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maintaining talent

CEO Survey Reveals Three Key Focus Areas for Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies

December 15, 2016 / , , , , , ,


Industrial manufacturers find themselves competing in an increasing uncertain global market with rising customer expectations and ever-evolving technology, according to the 19th Annual Global CEO Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The survey found that only 24% of manufacturing CEOs think global growth will improve over the next 12 months compared to 34% last year, and 23% think it will worsen compared to 18% the prior year. In addition, just 29% of industrial manufacturers are confident of revenue growth in the next 12 months, but when given a three-year span, 46% of manufacturers think they’ll see growth.

Data also suggests that CEOs believe business risk has increased.  According to the survey, 55% of industrial manufacturing CEOs said opportunities have increased during the past three years; however, 61% believe the number of threats has increased.

The PwC survey, which interviewed 205 industrial, manufacturing CEOs in 53 countries, revealed that industrial manufacturing companies are working hard to deliver results year after year, but most understand that the future brings complex challenges. The survey highlights three key focus areas for today’s industrial manufacturing CEOs:

  1. Great expectations and influences. When asked to describe their company’s purpose, the survey found many industrial manufacturing CEOs believed it was centered on filling customer needs or developing first-class products, but others said it was creating a great place to work for employees or achieving social goals. And the influences that impact that purpose and overall strategy are many. As one would expect, customer demands drive final products, but 89% of industrial manufacturers say their customers and clients have an impact on their overall business strategy. Supply chain partners weigh-in, too, with 88% of CEOs planning to address social and environmental impacts of their supply chain. In addition, competitors and peers are also a focus, with a third of CEOs saying they too have a high impact on strategy.
  2. Technology and talent. Executives know Industry 4.0 has arrived and are working to invest in new innovations and train their workforce to capitalize on their investments. The survey found that 90% of industrial manufacturing CEOs plan to make changes in how they use technology to assess and deliver on wider stakeholder expectations. However, with new technology comes new skill requirements, and 76% of respondents say they are concerned about the availability of key skills to grow their business. In response, more than half of CEOs are changing their talent strategy.
  3. Measuring and communicating success. Data showed that 60% of survey respondents said innovation is the number one area where the business could do more to measure the impact and value for stakeholders. Not only are CEOs realizing they need to measure and track business success, but that they also need to communicate that success. The survey found that 68% of CEOs believe R&D and innovation has the potential to drive better engagement with wider stakeholders. Together with customer relationship management, data and analytics take the top three spots—validating smart manufacturing will be a driving force for industry leaders.

Like any industrial manufacturer, PwC’s survey findings can help metal-cutting organizations prepare for another challenging, but transformative, year. As reported in the case study, “Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies,” sometimes this means investing in technology. Jett Cutting Service, for example, hit a record-setting 1.1 million cut parts last year and attributes the milestone to smart investments. “I would like to believe that our increase in sales is due to investing in the latest cutting technology, which increases our capacity and production capabilities,” Vice President Mike Baron said. “The newer technology also allows us to offer competitive pricing, which has led to many new customers.”

However, Jett Cutting also understands that it needs to be just as committed to its employees and its customers. The metal-cutting organization also has a strong training program for new employees, an ISO certification program to maintain high quality standards, and additional training for existing employees every time new equipment or software is purchased.

For many metal-cutting companies, 2016 certainly hasn’t been the best of years, but it also hasn’t been the worst. As PwC’s survey confirms, no one is confident about what next year will bring; however, industrial manufacturing leaders aren’t standing idle. Jett Cutting and many others are investing in new technology and training now to prepare for growth in the future.

How is your industrial metal-cutting company investing in the future?

maintaining talent

Training Strategies for Today’s Advanced Metal Fabrication Shops

December 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


With all the buzz around connectivity and “smart” factories, it appears as if the manufacturing industry is on the brink of a major shift. Some experts, as we reported here, are calling this Industry 4.0. Even companies in more mature industries like metal fabrication are starting to realize that the demands of today’s customers are not only changing the scope of their work, but the way in which they actually need to do their work.

