May 10, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer service, human capital, industry news, maintaining talent, productivity, skills gap
Based on expert forecasts and industry sentiment, the outlook for 2017 continues to be hopeful. As stated in LIT’s 2017 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, metal fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting organizations are getting more and more optimistic about the near future, and recent market data looks promising.
While the latest outlook from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) expects “relatively sluggish” output growth for the manufacturing industry as a whole, the near-term forecast for Fabricated Metal Parts is positive. Specifically, MAPI forecasts that output growth for the Fabricated Metal Parts sector will register 1.8 percent in 2017 and 3.4 percent in 2018. In addition, March data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that both new orders and shipments of Fabricated Metal Parts were up 5.5 percent compared to 2016.
Recent data from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) is also encouraging. As stated here in a press release, economic activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in April. According to the Manufacturing ISM Report on Business, 16 out of 18 manufacturing industries reported growth in April 2017, with the Fabricated Metal Products sector nearing the top of the list. In fact, one survey respondent from the Fabricated Metal Products sector stated, “Business is definitely improving. Profit margins are increasing.”
This type of optimism seems to be prevalent throughout the industry. The first quarter Fabricating & Forming Job Shop Consumption Report from Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International (FMA) revealed that 61.9 percent of metal fabricating managers and shop owners see improving conditions for the coming quarter and another 34.3 percent expect things to stay the same. A mere 3.7 percent expect things to get worse. “This is the most confident the sector has been in a while,” says Chris Kuehl, FMA’s economic analyst.
That’s not to say that fabricators don’t have some concerns. After attending FMA’s Annual Meeting in March, Kuehl reports here that he noticed three key trends among attendees, including:
1. Cautious optimism. According to Kuehl, most fabricators appear to be optimistic but many remain cautious. “The years of an administration that was at best ambivalent toward business and at worse downright hostile are over,” he writes. “There are definitely mixed opinions about what happens under Trump, but thus far the promises are looked upon as encouraging. That said, there is doubt that many of the promises will be kept because of fierce opposition from many quarters and lack of faith in Trump’s diplomatic skills. Still, there is hope that some of the big issues will get the attention deserved—trade patterns, regulation, and taxes at the top of the list.”
2. People will stay at the top of the list of worries. The manufacturing skills gap continues to be an issue for most fabricators, according to Kuehl’s analysis. “It is harder than ever to find the employees needed,” he says. “Manufacturers aren’t finding qualified and eager job seekers no matter what they offer to pay. The powers that be have not yet addressed this problem, and that is immensely frustrating.”
3. Concerns about the future. Even with some renewed confidence, Kuehl says that fabricators and manufacturers are still concerned about the future and whether the industry is ready for developments it hasn’t seen in over 10 years. “Interest rates will be higher for the first time in over a decade, and inflation will be rearing its ugly head sooner rather than later,” he writes. “Add in the ramifications of a trade war or two, and the concern many have expressed [is] that the progress seen thus far could come to a screeching halt.”
Even with some potential challenges ahead, most fabricators remain focused on growth. Over the last few years, automotive has been a huge growth market for fabricators, but some experts believe that sales are slowing and the market is stabilizing. However, as stated in a blog post from Branam Fastening, there is still plenty of opportunity for growth in the following customer segments:
- Construction. The non-residential construction market is expected to grow an additional 6% in 2017. Metal roofing, HVAC, steel supports, and other complementary building products will also see an increase in demand.
- Oil. The price for a barrel of oil is expected to exceed $60 in 2017. Many experts believe that once it surpasses this threshold, it becomes advantageous for domestic oil producers to reignite exploration and production operations. New pipelines, rigs, storage containers and other metal fabricated products are expected to be in greater demand throughout the industry in 2017.
- Electronics: The electronics industry is expecting a 3.1% positive bump in domestic production in 2017 and 5.3% growth in 2018. This paves the way for an increase in metal fabricated products like custom encasements.
- Infrastructure: Estimates predict infrastructure budgets to grow between $275-$500 billion over the next 5 years. A big part of this spending will comprise airport repairs and construction, road repairs, bridges, railways, new stations, and waiting platforms. Opportunities for metal fabricators can be found throughout.
