May 25, 2017 / continuous improvement, Cost Management, human capital, industry news, lean manufacturing, LIT, skills gap, strategic planning, supply chain
Broad spectrum forecasts continue to look positive for manufacturers. As reported in our 2017 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, experts believe that 2017 will be a year of growth for industrial manufacturing. Specifically, the latest outlook from MAPI says that industrial manufacturing growth should be 1.2% in 2017 and then accelerate to 2.6% in 2018.
Manufacturers are also optimistic. According to a May survey from the Institute for Supply Management, U.S. manufacturing and services executives expect to see increased revenue, hiring, and capital spending in 2017, reflecting confidence in the economy, reports IndustryWeek. Even after a short decrease in manufacturing orders in April, ISM’s gauge remains well above the average for all of 2016 and “indicates healthy optimism among factory managers,” according to Bloomberg.
A Focused Forecast
What does this mean for metal forges? From a big-picture standpoint, this is all good news. Economic health directly impacts automotive and other customer segments that carefully choose how they spend money with forges and other supply chain partners.
However, as stated in the article from Forging magazine, “Forgers are manufacturers, of course, but drawing their circumstances out of the mass of data represented by surveys like PMI or similar sources is futile.” In other words, it is more beneficial to look at segment forecasts than it is to look at broad manufacturing outlooks.
To give a more accurate outlook picture, Forging conducts its own annual survey with forging executives. Below are some results from its 2017 Forging Business Outlook:
- Shipments: About 62% of all respondents expect their operations’ tons/shipped to rise in 2017, compared to 2016. Only 6.6% of the total expect the coming year to deliver an overall decline in shipments, and 31.1% are forecasting 2017 results will be “about the same” as the 2016 total.
- Spending: Over 65% of all respondents said they have capital spending plans for 2017. For 50.8% of these respondents, the investments will take the form of new manufacturing equipment; 11.1% plan to expand their existing operations, and 3.2% plan to invest in new production plants.
- Challenges: When survey respondents were asked to identify the problems they anticipate lying ahead in 2017, topping the list is “lack of orders” (43.6%), followed by “foreign competition” (38.2%), “general labor shortage” (27.3%), “energy costs” (25.5%), and “higher labor costs” (25.5%).
- Opportunities: For 2017, 25.0% of respondents see commercial opportunity in automotive components, while 20.0% see that opportunity in fuel-efficient engine designs. Only aircraft/aerospace components (16.7%) and alternative-energy systems (10.0%) drew respondents in double digits.
Trends to Watch
Like most industrial manufacturers, forges remain committed to continuous improvement, regardless of market conditions. Because lean manufacturing is nothing new, today’s forges need to think outside the box—or beyond the shop floor—to find new improvement opportunities. As stated in the news brief, Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, “managers focused on continuous improvement should explore all of the ways they can save their operation time and money.”
For example, Weber Metals of Paramount, CA and Ulven Forging of Hubbard, OR have taken their lean manufacturing and other continuous improvement activities “above the shop floor” and into the front office. According to Forge magazine, this has resulted in numerous benefits for the companies, including improvements in traceability, quoting, product flow, and scheduling.
Another big trend within the forging industry is a commitment to technological advancement. Last year, the Forging Foundation (FIERF) and Forging Industry Association revised the industry’s Forging Technology Roadmap to develop, support and fund technology and research to benefit the North American forging industry. In early 2017, The FIERF Board approved funding for five new technology projects. Below are three of those projects, as reported by Forging magazine: 1. Forging of Magnesium Alloys for Automotive Applications. Professor May Wells, University of Waterloo, Dept. of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, and two graduate students, are engaged in the project that seeks “to design, build and validate an automotive, fatigue-critical component made of forged magnesium.” Ford Motor Co. is the industry partner to their research. 2. High-Strength, High-Toughness Microalloyed Steel Forgings Produced with Relaxed Forging Conditions and No Heat Treatment. Professor Anthony DeArdo, University of Pittsburgh, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, and a graduate student, are seeking a “new composition and process route for making high-strength, high-toughness forging with minimum die wear, limited distortion and no heat treatment.”
1. Forging of Magnesium Alloys for Automotive Applications. Professor May Wells, University of Waterloo, Dept. of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, and two graduate students, are engaged in the project that seeks “to design, build and validate an automotive, fatigue-critical component made of forged magnesium.” Ford Motor Co. is the industry partner to their research.
2. High-Strength, High-Toughness Microalloyed Steel Forgings Produced with Relaxed Forging Conditions and No Heat Treatment. Professor Anthony DeArdo, University of Pittsburgh, Dept. of Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science, and a graduate student, are seeking a “new composition and process route for making high-strength, high-toughness forging with minimum die wear, limited distortion and no heat treatment.”
