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Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

Engaging Employees Is Key to Continuous Improvement in Your Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing Operation

December 30, 2016 / , , , , , ,


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:

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?

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Focus on Sustainability as Strategy

November 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


In today’s challenging market, any edge you can carve out against the competition is beneficial. While traditional improvement strategies such as lean manufacturing, ongoing training, and preventative maintenance can help improve your operational success, top performers are looking beyond long-established methods to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

According to the brief, “Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” industry leaders understand the importance of thinking 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.

Enter sustainability—the latest initiative manufacturers are using to reduce costs and gain a competitive advantage. Whether implementing strategic energy plans or adopting more environmentally friendly processes, today’s industrial manufacturers are finding that “going green” can provide bottom-line savings.

For example, according to The U.S. Green Building Council report, LEED in Motion: Industrial Facilities, more than 1,755 industrial facilities have received a voluntary green building certification system called LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. As stated here in a blog from Frost & Sullivan, experts believe that the operational efficiencies gained by following LEED building principles are real and measurable.

Take Fiat Chrysler’s Trenton South Engine plant as an example. The Michigan-based facility was the world’s first engine plant to achieve a Gold LEED rating, which has helped cut the plant’s annual CO2 emissions by 12,000 metric tons, reduced energy consumption by 39%, and saved about $1.6 million a year.

Ball and roller bearing manufacturers are following suit. For the last 17 years, industry leader SKF has been listed as one of the most sustainable companies by the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI). “Our long-running inclusion in the DJSI is something that we are all very proud of within SKF,” stated Rob Jenkinson, director of corporate sustainability at SKF. “Sustainability issues for businesses have evolved during this period, with an ever increasing focus on reducing negative environmental impacts and doing more for society as a whole. We maintain our focus on understanding these issues and the role we can play to help address them—now, and in the future.”

New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Inc. (NHBB) is also focused on sustainability as a strategy and has a formal Energy Management Plan in place. “Energy management is at the core of our strategy to achieve sustainability because it is so vital to our long term health,” the company says on its website. “Rapid economic growth, especially in the developing world, is expected to increase global energy consumption 40% by 2035. The expected increase in energy costs and the potential for supply disruptions compels us to identify and implement aggressive energy efficiency improvements.”

Instead of embracing sustainability as something that’s just “good to do,” more and more manufacturers are realizing that there are practical short-term and long-term financial benefits to implementing environmentally conscious improvements, according to a blog from the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). The industry group lists five key business advantages to adopting sustainable practices. The following are the top three: (You can read the full list here.)

  1. Reduce Energy-Related Costs. Energy and water costs are a prime concern for manufacturers. Focusing on improvements can reduce these expenses, typically on an annual basis. In addition, switching to energy-efficient lighting and adjusting lighting levels in accordance with your production schedule will reduce your long-term electrical costs. Regular equipment inspections can also prove beneficial.
  2. Attract New Customers and Increase Sales. Green and sustainable practices can make your company more marketable. Consumers are more conscious of the environment, and making improvements will strengthen your reputation. Whether you’re an OEM or a supplier, highlighting your initiatives to the public will help you attract a whole new base of customers, resulting in increased sales.
  3. Tax Incentives. There are a variety of tax credits and rebates on both the federal and state level for manufacturers who proactively implement more sustainable improvements. There may be incentives available to your business. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s website and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

Of course, the bigger picture benefit of sustainability is its positive impact on the environment. However, as Fiat, SKF, NHBB, and many other industrial manufacturers are discovering, developing and integrating a detailed sustainability vision into your long-term strategic plan can have real, measurable business advantages that contribute to the bottom line.

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

Using Predictive Analytics in Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing

October 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


In today’s competitive and quickly changing market, manufacturers are finding that it pays to be proactive—not reactive—in their strategic approaches. That’s why a growing number of industrial manufacturers are starting to take a serious look at advanced technologies like predictive analytics, which allows them to not only measure performance, but to also predict and prevent future challenges.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, more than 500 senior manufacturing executives from around the world ranked predictive analytics as the number one technology vital to their companies’ future competitiveness. As reported here, another report from Aberdeen Group shows that 86 percent of top-performing manufacturers are already using predictive analytics to reduce risk and improve operations, compared to 38 percent of those companies with an average performance and 26 percent of those with less than stellar results.