A Bright Future
Does the future look bright for metal fabricators? According to MAPI, there are certainly “glimmers of light,” and recent data certainly reflects that assessment. However, preparation and continuous improvement should still be a top priority for fabricators. As stated in the white paper, Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies, industry leaders need to remain focused on optimizing every aspect of their internal operations—regardless of market conditions—so they can be ready for whatever the future holds.
In what ways can you position your operation for growth in 2017?
May 5, 2017 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, optimization, strategic planning
Although 2016 didn’t end on a high note for metal service centers, many industry leaders and experts are confident about 2017.
Overall, 2016 wasn’t a stellar year for service centers. According to the Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI), service center shipments in the U.S. and Canada finished 2016 with year-over-year declines in both steel and aluminum. Inventories mostly remained below prior-year levels, though stocks crept up at year’s end.
Coming into 2017, forecasts were hopeful but guarded. As reported here by Metal Center News, analysts like Chris Kuehl of Armada Corporate Intelligence warned that factors such as the interest rates, inflation, the strong dollar, government grid lock, and tax reform would all play a role in determining the health and strength of the U.S. economy in 2017. In late January, M. Robert Weidner III, president and CEO of MSCI, voiced his concerns and urged the new Trump administration to take serious and immediate action to restore growth and to help the industrial metals supply chain fully recover from the lingering effects of the Great Recession and government policy.
Confidence, however, is growing in recent months. As stated in LIT’s 2017 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, metal service centers and other industrial metal-cutting organizations are getting more and more optimistic about the near future, and the latest market data looks promising.
After a flat February, U.S. service center steel shipments grew substantially across the board in March. Specifically, steel shipments increased by 9.7% from March 2016, and shipments of aluminum products increased by 13.0% from the same month in 2016. Inventory levels also showed improvement.
Meanwhile, industry leaders like Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co reported strong first-quarter results. According to the company, sales were up 11.9% from the first quarter of 2016 and up 17.4% from the fourth quarter of 2016. Gregg Mollins, president and CEO, said that improved demand, higher metal pricing, and continued strong execution resulted in record quarterly gross profit dollars and Reliance’s highest earnings per share and net income since the first quarter of 2012.
“2017 is off to a great start,” Mollins said in a news release. “Both pricing and demand levels are better than they were a year ago, and we are optimistic with regard to increased infrastructure and equipment spending on the horizon. We will continue to focus on maximizing our gross profit margin while diligently managing operating expenses and inventory levels as well as maximizing market opportunities to drive our earnings higher.”
In an April press release, Ryerson said it is “cautiously optimistic on demand for metal products in the first half of 2017.” The company anticipates higher revenue for the first quarter of 2017 compared to the fourth quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2016, with higher average selling prices and higher tons sold for the current quarter as compared to both periods. The key, the company states, will be to see “how positive sentiment ultimately converts to real demand for industrial metals.”
According to a report from MetalMiner, positive sentiment was also evident among attendees and speakers at this year’s S&P Global Platts Steel Markets North America conference, held in Chicago in late-March. Presentations and forecasts were mostly optimistic, MetalMiner writes here, although there were differences in opinions of what attendees should focus on in the coming months.
One of the conference presentations, given by Roy Berlin, president of Berlin Metals; Donald McNeeley, president of Chicago Tube & Iron; and Michael Lerman, president of Steel Warehouse, offered attendees three ways service centers can offer more value to the market. As reported by MetalMiner, these included the following:
- Embrace change but find an identity. Berlin noted that finding an identity in the industry is key. “Decide what it is you’re going to do and do it well. No, do it great, actually,” he said.
- Do more with less. According to McNeeley, service centers have to interject more automation. He said they need to do more with less and they cannot drive input costs down any more. On output costs, McNeely said companies cannot get customers to pay a premium for the market, so the only thing left in that channel is “operational excellence.”
- Tackle your internal costs. Lerman concluded by sharing that his company stays competitive by attacking its main internal costs: logistics, scrap, safety and healthcare. He also said that in today’s volatile market, service centers should seriously consider learning how to use and apply financial hedges where appropriate. “I know we have been taking advantage of it, and I think it is going to be more and more important as we move forward,” he noted.
Another key strategy will be for service centers to think outside the box when it comes to spending—and saving costs. According to the news brief, Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, managers focused on continuous improvement should explore all of the ways they can save their operation time and money. For example, if new equipment isn’t in the budget, perhaps second-hand equipment is an option. Although there is some risk in buying used equipment, when done correctly, this can be a cost-saving alternative for companies looking to expand their capacity or capabilities.
