June 20, 2016 / agility, human capital, industry news, KPIs, lean manufacturing, maintaining talent, operations metrics, performance metrics, skills gap, strategic planning
In today’s lean manufacturing world, managers and executives are encouraged to “stay grounded” and find out first-hand what is happening in their operations. As we stated in a previously published blog, improvement decisions can’t be made in an ivory tower. Instead, lean experts advise manufacturing executives to make the time to visit the shop floor—also known as taking a “gemba walk”—so they can see their operation from the front lines.
At the same time, however, today’s competitive market requires leaders to keep a pulse on “megatrends” so they can create innovative, strategic solutions that balance internal efficiency with external demands. In other words, even small shop managers need to be tracking larger scale trends so they can stay competitive and respond to changing customer expectations and an evolving manufacturing industry.
According to Modern Machine Shop, the recent MFG Meeting in Palm Springs, CA highlighted some bigger picture trends that are shaping manufacturing. Below is a summary of three key trends, as reported by Editor Mark Albert:
- Navigating a sea of information. Albert notes that in three to five years, more than a trillion objects will be networked. “Products and user communities will merge,” he states. “The structure of the factory will evolve into a social network. Designers and manufacturers must be ready to create products that behave like living organisms.”
- Cyber security. “The pervasive interconnection of things (which exists today) exposes every company to a massive threat from cyber criminals and malicious hackers,” Albert states. “Companies must adopt defensive strategies that build in, not bolt on, protection at every level.”
- Stay optimistic. Albert says that despite what seems to be persistently negative influences and nagging uncertainties, the economic outlook for U.S. manufacturing is positive. As one leading economist asserted at the MFG meeting, a calm and rational analysis sees better times ahead—as indicated by the numbers, not the emotions.
A contributed article appearing in IndustryWeek echoed similar trends, but zeroed in on the effect “Big Data” will have on manufacturing. “The ability to collect and analyze large volumes of data in economic transactions has revolutionized customer care in the retail and finance sectors,” the article states. “In manufacturing, Big Data will accelerate the integration of IT, manufacturing, and operational systems on the shop floor and lead to better forecasting and understanding of plant performance.”
The IW article also noted the changing demographics of the workforce—a trend of which most machine shops and industrial metal-cutting companies are well aware. According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization, by the year 2020, most companies will have five generations in the workplace. This may certainly create some challenges, but as the eBook explains, managers can also use this demographic mix to their benefit by leveraging the different strengths found within their multigenerational workforce.
“While younger, less experienced workers may lack industry knowledge, they are typically more technology savvy and more willing to embrace new techniques,” the eBook explains. “Seasoned workers, on the other hand, may be resistant to both change and technological improvements; however, they typically have a vast amount of experience and loyalty, and may be able to mentor new employees.”
Of course, these are just some of the big-picture trends affecting machine shops, and many are already responding. As reported in our “Machine Shop Outlook for 2016,” a benchmarking study from Modern Machine Shop revealed that leading U.S. machine shops this year are focusing on workforce training and talent to close the skills gap, improving shop floor practices to optimize processes, and investing in future technology to stay competitive.
How is your shop responding to these megatrends?
June 10, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, strategic planning
For the last few years, manufacturers have touted continuous improvement as a top priority and company goal. 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 metal-cutting shops above the rest.
However, the truth is while many managers understand the theory of continuous improvement, many are still unsure of how to successfully put it into practice. In fact, research has found that the success rate for continuous improvement efforts is less than 60 percent.
What is continuous improvement? Is it simply a set of tools to adopt and implement—or is there more to it than that? Below is a brief overview of this often over-used, misunderstood term, and some tips for putting it to work in your fabrication shop.
Defining Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement (CI) is defined by ASQ as an ongoing effort to improve a product, service, or process. Most companies achieve this by either adopting one of the well-known continuous improvement methods or through the combination of two or more tools.
According to ASQ, the most widely used tool for continuous improvement is a four-step quality model—the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle, also known as Deming Cycle or Shewhart Cycle. Other widely used tools include Six Sigma, lean manufacturing, and Total Quality Management.
Even so, as an article from Canadian Metalworking points out, it’s important for managers to remember that continuous improvement is more than just a collection of tools. “Many people mistake the individual tools of continuous improvement for the most important part of the program,” the article states. “The tools are just the most visible part that we can see, and subsequently adopt.”