The trend has found its way into industrial metal cutting as well. According to the LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 industrial metal-cutting organizations, companies can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”

What is Predictive Analytics?
Predictive analytics utilizes a variety of statistical and analytical techniques to develop mathematical models that “predict” future events or behaviors based on past data. As the Deloitte study explains, this allows companies to uncover hidden patterns, relationships, and greater insights by analyzing both structured and unstructured data.

In a manufacturing environment, companies can use predictive analytics to measure the health of production equipment and detect potential failures. However, the possibilities are virtually limitless. According to one analyst’s blog, manufacturers could potentially use software and predictive analytics to forecast potential staffing or supply-chain interruptions, such as a flu outbreak that could cause a temporary personnel shortage or even a blizzard that could disrupt deliveries.

Bearing manufacturing leader Timken has taken a different approach and is using predictive analytics to improve inventory optimization and supply chain performance in the automotive aftermarket sector. As reported by SearchAutoParts.com, Timken is leveraging sales history, registration data, and other information, along with complex analytics, to improve sales and reduce costs.

“Timken’s catalog team matches parts and vehicles, and combines that information with vehicle registration and replacement/failure rates, along with internal sales data,” the article explains. “Crunching that data using proprietary algorithms helps them predict how many parts will be needed in a given geography, and how those parts sales will fall within the premium aftermarket, economy aftermarket and OEMs.”

Common Use Cases
Because predictive analytics is an emerging technology, applications are typically specific to each manufacturer’s products and processes—as in the Timken example. However, an article from Toolbox.com describes four common use cases for predictive analytics that are applicable in most manufacturing environments:

  1. Quality Improvement. Improvements in databases and data storage and easier-to-use analytical software are the big changes for quality improvement. Standard quality improvement analysis is being pushed toward less technical analysts using new software that automates much of the analytical process. Storing more information about products and the manufacturing process also leads to analysis of more factors that influence quality.
  2. Demand Forecast. Predictive analytics takes historical sales data and applies forms of regression to predict future sales based upon past sales. Good predictive analytics modelers find additional factors that influenced sales in the past and apply those factors into forecasted sales models.
  3. Preventative Maintenance. Predictive analytics increases production equipment uptime. Knowing that a machine is likely to break down in the near future means a manufacturer can perform the needed maintenance in non-emergency conditions without shutting down production.
  4. Machine Utilization. Predictive analytics applications for machine scheduling combines forecast for demand with product mix to optimize machine utilization. Using new predictive analytics techniques improves accuracy.

Predicting Success
While there is no question that predictive analytics is still new to many ball and roller bearing manufacturers, industry leaders know that proactive strategies are key in today’s uncertain market. Finding ways to anticipate future events and reduce unplanned downtime can not only help your operation gain efficiency but, more importantly, help you stay competitive.

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

Determining which KPIs to Measure in Your Ball and Roller Bearing Operation

September 30, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Most companies that have adopted lean manufacturing strategies know the importance of measurement. When a manufacturing operation can quantitatively assess their performance, it can start to make significant improvements and set realistic goals to stay competitive. In fact, according to a series of case studies on high production metal-cutting companies, measurement was noted as a key best practice.

However, metrics are only meaningful if they are tied to strategy. That’s where key performance indicators (KPIs) come into play. Unfortunately, some companies fail to understand the purpose of KPIs and, therefore, are unable to take full advantage of the benefits they can provide. All KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. Understanding the difference is critical.

What are KPIs?
KPIs are the measurements selected by a company to give an overall indication of the health of the business. KPIs are typically dominated by historical, financial measurements, but most experts agree that they are more valuable if they also include operational measurements. Unfortunately, choosing the right KPIs to track isn’t as easy as it sounds and takes careful consideration.

There are hundreds of KPIs that can be measured, but experts suggest that companies focus on a select few. According to the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC), manufacturers need to make sure all KPIs are aligned with the company’s business goals and strategy. Tasks should be explicit and all actions should support a larger goal. When it comes to KPIs, it is quality—not quantity—that matters.