Onward and Upward
Most companies know by now that there are never any guarantees when it comes to the industrial metals sector. As stated in a recent article from Modern Metals, projections “still err on the side of caution, but much less so than their forecasts of previous years.” With renewed confidence and a few strategies in their back pockets, service centers can position themselves for both new opportunities and growth in 2017.
April 1, 2017 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, maintaining talent, operations metrics, optimization, performance metrics, productivity, skills gap, supplier relationships
While no one would likely call it a “boom,” recent months have provided good news for industrial manufacturing. Reports have been positive, and business confidence among metal-cutting companies and other industrial manufacturers is up. Experts admit that some challenges and risks remain, but most believe that growth will continue in 2017 and well into 2018.
There is no question that uncertainty has plagued the manufacturing sector for the last several years. Hints of recovery followed by sluggish growth have made it hard for many companies to trust that business was fully rebounding. Last year, terms like “cautiously optimistic” were being thrown around, but many were still wondering — “Are we there yet?’”
Reports and forecasts indicate that we are at least heading in the right direction—both globally and within the U.S. The JP Morgan Global Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) has remained above the neutral 50.0 mark throughout the past 13 months and registered 53.0 in February and March—its highest level in 69 months. According to the bank, the expansion in March “remained broad-based by product type, with PMI readings for the consumer, intermediate, and investment goods sectors all signaling further solid growth.”
Forecasts from Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) also point to growth, although slower than some would like. According to the latest outlook, manufacturing growth is expected to be 1.2% in 2017 but then accelerate to 2.6% in 2018. Average annual manufacturing output growth is expected to be 1.5% between 2017 and 2020.
Recent data show U.S. manufacturing expanded in March, following a very strong February. The Institute for Supply Management Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) hit 57.2% in March, a 0.5 percentage point reduction from a record-setting 57.8% in February 2017. Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 17 reported growth in March, including Fabricated Metal Products and the Primary Metals industries. According to one survey respondent from the Fabricated Metals segment: “Regional business is strong. Hiring qualified team members has improved.”
Cliff Waldman of MAPI says that March data adds to mounting evidence that U.S. manufacturing output performance is on track for moderate improvement, relieving the factory sector from the sluggish growth that has plagued it since 2013. “Data on actual manufacturing output from the Federal Reserve are basically in sync with the recent ISM data as they show an acceleration of growth in U.S. manufacturing since the beginning of 2017,” Waldman said in a blog post. “However, the year-over-year improvement thus far is moderate. Nonetheless, the reasonably broad-based nature of factory sector growth in both January and February suggests growth stability.”
Business confidence among industrial metal-cutting companies and other manufacturers is also up. The first-quarter Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey from The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) revealed that manufacturers’ optimism rose to a new all-time high in the survey’s nearly 20-year history.
According to NAM, the rising confidence stems from the hope that the new administration in Washington, D.C. will bring much-needed regulatory relief, as well as tax code reforms and a significant infrastructure package. “Indeed, business leaders are cautiously hopeful that pro-growth policies from Washington will allow the country to emerge from the sluggish expansion seen in the years since the Great Recession,” the association said in the report.
Metal companies are confident as well. According to industry leader ArcelorMittal, global apparent steel consumption is estimated to have expanded by 1% in 2016. Based on the current economic outlook, ArcelorMittal expects global apparent steel consumption to grow further in 2017 by between 0.5% and 1.5%.
In the U.S., Mittal says that apparent steel consumption (ASC) declined in 2016 by approximately 1.0% to 1.5%, driven in large part by a significant destock in the second half of 2016. “However, underlying demand continues to expand and the expected absence of a further destock in 2017 should support ASC growth in the U.S. of approximately 3.0% to 4.0% in 2017,” the company said in its 2016 Annual Report.
Sentiment about customer markets is also positive. Mark Millett, president and CEO of Steel Dynamics Inc., told Modern Metals that he expects growth in the energy sector and continued growth in construction spending, “especially for larger public sector infrastructure projects.”
And although there have been reports that automotive manufacturing peaked in 2016 and will decline in 2017, metals companies don’t seem too worried. AK Steel told MM that a richer product mix, including the premium pricing that can be obtained on newer, more specialized or custom grades, should help offset declines. “Our volumes are going to be fairly stable, and fairly steady compared to what they were last year,” Kirk Reich, AK Steel president and COO, said in the MM article.
