employee incentives

Four Ways Fabricators Can Encourage Lean Success

August 10, 2017 / , , , , , , , , ,

Continuous improvement and lean manufacturing are certainly not new concepts to today’s fabricators. The numerous benefits of “getting lean” have been widely accepted, which means that most shops have already undergone some type of improvement initiative. In many cases, understanding the benefits of lean manufacturing is not the challenge. The real challenge is making the initiative stick long enough to produce results.

Unfortunately, that is often not the case. Using a hypothetical example, an article from The Fabricator explains that it is not uncommon for a fabrication company to go through four or five different improvement initiatives, none of which end up successful. The problem, the article states, is that engineers and managers may make changes to the way employees do their work, but they really don’t spend enough time helping operators and other employees understand why or how to do it. Even if everyone is often willing to take on the lean transformation, managers need to teach everyone the “what, why, and how” behind the lean principles.

In addition, there are often employees that are hesitant to embrace improvement initiatives like lean manufacturing. Some may even actively fight against it, even while performing their assigned lean tasks.

The goal for any manager should be to not only get workers to adopt lean principles, but to fully embrace them. Getting everyone—from the top down—is the only way a shop will start seeing results. As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boost Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, for lean to be successful, “it must permeate the business silos and receive universal backing amongst senior management and employees.”

How can managers accomplish this? A recent article from IndustryWeek offers four ways fabricators can get even the toughest employees on board with lean initiatives:

  1. Don’t Gloss Over the Fact that Challenging Times Lie Ahead. Instead of minimizing potentially negative consequences of the looming change, state flat out that some individuals will face more adversity than others. Much of this has to start from the top. The unknown intimidates, frustrates, and creates emotional insecurity. If leadership communicates and exhibits its vision, then change becomes the catalyst for improvement.
  2. Evaluate Current Staffing. Lean management is not synonymous with layoffs. However, some team members are not open to working in a lean culture. They may not agree with lean philosophies, nor do they want to better understand these principles. If you retain these individuals as company culture evolves around them, you are not benefiting them by allowing them to continue working for a lean company. Consider respectfully transitioning recalcitrant team members out of their positions.
  3. Pre-plan Team Communications. Use rich communication mediums to announce change. Face-to-face communication cannot be overvalued as a means to convey positivity, commitment, and optimism. An “all hands” meeting is an appropriate venue for the initial announcement. Do not make a habit of distracting teams from their primary responsibilities with frequent updates.
  4. Highlight Empowerment Versus the Increase in Responsibilities. Team members accustomed to traditional workplace cultures will not readily evaluate their own actions and suggest process improvements. This type of self-evaluation may be completely foreign to them. Initially, many team members will find the concept of increased responsibility daunting rather than empowering. To teach lean thinking, strive to make lean ambassadors out of the organization’s influence drivers. Focus on those who can deliver change and who will become not only the informal leader on the floor, but also the industrial athlete of the cell.

While changing processes is certainly a huge part of any lean manufacturing journey, getting people to accept, embrace, and understand the changes is the first and most important step a shop can take. As many fabricators have discovered, missing this critical step could mean the difference between seeing results and hitting another dead end.

employee incentives

How Industrial Metal Cutting Companies Can Bridge the Skills Gap

July 15, 2016 / , , , , , , ,

With more baby boomers leaving manufacturing jobs than entry-level candidates choosing a career in manufacturing, there’s no doubt that the manufacturing skills gap exists. However, a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and The Manufacturing Institute found that while some manufacturers aren’t feeling the gap yet, others are worried the gap will widen.

According to the June 2016 PwC study, 33% of manufacturers say they have little or no difficulty hiring talent while 41% have “moderate difficulty.” This doesn’t mean, however, that a worker shortage isn’t on the horizon: 31% of manufacturers see no skills shortage now but expect to see one within the next three years. In addition, another 26% believe the gap has already peaked and 29% think it will only get worse.