Choosing the Right KPI
Because they are tied to strategy, KPIs will vary by organization. However, an article from Red Lion outlines seven of the common production KPIs used on automated plant floors:

  1. Count (Good or Bad). An essential factory floor metric relates to the amount of product produced. The count (good or bad) typically refers to either the amount of product produced since the last machine changeover or the production sum for the entire shift or week.
  2. Reject Ratio. Production processes occasionally produce scrap, which is measured in terms of reject ratio. Minimizing scrap helps organizations meet profitability goals so it is important to track whether or not the amount being produced is within tolerable limits.
  3. Rate. Machines and processes produce goods at variable rates. When speeds differ, slow rates typically result in dropped profits while faster speeds affect quality control. This is why it is important for operating speeds to remain consistent.
  4. Target. Many organizations display target values for output, rate and quality. This KPI helps motivate employees to meet specific performance targets.
  5. Takt Time. Takt time is the amount of time, or cycle time, for the completion of a task. This could be the time it takes to produce a product, but it more likely relates to the cycle time of specific operations. This KPI helps manufacturers quickly determine where the constraints or bottlenecks are within a process.
  6. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). OEE is a metric that multiplies availability by performance and quality to determine resource utilization. Production managers want OEE values to increase because this indicates more efficient utilization of available personnel and machinery.
  7. Downtime. Whether the result of a breakdown or simply a machine changeover, downtime is considered one of the most important KPI metrics to track. When machines are not operating, money isn’t being made so reducing downtime is an easy way to increase profitability.

Making it Count
For many managers, the above list and the resulting data may feel overwhelming. Others may be so afraid of missing something that they end up measuring more information than necessary. For example, research from the Advanced Performance Institute finds that less than 10% of all the metrics that are collected, analyzed and reported in businesses are ever used to inform decision-making.  That means 90% of the metrics are wasted, or worse, used to drown people in data while they are thirsting for insights.

The question then becomes: How many KPIs are enough? Or, even more so, how much data is too much?

An article from IndustryWeek suggests that companies follow the “Rule of Three,” which involves dividing all KPIs into organizational categories and then focusing on the top three metrics within that category. This is a good way to keep managers focused on improvement without data overload.

If you are still unsure where to place your focus, the University of Wisconsin-Madison recommends that manufacturers in 2016 zero in on KPIs that fall under the following four themes:

As a high production manufacturer, odds are that your ball and roller bearing operation is already tracking some of the above KPIs. However, if that is not the case, now is the time to start identifying a few to measure. If the process feels overwhelming, do some research, ask your supply chain for help, and get started. In the words of quality expert H. James Harrington: “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and, eventually, to improvement.”

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

A Look at Local Sourcing in Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing

August 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


There is no question that the supply chain is evolving. As reported in a previously published blog, instead of treating supplier relationships as a series of business transactions, more and more manufacturers are treating their supply chain as a valuable part of their business strategy. In fact, this trend is listed as a best practice in the eBook, 5 Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization.

With an increased focus on building closer partnerships with suppliers, it’s not too surprising that many companies are starting to move back to sourcing suppliers closer to home. As one article from Automotive World quips, “local sourcing—it’s the new global sourcing.”

According to the AW article, local sourcing can bring cost savings across the entire supply chain, especially in light of rising costs in traditionally low-cost regions. “This phenomenon of local sourcing is being witnessed across the globe, with leading OEMs sourcing locally from developed as well as emerging countries,” the article states.

A report released by MFG.com, an online manufacturing marketplace, shows similar trends. Based on the data gathered from buyers of custom manufactured parts from the MFG Watch 2016 marketplace survey, 80% of U.S. sourcing professionals chose to source their parts predominantly in the U.S. The report also found that since 2012, buyers have seemingly moved away from sourcing from Chinese suppliers, as sourcing in China has fallen by about 14% in 3 years.

It is worth noting that the MFG.com report found that U.S. sourcing professionals nearly doubled their sourcing activities in regions like Eastern & Central Europe, as well as South America and North Africa. In other words, not everyone has jumped on the bandwagon.

However, there are definitely some benefits for ball and roller bearing manufacturers that choose local sourcing. Local suppliers, for example, can quickly and easily respond to any troubleshooting or maintenance problems with your tooling and equipment, often in-person. They can also assist with other key business areas, such as preventative maintenance and operator training.