3. Development of a Manufacturing Process for High-Power-Density Hollow Shafts. Professor Gracious Ngaile, North Carolina State University Dept. of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, with two student researchers will work to develop a cost-effective manufacturing process for high-power-density hollow shafts. The project’s industry partner is Mid-West Forge.
For a complete explanation of all five projects, you can read the entire article here.
Market forecasts aside, one thing is clear—today’s metal forging operations need to stay relevant and focused on the future. Improvement should continue to be the goal in 2017 and beyond, both in terms of process and technology. Forging may be a mature industry, but as the editors at Forge have stated over and over, with the efforts of industry leaders, it can still be advanced manufacturing.
In what areas can your forging operation advance in 2017?
May 20, 2017 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, industry news, LIT, operator training, predictive management, resource allocation, strategic planning
The year started out on a high note for machine shops, and current reports suggest the upward trend will continue throughout 2017. How should machine shops respond?
A Bright Picture
The new year meant good things for machine shops and other industrial metalworking companies. According to the Gardner Business Index, the metalworking industry grew in January for the first time since March 2015, reaching its highest point since May 2014.
That momentum has continued throughout the year. Both February and March registered growth, with the Index hitting its highest points since March 2012. Growth continued in April as well, although at a slightly slower rate. However, as Steven Kline, director of market Intelligence at Gardner Business Media, states here, “Expansion is still the greatest it has been in three years.”
Customer segments are also experiencing growth. According to Kline’s report, power generation was the fastest growing industry in April, growing for the second time in three months. Twelve other industries recorded strong growth as well. Industrial motors/hydraulics/mechanical components grew at an accelerated rate for the fourth month in a row; aerospace continued its streak of growth at six months; and job shops and oil/gas-field/mining machinery also grew in April.
Other economic indicators point to good news. As reported here by Cliff Waldman, chief economist at the MAPI Foundation, manufacturing employment has now increased for five consecutive months, with an average of 14,200 new jobs gained per month. “Overall, this is the most convincing evidence that the broad manufacturing picture is starting to show some real improvement from years of weakness,” Waldman states.
Getting Smart for the Future
Yes, the near-term picture looks bright for machine shops. However, industry leaders can’t rest on their laurels and need to be sure they are prepared for where the market is heading. Perhaps the biggest trend happening within manufacturing is what many call the “fourth industrial revolution.” As explained in a previously published blog, the fourth industrial revolution (also called “Industry 4.0”) is the advent of the long-awaited “smart factory,” in which connectivity and advanced technologies are being used to streamline decisions, optimize processes, eliminate waste, and reduce errors.
Companies like EVS Metal, a precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ, have already started thinking about what this means for their operation and how they can adapt. From a practical standpoint, shops can start by equipping components and machines with necessary Industry 4.0 features, such as sensors, actuators, machine-level software, and network access to measure productivity of metal-cutting equipment.
However, according to an article from Production Machining, companies need to more than just invest in technology. Matthew Kirchner, managing Director, Profit 360, explains here that manufacturers that wish to capitalize on the coming revolution will require a new level of knowledge, aptitude, and disciplines in the following four areas:
- Understanding throughput: The ability to understand a basic throughput equation, and how throughput is affected by machine speed, setup time, white time between operations, first pass yield and the like is fundamental to succeeding in a cyber-physical plant.
- Jacks of all trades: The lines between departments become increasingly grey as information and manufacturing technology connect and integrate them. The manufacturing operation of the future requires team members that can work fluidly across myriad industrial equipment and technology.
- Networking and control systems: Manufacturing technology will evolve relatively quickly to where every device has its own IP address. This will create what has been called a “hyper-connected Smart System of Systems” where endless streams of data are collected. A working understanding of this interconnectivity will be necessary.
- Inform-Actionable Data: The challenge of the manufacturer will not be a lack of data, but too much of it. Collecting, scrubbing, discerning, and analyzing this information will be fundamental to our ability to improve performance and process. Thus, industrial maintenance, factory automation, IT, and accounting will no longer be individual members of different departments or teams. Instead, they will become members of the same team whose charter is to drive enterprise-wide performance improvements using the tools now afforded them by the advent of cyber-physical systems.
Equipped for Success
As machine shops move into the second half of the year, the key will be to not only make the most of current market conditions, but to also strategically prepare for the future. Like any trend, it will take a while for the fourth industrial revolution to fully materialize. However, many experts are saying that industry leaders are embracing this next generation of manufacturing and, more importantly, are starting to make investments. Is your shop in a position to do the same?