Personnel development, the Canadian Metalworking article continues, should actually be the central focus of continuous improvement. This means that people—not tools—need to be the primary focus of your CI efforts.
People before Process
When focusing on personnel development, there are three areas in particular that managers should focus on. As the following explains, teamwork, management, and culture all play critical roles in a successful CI program:
- Teamwork. According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Company, “continuous improvement initiatives need to be a team effort to be sustainable.” In other words, to improve your industrial metal-cutting operations to its fullest potential, you need to have the right people with the right skills to keep your plan on course. Without a team backing the process, the very notion of any continuous improvement program is impossible. (You can read more about building an effective CI team here.)
- Management. Managing an effective CI team requires a unique set of skills. As another article from Canadian Metalworking explains, because CI systems are a set of integrated systems, the management implications also are a set of intertwined values and approaches. “Organizational improvements very rarely take the form of massive, sweeping change,” the article explains. “Competent managers seem to have their fingers on all of the smallest details, and effective leaders are often described as “doing all of the little things” that make people feel appreciated, challenged, and engaged.” (To learn more about managing a CI team, read the full article here.)
- Culture. As any shop manager knows, employee “buy-in” is critical to the success of a shop. An operator who cares about his performance and understands how his job affects the company’s overall success is invaluable. The same principle holds true in CI programs, except that everyone needs to buy-in. It needs to be embedded into the company culture. “Building an effective continuous improvement culture is not just about executing a handful of process improvement projects,” explains a report from Deloitte. “That’s a good place to start—and companies may reap tangible rewards from those projects. But more is required to drive sustainable results over time and embed continuous improvement into the very fabric of the organization. That’s when the kind of real, transformational changes take place that can generate hundreds of millions of dollars of opportunities.” (For more information, you can download the full Deloitte report here.)
In theory, the concept of constantly improving a business sounds good. However, the truth is that many managers don’t fully understand what it takes to implement a successful CI program.
To be effective, continuous improvement needs to be about more than just a set of process improvement tools. While a tool may help you achieve short-term improvement, it is the people behind the effort that will help you realize continuous, ongoing improvements. Managers who focus on building a strong team and company culture fully devoted to continuous improvement will see long-term, sustainable results.
June 5, 2016 / benchmarking, best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, Output, performance metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, strategic planning, workflow process
Manufacturers know that downtime results in lost productivity and profits. However, thanks to technological advancements in predictive maintenance, service centers and other industrial metal-cutting companies can nearly eliminate downtime altogether.
Unlike preventative maintenance, which uses anticipated and planned downtime to prevent unplanned breakdowns and minimize cost impacts, predictive maintenance aims to predict breakdowns before they even occur. Software and sensors collect data, and algorithms identify not only the anticipated failure, but also calculate the probable time that failure will occur. This enables companies to repair or replace parts before failure and helps eliminate both planned and unplanned downtime.
Several industries are adopting predictive maintenance as part of their operations. An article from the Harvard Business Review provides a few examples:
- Airlines can now predict mechanical failures in advance and can reduce flight delays or cancellations based on data sources such as maintenance history and flight route information.
- The oil and gas industry can use real-time data to predict the failure of electric submersible pumps used to extract crude oil.
- Banks can use sensor data to predict the failure of an ATM cash withdrawal transaction.
The manufacturing industry is also adopting predictive maintenance, but research shows it is doing so at a slower rate compared to others. For example, a recent survey by the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association and LNS Research concluded that manufacturers have some work to do to catch up to current capabilities—only 14 percent of survey respondents said they used manufacturing data in their analytic program.
Of course, building a predictive maintenance program requires both time and money, but many manufacturers are finding that the benefits outweigh the cost. An article from American Metals Market lists just a few of the many potential benefits of using predictive maintenance:
- Reassurance of safe, continued plant operation
- Improved operating efficiencies
- Reduced lost production
- Reduced cost of maintenance
- Less likelihood of secondary damage to equipment
- Reduced inventory of spare parts
- Extension of the life of plant and mill equipment
- Improved product quality
According to the AMM article, several metals leaders are reaping the rewards of predictive maintenance, including:
- U.S. Steel Corp. uses machinery diagnostic services for oil analysis, vibration analysis, electrical thermographic analysis and more to keep its operations up and running.
