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How Gemba Visits Can Benefit Your Metal Forge

July 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , ,


Like most industrial manufacturing segments, metal forges have embraced lean manufacturing and the benefits it can bring. Although not every operation has the resources to undergo a total lean transformation, industry leaders like Jorgensen Forge have adopted simple lean tools and practices to eliminate waste, lower costs, and improve customer responsiveness.

One lean manufacturing tool that continues to gain popularity among operations managers is “going to the Gemba” or taking a “Gemba walk.” This practical lean tool gives management a clear view of what is happening on the plant floor and, more importantly, reveals areas for possible improvement. As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, “Gemba” is the Japanese term for “actual place,” but has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In a manufacturing environment, this is typically the shop floor. Many lean experts advise manufacturing executives to make time to visit this place—known as taking a “Gemba walk”—so they can see their operation from the front lines.

There are several ways managers can “go to the Gemba.” According to a Target Online article from the Association of Manufacturing Excellence, there are three types of Gemba visits:

  1. Leadership Gemba Visits. In these visits, the focus is on the culture, developing trust, learning more about the operations, and finding ways to improve the working conditions of the team members. These Gemba visits are typically conducted by managers and executives (individually or in pairs). They don’t usually have an agenda or follow a prescribed process. The leader simply goes to the Gemba to engage with the team members in a meaningful way and searches for opportunities to make their work less frustrating and more fulfilling.
  2. Leader Standard Work Gemba Walks. These Gemba walks typically have an agenda or a theme and occur on a regular cadence. These are structured and can be done individually or in groups. Many management teams have standard processes for visiting team huddles, checking hour-by-hour charts, doing 5S audits, or doing safety observations. Others visit the Gemba with a specific theme in mind for the walk, such as reviewing autonomous maintenance practices, learning about kaizen activities, discussing safety procedures, reviewing visual management practices, etc.
  3. Problem-Solving Gemba Visits. Typically, the purpose of a problem-solving Gemba visit is to go to the source of a problem in order to observe it first-hand, talk to those closest to the problem, and determine if countermeasures are needed while working to determine the root cause of the problem. This is also a great opportunity for leaders to talk to team members about the problem-solving process and root cause analysis.

Why are Gemba visits so important? This article from The Leadership Network lists a few ways Gemba visits can be beneficial:

  1. First-hand knowledge is the highest form of information. A regular Gemba walk will give managers transparent and unmediated knowledge that is needed to challenge and validate assumptions made by data.
  2. Perspective is gained through experience. A regular Gemba walk allows managers to understand the challenges employees need to overcome on a daily basis to deliver the results that are being promised in the boardroom.
  3. Both people and process matter equally. A regular Gemba walk will help develop a culture that fixes the problems in a process and not one that blames the people performing the process.

If Gemba visits aren’t currently part of your management strategy, perhaps it is time to explore the ways in which it could improve your operation. To read more about this lean manufacturing tool, check out the slideshare presentation, Gemba 101, or read this overview article from iSixSigma.

Making Your Machine Shop More Sustainable

July 15, 2017 / , , , , , ,


As we reported in last month’s blog, “Machine Outlook for 2017 and Beyond,” market conditions continue to look good for machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting operations. Even in a good market, however, industry leaders know it is important to continue to watch costs. Any edge you can carve out against the competition is beneficial.

According to the brief, “Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” this may require companies to think a little outside the box. “In the spirit of continuous improvement, best-in-class managers need to explore all of the ways they can save their operation time and money,” the brief states.

One way shops are reducing costs is adopting more sustainable manufacturing practices. Whether implementing strategic energy plans or adopting a few environmentally friendly practices, today’s industrial manufacturers are finding that “going green” can provide bottom-line savings.

As reported here by Modern Machine Shop, manufacturing consumes the equivalent of 3.6 billion barrels of crude oil every year—1/5 of all energy consumed in the U.S. Additionally, depending on the manufacturing process, energy can encompass as much as 50 percent of the cost of production. Based on these numbers, it seems reasonable to argue that not only do manufacturers have a social responsibility to reduce their energy usage, but they could save some money by doing so.

