How Metal Forges Can Keep Employees Engaged in Times of Change

October 25, 2015 / , , , , , ,

Thanks to the popularity of lean principles like continuous improvement, change is fairly commonplace in the current manufacturing landscape. Or, at least, it is supposed to be. Whether incremental improvements or major overhauls, manufacturing leaders are encouraged to make continual changes to products, services, and processes to achieve success in today’s market. Change is not only critical; it is necessary.

“Change is the only constant,” writes manufacturing consultant Lisa Anderson in a blog published in Liquid Planner. “Companies are looking for opportunities to improve margins, accelerate cash flow, and cut costs. Only those companies that change will endure.”

The problem is that most people resist change. This leaves managers with the challenging task of implementing and communicating the change, and more importantly, getting everyone else on board. According to Anderson, “only those teams that embrace change, and the leaders who engage people around change initiatives will thrive. The others will be left in the dust.”

There is no question that effective change management is hard, especially in a mature industry like metal forging, where seasoned operators can be accustomed to doing things “the way they’ve always been done.” Something as simple as adding preventative maintenance tasks to an operator’s typical “to do” list can quickly cause morale issues if not handled—or communicated—correctly.

When employees don’t “buy-in” into a change, they can feel disconnected from their job, which can negatively affect quality and productivity. On the other hand, when employees are engaged and feel part of the change, those same business areas can be positively affected. As stated in 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.”

If your forge is currently implementing change or is looking to do so in the future, an article from IndustryWeek provides ten guiding principles for successfully leading change management. The following is a summary of some of the key principles, but you can view the complete IndustryWeek article and an accompanying video here [LINK]:

Is your forge going through a time of change right now? How are you keeping employees engaged?


A Look at Inbound Quality Inspection in Your Forging Operation

September 25, 2015 / , , , , , , ,

When most managers think about quality, they tend to think about their internal operations and the competency of their employees. Quality control is largely based on the processes that managers have put in place to ensure that tolerances are met, cosmetic expectations are achieved, and errors are kept to a minimum.

However, it is important for managers to remember that quality begins with the supply chain. According to the white paper, Top 5 Operating Challenges for Forges That Cut and Process Metal, operations managers need to be sure they are tracking the quality and accuracy of the material coming from the supplier. Product liability and traceability continue to be huge concerns for forges and other metal-cutting companies, and raw material mix-ups can be both expensive and dangerous. Even major organizations like Boeing and NASA have learned this lesson the hard way.

Put simply: thorough inbound inspection processes are just as critical as outbound quality processes. By taking the time to confirm what is coming in the door, forges can confidently supply products that are both accurate and fail-safe.

The most successful way to ensure inbound quality is to devise a standard operating procedure (SOP). If you don’t already have one in place, an archived article on alloy verification from provides a good starting point. According to the article, a good SOP should include the following six components:

(For a detailed explanation of these six components, check out the full article here.)

If you already have a standardized inbound quality process in place, another article from Quality Magazine suggests ten ways manufacturers can optimize this critical procedure. Below are a few best practices that will likely apply to your forging operation:

In the end, quality starts well before a piece of material even makes its way to the shop floor. Don’t underestimate the value of verification—or the cost of assumption. By implementing, enforcing, and optimizing inbound quality inspection processes, managers can stand behind every product that comes in—and goes out—their doors.


Best Practices for Maintaining Safety in Your Forge

August 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,

Almost every manufacturer understands the importance of maintaining a safe operation. Although high safety scores won’t typically win an operation more customers, low incident rates are often a sign that an operation is efficient and that workers are well trained. A good safety record can also result in lower maintenance and insurance costs, as well as higher quality and employee satisfaction. As a previous blog revealed, some forges even consider safety a strategy.

However, as recent headlines have shown, even the most successful manufacturing operations can let their standards slide. If managers don’t continue to put safety first—or have audit processes in place—the reality is that a shop may find itself in a full-blown safety crisis that could have been avoided.

To help forges maintain a safety-first operation, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) researched some of best practices being used by industry leaders. Read below to discover some simple safety strategies that can easily be adopted by any forging operation:


Applying 5S Methodology in Your Forging Operation

July 25, 2015 / , , , , , ,

While keeping a clean shop may sound more like a slap on the wrist than a business strategy, many industry leaders are finding that implementing and following strong organizational procedures can enhance workflow, reduce safety instances, and improve quality. In fact, according to an article from Plant Engineering, experts say that a clean shop is one of the five signs of a reliable plant. Top performers, the article states, treat clutter as “unacceptable” and consider the tasks required to keep a plant clean “part of routine business.”

To create and maintain an organized workspace, many industrial metal-cutting companies use a lean manufacturing method known as 5S. Often called the “housekeeping tool,” 5S is used to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. It is often the first lean manufacturing initiative companies implement.