- ArcelorMittal is using thermal imaging cameras to ensure proper operation of its production plants, saying it improves efficiency, safety, and helps avoid breakdowns and minimizes downtime.
The trend is also starting to gain traction in industrial metal cutting. The LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 metal service centers and other industrial metal-cutting organizations found that companies are gaining additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”
While there is no question that predictive maintenance is proving beneficial in the metals industry and beyond, some companies may be hesitant to adopt the technology due to the investment and the training required for implementation. However, if your goal is to reduce downtime and increase the chances of future success, this may be one technology worth considering.
For more information on predictive maintenance, check out this overview article, which lists common tools and techniques, as well as a video.
May 15, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, human capital, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, root cause analysis
There’s a well-known saying that a business is only as good as its people, and industrial metal-cutting operations are no exception. Effective teams are an essential component to the overall success of a business, especially one that aims for continuous improvement.
According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Company, “continuous improvement initiatives need to be a team effort to be sustainable.” In other words, to improve your industrial metal-cutting operations to its fullest potential, you need to have the right people with the right skills to keep your plan on course. Without a team backing the process, the very notion of any continuous improvement program is impossible.
Of course, the real challenge is building a strong continuous improvement team. As a recent article from IndustryWeek points out, just because a company works in teams doesn’t mean it is good at teamwork. Management’s goal has to be more than simply building a team; the goal needs to be building an effective team.
What does a successful continuous improvement team look like? An article from the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers provides nine best practices used by highly effective continuous improvement teams:
- Look at more than just numbers. Continuous improvement is very metric-driven, but don’t forget about inefficiencies that might show low numbers or those that aren’t easily quantified such as infrastructure, sanitation and preventative maintenance.
- Develop cross-functional teams. Expand your team to include more than just members from operations, engineering and quality. Cross-functional teams discuss and agree to solutions minimizing negative impacts before they happen.
- Define goals. Know what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it. More importantly, make those goals focused and achievable. Focusing on one set of challenges will allow you to see improvements quickly.
- Use automated KPIs. Collecting the right information at the right time will enable you to improve performance and eliminate inefficiencies.
- Utilize operators selectively. Operators are there to operate the line, not report data. While they can provide focused information when needed, don’t abuse their knowledge.
- Determine root causes. Whenever an issue arises, conduct a root cause analysis to find the real reason why it occurred.
- Focus on impactful, measurable change. You’ve analyzed the root causes, utilized cross-functional teams to prioritize issues and established a consensus for your process change. Now is the time to implement it and make sure it has the impact you thought by checking in with your team, tracking metrics and making adjustments as needed.
- Implement incentives that motivate. Reward hard work with an incentive program. Improve your operations by investing in your people.
- Benchmark. Competition is healthy. Know what others in the metal-cutting industry are tracking and their results. Use the comparison to further improve your operation.
Do you have a continuous improvement team? What habits do you feel make it an effective team?
May 10, 2016 / best practices, Cost Management, cost per cut, KPIs, lean manufacturing, operations metrics, optimization, predictive management, productivity, ROI, workflow process
As fabricators continue to seek new ways to optimize their operations, many are turning to software. Whether using it to connect the plant floor to the front office, or to measure key performance indicators (KPIs), data shows that more and more fabricators view software as a smart—and necessary—manufacturing tool.
For example, according the “2016 Capital Spending Forecast” from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, more than 94 percent of survey respondents said their software spending this year would either remain the same or increase. This is significant, especially as more and more reports show that many companies are pulling back on spending this year.
A separate benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop shows that leading shops are more likely to utilize advanced software programs in their operations. Specifically, the survey found that top-performing machine shops (referred to as “top shops”) are more apt to utilize software solutions like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and toolpath simulation software in comparison to other shops.
While there are many reasons software is becoming a valuable tool for manufacturers, for fabricators, a lot of it has to do with evolving customer demands. “As more custom fabricators are taking on more design work—beyond just design for manufacturability—engineering and estimating functions become more complex, especially as that work focuses on more subassemblies and full assemblies that call for multilevel bills of material and a multitude of sourced parts,” states a report from thefabricator.com. This, the article continues, is causing shops to invest in better methods of communication, as well as software tools like CAD/CAM, nesting systems, and ERP.