Trends to Watch
That’s not to say that companies don’t still have some concerns. In late January, M. Robert Weidner III, president and CEO of the Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI), urged the new Trump administration to take serious and immediate action to restore growth and to help the industrial metals supply chain fully recover from the lingering effects of the Great Recession and government policy.
“The industrial metals sector needs action now,” Weidner said, noting that service center aluminum shipments are registering 20 percent below their pre-Great Recession peak, and carbon steel shipments from service centers are still down 30 percent. “The erosion in the U.S. industrial metals supply chain hurts our communities; erodes local, state, and federal tax revenue; and reduces the pool of well-paying U.S. jobs,” Weidner continued.
The strong dollar and reduced capital spending are also concerns. “Signs of wide, yet modest, improvement in global growth are the key drivers of better performance in U.S. manufacturing,” Waldman of MAPI says. “Unfortunately, the problems of a high dollar, a long-term capital spending malaise, and significant policy uncertainty remain to challenge the magnitude of the U.S. manufacturing improvement, even as the world finally provides much-needed support for U.S factories.”
Many industrial manufacturers also remain risk averse. In a recent PwC survey, only 30 percent of U.S.-based industrial manufacturing senior executives said that their companies were planning to increase spending on information technology in the subsequent 12 months. “There is a remarkable opportunity here,” PwC says in a blog post. “Yet the industrial manufacturing sector remains risk averse, unwilling to spend on new machinery, software, and talent during a period of protracted slow growth and limited proven solution.”
According to PwC, there are six actions industrial manufacturers can take to be more profitable in 2017. You can read the full list here, but the following four strategies are the most applicable to industrial metal-cutting companies:
- Leverage data and analytics in a new business model. By upgrading their technical capabilities, industrial manufacturers can bundle a variety of services enabled by connectivity and data, replacing the increasingly outmoded model of selling one big complex machine under warranty and a service agreement for maintenance and repair.
- Develop strategic partnerships. Industrial manufacturers must become more active players in the technology ecosystem, seeking expertise outside the industry in order to develop equipment connectivity, data analysis, and software that are beyond their current abilities.
- Mine operational data. If connected machines—the primary components of the Internet of Things (IoT)—are to be the backbone of industry in the near future, industrial manufacturers will have to figure out how to manage the data coming from an avalanche of sensors, integrated equipment and platforms, and faster information processing systems. There is a critical need to hire people who can mine these bits and bytes of information and work more closely with customers to use the data to improve equipment performance and open new revenue streams.
- Create strategies for talent development and retention. industrial manufacturers must purposefully map out an exciting technology strategy with specific benchmarks and achievements anticipated for the next 18 to 36 months—and then communicate this story clearly to job candidates. Even companies that have not yet felt the shortage of technology-savvy staffers need to take steps to prepare for it as the number of job openings in this field will continue to outpace the number of available hires for the foreseeable future.
Of course, a major technology overhaul may not be possible for every shop, but there are always improvements that can be made. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, thriving in today’s market requires companies to embrace change and focus on continuous improvement in all areas of their business.
“Whether implementing a lean manufacturing tool to improve processes or investing in training to develop people, proactive leaders are focused on making positive changes in their operations so they can quickly respond to today’s changing customer demands,” the eBook states.
Yes, the sentiment among industry players and experts is positive, but that doesn’t mean companies should put improvement activities on the backburner. Industrial metal-cutting organizations that keep a close eye on mega trends while continuing to optimize their internal operations may not only do well in 2017, but exceed expectations.
March 25, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, human capital, industry news, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, optimization, productivity, Safety, strategic planning
For years, manufacturers have relied on lean processes to improve productivity and to reduce waste. This is certainly a good thing from an operations standpoint. However, from a safety and health perspective, lean manufacturing can have a few drawbacks.
For example, lean practices make jobs highly repetitive. As pointed out in this article from Industrial Engineer, repetitive jobs often eliminate critical rest time for employees. “The repetitive jobs take their toll on employees as stressful postures and high forces are repeated over and over throughout the day,” the article says. “In the long run, the financial savings from the productivity gains and quality improvements are used to pay for the higher cost of workers’ compensation claims.”
