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Why It Pays for Forges to Invest in Employees

February 28, 2017 / , , , , , , , , ,


 The idea of investing in your employees sounds good in theory. In fact, many would say that this is a trend among manufacturers as they try to find ways to address the widening skills gap.

But as any metals executive knows, theories don’t pay the bills. Resources designated to employees may offer some “soft” benefits like improved morale, but is there any financial benefit to investing in employees?

Research shows that the answer is yes: Investing in employees does offer a good return on investment (ROI). In an article published by Harvard Business Review, Alex Edmans, professor of Finance at London Business School, says that research of stock market data clearly reveals that the benefits of investing in employees outweigh the costs and that employee satisfaction improves firm value.

“I studied 28 years of data and found that firms with high employee satisfaction outperform their peers by 2.3% to 3.8% per year in long-run stock returns—89% to 184% cumulative—even after controlling for other factors that drive returns,” Edmans writes in HBR. “Moreover, the results suggest that it’s employee satisfaction that causes good performance, rather than good performance allowing a firm to invest in employee satisfaction.”

According to Edmans, the findings have major implications. “For managers, they imply that companies that treat their workers better, do better,” he writes. “While seemingly simple, this result contradicts conventional wisdom, which uses cost control as a measure of efficiency.” (You can see all the details of Edmans’ findings here.)

Research conducted among forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations show similar results. A benchmark study conducted by the LENOX Institute of Technology provides evidence that investing in human capital is critical for improving on-time customer delivery and driving higher revenue. Specifically, the survey of 100 industrial metal-cutting operations found the following:

  • 64% of organizations that cite their operator turnover is decreasing year over year also report that on-time job completion is trending upwards—a critical correlation.
  • 51% of organizations that reported reduced levels of operator turnover also said their revenue per operator had increased.

With data like this, it is hard to argue against the value of investing in employees. And while most executives think of pay raises when they think of employee investment, the good news is there are several ways forges can invest in employees. The following are just four possible approaches that go beyond pay:

  1. Listen. Operators that work with equipment every day are a valuable source of information. Be intentional about collecting feedback and implement some of their ideas.
  2. Equip. Invest in an employee’s future with incentives like continued education or management training. This shows employees that you value their personal success and provides them with new skills that can benefit your operation in the long run.
  3. Communicate results. Regularly share performance reports with employees by either posting them or discussing them in staff meetings. According to the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, sharing report results encourages accountability, provides motivation, and reminds operators that they are a critical aspect of the company’s success.
  4. Reward. Studies continue to show that goal setting and incentives are effective motivational strategies. Empower your operators by letting them set their own goals. This also holds them accountable for their work and promotes long-term “buy-in” and loyalty.

Investments of any kind usually present some risk, but in the case of human capital, it seems unlikely that there are any real threats or disadvantages. As research confirms, pouring resources into the very people that keep your company running is just good business—in theory and in practice.

How is your forging operation investing in employees? 

Capital Spending to Increase as Machine Shops Seek Productivity

February 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Thanks to an unstable marketplace, capital spending among machine shops and other metalworking companies has been down for the last several years. However, new reports suggest a rebound in the near future.

According to data from Gardner Business Intelligence (GBI), machine tool consumption peaked at $7.5 billion in 2014, and then contracted 3 percent in 2015 and 7 percent in 2016. Based on GBI’s Capital Spending Survey, projected total machine tool consumption in 2017 will be down an additional 1 percent. However, as reported here by Modern Machine Shop, the survey also shows that demand for core machine tools will increase in 2017 by 9 percent. In addition, GBI’s new econometric model for machine tool unit orders indicates that the rate of contraction in overall machine tool demand bottomed in July 2016 and will improve through the end of 2017.

Steven Cline, Jr., director of Market Intelligence at GBI, says the driving force behind the projected rebound is the need for increased productivity. “Shops need to increase productivity in order to remain competitive in a global manufacturing marketplace and to counteract the much-talked-about skills gap,” Cline writes in Modern Machine Shop. “More and more shops are turning to lights-out and/or unattended machining to achieve this increase in productivity, but new equipment, including machine tools, workholding and automation, is needed to run lights-out.”

