inspired if they don’t know what they’re working toward and don’t have explicit goals. Goals should be challenging enough to motivate, and they also must be consequential: People have to care about achieving a goal, whether because they stand to gain extrinsic rewards, like recognition, pay, and promotions; or intrinsic rewards, such as satisfaction and a sense of meaning.
- Strong structure. Teams also need the right mix and number of members, optimally designed tasks and processes, and norms that discourage destructive behavior and promote positive dynamics. High-performing teams include members with a balance of skills. Every individual doesn’t have to possess superlative technical and social skills, but the team overall needs a healthy dose of both.
- Supportive context. Having the right support is the third condition that enables team effectiveness. This includes maintaining a reward system that reinforces good performance, an information system that provides access to the data needed for the work, and an educational system that offers training, and last—but not least—securing the material resources required to do the job, such as funding and technological assistance. While no team ever gets everything it wants, leaders can head off a lot of problems by taking the time to get the essential pieces in place from the start.
The HBR article goes on to describe a fourth condition—shared mindset—which is similar to Reliable Plant’s suggestions for creating a one-plant, one-team environment. This condition requires managers to facilitate shared information among departments and to be intentional about building bridges among team members.
Like any company-wide initiative, building an effective manufacturing team takes time, intention, and a little trial and error. By encouraging unity, fostering collaboration, and implementing strong foundational elements such as diversity and incentives, today’s forges can create a team-centered manufacturing environment that truly benefits everyone.
How are you creating a team environment in your forging operation?
January 20, 2017 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, LIT, productivity, ROI, strategic planning
In any manufacturing operation, having the right tool for the job is critical. The challenge is that there will always be instances when the “right tool” won’t be a clear-cut decision.
For example, in metal-cutting, bi-metal band saw blades have been traditionally used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon and structural steels, and some alloy steels. However, blade technology is evolving, and there are now carbide-tipped band saw blades on the market that have been designed specifically to cut aluminum and non-ferrous alloys. This begs the question: Is the new technology worth the investment, or would it be smarter to stick with a tool operators already know?
Answering those types of questions is never easy and takes careful consideration, especially when there is some investment necessary. In today’s competitive market, even a simple tooling decision is strategic.
To assist managers with the task of selecting the best machine tools for their operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following tips:
- Form an internal team. Good strategic decisions are very rarely made alone. As a recent article from Modern Machine Shop explains, even a decision like buying a new machine tool should include input from every department it may impact (i.e., engineering, production, maintenance, etc.). This, the article states, is why forming an internal machine-tool buying committee is a good idea. “During the machine-buying process, some companies will form committees, especially when numerous departments will be involved in and responsible for the daily operation of the machine,” the article states. “Buying committees allow each department to have input, conveying their requirements and concerns prior to machine selection.” You can read more about this best practice here on Modern Machine Shop’s blog.
- Work closely with suppliers. More and more managers are finding that collaborative supplier relationships are critical to business success. In fact, according to the book, Strategic Supply Chain Management by Shoshanah Cohen and Joseph Roussel, companies that strategically utilize their supply chains realize better business results than their competitors. This can include your tooling suppliers. When looking at a new machine tool, a trusted supply partner should be willing to provide informational and educational materials about new tools and technologies, as well as additional services such as short-term trial runs and training support. Some may even be willing to help you measure and analyze the success of a new tool. No one knows your equipment and tooling better than the people who designed it, and a good supplier should be willing to share their expertise with you—no questions asked.
- Look at the total cost. Like any good purchasing decision, tooling selection needs to take into account the total operational costs of running the tool, including maintenance costs and equipment requirements. Case in point: While carbide-tipped band-saw blades are more advanced in the right application, they do not perform well with a lot of vibration. Therefore, they can only be used with certain types of saws—a critical purchasing consideration. As explained in the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job, making the “right” blade choice requires managers to weigh three key factors:
- upfront costs against overall operating and maintenance costs
- long-term productivity of a machine and its intended use
- equipment and blade life, as well as cost per cut
What best practices does your team follow when choosing a new machine tool?