While no one knows if or when the gap will worsen, the point is that companies need to address it now. In most cases, managing the gap will require companies to change the way they train and maintain talent. According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, companies are rethinking their hiring tactics and beefing up training programs to help bridge the gap.

Aluminum manufacturer Alcoa, for example, has quadrupled the number of its internships at its Technology Center in New Castle, Penn., in the past three years to ensure it attracts and retains top talent, according to an article from IndustryWeek. In addition, the company is partnering with a community college to train 60 students in additive manufacturing and 3-D printing.

The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Intl. is also working to boost enrollment in  metal forming and fabricating career paths. As reported here, the association developed a multi-media site to showcase stories, videos and interactive resources to raise awareness of technical education. Educators at 12 schools across the country will have memberships to the site ( in an effort to attract and develop a new-generation workforce.

In addition to new hiring strategies, companies also need to be sure their training programs are designed to take on a new generation of workers. According to an article from American Machinist, there are a few ways to implement effective training to help bridge the skills gap:

  1. Make training mobile. As we discussed in this blog post, mobile technology is changing the manufacturing landscape. Besides increasing productivity, portable devices can be used as virtual textbooks. Create web-based training that is optimized for smartphones and tablets so your workforce can brush-up on best practices, learn new techniques, and develop new skills anywhere and at any time.
  2. Make it easy to digest. Keep training content short and sweet, especially given that manufacturing and engineering subjects can be detailed and, let’s be honest, not the most exciting to read. Create training content that is streamlined, divided into short chapters or sections, and that is clear, concise, and geared toward employee engagement.
  3. Teach skills they won’t find somewhere else. Training, in general, will help your industrial metal-cutting operations run more efficiently, but it can also help you edge-out the competition when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Provide training that equips employees with the skills unique to your operation and products, especially with entry-level employees. Custom training will not only boost operational productivity, but will also create an incentive for those employees to grow along with your operations.

Proactively attracting new talent and investing in training can help bridge the skills gap within your industrial metal-cutting operation, but they are only two pieces of the puzzle. Cultivating a company culture that actively and continually invests in its employees can have a long-term effect on not only the quality of your workforce, but the quality of your operations as well. People affect process and can play a huge role in an operation’s success.

Do you think the skills gap is affecting your metal-cutting operations? What strategies are you implementing to bridge the gap?

employee incentives

Three Ways Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Can Empower Operators

February 29, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,

As ball and roller bearing manufacturers strive for continuous improvement and optimization within their operations, there is no question that process improvement is a top priority. Leaders know that today’s competitive environment requires them to invest time and resources in finding new tools, technology, and strategies for increasing productivity and reducing waste.

However, managers need to be sure they are not so wrapped up in process improvements that they are neglecting the other half of the continuous improvement equation—people.

As explained in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, people affect process. “Mechanical inefficiencies can often be solved with technology, but industry leaders are finding they can no longer ignore the human variables that contribute to productivity,” the paper states. “A lack of skill sets, business knowledge, and employee morale can affect vital areas of an operation, from inventory and parts costs to output and safety.”

When managers fail to focus on their operators, they are likely hurting their processes and, even more so, missing out on a prime opportunity for improvement. According to an article from The Manufacturer, a valued workforce can make the biggest impact on a factory’s efficiency. “Creating an environment where your workforce feels valued and respected results in motivation and loyalty,” the article states. This, it adds, can add up to tangible benefits, including higher output and lower absenteeism.

“Studies have found if employees are engaged, they put in twice as much effort, and will take just two-and-a-half sick days/year instead of six-and-a-half,” the article states. “This involvement leads to staff identifying with the company, its products, and sharing the corporate values.”

Indeed, a growing number of manufacturers are finding employee engagement can be just as critical as skills training when it comes to operator productivity. According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, operators who take ownership of their process or work area can positively affect all aspects of an industrial metal-cutting operation, including quality, productivity, and in the end, the bottom line. “Similarly, when employees feel disconnected, those same business areas can be negatively affected,” the eBook states.