The good news is that as more manufacturers embrace software, the more tools are being developed—both by software designers and supply chain partners. Like consumers, industrial manufacturers are finding that where there is a need or challenge, there is indeed “an app for that.”
In metal cutting, specifically, there are several tools fabricators can use to help optimize their operations—many of which are free of charge. Below are two in particular that fabricators may find helpful:
- Bandsawing. SawCalc, a web-based software program from LENOX, is a free online tool that helps plant managers and operators solve band-sawing challenges encountered in the field by providing cutting recommendations for maximum blade performance. Users have free access to the program, which determines the proper cutting parameters based on material composition, size and shape, as well as the machine model. The program’s library of materials is regularly updated, providing accurate cutting recommendations for 54 country standards, and more than 35,000 materials and 9,000 band saw machines. Because the program is web-based, managers and operators can access the service right from the shop floor. Aerodye Alloys, a service center featured here in a case study, says that using the online tool has helped increase efficiency at one of its facilities by about 15 to 20 percent.
- Circular Sawing. For fabricators using circular saws, Tsune America has developed Sawculator, a free web-based software tool to assist fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies with pre-planning their sawing requirements. The downloadable program allows users to perform automatic US and Metric Dimensional Conversions on the fly, makes automatic suggestions for proper blade selection and chip load, provides more than twenty cutting job outlines, and calculates everything from estimated blade life and bar utilization to trim cut and net cutting time. Users can report prospective cutting jobs to their computer screen, as well as send it to concerned participants on the job via a local printer, email or Smart phone outputs. You can view a video of how the program works here.
Enhance Your Toolbox
Having the right tool for the job has always been a critical part of any metal-cutting operation, but fabricators are finding that it pays to have more than just hardware in their strategic toolbox. While it will never replace the important work machinery and other hardware tools perform on the shop floor, software tools can further optimize cutting operations by measuring important metrics, analyzing job trends, automating certain functions, and educating operators on proper cutting parameters. Although some software programs can be costly in terms of both money and training time, there are plenty of free tools available that can help even the smallest fabrication shop improve their operations.
What software tools are helping your shop optimize operations?
May 1, 2016 / best practices, customer satisfaction metrics, industry news, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, performance metrics, productivity, quality, strategic planning
As companies look for new ways to stay competitive, more and more manufacturers are utilizing “big data” and analytics in their operations. In fact, according to the results of a survey from Deloitte and the Council on Competitiveness, these types of advanced technologies have the power to put the U.S. back on the map as the most competitive manufacturing nation.
“CEOs say advanced manufacturing technologies are key to unlocking future competitiveness,” the report summary states. “As the digital and physical worlds converge within manufacturing, executives indicate the path to manufacturing competitiveness is through advanced technologies, ranking predictive analytics, Internet-of-Things (IoT), both smart products and smart factories via Industry 4.0, as well as advanced materials as critical to future competitiveness.”
Specifically, the report states that the application of these more advanced and sophisticated product and process technologies will help the U.S. and other traditional manufacturing powerhouses of the 20th century (i.e. Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom) reclaim their spots as the most competitive nations in 2016. The U.S. in particular is expected to take the number one spot away from China by the end of the decade.
What does this mean for industrial metal-cutting organizations? It means that if you haven’t already considered using data and software analytics in your facility, it may be time to revisit the idea. If data-driven manufacturing has the ability to make nations more competitive, that certainly says something about what it can do for individual companies.
Metrics that Matter
For many industrial manufacturers, the thought of using data may seem a bit daunting; however, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds. For example, a metal service center featured here in a white paper started by developing an internal software system that automatically tracks the number of square inches processed by its existing sawing equipment. At any point, the manager can go to a computer screen, click on a particular band saw or circular saw, and see how many square inches each saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. Gathering this type of data allows the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.
Richards Industries, a Cincinnati, OH, company that manufactures industrial valves, is using data in a similar way, according to a recent article from Modern Machine Shop. Although the company has been practicing lean manufacturing for years, it recently installed a machine-monitoring system that enables shop floor personnel to track activities and record the performance of its machine tools. “Like readings from a Fitbit or Jawbone, the data gathered and analyzed by this system is making the company more aware of how well machine time and manpower count toward productivity,” Modern Machine Shop reports.