January 10, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, customer service, industry news, LIT, quality
Like many industrial metal-cutting companies, fabricators face the constant challenge of balancing speed with quality. Although most managers understand that both are critical, tight schedules and rising customer expectations are making it more and more difficult for companies to keep up.
According to the brief, “Strategies for Improving Customer Service and On-Time Delivery in Industrial Metal Cutting,” managers need to be sure that when push comes to shove, quality comes first. “While speed and agility are certainly key attributes of any leading metal-cutting operation, they cannot come at the expense of accuracy,” the brief states. “In sawing, for example, if an operator increases the speed of the saw to get more cuts per minute without considering the feed setting or the material, the end result will be decreased blade life, possible maintenance issues, and lower quality cuts. In the same way, companies focused solely on speed and delivery without considering the quality aspect of customer service will likely see other areas of their business suffer, including customer retention and costs.”
Leading fabricators understand the benefits of keeping quality high, and many continue to invest in this part of their operations. Madden Bolt, a fabricator based in Houston, TX, recently announced that it has earned its AISC certification from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). The goal of the certification, the company states, is to further demonstrate to customers its commitment to delivering quality steel products—a step Madden says only half of the steel fabricators in its category have taken.
According to a company press release, the six-month AISC certification process was worth the effort and directly benefits customers. Specifically, the certification requires Madden Bolt to implement effective procedures that safeguard the specifications and agreements within customer contracts, including a system that would resolve discrepancies or deviations from contract requirements. Madden is also required to ensure that material ordered complies with design and drafting specifications and that the materials are inspected to meet ASTM standards.
Many fabricators are also in the process of undergoing ISO 9001:2015 certification. The quality standard, which was recently updated, is a best practice for many industrial metal-cutting organizations, including Metal Cutting Service, Inc. in City of Industry, CA. David Viel, president of the specialty metal-cutting shop, admits that while it is hard to pinpoint the dollar benefit ISO 9001 certification has brought to his bottom line, it has definitely offered a return on investment. “Our quality, if I had to make an estimate, would be in the range of a 20% to 30% improvement,” he says here in a case study.
Of course, certification is just one way fabricators can invest in quality. There are several technologies available that help industrial metal-cutting companies enforce quality control, such as the inspection tools used by companies featured here and here in Modern Metals.
Regardless of how you decide to ensure quality within your shop, the point is that you put in the time and resources necessary to make it a top priority. In today’s fast-paced market, slow and steady does not win the race, but fast and sloppy doesn’t stand a chance.
In what ways has your fabrication shop invested in maintaining high quality standards?
January 5, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, industry news, LIT, strategic planning, supplier relationships, supply chain
As metal service centers and other industrial manufacturers find new ways to stay competitive, the role suppliers play is becoming more and more critical. Now more than ever, manufacturers need to be in tune with what is happening within their supply chain.
One major trend companies need to be aware of is the shifting dynamic within the supply chain, much of which has been caused by cost pressures. “Competitive pressure to reduce costs is forcing changes in supply chain operating models, creating more complexity and dependence in the value chain,” notes PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on its website. “The number of entities and interdependence between parties is increasing and expectations regarding reporting are also becoming more burdensome.”
Another trend is increased collaboration with suppliers. Many service centers are looking to form strategic relationships with suppliers that can provide value, not just low-cost services or products. A white paper from the Lenox Institute of Technology discusses how this is happening within industrial metal-cutting:
“Operations managers increasingly find that to be successful, they must establish a collaborative vendor relationship that moves far beyond the sale of a product. By leveraging all of the assets their vendors can bring to the table, companies can form strategic partnerships that not only help fulfill their customer demands, but that also help optimize other aspects of the business such as cost management and employee training.”
A recent article from ThomasNet confirms this trend, stating that supplier collaboration will be crucial in 2017. The article, which you can access here, lists three more trends worth noting:
- Increased Emphasis on Ethics and Transparency. In 2016, many companies came under fire due to a lack of ethical practices within their supply chain. As consumers become more environmentally and sustainability conscious, supply chain professionals will be under enormous pressure to ensure that their products are safe, ethical, and environmentally friendly. As a result, procurement teams will invest in technologies that provide greater visibility into their suppliers.