This is why many forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations have incorporated ergonomics into their production processes. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), ergonomics is defined as fitting a person to a job to help lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the number and severity of work-related injuries. Strategic equipment placement and improved ergonomics not only keep employees safe and healthy, but they are key aspects of high productivity and optimized workflow. The fewer times an operator touches a material, the fewer chances for injury and human error, both of which contribute to productivity.
Not sure where to start? An article from IAC Industries describes possible workplace risk factors and suggested solutions. For example, there are at least six different types of musculoskeletal risk factors operators may face:
- Forceful exertions and motions.
- Extreme or repetitive exertions, postures and motions.
- Duration of exertions, postures, motions, vibration and cold.
- Insufficient rest or pauses.
- Work factors (for instance, close performance monitoring, wage incentives, machine-paced work).
- Environmental factors.
The article then goes on to describe an example of an ergonomic workstation design. According to IAC, incorrect working height is often responsible for extreme postures and motions at the workstation. Recommendations for the appropriate working height are as follows:
- Six inches above elbow height for fine work such as proofing documents or inspecting small parts.
- Four inches above elbow height for precision work such as mechanical assembly.
- Same height as elbow for writing or light assembly,
- Four inches below elbow for coarse or medium work such as packaging.
Of course, this is just one of the many ways a manufacturer can improve ergonomics within their operation. Another article from Ergonomics Plus, an Indianapolis, IN-based company, offers a 10-point checklist to help managers create a framework for building a successful ergonomics process. According to the company, a solid ergonomics process doesn’t have to be complicated to be successful, but it can be challenging to get all the right pieces in place and achieve sustainable results. You can review the entire checklist here.
If these suggestions feel overwhelming or you don’t quite know where to start, you may want to consider bringing in some professional help. Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ), a metal service center featured here in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, decided to perform an in-depth ergonomic study at one of its metalworking facilities. With the help of a third-party resource and input from its shop floor employees, the company made several changes to the shop floor to eliminate unnecessary handling and transportation of material. Ergonomic improvements ranged from repositioning band irons to adjusting the height of staging tables. By optimizing the workflow, EMJ has seen a reduction in employee injuries, improvements in operator efficiency, and increased output. The service center has also seen an increase in shop floor morale, as operators feel they are playing a critical role in helping the facility succeed.
In what ways could you incorporate ergonomics into your forging operations?
March 20, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, human capital, industry news, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, optimization, performance metrics, preventative maintenance, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
As we reported in a previous blog, capital spending among machine shops and other metalworking companies has been down for the last several years. This has been largely due to an unstable marketplace and low business confidence among shop owners. The good news is that industry reports suggest a rebound in the near future.
However, this dip in spending has caused many shops to take a closer look at the value of their existing equipment. When new equipment isn’t in the cards—and even if it is—it is important for today’s managers to understand the total cost of running their metal-cutting equipment and, even more so, what their total worth is from an operations standpoint.
Below are just a few ways shops can be sure they are looking at the value—not just the cost—of their existing equipment:
- Look at profitability, not just productivity. As explained here, overall equipment efficiency (OEE) is a critical metric that measures the percentage of production time that is truly productive. It takes into account all six types of loss, resulting in a measure of productive manufacturing time. According to a recent article from Modern Machine Shop, OEE is helpful, but it may not be enough on its own. “Managers have to balance decisions about maximizing the part-making capability of their equipment with decisions about the money-making potential of this equipment,” the article states. “OEE ratings alone provide an incomplete picture.” The article goes on to describe a measurement called Financial OEE (FOEE), a trademarked name for a new feature of a communications platform from Memex, which accounts for profitability. As stated in the article, “FOEE helps a shop understand how machine performance is helping (or hurting) profitability. This insight provides guidance—and incentive-to focus on the most appropriate productivity improvement efforts.” More specifically, FOEE is the current-state hourly profit divided by a value representing a world-class level of profit. This ratio compares what profit a company made with what profit could have been made at world-class levels. This information can help shops see the financial value of improving the machine’s performance. To read more about this metric, check out the full article here in Modern Machine Shop.