As reported in the news brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” industrial metal-cutting companies have spent the last few years investing a lot of time and resources into their workforce. This has helped boost productivity and address some of the skills gaps, but the GBI survey suggests that shops are seeking a balance that requires investments in both human capital and equipment.

For example, Speedy Metals, an online industrial metal supply company and processor, recently upgraded its band saws to improve efficiency. “We had been searching for a reasonably priced, high-production band saw to add to our saw department and boost our production,” Bob Bensen, operations manager, tells Modern Metals. “We needed a reliable band saw that was going to stand up to the rigors of our fast-paced environment.”

Bensen went on to say that the new band saw, which has nesting capabilities and allows his operators to cut a variety of metals, has improved productivity. This, he adds, has given Speedy Metals a competitive edge and allows his company to continuously offer same-day shipping on quality parts and customized saw cuts that meet the closest tolerances.

Similarly, metal-cutting companies like Aerodyne Alloys are investing in new metal-cutting tools to further improve efficiency. Working with hard-to-cut metals like Inconel 718 and Hastelloy X, the metal service center decided to upgrade from bi-metal blades to carbide-tipped blades to get higher performance out of its band saws. After upgrading to a carbide blade, Aerodyne was able to tackle hard, nickel-based alloys, while also improving cutting time on easier to cut materials like stainless steel. According to a case study, this helped improve operational efficiencies at Aerodyne by up to 20 percent.

Of course, not all capital investments offer a good return. If your shop is considering investing in new equipment or tools this year, be sure to measure cost against productivity. According to the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job, managers need to weigh the following:

There is no question: Staying competitive in today’s market is tough. Demands for high quality and quick turnaround continue to increase, while cost pressures and issues like the skills gap remain. How will your shop respond? As the GBI survey suggests, it may be time to consider making some capital investments to ensure that your team is fully equipped to meet demands.

Three Ways Fabricators Can Build Stronger Supplier Partnerships

February 10, 2017 / , , , , , ,


For most fabricators, supplier relationships are the building blocks of success. While there are still some companies that base their supply chain on price, as customer expectations for both quality and delivery continue to increase, many industry leaders are taking the time to form strong supplier relationships that are built on a lot more than an affordable product or service. In many cases, suppliers are becoming strategic partners.

Data confirms this trend. As reported in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, a survey conducted by Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium found that 80 percent of supply chain professionals believe that the supply chain is an enabler of business strategy. “A majority of companies also felt that the supply chain is a source of business value and competitive advantage,” the eBook states.

How can you form strong supplier relationships that provide real value? The eBook offers three best practices:

1. Schedule on-site visits. Like any relationship, communication is key. Expect your prospective supplier to assume a “partner” role from day one by focusing more on service than on the sale of the product. To facilitate this relationship, start by asking for an on-site needs assessment. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your business goals in person, as well as providing the vendor with a full overview of your operation.

2. Include training in your purchase agreement. Most suppliers should be willing to provide some level of value-add training as part of the purchase agreement. This is especially important when it comes to your equipment and tooling providers. No one knows your production equipment better than the people who designed it, and they should be willing to share that expertise with you.

3. Expect thought leadership and self-service tools. Industry-leading partners should be able to support your business by providing informational and educational materials, as well as practical tools and services. You can and should rely on your supplier to be an industry thought leader that provides a steady stream of valuable industry trends data, operational strategies, and technical product information.

Of course, maintaining strong supplier relationships doesn’t come without its challenges. According to the 2017 Manufacturing Outlook Survey conducted by ASQ, 83 percent of manufacturers experienced problems with suppliers last year. However, only a third felt concern that those issues would spill over into 2017. In addition, 66 percent of those surveyed said they are working with current suppliers to fix previous concerns—an indication that the majority of manufacturers see the value of working closely with existing suppliers to address challenges they face. As an article from Supply Chain Drive notes, “…a consistent cycling of suppliers can harm long-term performance as relationships take time to cement.”