The following are three key ways managers can better engage operators and make them feel valued:

A recent article from the Liquid Planner also encourages managers to be intentional about creating a positive work environment by simply engaging in meaningful in-person conversations. “We’re all human, and most humans respond well to the real thing—in-person communication that says ‘you matter,’” the article states.

Perhaps an article from IndustryWeek states it best: “Most employees don’t need a $10 gas card; they just need to know that they can have an impact, their ideas matter, and they are appreciated.“

Yes, the idea of engaging and empowering employees sounds a bit cliché, especially as technology advances and competition intensifies. However, managers are finding that operators who feel valued are able to bring more value to the business.

In what ways could you better engage your operators?

employee incentives

Myths and Facts About Millennials Entering the Industrial Metal-Cutting Industry

November 15, 2015 / , , , , ,

As more and more Baby Boomers near retirement, most industrial metal-cutting organizations are being forced to replace 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 (also known as Generation Y) to fill the gap. In fact, an article from California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC) estimates that by 2025, three out of four people in the American workforce will fall into the Millennials category, which includes individuals born between the 1980s and 2000s.

The challenge for manufacturers, then, has been finding ways to attract this up-and-coming generation of workers. This has initiated several discussions within the industry about some of the characteristics of Millennials and what companies need to do to cater to their “tendencies.” On the plus side, some experts are saying Millennials are tech-savvy optimists that have a lot to offer the manufacturing industry. Others, however, are stereotyping them as self-centered and sheltered.

In an effort to find some real answers about Millennials, IBM conducted a multi-generational, global study of employees from both small and large organizations. In the study, the manufacturing giant compared the preferences and behavioral patterns of Millennials with those of Gen X and Baby Boomers. What IBM found was surprising.

“We discovered that Millennials want many of the same things their older colleagues do,” the company wrote on its website. “While there are some distinctions among the generations, Millennials’ attitudes are not poles apart from other employees’.”

Based on the study results, IBM debunks five common myths about Millennials:

Regardless of what you may or may not have believed about Millennials, here’s another fact: They will be a large part of the workforce and, as a result, will play a role in the success of your company. Some metals executives, like Bob Weidner, president of the Metal Service Center Institute, are welcoming this new influx of workers and look forward to the opportunities they offer the industry. In his editorial, “To the Class and Industry Leaders of 2015,” Weidner writes:

“We are now aggressively looking for a new generation of creative employees. A new workforce of leading edge innovators with the talent, intellect and productive energy that will keep the American metals industry ahead of the global pack in the face of a gale of disruptive forces that are altering the way we do business. We are looking for dedication, for people who want to do meaningful, socially important work in these shifting times.”

Weidner goes on to state that it is important for the metals executives to continually look at the industry and the workforce “through a new lens” and that companies should always welcome “opportunities to adapt.” As pointed out by the e-book Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, this may require some companies to change the way they train and maintain talent, whether that means beefing up training programs or rethinking their hiring tactics. For others, it may mean simply figuring out how to leverage the strengths of a multi-generational workforce. Either way, change within the workforce is happening. Perhaps it’s time to adapt.

How is your company preparing for the next generation of workers?

employee incentives

Strategies for Metal Cutting Companies Juggling Multiple Improvement Efforts

August 15, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,

As manufacturing leaders aim for continuous improvement, they typically find themselves juggling multiple initiatives at once to reach the performance and quality level expected in today’s market. It isn’t uncommon for a shop to simultaneously implement a lean practice like 5S while also bumping up its productivity goals. Or, as revealed in a case study on high production metal-cutting companies from the LENOX Institute of Technology, managers may be overseeing ongoing initiatives like ISO 9001 certification, training, and preventative maintenance.