May 10, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer service, human capital, industry news, maintaining talent, productivity, skills gap
Based on expert forecasts and industry sentiment, the outlook for 2017 continues to be hopeful. As stated in LIT’s 2017 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, metal fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting organizations are getting more and more optimistic about the near future, and recent market data looks promising.
While the latest outlook from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) expects “relatively sluggish” output growth for the manufacturing industry as a whole, the near-term forecast for Fabricated Metal Parts is positive. Specifically, MAPI forecasts that output growth for the Fabricated Metal Parts sector will register 1.8 percent in 2017 and 3.4 percent in 2018. In addition, March data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that both new orders and shipments of Fabricated Metal Parts were up 5.5 percent compared to 2016.
Recent data from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) is also encouraging. As stated here in a press release, economic activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in April. According to the Manufacturing ISM Report on Business, 16 out of 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in April 2017, with the Fabricated Metal Products sector nearing the top of the list. In fact, one survey respondent from the Fabricated Metal Products sector stated, “Business is definitely improving. Profit margins are increasing.”
This type of optimism seems to be prevalent throughout the industry. The first quarter Fabricating & Forming Job Shop Consumption Report from Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International (FMA) revealed that 61.9 percent of metal fabricating managers and shop owners see improving conditions for the coming quarter and another 34.3 percent expect things to stay the same. A mere 3.7 percent expect things to get worse. “This is the most confident the sector has been in a while,” says Chris Kuehl, FMA’s economic analyst.
That’s not to say that fabricators don’t have some concerns. After attending FMA’s Annual Meeting in March, Kuehl reports here that he noticed three key trends among attendees, including:
1. Cautious optimism. According to Kuehl, most fabricators appear to be optimistic but many remain cautious. “The years of an administration that was at best ambivalent toward business and at worse downright hostile are over,” he writes. “There are definitely mixed opinions about what happens under Trump, but thus far the promises are looked upon as encouraging. That said, there is doubt that many of the promises will be kept because of fierce opposition from many quarters and lack of faith in Trump’s diplomatic skills. Still, there is hope that some of the big issues will get the attention deserved—trade patterns, regulation, and taxes at the top of the list.”
2. People will stay at the top of the list of worries. The manufacturing skills gap continues to be an issue for most fabricators, according to Kuehl’s analysis. “It is harder than ever to find the employees needed,” he says. “Manufacturers aren’t finding qualified and eager job seekers no matter what they offer to pay. The powers that be have not yet addressed this problem, and that is immensely frustrating.”
3. Concerns about the future. Even with some renewed confidence, Kuehl says that fabricators and manufacturers are still concerned about the future and whether the industry is ready for developments it hasn’t seen in over 10 years. “Interest rates will be higher for the first time in over a decade, and inflation will be rearing its ugly head sooner rather than later,” he writes. “Add in the ramifications of a trade war or two, and the concern many have expressed [is] that the progress seen thus far could come to a screeching halt.”
Even with some potential challenges ahead, most fabricators remain focused on growth. Over the last few years, automotive has been a huge growth market for fabricators, but some experts believe that sales are slowing and the market is stabilizing. However, as stated in a blog post from Branam Fastening, there is still plenty of opportunity for growth in the following customer segments:
- Construction. The non-residential construction market is expected to grow an additional 6% in 2017. Metal roofing, HVAC, steel supports, and other complementary building products will also see an increase in demand.
- Oil. The price for a barrel of oil is expected to exceed $60 in 2017. Many experts believe that once it surpasses this threshold, it becomes advantageous for domestic oil producers to reignite exploration and production operations. New pipelines, rigs, storage containers and other metal fabricated products are expected to be in greater demand throughout the industry in 2017.
- Electronics: The electronics industry is expecting a 3.1% positive bump in domestic production in 2017 and 5.3% growth in 2018. This paves the way for an increase in metal fabricated products like custom encasements.
- Infrastructure: Estimates predict infrastructure budgets to grow between $275-$500 billion over the next 5 years. A big part of this spending will comprise airport repairs and construction, road repairs, bridges, railways, new stations, and waiting platforms. Opportunities for metal fabricators can be found throughout.
A Bright Future
Does the future look bright for metal fabricators? According to MAPI, there are certainly “glimmers of light,” and recent data certainly reflects that assessment. However, preparation and continuous improvement should still be a top priority for fabricators. As stated in the white paper, Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies, industry leaders need to remain focused on optimizing every aspect of their internal operations—regardless of market conditions—so they can be ready for whatever the future holds.