ASQ does warn, however, that manufacturers should be prepared for those moments when suppliers don’t come through. The key is to openly communicate with existing suppliers to determine any potential risks and, more importantly, to have back-up plans—and back-up suppliers—to alleviate supply chain disruptions. Ultimately, the goal for any manufacturer should be to turn vendor relationships into strategic partnerships. By taking the time to build trust and value into the supply chain, suppliers can become an integral part of your business strategy and, more importantly, your shop’s success.

In what ways can your fabrication shop get more out of its supplier relationships? 

Measuring the Cost of Quality in Your Metal Service Center

February 5, 2017 / , , , , , , , ,


Keeping costs low and quality high are the top goals of just about every industrial metal-cutting operation. What’s interesting, however, is that many companies treat these two areas as independent variables. A recent series of articles from IndustryWeek (IW) shows why it is important for managers to look at quality and cost together. More specifically, it recommends that companies quantitatively measure the cost and benefits of quality.

“Tracking the financial impact of any support function is necessary in order to illustrate its value and garner continued support and resources from senior management,” the IW article explains. “This struggle is vitally important for quality management departments that continue to struggle with competing for resources. Once organizations get clarity on the financial impact of quality, the next step is to understand what practices and applications help improve the financial value.”

Unfortunately, this seems to be easier said than done. Based on the results of a 2016 survey conducted by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), approximately 60 percent of organizations say they don’t know or don’t measure the financial impact of quality. According to a report on the survey’s findings, “this lack of measurement may be attributed to not having a common method for capturing the financial impact.”

Many companies also do not understand the benefits of measuring quality and, instead, simply use it as a means of “compliance” or to keep customers happy. This is especially true in today’s market. As stated in the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, customers continue to expect higher quality and tighter tolerances from their metal-cutting suppliers.

However, the IW article states that quality should be about more than “checking a compliance box” or basic due diligence. “Developing a solid foundation of quality assurance for continuous improvement, risk mitigation, and compliance provide immeasurable value,” the article states. “However, once that solid foundation is established, organizations can then leverage quality for the benefit of the customer and enhance brand image, thus serving as a competitive differentiator.”

In fact, based on ASQ and ASQC’s survey findings, “organizations that leverage quality as a strategic asset were more likely to report higher levels of financial gains from their quality program.” In other words, companies are using quality to drive profitability.

For more information on how to start measuring the cost of quality, click here to access IW’s four-part series. The articles look at the relationship between financial benefits and the following areas:

How are you measuring the financial impact quality has in your service center?

Customer Outlooks Create Optimism for Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations

February 1, 2017 / , , , , , , ,


Although there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the economy, many metals companies and experts are fairly optimistic about the short term. According to the January 2017 Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) Business Conditions Report, metalforming companies expect strong business conditions throughout the next three months.

Much of this optimism is based on positive forecasts for end-use markets. At the Metal Service Center Institute’s Forecast 2017 Conference, for example, economists and industry experts shared positive outlooks for several customer segments, giving the metals supply chain an idea of where to place their focus this year.

Below is a summary of segments that show some growth potential for industrial metal-cutting companies this year, as reported by MSCI. (You can access the full report here.)

While these are broad-based outlooks, they should provide metal-cutting companies with some confidence as they invest in existing customer segments or consider branching out into new markets. Knowing where the growth is located is a critical part of strategic planning.

Of course, the other key element is knowing how to best serve those customers—both new and existing. As reported in the news brief, “Strategies for Improving Customer Service and On-Time Delivery in Industrial Metal Cutting, on-time deliveries are no longer enough. Today’s customers are looking for trusted suppliers that go the extra mile. “Whether offering a new, value-added service or investing in certification, metal-cutting companies have several opportunities to cultivate a strategic customer relationship built upon premium service,” the brief states. (For some specific strategies for improving customer service, you can download the full news brief here.)

It is far too early to tell how this year’s market will shake out, but as the above forecasts show, there are several segments that offer growth potential for industrial metal-cutting organizations. With a little strategic planning and a strong focus on customer service, companies may find they can make this year one of their best.