Metal Service Centers
December 20, 2013 / human capital, maintaining talent, training
While finding “good help” seems to be an age-old management challenge, it has become a critical issue for today’s manufacturing industry. It’s no secret that a large percentage of skilled manufacturing workers are facing retirement in the coming years, while only a small percentage of younger workers have an interest in filling those roles. What may be surprising, however, is that most manufacturers are doing nothing about it.
According to ThomasNet.com’s Industry Market Barometer, the manufacturing industry continues to be heavily populated by Baby Boomers, the post-World War II generation that is at or near retirement age, while workers ranging from 18-32 remain completely untapped. According to the recent survey of more than 1,200 manufacturing companies, three-quarters of respondents report that 25 percent or less of their workforce are in the Generation Y age group. And while 29 percent of respondents say they will increase employment of Generation Y workers in the next two years, 49 percent expect the numbers to stay the same. In fact, ThomasNet believes the manufacturing industry is up against a “biological clock” that is rapidly winding down when it comes to recruiting and training the next generation of workers.
An article from ModernMetals.com echoes the same sentiment, stating that “a dearth of workers will cause the manufacturing industry to hit a wall in the future.” This, the article says, is the main reason why industrial metal-cutting companies need to consider strategies that will help them cultivate future talent—and fast.
Of course, one way to address this workforce issue is for managers to actively hire a new generation of workers. However, the real challenge will be finding ways to ramp up their skills and knowledge base so that both quality and productivity are comparable to that of seasoned workers. As described in the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenge For Metal Service Centers, there are two key tactics managers can use to encourage a high-quality workforce, regardless of experience level:
- Establish ongoing operator training. This can be done either internally or with a supply chain partner. By requiring training, managers can balance the level of skill on the shop floor and across different shifts. There should be a formal program for new employees, as well as ongoing programs to keep seasoned operators up to date on new cutting techniques and advancements. Many service centers are finding that their training programs are most effective when they are merged with the quality control system and audited accordingly. When instituted as a formal procedure, operators understand the expectations upfront and, in turn, can be held accountable when performance isn’t up to par.
- Encourage employee ownership or “buy-in.” Even the best-trained operators won’t be successful if they don’t care about the work they are doing. The so-called “magic” happens on the shop floor when an operator or process area becomes committed to their operation and, more importantly, takes pride in hitting productivity and quality goals. One way to instill this type of work ethic is to actively include operators in improvement initiatives. To foster a more team-centered environment, managers should ask operators for ideas to make processes safer and faster and, when appropriate, brings those ideas to fruition. This strategy not only improves operational efficiency, but shows operators they are a critical aspect of the company’s success. Bonus and incentive programs can also help boost employee morale.
There is no doubt that today’s industrial metal-cutting companies need to make hiring a new generation of workers a top priority. Indeed, the workforce issue can no longer be ignored. However, hiring “good help” isn’t going to be enough. To be successful, today’s operations managers need to make sure they are also training and maintaining that help.
Metal Service Centers
December 5, 2013 / continuous improvement, workflow process
As customers continue to demand faster delivery, metal service centers have no choice but to optimize every aspect of their industrial metal-cutting process. This means squeezing out any inefficiencies that could be holding up production—a task most managers would admit is a lot easier said than done. While every operation wants to run as “lean” as possible, the challenge is finding the time and resources to identify workflow bottlenecks and then pinpoint the areas of improvements that will have a real impact on the bottom line.
As metal service centers juggle issues like multiple shifts, tight production schedules, and a high product mix, it can be difficult for managers to make any broad efficiency improvements. In fact, many companies don’t even know where to start and, in turn, end up pushing orders through instead of taking the time to reevaluate their processes. While this may work in the short-term, the long-term costs to areas such as quality and even maintenance can be detrimental to the economic health of a metal service center.
While efficiency initiatives are no small undertaking, even a few changes can make a difference. The key is knowing where to start. The following are some tips to help managers improve workflow on the shop floor and, even more so, start on a path toward continuous improvement.
- Monitor and Measure Processes. As the saying goes, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” However, measurement can take many forms. Some companies may want to go all out and conduct a detailed time analysis of every operation happening on the shop floor. Others, however, may want to take a more simple approach, like Micron Metalworks. The Minnesota fabricator, recently featured on thefabricator.com, used an observation technique it describes as the “13-second rule:” If anyone was stationary for more than 13 seconds, they marked that down as an area for improvement.
- Implement a Preventative Maintenance (PM) Program. While some maintenance downtime is inevitable, the goal of a PM program is to reduce that downtime as much as possible. PM programs can help extend the useful life of metal-cutting equipment, increase efficiency, and improve cut quality. However, because a PM program requires both time and resources, James Shorten, a technical specialist at Centris Consulting, says it will require a commitment from everyone in the company—from executives and production managers to the maintenance department and even operators. To keep production running smoothly, Shorten also recommends scheduling PM programs in the off-shift.
- Establish a Process Improvement Team. Perhaps the best way to attack workflow bottlenecks is to ensure they don’t happen again. As discussed in LENOX Institute of Technology’s white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, one leading service center addressed this issue by assembling a process improvement team. Every time there is a bottleneck on the shop floor, the team investigates the issue, determines the source, and develops a solution. By getting to the root of the problem, companies will reduce the likelihood of dealing with the same issue in the future and, in the meantime, identify major operational issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.