- See existing equipment as an asset. A common struggle among many shops is finding enough working capital to invest in new equipment. To help fight this battle, a recent article from Canadian Metalworking discusses how shops can use the value of existing equipment on the floor. “An asset-based lender, one who has experience in the manufacturing industry, will recognize that a good, brand-named machine tool that has been paid for in full, is an asset that can be leveraged,” the article states. “The equipment is used to provide collateral for financing new machinery, or as a resource to raise working capital to cover the additional costs of product development using existing equipment.” This does require the shop to have a full understanding of how existing equipment is evaluated and how it can be leveraged. To read some tips on properly evaluating and grading your machinery, click here for the complete article.
- Consider the value of maintenance. It’s a pretty simple fact: Equipment that isn’t running is pretty much worthless. This seems obvious, but many shops still put preventative maintenance (PM) and other housekeeping tasks on the back burner in an effort to stay productive. The irony is that this usually ends up hurting productivity in the long run. As stated in the brief, Cost Management Strategies for Industrial Metal-cutting Organizations, there are several aspects of equipment maintenance that contribute to overall costs. “From an operations standpoint, managers can keep costs under control by making sure metal-cutting equipment is operating as optimally as possible,” the brief states. This includes ensuring that equipment is running at the proper settings and that fluids are adequate. Closely monitoring blade life and maintenance reports are also critical. Perhaps the most important consideration is a strong preventative maintenance program. Programs can be as detailed as a shop feels is necessary, but a few checkpoints are outlined here in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology. If limited personnel is the issue, check out this blog about getting equipment operators involved in daily PM tasks.
What other factors contribute to the value of your metal-cutting equipment?
February 5, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, LIT, operator training, quality, ROI, strategic planning, supplier relationships
Keeping costs low and quality high are the top goals of just about every industrial metal-cutting operation. What’s interesting, however, is that many companies treat these two areas as independent variables. A recent series of articles from IndustryWeek (IW) shows why it is important for managers to look at quality and cost together. More specifically, it recommends that companies quantitatively measure the cost and benefits of quality.
“Tracking the financial impact of any support function is necessary in order to illustrate its value and garner continued support and resources from senior management,” the IW article explains. “This struggle is vitally important for quality management departments that continue to struggle with competing for resources. Once organizations get clarity on the financial impact of quality, the next step is to understand what practices and applications help improve the financial value.”
Unfortunately, this seems to be easier said than done. Based on the results of a 2016 survey conducted by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), approximately 60 percent of organizations say they don’t know or don’t measure the financial impact of quality. According to a report on the survey’s findings, “this lack of measurement may be attributed to not having a common method for capturing the financial impact.”
Many companies also do not understand the benefits of measuring quality and, instead, simply use it as a means of “compliance” or to keep customers happy. This is especially true in today’s market. As stated in the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, customers continue to expect higher quality and tighter tolerances from their metal-cutting suppliers.
However, the IW article states that quality should be about more than “checking a compliance box” or basic due diligence. “Developing a solid foundation of quality assurance for continuous improvement, risk mitigation, and compliance provide immeasurable value,” the article states. “However, once that solid foundation is established, organizations can then leverage quality for the benefit of the customer and enhance brand image, thus serving as a competitive differentiator.”
In fact, based on ASQ and ASQC’s survey findings, “organizations that leverage quality as a strategic asset were more likely to report higher levels of financial gains from their quality program.” In other words, companies are using quality to drive profitability.
For more information on how to start measuring the cost of quality, click here to access IW’s four-part series. The articles look at the relationship between financial benefits and the following areas:
- the role and uses of quality,
- governance and standardization of quality,
- quality training for suppliers, and
- quality incentives and training for staff.
How are you measuring the financial impact quality has in your service center?
January 25, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, emplo, Employee Morale, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, productivity, skills gap, strategic planning
Teamwork is essential to any manufacturing operation. Most experts agree that it is the cornerstone of any successful improvement initiative, and many of today’s industry leaders understand that collaboration and decision-making go hand in hand. From the shop floor to the executive office, everyone’s input carries value.
Unfortunately, building strong teams isn’t as easy as sitting a bunch of people in a room together once a week. As one article from IndustryWeek points out, just because a company works in teams doesn’t mean it is good at teamwork. Simply building a team isn’t enough. The goal has to be building an effective team.