In summary, 5S methodology includes the following five pillars:

Each of the five S’s are designed to work in tandem with each other to create a clean, standardized, and, hence, efficient and effective workplace. By having everything in its place, an operator should essentially be able to turn more metal with less time wasted spent looking for tools and material. This reduces downtime and other process bottlenecks.

However, as this iSixSigma article states, a successful 5S program is more than following a checklist. “5S is more than a form or a procedure – it is a discipline that needs to be understood, embraced, implemented and continually measured by the workforce for the program to be effective and add value,” the article points out. “If used properly, this is a powerful improvement tool that is simple and inexpensive.”

An article from IndustryWeek says that effective 5S programs should be about more than keeping a clean shop. “A 5S system is not a housekeeping program, it is a problem prevention and problem identification system,” the article states. In fact, the article states to be successful, 5S should always be used in conjunction with the “5Y”—the root cause analysis system of asking why five times. So, for example, if 5S reveals that a bolt is out of place, the process should be to ask why continually until team finds the root cause and take action, according to the article.

Like any lean initiative, 5S isn’t a quick fix and won’t solve every operational problem. However, several industry leaders in the industrial metal-cutting space are seeing the benefits of implementing the methodology. A.M. Castle & Co., a metal service center featured in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, relies heavily on 5S to keep work areas clean and eliminate waste. Scot Forge, a leading forge featured here in Forging Magazine, also uses the methodology, and has even added a sixth “S” for safety. Finally, Jorgensen Forge, a forge based in Tukwila, WA, says it uses 5S as way to get all of its employees involved in organizing the workplace. The forge also claims the tool helps maintain standardized conditions and procedures, which it feels is “the key to achieving a world-class work environment,” according to its website.

For many companies, 5S is the starting point in their lean manufacturing journey, and hopefully, the beginning of many operational improvements. By taking the time to create and maintain an organized, efficient workspace, companies can set the stage for becoming a world-class operation.

For more information on implementing 5S, check out the article, “How to Get Your 5S Initiative Up and Running.”


Taking a Closer Look at Inventory in Your Forging Operation

June 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,

As most manufacturing executives know, inventory is one of the eight deadly wastes of lean manufacturing. Unfortunately, many metal-cutting companies tend to either ignore inventory or intentionally stock up on material “just in case.”

But there is a reason lean experts consider inventory as deadly. Excess inventory is costly in more ways than one: it requires space, equipment, measurement, and management, not to mention the initial cash expenditure.

Perhaps the greatest danger of surplus inventory, however, is that it often hides other forms of waste and inefficiencies existing within your forging and metal-cutting operations. As an archived article from Modern Machine Shop explains, inventory provides the perfect mask for a host of workflow problems. “With enough inventory, we do not need to be concerned with problems; in fact, we probably will not even know they exist,” the article says. “After all, with lots of inventory, who needs to worry about long vendor delivery times, critical machine breakdowns, long equipment setup times, production schedules not being met, absenteeism or even quality problems that lead to low production yields?”

Of course, that is exactly why managers need to take a closer look at their inventory. According to an editorial from IndustryWeek, inventory optimization can “unearth huge process improvement opportunities that will impact both the balance sheet and the income statement in a positive way.” Below are just a few of the process improvement opportunities the author says may be hiding underneath your raw material and work-in-process inventory:

In most cases, digging deeper into your inventory will reveal a list of process areas in need of improvement. The question then becomes: What can managers do to keep their inventory low? While there are several ways to accomplish inventory optimization, below are three simple strategies to consider:




Regardless of the strategies you adopt, the bottom line is that inventory management should be a priority. Even if you are consistently filling customer orders, that doesn’t mean you doing it efficiently. By taking a closer look at what lies underneath piles of inventory, forging operations can save costs, improve productivity, and finally get to the root of some operational issues that may have been there all along.


Predictive Operations Management Holds Benefits for Forges

May 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , ,

Benchmarking, peer reviews, and ongoing analyses are considered universal best practices among leading organizations, regardless of industry or industry segment. However, in today’s competitive marketplace, companies need to know more than where they stand among their peers; they need to know where their company is headed.

In other words, today’s leading manufacturers must be proactive in their strategic approaches, not reactive. That’s why a growing number of forges are now transitioning to using predictive operations management strategies, allowing them to not only measure performance, but to also predict and prevent future challenges. Based on research, this approach is paying off for many companies.