Of course, those are just a few examples. An article from Thomasnet gives a more comprehensive list in its article, “Top 6 Benefits of Local Sourcing:”

  1. More Reactive. Local suppliers are typically more reactive than suppliers who are farther away. They are able to deliver products quicker, and it is much easier for a supplier to coordinate a shipment across the neighborhood than around the world.
  2. Greater Control. The further away you are from elements of your supply chain, the less control you have over them. There’s also less chance of things being “lost in translation,” which often occurs when working with far-flung teams of people, many of whom aren’t actually on the floor and touching your products.
  3. Reduced Supply Chain Costs. North American businesses send and receive parts and products all over the continent, and the expenses can add up as quickly as the miles. Localizing your supply chain can reduce many of these costs. And, with less money being sunk into logistics, there will be less weighing down your bottom line.
  4. Better for Business. Local sourcing doesn’t just help save money; it can also help you generate more of it. That’s because companies in your region may be impressed by your efforts to keep a tight and fast-paced supply chain, which can help you attract new customers.
  5. Good for the Community. It stands to reason that if sourcing locally increases your bottom line, it would do the same for other suppliers and manufacturers in your area, which can be a big boon to your local economy and the people who live there.
  6. Helps the Environment. Localizing your supply chain represents a tremendous opportunity to help the environment. When you reduce shipping and storage, you also reduce emissions and energy usage.

Whether building cars or manufacturing ball bearings, more and more operations managers are finding that their success is directly tied to collaborative vendor relationships—relationships that go far beyond the sale of a product. While not everyone believes in local sourcing, it is one of the many ways you can build closer, more valuable relationships with your supply chain.

To read more about building valuable supplier relationships, including some key areas where suppliers can help, check out the white paper, Managing Your Blade Manufacturer Relationship.

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

4 Strategies Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Can Use to Improve Operator Training

July 30, 2016 / , , , , ,


As manufacturers continue to seek ways to reduce the industry’s skills gap, more and more emphasis is being placed on human capital. While the tendency has been for companies to focus more on technology than on people, companies are starting to understand the value of investing in their employees as they attempt to attract a new generation of workers—a generation that doesn’t have the necessary skills or even interest in manufacturing.

One huge area that manufacturers are focusing on is operator training. Many companies are either updating their current programs or rebuilding their entire training process to not only ensure that new employees have the right skills, but to keep them motivated and excited about their manufacturing careers.

Of course, there are several tactics ball and roller bearing manufacturers can employ to enhance their training programs. Based on research from the LENOX Institute of Technology, the following four strategies are worth noting:

What strategies are you using to improve training at your manufacturing operation?

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

Choosing Between Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma for your Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing Operation

June 30, 2016 / , , , ,


At this point, most high production manufacturers know that continuous improvement (CI) is imperative to their success. However, knowing where to start can often be both intimidating and frustrating. Active change takes time and costs money, so managers need to be sure they are strategically choosing the right methods to achieve their operational goals.

For many companies, achieving CI includes applying some type of formal methodology.  Two of the most widely used tools are lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. While both of these methods can be used to improve productivity and profitability, their approaches are not the same. Understanding the difference between these two methods is important not only for managers trying to choose the right organizational improvement program, but for those who are considering combining the two.

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers make the right choice, the following is a quick primer on lean manufacturing and Six Sigma:

Lean Manufacturing
Over the last ten years, the term “lean” has moved beyond an industry buzzword to an industry expectation. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Company, most manufacturers have incorporated some form of lean principles into their operations. From ball and roller bearing manufacturers like Timken and CPM Bearing to manufacturing giants like Toyota and Nike, leaders are applying lean principles to every aspect of their business to achieve productivity and agility.

But what does it mean to be “lean?” According to leanproduction.com, lean manufacturing is “a collection of tips, tools, and techniques that have been proven effective for driving waste out of the manufacturing process.” Toyota is credited for developing it in the 1980s, and over the years it has been used by manufacturers worldwide to improve all facets of the manufacturing business, from quality assurance to human resources.