“Investments in fabricating technology, information systems, and employees will be necessary to stay on top of the growing complexity in the metal fabricating business,” Dan Davis, editor of The Fabricator, says here in a recent editorial. “There’s no other way around it in this world of massive customization in manufacturing.”

While most industry leaders understand the capital and technology investments that may be necessary in the near future, many fail to realize the growing importance of investing in employees and, more specifically, in their training. In today’s lean manufacturing world, metal fabricators and other industry metal-cutting organizations have been conditioned to think in terms of efficiency. This means that secondary activities like employee training are often neglected because they don’t directly contribute to the bottom line.

However, as stated in the brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” research shows that investing in areas like training can provide a host of benefits, including better quality, faster on-time customer delivery, higher revenue per operator, and lower rework costs. “Put simply, companies can’t afford to neglect one of its greatest assets,” the brief states. “By investing resources into the workforce, industrial metal-cutting leaders can better equip themselves for today, as well as the future.”

For shops that want (or need) to beef up their training programs, an article from Foundry magazine provides some insight on what it takes to create an effective training program. According to the article, training programs should include a strong combination of education, engagement, and use: “Training must educate by teaching skills, transferring knowledge, cultivating attitudes and hitting other specific targets. But training that is purely educational doesn’t get results. That is why training must present information in ways that are engaging, interactive and require the learner to think and use the information learned.”

The article goes on to describe a method often used in training known as VAK Attack. VAK is an acronym describing the three ways people learn, as spelled out below:

According to the Foundry article, effective training should include all three of the VAK principles so that employees can better learn and absorb the information presented. The author also suggests hiring an outside trainer to ensure long, impactful results. (You can read the full article here.)

It would be hard for anyone to ignore the advancements of the manufacturing industry; however, too many companies are ignoring the role employees play in today’s increasingly complex production environments. By investing in employees and their training, today’s metal fabricators can prepare for the future and, more importantly, stay competitive today.

How is your fabrication shop investing in employee training?

maintaining talent

One Key Investment that May Impact the Future of Industrial Metal-Cutting

November 1, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Although recent reports paint a brighter picture of U.S. industrial manufacturing, many companies are still unsure of what the future will bring—and how to prepare for it.

The first half of 2016 didn’t start off strong for industrial manufacturing. Industrial production was essentially unchanged in the first quarter of 2016 and then fell at a 1% annual rate in the second quarter. However, conditions made a turn in the right direction in third quarter when industrial production rose at an annual rate of 1.8 percent—the first quarterly increase since the third quarter of 2015.

Recent data continue to show good overall conditions. The Institute for Supply Management’s Report On Business, for example, states that activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in October, and the overall economy grew for the 89th consecutive month. Specifically, the October PMI registered 51.9 percent (a reading of 50 or higher indicates growth), an increase from the September reading of 51.5 percent.

Unfortunately, ISM’s report wasn’t all good news, especially for the metals sector. Just like in September, both the Primary Metals and Fabricated Metal Products sectors reported contraction in October, although one survey respondent from the Fabricated Metals Products sector stated, “Business is much better.”

With the year drawing to close, what does all of this mean for industrial metal-cutting companies? As executives evaluate performance and look to strategize for the future, the question of whether or not to invest in information and technology advancements will likely be at the forefront of discussion. With terms like “machine-to-machine communication” and “Internet of Things” flying around, many companies are trying to discern whether or not these ideas are truly worth the investment, or if they are nothing more than “buzz words.”

As stated in the white paper, Tackling the Top 5 Challenges In Today’s Metal-Cutting Industry, today’s uncertain market requires managers to carefully and strategically determine whether or not allocating resources to automation and technology will offer a true return on investment. Based on some recent reports from industry experts, technological investments are not only worth it, but necessary for future success, regardless of economic conditions.

A recent article from PwC put it this way:

“Manufacturing may be facing some headwinds, but it’s undeniably in the midst of a technological renaissance that is transforming the look, systems, and processes of the modern factory. Despite the risks — and despite recent history — industrial manufacturing companies cannot afford to ignore these advances. By embracing them now, they can improve productivity in their own plants, compete against rivals, and maintain an edge with customers who are seeking their own gains from innovation.”