For example, the LENOX Institute of Technology’s Benchmark Survey of Industry Metal-Cutting Organizations found that investing in smarter, more predictive operations management could result in additional productivity and efficiency on the floor. The study, which surveyed more than 100 industrial metal-cutting companies, found that 67 percent of industrial metal-cutting operations that follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also report an upward trending job completion rate that their job completion rate is trending upward year over year—a meaningful correlation. The implication is that less disruptive, unplanned downtime and more anticipated, planned downtime translates into more jobs being completed on time.

Manufacturers are also benefiting from more advanced, data-based predictive management strategies. As reported here, research from Aberdeen Group shows that 86 percent of top performing manufacturers are 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 then stellar results. The research firm also notes that companies that use analytics to measure their data can more easily obtain a “big picture” of their operations, identify risks, and figure out where to focus their efforts.

According to Aberdeen, these best performing companies also report 18 percent higher overall equipment effectiveness and 13 percent less unscheduled asset downtime compared to the lowest performing organizations. The following are a few other traits the top performers have in common, according to the research:

So how does your forging operation measure up to these “top performers?” Are you simply responding to operational challenges, or are you equipped to identify risks before they negatively impact your bottom line?

By following a strict preventative maintenance schedule or using advanced tools like data analytics, today’s forges can easily identify hidden problem areas or looming operation failures. As research shows, these types of predictive operations management practices can help you reduce risk, improve productivity, and maybe even make you a top performer among your forging peers.


Forges Stay Focused on Growth in 2015

April 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , ,

Most metalworking companies started off 2015 with positive expectations. As the LENOX Institute of Technology reported in the 2015 Industrial Metal Cutting Outlook, early forecasts painted a positive picture, with manufacturing production projected to grow by 3.7% in 2015 and 3.6% in 2016.

However, recent reports have clouded expectations a bit. A mid-April outlook from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), for example, stated that short-term outlook for industrial manufacturing is “murky” and “fairly bleak.” According to the report, manufacturing production fell by 1.2 percent during the first quarter of 2015, the first quarterly contraction in factory sector output since the second quarter of 2009. And even though there was a modest gain in factory output growth in March (0.1%), MAPI points out that production in key industry sectors such as primary metals, aerospace, and furniture contracted.

Staying Focused
Even with this sobering data, many manufacturers remain optimistic that 2015 will be a year of growth, even if it is only slightly better than last year. Two articles from Forge magazine give some specific reasons why forges can remain hopeful now and in the years ahead.

In its “Aerospace Industry Outlook,” Forge states that based on the 20-year projections from Boeing and Airbus, the long-term outlook for the aerospace industry (one of the forging industry’s biggest markets) is positive. While the demand projections between these two top companies differ slightly, both expect growth, which is good news for the forging industry.

“Whichever forecast you want to believe, many planes will be ordered during the next two decades,” the article states. “The world’s leading forgers, many of which are located in North America, will be asked to supply a wide assortment of forged products made of high-performance and lightweight materials.”

In a separate article, “North American Forging is Advanced Manufacturing,” the industry publication argues that the forging industry has several reasons to be confident in its future position in the metals industry. According to the article, forging is not only an enduring industry, but “is vibrant, technologically challenging and critical to the country’s economic health and defense.” The reason forging endures, the articles adds, is because it provides the parts for critical applications that cannot be produced by any other manufacturing process.

“If the application is important, it depends on a forging,” the article states. “Why would any designer choose any metalworking process not capable of providing the optimum combination of strength, toughness and fatigue resistance required of the application?”

Have a Plan
The point is that regardless of what current data shows, the long-term prospect for the forging industry is bright, which means that managers need to stay focused on growth. However, that means you need a plan. As any leading metals executive knows, success in today’s market requires a strategic plan focused on continuous improvement while also accounting for external challenges.

What does that look like? Below is a brief outline from Canadian Metalworking that will help forging executives create a simple but workable planning process for their business:

(For a more in-depth explanation of these steps, you can view the full article here.)

Are you ready for whatever 2015 brings? If you remain focused on growth and have a strategic plan in place, odds are you are more ready than you think.


Alternative Lubrication Option for Forges that Cut and Process Metal

March 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,

Every industrial metalworker knows that lubrication is an essential part of the forging process. As this article from Forging magazine explains, selecting the right die lubricant can directly impact the quality of a finished part, and many times, it is essential to achieving process efficiency and cost-effectiveness. This means taking into account the type of forging (i.e., hot or cold), as well as the type of material (i.e., nonferrous or ferrous).

However, if you are a forge that also cuts metal, it is important to remember that lubrication selection is just as important to your metal-cutting operation as it is to your forging operations. In band saws, for example, failure to maintain proper coolant levels can lead to decreased blade life and premature and uneven wear of band wheels, according to a white paper, Tackling the Top 5 Operating Challenges in Industrial Metal Cutting. This not only leads to increased maintenance and tooling costs, but can snowball into other costly problems such as unplanned downtime, poor quality, missed delivery dates, and unhappy customers.