Of course, these are just two examples. There are many other ways manufacturers can utilize data and advanced analytics to improve their operations. An article from IndustryWeek calls out a few key metrics industrial metal-cutting companies should consider as they implement data and analytics tools into their factory:
- Line speed by product. Take note of when and how often your line manufactures certain types of products; and then use tools to track the time and effort required to generate meaningful output for each. That way, you’ll have a better handle on what mix would produce the greatest profit.
- Granular utilization data. Look at the specific days and hours your factory produces its greatest output, as well as at what mix and with which operators on the floor. In other words, study the conditions that lead to the very best outcomes and then seek to reproduce those outcomes on a regular basis.
- Error rates correlated by product and employee. Avoiding mistakes is every bit as important as optimizing your mix and hours on the floor. Use Big Data and analytics tools to study error rates and then correlate the results by product and employee.
- Assembly speed by product and employee. Careful and error-free production is important, but so is speed, especially for facilities that deal with high volume. By using data and analytics tools to segment production, you can get a clearer understanding of what products are easier to produce and then ask your floor leaders why.
Whether you decide use data to gain productivity, monitor machines, or improve quality, the point is that data-driven manufacturing is here, and companies big and small are taking advantage of its many benefits. If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet, don’t get overwhelmed. Just get started.
How are you utilizing data to improve your operations and stay competitive?
April 1, 2016 / agility, continuous improvement, human capital, industry news, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, preventative maintenance, quality, strategic planning, supplier relationships, supply chain
Although many hoped that 2016 was going to be a year of full recovery and growth, expansion in the industrial manufacturing sector has been slow moving. High inventory levels, a strong dollar, falling commodity prices, and a slowdown in China have left many industrial metal-cutting companies disappointed and more than a little cautious.
Evidence of slow growth started at the end of 2015. According to estimates from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), manufacturing industrial production was unchanged from the third to the fourth quarter of 2015. Monthly data has shown erratic patterns of growth and decline that have pretty much cancelled out any movement forward—a trend that is expected to continue.
“We expect the volatility to continue through the first half of 2016, a situation that will result in essentially no manufacturing production growth,” MAPI stated in a recent report. “Manufacturing production should be flat in the first and second quarters of 2016 before accelerating to a 3-percent annual rate in the second half of 2016.”
For the entire year, MAPI expects manufacturing production to decelerate rather than accelerate compared to 2015. “Production increased 2 percent last year, and we forecast only 1.1-percent growth in 2016,” MAPI states. The good news is that MAPI predicts growth in industrial manufacturing of more than 2 percent for both 2017 and 2018.
Unfortunately, the forecast for steel demand also shows little to no growth, although 2016 is expected to be an improvement over 2015. According to the Short Range Outlook 2015-2016 from the World Steel Association (worldsteel), global steel demand decreased 1.7 percent in 2015 but is expected to grow by 0.7 percent in 2016.
“It is clear that the steel industry has, for the time being, reached the end of a major growth cycle which was based on the rapid economic development of China,” Hans Jürgen Kerkhoff, chairman of the worldsteel Economics Committee, said. “Combined with China’s slowdown, we also face low investment, financial market turbulence, and geopolitical conflicts in many developing regions.”
The only bright spot is that steel demand in developed countries is expected to show positive growth of 1.8 percent this year. The U.S. in particular should see demand increase by 2 percent in 2016, worldsteel predicts.
While no one wanted the year to start off slow, most manufacturers aren’t too surprised. In a roundtable discussion with Metal Center News (MCN), Michael Bush, a vice president at Esmark, Inc., was quoted as saying that he didn’t expect the market to pick up until at least May. “Even though it will pick up in the second half, we expect 2016 to be down 1 percent for the year,” Bush told MCN. “That’s our general feeling going into the market.”
Bush isn’t alone. The American Metals Market annual survey of metals executives showed that 30 percent of respondents in the steel, aluminum, and other metals sectors expected business to be worse in 2016, and 70 percent predicted that the domestic economy would not fully turnout until 2017 or later. (You can read the full report here.)