What does this look like in a forging environment? For many companies, it starts with creating a sense of unity. According to an article from Reliable Plant, the goal is to remove the barriers that often exist between the departments by taking a one-plant, one-team approach. Specifically, the trade publication suggests removing any team or function name that directs the function of the team to one specific department or function. For example, change the name of total quality management to total quality manufacturing and then develop improvement teams consisting of personnel from each department within the plant. “This begins to create a common workplace interest and supports a one-plant, one-team environment,” the article states.
Another important step is for managers to consistently ask employees for input and, more importantly, to make some of their ideas a reality. According to 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. To see this principle in action, check out this video, which shows one manufacturing floor operator’s reaction to implementing a high-performance team culture in his organization.
An article appearing in the Harvard Business Review confirms that effective teams are hard to build, especially in today’s diverse, dispersed, and digital world. However, it is possible. Quoting research from J. Richard Hackman, a pioneer in the field of organizational behavior who began studying teams in 1970, HBR says there are three “enabling conditions” that lead to strong, thriving teams. The following is a quick summary of those conditions, as described by HBR (You can read the full article here.):
- Compelling direction. The foundation of every great team is a direction that energizes, orients, and engages its members. Teams cannot be inspired if they don’t know what they’re working toward and don’t have explicit goals. Goals should be challenging enough to motivate, and they also must be consequential: People have to care about achieving a goal, whether because they stand to gain extrinsic rewards, like recognition, pay, and promotions; or intrinsic rewards, such as satisfaction and a sense of meaning.
- Strong structure. Teams also need the right mix and number of members, optimally designed tasks and processes, and norms that discourage destructive behavior and promote positive dynamics. High-performing teams include members with a balance of skills. Every individual doesn’t have to possess superlative technical and social skills, but the team overall needs a healthy dose of both.
- Supportive context. Having the right support is the third condition that enables team effectiveness. This includes maintaining a reward system that reinforces good performance, an information system that provides access to the data needed for the work, and an educational system that offers training, and last—but not least—securing the material resources required to do the job, such as funding and technological assistance. While no team ever gets everything it wants, leaders can head off a lot of problems by taking the time to get the essential pieces in place from the start.
The HBR article goes on to describe a fourth condition—shared mindset—which is similar to Reliable Plant’s suggestions for creating a one-plant, one-team environment. This condition requires managers to facilitate shared information among departments and to be intentional about building bridges among team members.
Like any company-wide initiative, building an effective manufacturing team takes time, intention, and a little trial and error. By encouraging unity, fostering collaboration, and implementing strong foundational elements such as diversity and incentives, today’s forges can create a team-centered manufacturing environment that truly benefits everyone.
How are you creating a team environment in your forging operation?
January 10, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, customer service, industry news, LIT, quality
Like many industrial metal-cutting companies, fabricators face the constant challenge of balancing speed with quality. Although most managers understand that both are critical, tight schedules and rising customer expectations are making it more and more difficult for companies to keep up.
According to the brief, “Strategies for Improving Customer Service and On-Time Delivery in Industrial Metal Cutting,” managers need to be sure that when push comes to shove, quality comes first. “While speed and agility are certainly key attributes of any leading metal-cutting operation, they cannot come at the expense of accuracy,” the brief states. “In sawing, for example, if an operator increases the speed of the saw to get more cuts per minute without considering the feed setting or the material, the end result will be decreased blade life, possible maintenance issues, and lower quality cuts. In the same way, companies focused solely on speed and delivery without considering the quality aspect of customer service will likely see other areas of their business suffer, including customer retention and costs.”
Leading fabricators understand the benefits of keeping quality high, and many continue to invest in this part of their operations. Madden Bolt, a fabricator based in Houston, TX, recently announced that it has earned its AISC certification from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). The goal of the certification, the company states, is to further demonstrate to customers its commitment to delivering quality steel products—a step Madden says only half of the steel fabricators in its category have taken.
According to a company press release, the six-month AISC certification process was worth the effort and directly benefits customers. Specifically, the certification requires Madden Bolt to implement effective procedures that safeguard the specifications and agreements within customer contracts, including a system that would resolve discrepancies or deviations from contract requirements. Madden is also required to ensure that material ordered complies with design and drafting specifications and that the materials are inspected to meet ASTM standards.