Of course, this type of transition is easier said than done. There is a lot to consider before companies start planning, strategizing, and investing in what many are calling “Manufacturing 4.0.” To help give companies a little perspective, the Manufacturing Leadership Council has identified six critical Issues facing the manufacturing industry as it undertakes the journey toward an information-based future. Described in detail here, these issues include the following:

  1. Factories of the Future. Large and small manufacturers, in both process and discrete manufacturing, must now understand and embrace the potential of new and evolving production models, materials and technologies along the journey towards Manufacturing 4.0 to help them create more autonomous, flexible, connected, automated, intelligent, reconfigurable, and sustainable factories and production models for the future.
  2. The Integrated Manufacturing Enterprise. To maximize the potential of Manufacturing 4.0, manufacturers of all sizes need to actively transform traditional, inhibitive functional silos to create more integrated, cross-functional, collaborative enterprise structures, both within and beyond their organizations. These structures must be supported by new digital thread technologies that stretch across the value chain from ideation, to product end of use.
  3. Innovation in Manufacturing. Manufacturers must now successfully develop and manage rapid, continuous, collaborative, and often disruptive innovation processes across the enterprise to drive growth, new products and services, operational efficiencies, and competitive success in the world of Manufacturing 4.0.
  4. Transformative Technologies. Manufacturers must learn how to identify, adopt, and scale the most promising M4.0-enabling technologies in order to achieve greater agility and competitiveness and to drive innovative new business models and better customer experiences.
  5. Next-Generation Manufacturing Leadership & the Changing Workforce. Manufacturing 4.0 requires manufacturing leaders and their teams to become more collaborative, innovative, and responsive and to make decisions based on a greater understanding of manufacturing’s role in company strategy. That means leaders must embrace new behaviors, structures, and strategies. And they must transition the talent within their organizations by identifying, attracting, developing and retaining the next generation of people and skills.
  6. Cybersecurity. In the face of increasing vulnerability to external cyber threats and potential internal disruption, manufacturing companies must identify the most effective cybersecurity processes and technologies and create a culture that will ensure operational continuity, data security, and IP protection.

While the industry still has a way to go before Manufacturing 4.0 becomes mainstream, there is no question that technology is changing the manufacturing landscape. Today’s economic conditions may be uncertain, but industrial metal-cutting companies need to ask themselves if they’re willing to do what it takes to prepare for whatever the future holds.

maintaining talent

How to Optimize Metal Service Center Operations with Operator Accountability

October 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Industrial metal-cutting companies know running an efficient and productive operation is imperative to keeping up with and, more importantly, staying ahead of the changing industry and customer demands. However, in industrial metal cutting—as well as any manufacturing process—an operation is only as good as its operators.

This is why operator accountability is so important. As reported in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, as more metal service centers rely on automated technology, managers need to work closely with machine operators to ensure their knowledge and skill sets align with the company’s technology assets and productivity goals. The objective is to encourage employees to take ownership of their impact on the operation so they not only care about the quality of their work, but also understand the role they play in the company’s overall success. Working closely with employees to create a culture of accountability can help metal service centers achieve the operational excellence they desire.

According to an article from IndustryWeek, accountability can be a powerful manufacturing tool because it is a broad-based effort to define and track an organization’s standards. “Accountability systems serve to prompt and encourage people to keep their promises to each other,” Jon Thorne, senior consultant, Daniel Penn Associations, says in the IW article. “Accountability monitors whether promises are being kept and reminds us to hold up our end of the bargain. When we all keep our promises to each other the result is human reliability. And with human reliability, your organization can accomplish anything.”