The reality is that the U.S. is still in the middle of an economic recovery, which means that metal-cutting companies and other manufacturers won’t likely see any major growth this year. According to MAPI, manufacturing industrial production must grow another 3 percent in order to reach the pre-recession production level achieved in the fourth quarter of 2007, which means a full recovery is expected in the third quarter of 2017. Non-high-tech manufacturing production is 5 percent below the prerecession level and will not be fully recovered until the third quarter of 2018.
On a positive note, the latest numbers from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) show some improvement. As reported by Plant Engineering, ISM’s monthly Purchasing Manufacturers’ Index (PMI) jumped 2.3 percentage points in March to 51.8 percent, putting the index solidly above the 50-percent growth threshold for the first time in 2016.
Out of 18 manufacturing industries, ISM says that 12 reported growth in March, including Fabricated Metal Products and Primary Metals. One survey respondent from the Primary Metals segment stated, “Our business is still going strong.” Another respondent from the Fabricated Metals Products segment said, “Capital equipment sales are steady.”
The big question, of course, is will this momentum continue? Analysts believe that continued growth will depend largely on continued strong employment because it creates new income growth and a solid base of consumer spending. MAPI says that another impetus is easy credit availability, which propels big-ticket spending for motor vehicles, residential housing, and nonresidential construction.
While the overall data is certainly sobering, there are a few signs that suggest the metals sector can still snap out of the lull. As Modern Metals recently reported, “The average age of a vehicle on the road still exceeds 10 years; construction season is coming and Congress passed a long-term highway bill in December.”
Metal executives participating in MCN’s roundtable believe that automotive—which is predicted to top 17 million vehicles this year—will be the big market driver, as well as residential and nonresidential construction, white goods, and anything associated with “green energy.”
A report from Fabricating & Metalworking says that surviving 2016 will require manufacturers to use the current market conditions to their advantage. “U. S. manufacturers should be aggressive to take advantage of falling costs while at the same time finding new opportunities created by these economic forces,” the report says. Specifically, the article states that companies should consider employing two key strategies:
- Target those markets that benefit from lower energy and commodity prices such as transportation.
- Modify supply chains to reflect the new realities.
From an operations standpoint, continuous improvement activities will continue to be critical for industrial metal-cutting companies as they push through this slow period. Finding ways to optimize what is happening inside your shop doors is perhaps one of the most effective ways to balance the uncertainty of what is happening outside your doors. What does that look like? An eBook from the LENOX Institute of Technology’s lists five performance-boosting best practices that can help metal-cutting companies improve internal operations:
- Get lean. Although lean manufacturing is not a new movement, it is evolving. Companies that “got lean” years ago are focusing on continuous improvement, and a growing number of high-mix, low-volume operations are tweaking traditional lean methodologies to fit their specific situation. Regardless of your organization’s size, lean manufacturing should be at least part of your operational strategy.
- Invest in human capital. Industry data indicates that metal executives tend to invest in technology over people, but the tide is changing as the manufacturing industry deals with a serious shortage of skilled production workers. Managing this skills gap will require changing the way companies train and maintain talent, whether by beefing up training programs or rethinking their hiring tactics.
- Focus on quality as a process. There is no question that speed and agility are critical in today’s fast-paced market, but managers need to make sure that meeting demand doesn’t come at the expense of accuracy. To meet this challenge a growing number of market leaders are putting practices in place to ensure that their quality goals are met and maintained.
- Embrace preventative maintenance. In almost every manufacturing operation, machine breakdowns are one of the top causes of lost productivity. While some downtime is inevitable, proper maintenance and proactive care of equipment and tooling can reduce its occurrence. One benchmark survey revealed that 67 percent of industrial metal-cutting operations that follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also report an upward trending job completion rate.
- Form strategic supplier relationships. In today’s competitive marketplace, it is easy to base supplier relationships on price. However, a growing number of manufacturing leaders are placing more value on their supply chain. By leveraging the knowledge and services of trusted suppliers, companies can turn vendor relationships into strategic partnerships that have a real impact on the bottom line.