In what ways can you position your operation for growth in 2017?
May 5, 2017 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, optimization, strategic planning
Although 2016 didn’t end on a high note for metal service centers, many industry leaders and experts are confident about 2017.
Overall, 2016 wasn’t a stellar year for service centers. According to the Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI), service center shipments in the U.S. and Canada finished 2016 with year-over-year declines in both steel and aluminum. Inventories mostly remained below prior-year levels, though stocks crept up at year’s end.
Coming into 2017, forecasts were hopeful but guarded. As reported here by Metal Center News, analysts like Chris Kuehl of Armada Corporate Intelligence warned that factors such as the interest rates, inflation, the strong dollar, government grid lock, and tax reform would all play a role in determining the health and strength of the U.S. economy in 2017. In late January, M. Robert Weidner III, president and CEO of MSCI, voiced his concerns and urged the new Trump administration to take serious and immediate action to restore growth and to help the industrial metals supply chain fully recover from the lingering effects of the Great Recession and government policy.
Confidence, however, is growing in recent months. As stated in LIT’s 2017 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, metal service centers and other industrial metal-cutting organizations are getting more and more optimistic about the near future, and the latest market data looks promising.
After a flat February, U.S. service center steel shipments grew substantially across the board in March. Specifically, steel shipments increased by 9.7% from March 2016, and shipments of aluminum products increased by 13.0% from the same month in 2016. Inventory levels also showed improvement.
Meanwhile, industry leaders like Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co reported strong first-quarter results. According to the company, sales were up 11.9% from the first quarter of 2016 and up 17.4% from the fourth quarter of 2016. Gregg Mollins, president and CEO, said that improved demand, higher metal pricing, and continued strong execution resulted in record quarterly gross profit dollars and Reliance’s highest earnings per share and net income since the first quarter of 2012.
“2017 is off to a great start,” Mollins said in a news release. “Both pricing and demand levels are better than they were a year ago, and we are optimistic with regard to increased infrastructure and equipment spending on the horizon. We will continue to focus on maximizing our gross profit margin while diligently managing operating expenses and inventory levels as well as maximizing market opportunities to drive our earnings higher.”
In an April press release, Ryerson said it is “cautiously optimistic on demand for metal products in the first half of 2017.” The company anticipates higher revenue for the first quarter of 2017 compared to the fourth quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2016, with higher average selling prices and higher tons sold for the current quarter as compared to both periods. The key, the company states, will be to see “how positive sentiment ultimately converts to real demand for industrial metals.”
According to a report from MetalMiner, positive sentiment was also evident among attendees and speakers at this year’s S&P Global Platts Steel Markets North America conference, held in Chicago in late-March. Presentations and forecasts were mostly optimistic, MetalMiner writes here, although there were differences in opinions of what attendees should focus on in the coming months.
One of the conference presentations, given by Roy Berlin, president of Berlin Metals; Donald McNeeley, president of Chicago Tube & Iron; and Michael Lerman, president of Steel Warehouse, offered attendees three ways service centers can offer more value to the market. As reported by MetalMiner, these included the following:
- Embrace change but find an identity. Berlin noted that finding an identity in the industry is key. “Decide what it is you’re going to do and do it well. No, do it great, actually,” he said.
- Do more with less. According to McNeeley, service centers have to interject more automation. He said they need to do more with less and they cannot drive input costs down any more. On output costs, McNeely said companies cannot get customers to pay a premium for the market, so the only thing left in that channel is “operational excellence.”
- Tackle your internal costs. Lerman concluded by sharing that his company stays competitive by attacking its main internal costs: logistics, scrap, safety and healthcare. He also said that in today’s volatile market, service centers should seriously consider learning how to use and apply financial hedges where appropriate. “I know we have been taking advantage of it, and I think it is going to be more and more important as we move forward,” he noted.
Another key strategy will be for service centers to think outside the box when it comes to spending—and saving costs. According to the news brief, Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, managers focused on continuous improvement should explore all of the ways they can save their operation time and money. For example, if new equipment isn’t in the budget, perhaps second-hand equipment is an option. Although there is some risk in buying used equipment, when done correctly, this can be a cost-saving alternative for companies looking to expand their capacity or capabilities.
Onward and Upward
Most companies know by now that there are never any guarantees when it comes to the industrial metals sector. As stated in a recent article from Modern Metals, projections “still err on the side of caution, but much less so than their forecasts of previous years.” With renewed confidence and a few strategies in their back pockets, service centers can position themselves for both new opportunities and growth in 2017.