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best practices

Should Your Machine Shop Undergo ISO 9001 Certification?

May 20, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As the industrial metal-cutting industry becomes more competitive, a growing number of machine shops are looking for ways to differentiate their operations, whether that means offering value-added services or implementing the latest lean techniques.

One best practice that many of today’s leading shops tout is ISO 9001 certification. The standard, described in detail here, is based on a number of quality management principles, including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and continuous improvement. The basic goal of the standard is to help companies provide customers with consistent, good quality products and services, which, in turn, often brings business benefits like improved financial performance.

Metal Cutting Service, a specialty shop based in City of Industry, CA, has reaped the rewards of ISO certification, including improved productivity and quality. The company, featured in a series of LIT case studies, estimates that quality has improved 20 to 30% since it became ISO certified more than 12 years ago.

However, ISO certification isn’t a quick fix nor should it be taken lightly. Like any company-wide initiative, it requires time, money, and strategic planning. Here are a few points to consider before undergoing ISO certification:

best practices

Using Collaboration to Improve Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

May 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,


One of the foundational principles of lean manufacturing is employee engagement.  As we covered here, one way for executives to do this is to literally walk the shop floor and interact with operators. This not only allows management to see firsthand what happens on the floor, it creates a more team-centered approach to decision making and empowers employees. In the best-case scenario, it also births innovation and improves productivity—both of which can improve the bottom line.

Although a growing number of manufacturers have adopted these types of collaborative lean strategies, Evan Rosen, author of The Bounty Effect: 7 Steps to The Culture of Collaboration, argues that most companies still operate within the age-old paradigm of “command and control.” In other words, a few people are paid to think, while the rest of the employees are expected to simply carry out orders. Rosen, however,  believes our culture is in the midst of a major shift that will require companies to adopt a more collaborative, “all hands on deck” approach to business.

Based on Rosen’s model, collaboration goes far beyond employee engagement. In a recent column in IndustryWeek (IW), the author provides five ways that manufacturers can adopt a more collaborative structure. These include the following:

To read more about these strategies, you can read the entire IW column here. You can also check out a review of Rosen’s book here.

For some great examples of what these strategies might look like in an industrial metal-cutting environment, check out this case study from ThomasNet.com, which describes an industry-wide collaboration, and this LIT white paper on how to create more collaborative supplier relationships.

What are some ways your company has taken a more collaborative approach?

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How Fabricators Can Identify Skills Gaps

May 10, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


There is no question that the skills gap is one of the most pressing issues for industrial metal-cutting companies and, of course, the manufacturing industry at large. According to a recent article from the U.S. News & World Report, it is estimated that more than half a million skilled manufacturing jobs remain unfilled due to the labor skills gap in the U.S., and that number will likely increase as more and more Americans age out of the workforce.

As we covered here, this has prompted industry leaders like GE and industry associations like the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) to take action. Just last week, JPMorgan Chase & Company announced a $5-million commitment to the city of Dallas to help shrink the skills gap within several industries. The move is part of a five-year, $250-million national initiative Chase launched in December to provide job training and fund local research to identify the areas most in need. As this video explains, the banking giant is using real data to identify real needs and then investing in those needs to fill the actual gaps.

While these types of large-scale initiatives might be left to large-scale companies, Chase’s strategy is one that just about any fabricator can apply to their own operations. Like Chase, fabricators that want to make a real difference in their business need to identify the actual gaps within their own company walls. This is especially true if a large number of your workers are headed for retirement. Once you have identified the gaps within your organization, you can determine the skills that are needed and then adjust your training and hiring programs accordingly.

The following are two strategies that can help you determine if (and where) there are skills gaps in your operation:

As the skills gap is proving, investing in your human capital is just as critical as investing in your technology and equipment. Taking the time to identify strengths and weaknesses within your operations staff—and then encouraging and rewarding improvement—is one way industrial metal-cutting leaders can equip themselves for today, as well as the future.

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Gemba Walks May Be the Key to Lean Success in Metal Service Centers

May 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,


Most manufacturing executives know that developing a lean culture requires top-down support. Everyone—from the CEO and vice president of operations to the maintenance manager and band saw operator—needs to be on board, or it’s just not going to work.

Unfortunately, many companies have discovered that creating a successful lean environment isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, as this blog post explains, there are a lot of ways to do this incorrectly. For instance, leadership is not “committed” simply because they have enthusiastically funded a lean program. They need to actually be involved. At the same time, key improvement decisions can’t be made in an ivory tower.

Change—effective change—needs to start at the ground level, where the work is happening and where the value is created. This place, defined as “gemba” in lean manufacturing terms, is believed to be the key to unlocking true transformation.

“Gemba,” the Japanese term for “actual place,” has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In an IndustryWeek blog post, Bill Wilder, director of The Life Cycle Institute, calls gemba the “beating heart” of an organization, which for manufacturers, is rarely found in the marketing department or an executive desk. Instead, it is almost always found on the production floor.