Below are some key attributes of lean manufacturing, as defined here by The Process Excellence Network:

Six Sigma
Although not as popular as lean manufacturing, Six Sigma has been successfully used by several big-name manufacturing leaders, including 3M and General Electric.

iSixSigma defines Six Sigma as “a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects in any process, from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service.” It was developed in the mid-1980s by Motorola engineers who were unhappy with traditional quality metrics. In response, they developed a new standard, as well as the methodology and needed cultural change associated with it. Six Sigma gained popularity in the 1990s after General Electric adopted it as part of its business strategy.

Below are some key attributes of Six Sigma, as defined by The Process Excellence Network:

The above is just a brief overview of two of the most widely used improvement methodologies and only touches on some of their main characteristics. For some industry perspectives on the pros and cons of each method, read this series of editorials published by the American Society of Quality (ASQ). For information on how managers can strategically utilize lean and Six Sigma methods together, check out the recent article, “Lean and Six Sigma: Synergy at Work,” from Modern Machine Shop.

How are you applying lean manufacturing or Six Sigma tools in your manufacturing operation?

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

Tips for Improving Circular Saw Blade Life in Ball and Roller Bearing Production

May 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , ,


For any metal-cutting operation, bottlenecks are the enemy. Whether caused by machine error, tooling failure, user error, or some other maintenance issue, the end result is typically the same—increased downtime, rework, and scrap, all of which eat into the bottom line. And for a high-production operation like ball and roller bearing manufacturing, a hiccup in early sawing operations can quickly wreak havoc on the entire production process and schedule.

Although circular sawing may seem like a simple operation, there are number of variables that play a role in achieving consistent, quality cuts while also getting the most out of each saw blade. As an archived article from Fabricating & Metalworking explains, “Saws are very much like the people who use them: they don’t react well to heat, shock, abrasion, stress, and tension.” Far too often, managers and operators ignore these critical factors and, as a result, experience premature blade failure and end up going through far more blades than necessary.

Proper cutting speeds, feed rates, blade tension, and lubrication all tie into blade life—a factor any blade buyer knows is critical when it comes to cost.

“Precision circular saw blades can be upwards of  $200 a piece, so you don’t want to just go through those,” Mike Baron, vice president of Jett Cutting, says in a case study published by the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT). “If I am getting 100 pieces an hour at this setting, but push it up to get 150, I may be going through twice as many blades. It just isn’t cost effective.”

Glen Sliwa, maintenance manager at metal service center A.M. Castle & Co, also focuses on blade life to better manage costs. In addition to following a strict preventative maintenance program to save on tooling and equipment costs, Sliwa says it is just as critical to ensure operators know how to optimize blade life. This includes training operators to follow manufacturer suggested cutting parameters, as well as closely tracking tolerance requirements so blades can be reused whenever possible.

“We’re looking at how many pieces that we can get off that blade and then stand perpendicular to the part,” Sliwa explains. “If you have to stay within ten-thousandths or five-thousandths on the cut, and that blade is no good, I can take it off that machine and put it on another one and I can cut an eighth of an inch, 125 thousandths. So I’m still getting more blade life out of it, but it’s not interfering with that customer’s specifications.”

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers extend the life of their circular saw blades, the below chart offers a few troubleshooting tips from LIT’s reference guide, “Tips and Tricks to Optimize Your Precision Circular Sawing Operation.” By understanding some common blade issues and their root causes, operators can reduce premature blade failure and, in turn, improve your  operation’s overall productivity and save on tooling costs.
chart 3

For more downloadable information on optimizing your company’s precision circular sawing operation, you can visit LIT’s resource page here.

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Focus on Improvement in 2016

April 30, 2016 / , , , , ,


So far, 2016 hasn’t been a stellar year for the manufacturing industry. Not that anyone expected it to be. Like most industrial manufacturers, ball and roller bearing manufacturers anticipated little to no growth in 2016, and unfortunately, market data has confirmed those suspicions. With longer-term forecasts looking hopeful, industry leaders are focusing on optimizing internal operations to stay profitable and edge out the competition.

Disappointing Data
As we reported in our 2016 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, expansion in the industrial manufacturing sector has been slow moving. The market is—in a word—flat. Monthly data on manufacturing activity has been up and down for the last several months, which has pretty much canceled out any real growth.