While these best practices are typically worth the effort, the challenge is making sure each is managed well enough to actually be effective. If not handled correctly, employees and even management can end up overwhelmed and uninspired, which typically adds up to little or no results.

According to an article from Plant Engineering, the problem is that most managers have not been properly trained on how to manage multiple improvement efforts. Instead of leading, many turn into micromanagers that have their hands in every initiative, making it hard for supervisors and employees to “buy into” or take ownership of whatever is being asked of them. As Muriel Maignan Wilkins, coauthor of Own the Room and managing partner of Paravis Partners, recently told the Harvard Business Review: “Micromanaging dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust—and it limits your team’s capacity to grow.”

To help managers navigate today’s continuous improvement landscape, the following is a condensed list of Plant Engineering’s “dos” and “don’ts” for managing multiple improvement initiatives:

1. Delegate. While managers and supervisors should sponsor teams to make sure they have what they need to accomplish their work, the reality is that the managers and supervisors need to let go and get out of the way so the teams can get their work done. Your job is to remove roadblocks, provide resources, and report progress.

2. Stop having meetings about meetings. Team progress reports can all be accomplished through electronic communication in the form of team notes that can be sent in an email. If you’re having meetings about meetings, you are headed in the wrong direction and wasting people’s time.

3. It’s all about the business case. Every effort should have a business case, and as a manager, you need to request the business case for every new initiative or directive that comes from corporate.

4. Set behavior-based goals and rewards. Working in a safe and environmentally responsible way is about behaviors and rewarding the right behaviors is what helps to improve performance in these areas. Reward things like near misses reported or mistakes discovered in a lockout/tagout procedure and the performance of safety audits. Odds are you will notice not only an improvement in performance, but your people will clearly see that Employee Health, Safety, and Environment are truly the top priority.

5. Stay out of the way! Nothing will slow the wheels of improvement faster than a manager who believes he/she has to be involved in everything. Simply demand a business case from each team; if there is a business case for mitigating or eliminating the problem, then give them the green light to go to work. Reinforce them for meeting on a regular basis, for showing that they are using a structured approach to solving problems, and for providing open communications.

Is your shop juggling multiple improvement efforts? What strategies are you using to ensure they all receive equal attention and profitable results?

employee incentives

How Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Can Invest in their Workforce

June 30, 2015 / , , , , , , ,

As any successful manager understands, a company is only as good as its employees. Although metal companies have traditionally spent more on equipment than on people, the tide is changing. With a shortage of skilled production workers, manufacturers are finding that it is not only beneficial but necessary to invest in their workforce.

For example, according to results from a 2014 survey from Prime Advantage, a buying group for manufacturing firms, companies stated that while they are growing and looking to hire, finding qualified workers is becoming harder. In fact, survey respondents listed “access to qualified workers” as the top growth barrier for small and mid-sized industrial manufacturers.

Attacking this “skills gap” will require many companies to change the way they train and maintain talent, whether by beefing up training programs or rethinking hiring tactics. Below are a few strategies roller ball and bearing manufacturers can use to fully equip new employees, while also optimizing the skill set of their existing workforce:

employee incentives

How Fabricators Can Benefit from Employee Engagement

June 10, 2015 / , , , , , ,

While the idea of empowering employees sounds a bit cliché, a growing number of managers are finding that operators who take ownership of their process or work area are truly invaluable. As discussed in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, employee “buy-in” can positively affect all aspects of an industrial metal-cutting operation, including quality, productivity, and in the end, the bottom line. Similarly, when employees don’t “buy-in” or feel disconnected from their job, those same business areas can be negatively affected.

Unfortunately, the latter seems to be more common. According to ongoing research from Gallup, about 70 percent of American employees are not engaged. Based on Gallup’s definition, this means that the majority of U.S. employees do not feel involved in, enthusiastic about, or committed to their work and workplace.