If optimization is your goal, then it pays to carefully address the lubrication needs for every operation under your roof, including metal cutting. One lubrication choice that many metal-cutting operations are starting to use is Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL). This alternative option sprays a very small quantity of lubricant precisely on the cutting surface, eliminating any cutting fluid waste. In fact, many consider it a near-dry process, as less than 2 percent of the fluid adheres to the chips.

MQL is most commonly used in precision circular saw operations, but it can also be used in band sawing as well. In most cases, metal-cutting companies use this type of coolant for both cost and sustainability reasons. Below are just a few of the key benefits to using MQL over traditional flood or “wet” coolants:

It is important to note that MQL application is a more sensitive process than flood cooling. Mist must be aimed precisely at the tool to be effective. Fluid selection, equipment, and material type also play key roles in proper MQL application.

To learn more about MQL, including equipment needs, fluid types, and a few “rules of thumb,” click here to download The MQL Handbook. You may also want to check out this educational video from Modern Machine Shop.


Benchmarking Resources for Your Forging Operation

February 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In today’s market, knowing what your peers are doing is critical to staying competitive. One way to do this is by benchmarking. According to management consultancy McGladery, the use of benchmarking is on the rise as companies look to offset the effects of the uncertain economy by reducing costs and improving effectiveness. “Benchmarking provides an objective analysis of existing business processes and insight into improving those practices, identifying gaps or inefficiencies,” the consultant firm says in a white paper. “It presents a measurement to make informed business decisions against, as well as develop strategies and create initiatives to provide a road map for growth, if not survival.”

However, as this article from iSixSigma explains, benchmarking is not a quick or simple process tool. In fact, the article  lists 18 “vital steps” companies should follow when benchmarking. Unfortunately, many forging operations don’t have the resources to take on their own benchmarking initiatives. The good news is that there are several industry sources that offer companies the opportunity to participate in benchmarking surveys. While it may be tempting to keep your company’s information close, leaders know that no amount of competitor research can replace the value that true comparison can provide.

For forges, there are several external benchmarking resources out there that offer both competitive and strategic data, as well as the opportunity for participation. Whether your goal is to find out how you stack up among your forging peers or if you simply want to gain best practice insight from some manufacturing leaders, here are a few resources that may be useful:


How Forges Can Attract Millennial Operators

January 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,

As more and more Baby Boomers near retirement, many forges are faced with the challenge of replacing the lion’s share of their workforce, including senior management. Unfortunately, a lot of workers that should be the natural replacement—Generation X—never really took an interest in manufacturing, so many companies are now looking to Millennials to fill the gap.

But how do you make a career in manufacturing attractive to an entirely new generation? The literal generational gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials means that today’s manufacturing companies need to get creative and even more so, be flexible, when seeking out new talent.

As this guest editorial from Forward magazine explains, Millennial attitudes and behaviors are vastly different from those of the previous two generations. The author, Neil Howe of LifeCourse Associates, provides a few attitudes and behaviors that define Millennials:

The good news is manufacturers can leverage some of these traits to their advantage. For example, being “team-oriented” is ideal for any operation looking to implement (or has already implemented) lean manufacturing principles. In fact, many of these characteristics point to one overarching theme: Millennials want to be engaged. They want to be acknowledged, active participants in their jobs.

Here’s the bad news: Even with the lean movement, this isn’t the manufacturing industry’s strong point. According to this article from IndustryWeek, a Gallup poll showed that when looking at engagement among different occupations, “manufacturing came dead last, with just 24% of production workers rated as engaged.” That is below both clerical workers and government workers. Why the low rating? Gallup said the problem might be that “the management culture in these companies tends to focus on process ahead of people.”

Back to some good news: The talent gap presents the perfect opportunity for managers to start creating an engaged work environment, both for Millennials and current employees. Using suggestions from the IndustryWeek article, here are a few ways managers can do just that:

Perhaps the best news is that the Forging Foundation (FIERF) and the Forging Industry Association (FIA) are already working on multiple fronts to help reach out to the next generation’s workforce. According to this article from Forge magazine, the two organizations are teaming up with both academia and industry to tell the forging story and to provide resources to assist in their recruiting and retention efforts. For example, FIA is currently offering members “Forge Your Future Toolkits,” which include an array of ideas and resources for forges trying to develop relationships with teachers and students with the goal of becoming an “employer of choice” in the local community. (Click here for more information.)

Clearly, gearing up for a new generation of workers will take time, combined efforts, and in most cases, some change. But like any area of your operation, hiring and maintaining talent requires continuous improvement—or at least it should. The future of your operation may just depend on it.

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