For example, the monthly Purchasing Manufacturers’ Index (PMI) from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) showed no growth in January and February, but then increased by 2.3 percentage points in March. This put the index above the 50% growth threshold for the first time in 2016, offering manufacturers some hope. Unfortunately, April’s PMI declined by 1 percentage point to 50.8%, barely above the 50 level that indicates stagnation. According to IndustryWeek, challenges such as lax global demand and the fallout from a weakened U.S. energy industry continue to stifle manufacturing growth.

Short-term forecasts expect the market to remain flat. According to the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), industrial manufacturing industrial production will likely register zero growth in the first half of 2016, with 1% to 2% growth in the third and fourth quarters. For the entire year, the research firm forecasts only 1.1% growth.

Long-term forecasts are a little brighter. MAPI predicts growth in industrial manufacturing of more than 2 percent for both 2017 and 2018. Demand for ball and roller bearing manufacturing in particular is also expected to improve. According to an industry analysis from research firm IBISWorld, slowly growing exports and relatively low metal prices have limited revenue growth over the last five years. However, IBIS anticipates that “persistent demand for roller and ball bearings promises to buoy industry revenue in the five years to 2020.” While growth is likely to remain moderate because of heightened import competition, IBIS believes that slowly recovering metal prices should help operators raise their selling prices.

Focused on Improvement
While no one is happy about the sluggish market, industry leaders weren’t anticipating major growth. In its annual report, Sweden-based SKF estimated that the global roller bearing market’s size in 2015 grew by only 0 to 1% year-on-year. Entering the first quarter of 2016, Alrik Danielson, SKF’s president and CEO, said the global bearings company expected macro-economic uncertainty to continue. “As a result, we expect demand to be relatively unchanged sequentially but slightly lower year-on-year,” he stated.

North Canton, OH-based Timken reported a similar forecast for 2016 after releasing its first-quarter results. “During the quarter, we executed well and delivered first-quarter results in line with our expectations even though market conditions globally remain weak, particularly in commodity-related sectors,” said Richard G. Kyle, Timken president and chief executive officer. “Looking ahead, we expect continued challenging market conditions in 2016.”

To weather the current conditions, Timken said it was focused on winning new business and delivering on its cost-reduction initiatives, while SKF said that it planned to invest in “improving and optimizing its existing production capacity.” This falls in line with what many others are doing as well. As described in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal Cutting, staying competitive in today’s global market requires manufacturers to find new ways to both differentiate themselves and minimize costs.

“This means continuous improvement is critical,” the paper states. “To keep costs low and production efficient, best-in class companies are optimizing every aspect of their operation, including basic shop floor processes like metal cutting. From getting the most out of their circular saw blades to enforcing daily preventative maintenance checks, today’s top executives know that even the smallest improvement has a bottom-line implication.”

Although no one can truly predict what the rest of 2016 will bring for ball and roller bearing manufacturers, it seems safe to say that growth will be minimal in the short-term. However, leaders that remain focused on optimizing operations can survive current market conditions and, more importantly, prepare for growth in the future.

How are you preparing for growth? What continuous improvement activities is your manufacturing operation focusing on in 2016?

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers

Why Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Should Consider Taking a Gemba Walk

March 30, 2016 / , , , , , ,


Like every other high-production manufacturing segment, ball and roller bearing manufacturers have embraced lean manufacturing and the benefits it can bring. Some industry leaders like Timken have gone through total lean transformations, while others have opted to incorporate some simple lean tools or basic principles into their operation.

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.

“Managers are not supposed to use this walk as a time to find fault or enforce policy, nor as a time to solve problems or make changes on the spot,” the eBook states. “Instead, a Gemba walk should be a time of observation and learning. Leadership should go on the walk with an open mind and welcome suggestions from operators and other shop floor employees.”

Why is a Gemba walk so important? A recent article from The Leadership Network provides three reasons why a regular Gemba walk is 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.

In theory, a Gemba walk sounds fairly simple. Walking around and talking to operators seems pretty straightforward. However, there are a few tips managers should keep in mind before heading to the shop floor. IndustryWeek offers managers five suggestions to consider as they prepare for their Gemba walk:

Could a Gemba walk benefit your operation? To read more about this lean manufacturing tool, check out the slideshare presentation, Gemba 101, or this overview article from iSixSigma.

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