- Digital Will Become Standard. For years, the supply chain has been shifting away from the paper-and-technology model of information management to an all-digital approach. In 2017, that shift will go from optional to essential.
- The Supply Chain Will Get Agile. Today’s intricate, global supply chains are inherently risky, so supply chain managers need to be able to plan ahead and react quickly when a disruption does occur. Thanks to the advent of real-time data, it’s now possible. Leveraging data, supply chain professionals can make quick decisions that can resolve potential crises.
Of course, only time will tell how much of an impact these trends will have on your service center this year. Some of them may have no impact at all. However, for those companies that want to have an edge up on the competition, it is critical to keep a pulse on every aspect of your business, including your supply chain.
January 1, 2017 / best practices, industry news, LIT, productivity, quality, ROI
It’s a new year, which means companies are getting a jump start on major projects and working toward new goals. For many manufacturers, this includes transitioning from the ISO 9001:2008 quality management standard to the updated ISO 9001:2015 standard. Although the revised version of the standard was published back in September 2015, companies have until September 2018 to complete the transition. The following is a quick summary for industrial metal-cutting companies that are considering recertification.
While many would say that ISO’s most recent revision is “significant,” as explained here in an article from the Association of Manufacturing Excellence (AME), the changes are more evolutionary then revolutionary. “These new guidelines are less prescriptive than previous versions – an effort to adapt to the working conditions of the 21st century,” the AME article states. “ISO 9001:2015 is the result of the intensive study from experts in about 95 countries throughout a three-year period. It’s a tool to help improve efficiency while maintaining the ability to adapt to today’s quickly changing work environments.”
Some of the key updates in ISO 9001:2015 include the introduction of new terminology, restructuring of some information, and increased leadership requirements. Another key change is that the new update incudes ten clauses, whereas the previous version included only eight. According to Luc Marivoet, a quality expert at Paulwels Consultant, the first three clauses in ISO 9001:2015 are largely the same as those in ISO 9001:2008, but there are considerable differences between ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 9001:2015 from the fourth clause onwards. More specifically, the last seven clauses are now arranged according to the PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act). You can read more about the clause changes here.
Overall, most experts agree that the newly updated standard is more relevant and has been written for the benefit of organizations, not auditors. ISO says that the revised standard was designed to bring companies the following benefits:
- Puts greater emphasis on leadership engagement
- Helps address organizational risks and opportunities in a structured manner
- Uses simplified language and a common structure and terms, which are particularly helpful to organizations using multiple management systems, such as those for the environment, health & safety, or business continuity
- Addresses supply chain management more effectively
- Is more user-friendly for service and knowledge-based organizations
Steps to Update
As noted above, companies have a three-year transition period from the date of publication (September 2015) to move to the 2015 version. This means that, after the end of September 2018, a certificate to ISO 9001:2008 will no longer be valid.
Why go through the recertification process? That question is discussed in more detail here, but in general, it is widely accepted that ISO 9001 certification provides companies with several benefits, including improved quality and cost savings. In fact, the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, lists ISO 9001 certification as a key strategy for industrial metal-cutting companies that want to improve their performance.
There is no question that transitioning to the new standard will take considerable time and resources. ISO offers the following tips for companies that are transitioning to ISO 9001:2015:
- Familiarize yourself with the new document. While some things have indeed changed, many remain the same. A correlation matrix, available from ISO/TC 176/SC 2, will help you identify if parts of the standard have been moved to other sections.
- Identify any organizational gaps which need to be addressed to meet the new requirements.
- Develop an implementation plan.
- Provide appropriate training and awareness for all parties that have an impact on the effectiveness of the organization.
- Update your existing quality management system to meet the revised requirements.
- If you are certified to the standard, talk to your certification body about transitioning to the new version.
To further assist industrial metal-cutting companies that are seeking ISO 9001:2015 certification, the LENOX Institute of Technology has gathered a few helpful resources:
- Click here to download and purchase ISO 9001:2015.
- Click here to download ISO’s transition guidance document.
- Click here to watch a video describing why ISO decided to update the standard.
- Click here to download a checklist to assist you through the transition.
How might recertification benefit your industrial metal-cutting organization?