As a manager, the data may seem a bit disheartening. However, the good news is that U.S. companies have a prime opportunity for growth sitting right underneath their noses, or in the case of fabricators, standing right on their shop floor.

Bob Du Fresne, CEO of metal sheet fabricator Du Fresne Manufacturing, discovered this firsthand. About five years ago, Du Fresne was struggling to keep his fabrication business afloat, and the executive needed a new way to stay profitable. The executive, featured here in the Star Tribune, found that his employees were the answer.

Instead of his typical top-down management approach, Du Fresne decided to adopt a more employee-centered strategy that included shop-floor suggestions and innovation, lean manufacturing, and continuous improvement. The results are  impressive: Sales at the fabrication shop are growing, employment is up, old customers are returning, and workers are earning overtime.

“The employees focused their passion and talent and saved this company,” Du Fresne told the Star Tribune. “Employees have made thousands of suggestions, and we used 99 percent of them. That led to productivity and quality improvement.”

With results like that, it’s hard to argue against the impact employees can have on profitability. How, then, can you get your employees more engaged? While there are a variety of ways to accomplish this, the below strategies from EHS Today provide some solid best practices managers should follow:

As the Gallup research shows, many managers are missing the mark when it comes to employee engagement, and as a result, they could be hurting the overall performance of their company. In De Fresne’s case, taking the time to engage employees built a new level of trust among employees and management—a trust that he says “opened doors to a transformation journey for the company.” Perhaps employee engagement is the key to your shop’s transformation as well.

employee incentives

How Should Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Allocate Resources for their Metal Cutting Operations?

February 28, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today’s cost-sensitive market makes it difficult for managers to gauge how they should strategically allocate resources within their industrial metal-cutting operations. Is it wise to make high-tech capital investments in an uncertain economy, or would manufacturers be better served to invest in their human capital to close the growing skills gap?

These types of questions can be especially challenging in a mature market like ball and roller bearing manufacturing, where seasoned employees may be resistant to change, both in terms of company culture and technology. However, leaders need to be sure they are making strategic decisions that benefit both the company and their employees, and avoiding the trap of making allocation decisions because “that’s the way they’ve always been done.”

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers discern how to best allocate resources within their operations, below are some resources that discuss some of the trends and strategies today’s manufacturing leaders are using to get ahead in today’s market:

employee incentives

Valuing Your Plant Floor Operators Can Pay Off

March 4, 2014 / , , ,

For the last several years, most metals companies have been investing in technology to improve productivity. And as the industry tries to deal with the skills gap, that trend will likely continue. In fact, a report from Fabricating & Metalworking expects 2014 to be the year of “unprecedented automation.”

However, industry leaders also realize that automation isn’t going to be the panacea for their workforce challenges, nor is it the only way they can optimize their operations. A growing number of manufacturers are finding that plant floor workers can play just as much of a role in improving efficiency and, if leveraged correctly, can be more of an asset than a cost.

According to this article in The New York Times, a few years ago, motorcycle manufacturer Harley completely redesigned its production system around this concept. The company built a brand new plant, but instead of relying on robots to ramp up productivity, the well-known brand put its value in its workers and the problem-solving skills they brought to the table.

Of course, Harley is a custom, unionized shop. Can the same hold true in a high-production metal-cutting environment? A recent column from IndustryWeek says yes. As evidenced in the winners of its Best Plants Award, IW says that leading manufacturers—both union and non-union—are investing in their plant floor production staffs and are seeing positive bottom-line results.

Here are a few metals companies that also finding that to be the case:

To succeed in today’s competitive market, metalworking executives need to optimize all aspects of their operations—and that includes their human capital. Whether it’s incentivizing employees to keep quality high, leveraging their problem-solving skills to improve productivity, or providing them with the training to acquire the skills required in today’s automated plant, it pays to value your operators. Like Harley, metals companies have a choice: They can either treat their plant floor operators as costs, or they can turn them into valuable assets.