This means that to make any real change, metal service center executives need to literally take a walk—known as the “gemba walk”—to see their operation from the front lines. Getting out of the office and taking a gemba walk, Wilder says, is the best way for leadership to see, firsthand, what works and doesn’t, and many experts believe it should be the first step in any lean transformation.

In theory, this sounds great, but what should a gemba walk look like in practice? Here are a few tips we gathered to help you “walk the talk” and put you on the path toward an effective top-down lean program:

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The Importance of Predictive Strategies in Industrial Metal Cutting

April 30, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


A recent report from Gartner continues to build the case that metrics and smarter, more predictive management strategies are critical for industrial metal-cutting companies that want to succeed in today’s competitive landscape. In fact, according to the consulting firm, organizations that use predictive business performance metrics will increase their profitability by 20 percent by 2017.

“Using historical measures to gauge business and process performance is a thing of the past,” Samantha Searle, research analyst, said in a Gartner press release. “To prevail in challenging market conditions, businesses need predictive metrics—also known as ‘leading indicators’—rather than just historical metrics (aka ‘lagging indicators’).”

Gartner said that predictive risk metrics are particularly important for mitigating and even preventing the impact of disruptive events on profitability. The key is for companies to have predictive metrics that contribute to strategic key performance indicators (KPIs); however, Gartner discovered that many companies are failing to do just that.

Metrics vs. Strategic KPIs

After conducting a survey of 498 business and IT leaders in the fourth quarter of 2013, Gartner analysts found that while 71% of business and IT leaders understood which KPIs are critical to supporting the business strategy, only 48% said they can access metrics that help them understand how their work contributes to strategic KPIs. In addition, only 31% had a dashboard to provide visibility into KPIs.

However, according to Searle, even visible metrics won’t help drive strategic business outcomes if business leaders don’t have the right metrics in place. The problem, she says, is that managers often misinterpret the goal of a KPI.

The first thing companies need to realize is that KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. A KPI is a measure that should indicate what you need to do to significantly improve performance—or that indicates where performance is trending—which means it is predictive in nature. However, Gartner’s Searle says many companies don’t have predictive measures in place. “They persist in using historical measures and consequently miss the opportunity to either capture a business moment that would increase profit or intervene to prevent an unforeseen event, resulting in a decrease in profit,” she explains.

If you are still unsure of what qualifies as a KPI, check out this article, which lists five rules for selecting the best KPIs for your manufacturing organization. As the article states, “the key to success is selecting KPIs that will deliver long-term value to the organization.”

Bottom-Line Predictions

The larger lesson here is that in today’s fast-moving market, companies need to anticipate business events—not react to them. From a high level, Gartner is saying that this requires KPIs that are predictive. But what does this mean from a plant-floor level? What type of shop floor metrics can help businesses anticipate business events and provide input into strategic KPIs?

A benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) may provide a little insight. The following are two of the study’s key findings:

Both of the benchmark findings are, in fact, key metrics that can help industrial metal-cutting companies better understand strategic KPIs. In this case, we discovered that a proactive strategy like preventative maintenance can help managers plan for downtime and, in essence, allows them to create “predictive downtime,” which can actually improve cutting performance and extend equipment life. This is a much different from “interruptive downtime,” which can hurt performance, reduce on-time customer delivery, and increase material costs.

Based on this example, the KPI might be whether or not an organization is hitting its preventative maintenance schedule or whether or not the cadence of preventative maintenance is increasing or decreasing. For instance, if production was increasing but preventive maintenance measurements were static, it could predict massive failure issues.

Agile Actions

Moving forward, here are a few questions to consider: What metrics are you using to measure business performance? Are they KPIs? Are your management strategies focused on being proactive or reactive? Are there ways you can predict business events such as blade failure and machine downtime?

Answering these key questions may help you determine whether or not your company is on track to increased profitability or at risk for being stagnant. Proactive strategies like the predictive metrics suggested by Gartner and the preventative measures suggested by the LIT study are critical for industrial metal-cutting companies that want improve their agility and, most importantly, their bottom line. Leaders are realizing that they need to act now—not later—if they want to be successful in the future. When it comes to today’s manufacturing landscape, good things will not come to those who wait.

best practices

Key Trends for Metal Service Centers in 2014

April 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As the industry heads into the second quarter, uncertainty remains. In fact, as we state in our 2014 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, uncertainty may be the only thing that is certain right now.

Like most sectors of the metal-cutting industry, metal service centers have experienced little if any growth in 2014. January started off with a much-needed improvement over December, with small increases in shipments and reduced inventory levels. However, February wasn’t as strong as many had hoped. According to the latest figures from the Metal Service Center Institute, U.S. service center steel shipments in February 2014 increased by 0.4% from February 2013, and 2014 year-to-date steel shipments increased by 0.2% from the same period in 2013. When looking at total volume from January to February, service centers’ shipments of steel and aluminum actually declined, reports IndustryWeek.

In other words, we aren’t quite there yet. Experts like the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) are hopeful that the rebound is coming, but until then, there are several industry trends that we feel will be key for metal service centers in 2014. Here are a few to keep in mind:

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