Many fabricators are also in the process of undergoing ISO 9001:2015 certification. The quality standard, which was recently updated, is a best practice for many industrial metal-cutting organizations, including Metal Cutting Service, Inc. in City of Industry, CA. David Viel, president of the specialty metal-cutting shop, admits that while it is hard to pinpoint the dollar benefit ISO 9001 certification has brought to his bottom line, it has definitely offered a return on investment. “Our quality, if I had to make an estimate, would be in the range of a 20% to 30% improvement,” he says here in a case study.
Of course, certification is just one way fabricators can invest in quality. There are several technologies available that help industrial metal-cutting companies enforce quality control, such as the inspection tools used by companies featured here and here in Modern Metals.
Regardless of how you decide to ensure quality within your shop, the point is that you put in the time and resources necessary to make it a top priority. In today’s fast-paced market, slow and steady does not win the race, but fast and sloppy doesn’t stand a chance.
In what ways has your fabrication shop invested in maintaining high quality standards?
January 5, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, industry news, LIT, strategic planning, supplier relationships, supply chain
As metal service centers and other industrial manufacturers find new ways to stay competitive, the role suppliers play is becoming more and more critical. Now more than ever, manufacturers need to be in tune with what is happening within their supply chain.
One major trend companies need to be aware of is the shifting dynamic within the supply chain, much of which has been caused by cost pressures. “Competitive pressure to reduce costs is forcing changes in supply chain operating models, creating more complexity and dependence in the value chain,” notes PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on its website. “The number of entities and interdependence between parties is increasing and expectations regarding reporting are also becoming more burdensome.”
Another trend is increased collaboration with suppliers. Many service centers are looking to form strategic relationships with suppliers that can provide value, not just low-cost services or products. A white paper from the Lenox Institute of Technology discusses how this is happening within industrial metal-cutting:
“Operations managers increasingly find that to be successful, they must establish a collaborative vendor relationship that moves far beyond the sale of a product. By leveraging all of the assets their vendors can bring to the table, companies can form strategic partnerships that not only help fulfill their customer demands, but that also help optimize other aspects of the business such as cost management and employee training.”
A recent article from ThomasNet confirms this trend, stating that supplier collaboration will be crucial in 2017. The article, which you can access here, lists three more trends worth noting:
- Increased Emphasis on Ethics and Transparency. In 2016, many companies came under fire due to a lack of ethical practices within their supply chain. As consumers become more environmentally and sustainability conscious, supply chain professionals will be under enormous pressure to ensure that their products are safe, ethical, and environmentally friendly. As a result, procurement teams will invest in technologies that provide greater visibility into their suppliers.
- Digital Will Become Standard. For years, the supply chain has been shifting away from the paper-and-technology model of information management to an all-digital approach. In 2017, that shift will go from optional to essential.
- The Supply Chain Will Get Agile. Today’s intricate, global supply chains are inherently risky, so supply chain managers need to be able to plan ahead and react quickly when a disruption does occur. Thanks to the advent of real-time data, it’s now possible. Leveraging data, supply chain professionals can make quick decisions that can resolve potential crises.
Of course, only time will tell how much of an impact these trends will have on your service center this year. Some of them may have no impact at all. However, for those companies that want to have an edge up on the competition, it is critical to keep a pulse on every aspect of your business, including your supply chain.
Engaging Employees Is Key to Continuous Improvement in Your Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing Operation
December 30, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, strategic planning
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:
- Review Outcomes. Ruisi suggests that managers adopt his “study your game films” approach. At the end of every important project, regardless of the outcome, teams should meet and ask questions that encourage improvement: If we had to do this again, what would we start doing; stop doing; do more of or do less of? This simple process ensures that you learn something from every event to make you better the next time.
- Explain the Big Picture. Most employees know what they must do, when to do it, and how to do it. Many do not know why they do it, who they do it for, and where it fits in to the total picture. Armed with the “why, who, and where,” they are better able to identify and suggest ways they can improve and contribute to the company’s larger goals.
- Gather Feedback Regularly. Start meeting with small groups of your team members on a regular basis to actively solicit their feedback on how their work is produced. Start with only one question: What’s one thing we can do today to produce a better result tomorrow? Take the same approach with your better customers. They have a lot to offer as long as you ask and show them that you sincerely want their feedback.
- Encourage Ownership. At the end of every staff meeting, ask “what’s one thing we could do better?” Once an idea is identified, ask the person who suggested it to “own” that project. This encourages feedback and empowers your team members to take ownership in the continuous improvement effort.
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?