February 20, 2014 / customer delivery, value-added services
In today’s competitive landscape, many industries are finding that enhanced customer service is becoming more important than ever. Companies like Amazon are raising the bar on what customers should expect from a service provider, whether that means Sunday deliveries or using the latest technology to improve the purchasing experience.
Not surprisingly, the so-called “Amazon effect” has found its way into the manufacturing world. In a recent blog post, supply chain consultant Lisa Anderson says she has seen this first hand with all of her manufacturing and distribution clients. On-time deliveries, she says, are no longer enough. Today’s customers are looking for suppliers that can offer faster lead times and value-added services that will benefit their bottom line. Sound familiar?
Anderson goes on to suggest several ways manufacturers can provide Amazon-type service in their own operations. From same-day delivery to collaborative programs, she challenges manufacturers to think outside their service “comfort zone” and consider new ways they can add value to their customer relationships.
What does this look like in a machine shop environment? What services can you add? The answer to that will vary based on the needs of your customers, your budget, and simply put, your willingness to change. Adapting to customer needs is critical in today’s unpredictable market, but as the landscape gets more competitive, anticipating customer needs can give your shop the edge.
Below are examples of three shops that decided to enhance their current services in some way. While each company took a different approach, all three have found that value-added service has been beneficial to both their customers and their business.
- D&J Technologies, a machine shop featured in this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology [LINK], recently decided to bring nickel-plating services in-house. Previously, the company had to send parts out to be plated and then wait for their return, which made it difficult to guarantee on-time delivery of the finished part. By bringing this service in-house, D&J was able to provide its customers with an additional service and speed up the delivery process.
- WSI Industries, a contract shop in Monticello, MN, offers its customers several services that go beyond manufacturing precisely machined components. Featured here as one of Modern Machine Shop magazine’s Top Shops of 2013, the company also provides assembly, component testing, and inventory management to enable daily delivery of sub-assemblies to customers when required. This, the article says, has elevated the shop from a mere vendor to a valued partner.
- O’Neal Manufacturing Services, a Greensboro, N.C-based contract metal manufacturer of fabricated metal components, has found that in some cases, meeting customer needs requires investment. As described in this article from Modern Metals, the manufacturer realized that in order to land a huge project, it needed to upgrade its flatness capabilities by modernizing its processes and investing in a new piece of equipment. Using traditional methods, the article says that the flattening process would have taken 30 minutes. However, with the new machinery, the flattening process was reduced to just 45 seconds—an improvement that made all the difference in winning the project, according to the article. In addition, the article said the company expects its enhanced capabilities to open up new customer opportunities in other market segments.
January 20, 2014 / lean manufacturing, planning, preventative maintenance, productivity
Recent data continues to confirm that business is on the upswing. In fact, according to latest Business Conditions Report from the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA), metalforming companies can expect a spike in incoming orders during the next three months. In a recent press release, PMA president William E. Gaskin said shipments could increase three to six percent thanks to strong auto production and the general sense that fundamentals are improving.
As the economy continues to recover and customer demand increases, industrial metal-cutting operations need to be sure they are ready. Productivity will be more critical than ever, leaving no time for unnecessary bottlenecks. The question is—what are you doing to prepare?
While the nature of a machine shop makes it difficult to adjust for a sudden in-rush of orders, there are some strategies managers can use to keep production moving and reduce the number of potential bottlenecks. Here are a few best practices to consider:
- Preventative Maintenance. Machine downtime is perhaps the greatest threat to any cutting operation, especially those with a limited maintenance staff. Machine shops like Fort Worth, TX-based D&J Technologies rely heavily on preventative maintenance (PM) to address this issue. The machine shop, featured in this white paper from LENOX Institute of Technology, says its PM program is “highly important in keeping the machines running” 10-14 hours a day, six days a week. This involves weekly checks of equipment fluid levels, as well as greasing and oiling all of its saws when necessary. To prevent premature belt and drive wheel wear, the shop also does a quick daily maintenance check by running each saw from low to high a few times (as opposed to starting them cold and running them all day at one speed fitting).
- Planning Ahead. Production planning and forecasting is critical to keeping operations running smoothly and on time. Many leading industrial metal-cutting companies are implementing aggressive planning schedules that are 4 to 6 weeks in advance and, as a result, are seeing benefits such as reduced scrap and fewer errors. However, many managers find this to be a challenge in a machine shop, where last minute and specialty orders are common. In these cases, an automated solution such as scheduling software can help. This Buyer’s Guide from www.softwareadvice.com provides a good reference of the different software options available for automating many of the tracking and scheduling duties within a shop.
- Get Lean. There is no question that lean initiatives take both time and commitment. However, even simple changes like the 5S tool can help reduce bottlenecks by eliminating hazards and creating a more organized work environment. More ambitious managers may want to consider additional lean methods such as value stream mapping and the Theory of Constraints. This web site explains these methods and other popular lean tools that are being used by today’s leading machine shops.
Of course, bottlenecks are an inevitable aspect of any metal-cutting operation. However, as demand increases, so does the negative impact of downtime. One misstep can lead to a domino effect that can throw off an entire production schedule. By taking proactive measures, managers can reduce the chances of unexpected events, eliminate potential bottlenecks and, at the same time, improve productivity and quality.
December 10, 2013 / continuous improvement, quality, training
Over the last few years, the industrial metal-cutting industry has invested heavily in technology to ramp up productivity. While this is certainly moving industrial metal-cutting forward, it has also exacerbated the workforce challenge that has been threatening the industry for years. As confirmed by a joint report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, skilled production workers are one of the largest workforce segments facing retirement in the near future, which will clearly have an impact on the number of experienced workers on the shop floor. This does not bode well for an industry that just ramped up its need for advanced skills.
The good news is that the solution is quite clear: You need to invest in your workers. While having the right tools for the job is important, it is perhaps even more critical to have people with the right skills operating those machines. In a band saw cutting environment, for example, an operator running a saw at the wrong speed and feed settings will drastically reduce blade life, increase the chances of maintenance issues, and create potential quality issues, all of which add up to wasted time and money—the exact opposite of productivity.
The only way to increase skills is to provide training. Unfortunately, this is not always as simple as it sounds. A good training program should provide new employees with a solid foundation, while also making sure seasoned employees know the latest techniques. Below are some suggestions that will help take your training program—and your workforce—to the next level.
- Create a Formal Training Program. If you don’t already have a formal training program in place for new employees, it’s time to implement one. Having a seasoned operator casually show someone the ropes creates a casual attitude toward the job at hand. A formal, organized approach will stress the importance of quality and will also make it easier to hold operators accountable. A recent editorial in Modern Machine Shop magazine provides a good overview of how to develop a formal training program. The article focuses on CNC training, but the general principles could certainly be applied to any production area of a machine shop.
- Define Training as an Ongoing Process. As highlighted in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, operator training needs to be ongoing. This is especially important in a machine shop, where there can be multiple shifts and an unequal level of talent on the shop floor. By instituting regular operator training, managers can level the shop floor talent and add consistency to production procedures. This also encourages a spirit of continuous improvement among experienced operators who often resist change.
- Make Training Part of your Quality System. While instituting formal training programs can be challenging, the real challenge is making them actually work. According to the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Today’s Machine Shop Metal Cutting Operations, many industrial metal-cutting shops have found that the only time training programs became effective is when shop management merged training with their quality control initiatives and auditing processes. This elevates training from a well-intentioned priority to a standard operating procedure that is both effective and measurable.