London-based sheet metal company Harlow Group, for example, was able to reduce electrical costs by approximately $38,000 per year after installing a new heating system, low-energy lighting, and implementing a formal shut-down policy for heavy equipment.

To help your machine shop begin the move toward sustainability, an article from ThomasNet.com describes three key steps:

  1. Analyze Your Current Organization’s Environmental Impact. Start by analyzing your energy usage. Determine how energy sources are used in your production processes and how they might influence the environment. It is also important to look at your operation’s water usage and the types of materials you are using on the shop floor. Are they recyclable or hazardous? How necessary are they to the production process?
  2. Reduce Waste Where You Can. Once you understand where your organization stands, you can take steps towards a more environmentally friendly facility. Fortunately, these steps don’t have to be giant strides; you can start small and make incremental, strategic improvements.
  3. Find Ways To Leverage Renewable Energy. Leveraging renewable energy is one of the best ways to create a more sustainable facility. Renewable energy options are plentiful, and they include sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. In addition to saving on raw energy costs, you may also be able to take advantage of tax incentives, depending on the state you live in.

For some more specific actions your shop can take, check out this list of energy-saving tips from Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, which includes ideas such as avoiding peak energy rate periods and checking for compressed air system leaks. You may also want to read this article from Canadian Metalworking that discusses eco-friendly coolants and coolant recycling.

Does your shop consider sustainability as a bottom-line operating principle? If so, what new practices can you adopt to keep your industrial metal-cutting company at the leading edge? 

Developing Strong Talent in Your Fabrication Shop

July 10, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , ,


Historically, the trend has been for metal companies to put process over people. The manufacturing industry’s shortage of workers with the necessary skills (also known as the “skills gap”), however, is forcing companies to allocate resources back to their workforce.

For many companies, this means changing the way they train and maintain talent, whether that means beefing up training programs or rethinking their hiring tactics. Rockwell Automation, for example, is working to recruit military veterans and leverage their unique skill sets. “We’ve been able to develop a truly groundbreaking program that will help solve a challenge critical to fueling the future growth of the manufacturing sector,” Blake Moret CEO of Rockwell Automation, states here in a press release. “Military veterans possess a unique combination of technical savvy and core work skills that makes them well-positioned for careers in today’s advanced manufacturing environments.”

Companies are also reevaluating how they are maintaining their talent. As lean manufacturing expert Jamie Flinchbaugh says here in IndustryWeek, you can’t “just hire talent and then leave it alone.” Continuous improvement applies to all areas of an operation, including training and maintaining talent.

According to Flinchbaugh, when it comes to building a strong team, manufacturers should consider the following:

  1. Put the right talent in the right place. Hiring is part of this, but so is organizational design. Too often Flinchbaugh says he sees organizations reward talent by taking them out of the place they perform the best. That’s like taking your best hitter on the team and making them a team coach before their retirement as a reward. So top salespeople become sales managers, and top engineers become engineering managers. Is that the best use of their talent?
  2. Talent is responsible for its own improvement. Your talent should hold the primary responsibility for their own development. A lean thinker should be encouraged to improve their talent in any skill that matters, whether personal or professional.
  3. Coach and train. Making the development of talent a core part of your business means integrating it into your management systems. This is not something to delegate to human resources. The hardest part of this is how you leverage your top talent. While not everyone is suited to coaching and training, leveraging your top talent to build more talent is the long-term play.

In a metal-working environment, it is also critical that operators and other employees feel valued. While the idea of empowering employees sounds a bit cliché, a growing number of managers are finding that operators who take ownership of their process or work area are invaluable. According to the brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” operator “buy-in” can positively affect all aspects of an industrial metal-cutting operation, including quality, productivity, and in the end, the bottom line. Similarly, when employees feel disconnected, those same business areas can be negatively affected. Strategies such as collecting feedback, goal setting, and incentives are good ways to encourage employee ownership from the start.

As the skills gap has proven, investing in talent is just as important as investing in technology and process. Metal-cutting companies—not to mention the manufacturing industry at large—can’t afford to neglect one of its greatest assets. In the end, building and cultivating high-quality talent is necessary for building and cultivating high-quality services and products.