Ready and Waiting
All things considered, 2016 won’t likely be a banner year for industrial metal-cutting organizations. However, not all hope is lost. Recent upticks in manufacturing may indicate some positive (albeit slow) momentum, and many experts believe growth is in the long-term future, even if we have to wait another year. Until then, metal-cutting companies can continue to apply strategies that address external trends while also improving internal operations, putting them in the best position possible when the market finally turns around.
March 30, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, lean manufacturing, LIT, optimization, productivity
Like every other high-production manufacturing segment, ball and roller bearing manufacturers have embraced lean manufacturing and the benefits it can bring. Some industry leaders like Timken have gone through total lean transformations, while others have opted to incorporate some simple lean tools or basic principles into their operation.
One lean manufacturing tool that continues to gain popularity among operations managers is “going to the Gemba” or taking a “Gemba walk.” This practical lean tool gives management a clear view of what is happening on the plant floor and, more importantly, reveals areas for possible improvement.
As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, “Gemba” is the Japanese term for “actual place,” but has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In a manufacturing environment, this is typically the shop floor. Many lean experts advise manufacturing executives to make time to visit this place—known as taking a “Gemba walk”—so they can see their operation from the front lines.
“Managers are not supposed to use this walk as a time to find fault or enforce policy, nor as a time to solve problems or make changes on the spot,” the eBook states. “Instead, a Gemba walk should be a time of observation and learning. Leadership should go on the walk with an open mind and welcome suggestions from operators and other shop floor employees.”
Why is a Gemba walk so important? A recent article from The Leadership Network provides three reasons why a regular Gemba walk is beneficial:
- First-hand knowledge is the highest form of information. A regular Gemba walk will give managers transparent and unmediated knowledge that is needed to challenge and validate assumptions made by data.
- Perspective is gained through experience. A regular Gemba walk allows managers to understand the challenges employees need to overcome on a daily basis to deliver the results that are being promised in the boardroom.
- Both people and process matter equally. A regular Gemba walk will help develop a culture that fixes the problems in a process and not one that blames the people performing the process.
In theory, a Gemba walk sounds fairly simple. Walking around and talking to operators seems pretty straightforward. However, there are a few tips managers should keep in mind before heading to the shop floor. IndustryWeek offers managers five suggestions to consider as they prepare for their Gemba walk:
- Have a theme or topic in mind. Walking with a theme and having discussions with people in Gemba related to something they have recently heard or been impacted by sends a powerful message: The organization cares enough to spend time learning from, and spending time with, people in Gemba.
- Have a planned route. In larger facilities it’s wise to keep track of where you’ve been so as not to spend too much time away from one area. Sometimes the theme will dictate your route, and in smaller work places it’s fine to simply walk, watch and listen.
- Be on the lookout for waste and seek input from people. They most likely know far more about what’s going on than you’ll ever know from looking at charts and sitting in meetings.
- Ask open-ended questions. Try to avoid asking questions that people would answer with a simple yes or no.
- Take notes. Write down what you see and hear, and note whom you talk to. Most leaders at some point facilitate or at least participate in all-hands meetings or other settings where large groups are pulled together.
March 20, 2016 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, lean manufacturing, LIT, preventative maintenance
Although the metalworking industry was hoping 2016 would be a year of growth, recent reports show continued declines in both new orders and production rates in February. While no one is worried that business is going to completely plummet, the sobering reality is that shops need to continue to focus on cost reduction and optimization to survive in today’s unpredictable and competitive market.
The challenge for many shops is figuring out where to optimize. After a few rough years, many shops have already implemented large-scale improvements to increase efficiency and save costs. According to the results of Modern Machine Shop’s annual Top Shop Survey, 62 percent of leading machine shops (or “top shops”) have developed a formal continuous improvement program, and most use manufacturing tools like 5S workplace organization, cellular manufacturing, and value stream mapping.
What else, then, can possibly be improved? For some shops, the answer may be to “think small.” Take band sawing as an example. When thinking about optimization, the instinct for most operation managers is to focus on the efficiency of the saw, the workflow process, and maybe even the operator. But what about the tools? Could they be optimized?
If we are talking about band saw blades, the answer is yes. As explained in the LENOX Guide to Band Sawing, completing a proper break-in procedure on a new band saw blade will significantly increase its life (see photo). This not only allows the shop to cut more material, it also reduces unnecessary downtime to replace blades and lowers the cost of replacement blades.
When it comes to consumable tools like blades, many machine shops fail to understand the critical role they can play in the overall success of their sawing equipment and, ultimately, their entire operation. In fact, according to a benchmark study of machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting companies, less than half (45%) of the organizations surveyed reported they “always” break in blades, 30 percent said they do it “most of the time,” and 15 percent said they do it “occasionally.” This means that the majority of industrial metal-cutting shops are missing out on a simple and effective opportunity for optimization.
This can be true of other “small” aspects of your cutting operations. As covered here in an earlier blog post, running blades at the right speed settings and proper lubrication can also directly affect your shop’s productivity, costs, and quality. Other metalworking operations, such as welding and punching, have similar best practices that offer opportunities for optimization, allowing you to get the most out of your manufacturing tools.
Like any change, optimization starts small. What areas of your shop’s operations are you overlooking?
For more bandsawing tips, including how to properly break-in blades, click here to download LENOX’s Guide to Bandsawing.
February 25, 2016 / continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, lean manufacturing, operator training, productivity, quality, Safety, strategic planning, workflow process
Workplace organization is one of those management principles that everyone knows is a good idea, yet it often falls by the wayside as managers focus on more pressing priorities like meeting deadlines and customer expectations. However, manufacturing experts continue to stress the importance of having a clean and organized manufacturing floor—not as a slap on the wrist, but because organizational tools are simple to implement and can offer a big return.
One tool that is often overlooked but can offer huge improvements is the use of visual devices. In fact, according to visual management expert and author Gwendolyn Galsworth, the visual workplace is one of the most misunderstood opportunities for a safer, more efficient, and reliable manufacturing operation.
“The entire world of work now strives to make work safer, simpler, more logical, reliable and linked, and less costly,” Galsworth writes in an article appearing in Fabricating & Metalworking. “Central to this is the visual workplace – not a brigade of buckets and brooms or posters and signs, but a compelling operational imperative, central to your shop’s war on waste and crucial to meeting daily performance goals, vastly reduced lead times, and dramatically improved quality.”
Specifically, Galsworth says in the article that managers should use visual cues to create a work environment that is self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating, and self-improving where what is supposed to happen actually does happen.
What does this look like? According to Galsworth, an effective visual workplace should follow some basic guidelines:
- Information is converted into simple, commonly understood visual devices, installed in the process of work itself, as close to the point of use as possible.
- All employees have instant on-demand access to information that is vital to their own work, and the business is infused with intelligence that you can literally see.
- Floors do not exist simply to walk on or hold things up. They function by showing us where it is safe to walk, where materials are, and where we are supposed to work.
- Tools become vocal partners in the production process. By creating equipment that “speaks,” machines can assist in their own quick changeovers.
As an article from Modern Machine Shop explains, visual tools can include everything from different-color walkways marked for pedestrians and motorized vehicles, to foam cut-outs used as tool drawer organizers. One industrial metal-cutting company, featured here in a white paper, color-coded its blade stocking process. Each blade is marked with a colored tag, which corresponds to a chart that helps operators easily determine the right blade for the job. Stocking shelves are also color-coded, allowing operators to quickly locate and restock blades. This has improved operator efficiency, reduced the occurrence of operator blade selection errors, and prolonged overall blade life.
Visual tactics can also be used to improve safety. LENOX Tools, for example, has implemented a Safety Sticker program, which visually displays whether or not its operation has had any safety incidents. Sticker dispensing stations and a safety calendar are located at every entrance to the facility, and every employee is required to put on a green sticker with the number of days “accident free” written on it. When a recordable accident occurs, everyone in the facility changes from a green sticker to a red sticker for a seven-day period. After seven days, everyone reverts back to the green sticker. According to Matt Howell, senior manager, the program has been “a good rallying point for the facility and builds energy around safety.”
No matter what visual strategies you decide to institute in your forging operation, the goal is to use them to enhance communication and foster learning. The concept may seem a bit simplistic, but research shows it is effective. Studies by educational researchers suggest that approximately 83% of human learning occurs visually, with the remaining 17% occurring through the other senses. To put it another way: Your operators learn to work with their eyes first and their hands second.
What visual devices could you use to improve efficiency and safety at your forging operation?