While using accountability to improve your metal service center operations is not an exact science, it is systematic. In fact, accountability is a set of systems that overlap and reinforce each other, according to the IW article. The following three systems are just a few ways manufacturers can boost accountability (You can read the full list here):

  1. Customer satisfaction. Measuring your service to internal customers puts interdepartmental cooperation on an objective basis: You confront issues rather than people. The plant manager’s role is to insist that the organization seek out and satisfy its customer’s needs, but it is the customers and suppliers who decide how to do it.
  2. Weekly staff meetings. The idea sounds simple, but having a regular and consistent forum where information can flow both ways enables employees to hold management accountable by asking questions and discussing any issues. Two meetings per week are recommended.
  3. Action item lists. Many times, regular staff meetings result in new policies and processes, or changes to those that are existing. Keeping an action list or planner helps prioritize activities, highlights important information, and enables employees to hold each other accountable for keeping the agreements they’ve made.

Another simple strategy is to regularly share performance reports with employees by either posting them or discussing them in staff meetings. As stated in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, sharing report results encourages accountability, provides motivation, and reminds operators that they are a critical aspect of the company’s success. This approach falls in line with the culture of lean production environments, and research has shown it positively affects employee morale.

How does this help optimize operations? Although employee investments are often hard to quantify, the following two manufacturers have seen measurable results after implementing accountability practices:

Running an efficient operation is essential to every metal service center, but far too many managers fail to understand the role their operators play in their optimization efforts. By implementing a few processes that hold operators accountable for their actions, managers can create a culture in which employees care about their jobs and, even more so, the long-term success of the company.

What accountability practices have you implemented at your metal service center?

maintaining talent

Non-Residential Construction Industry Continues to Create Demand for Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies

September 15, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


The year has started off slow, with low production and shipments for metal products. However, the commercial and industrial construction segment is proving its staying powerful when it comes to creating demand for industrial metal-cutting companies.

As we reported in our “Metal Service Center Outlook for 2016,” the construction industry was expected to help industrial metal-cutting companies ride out the storm with total construction starts forecast to grow 6% in 2016.

Over the last few years and most recent months, the construction industry has seen its ups and down, depending on the segment. The electric utility and gas plant category, for example, saw project starts spike in 2015 only to drop this year, according to the latest construction report from Dodge Data and Analytics. In fact, nonbuilding construction dropped 56% in July 2016 as power plant projects ended, causing total new construction starts to fall 11% from the prior-year period.

However, nonresidential building starts are offsetting the steep drops elsewhere, growing 4% in July after a 7% increase in June. Commercial building starts grew 3%, with 20% of the increase attributed to office construction, according to the report.

Cautiously Optimistic
Despite the slowdown and uncertainty about the upcoming presidential election, experts remain optimistic that the construction industry will continue to remain strong into next year. At a recent mid-year forecast, chief economists from the Associated Builders & Contractors, American Institute of Architects, and National Association of Home Builders predicted growth for commercial projects into 2017, as reported by MetalMiner.

“Nonresidential construction spending growth will continue into the next year with an estimated increase in the range of 3 to 4%,” stated Anirban Basu, chief economist for Associated Builders & Contractors. “Growth will continue to be led by privately financed projects, with commercial construction continuing to lead the way. Energy-related construction will become less of a drag in 2017, while public spending will continue to be lackluster.”

In addition, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) from the American Institute of Architects has posted six consecutive months of increasing demand for design activity, according to this report. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to 12 month lead-time between architecture billings and construction spending.

“The uncertainty surrounding the presidential election is causing some funding decisions regarding larger construction projects to be delayed or put on hold for the time being,” said Kermit Baker, AIA Chief Economist. “It’s likely that these concerns will persist up until the election, and, therefore, we would expect higher levels of volatility in the design and construction sector in the months ahead.”

Making the Cut
Industrial metal-cutting companies that want to grow with the construction market need to know how the market is evolving and be prepared to meet demand for more I- and H-beams, hollow structural sections, and other structural products. More importantly, companies will need to be ready for changing market conditions.

One way industrial metal-cutting companies can ensure they make the cut is to optimize operations. As cited in the Benchmark Survey of Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, there are three key ways companies can optimize operations and, in turn, be better prepared to meet customer demands:

  1. Invest in smarter, more predictive operations management. According to the survey, 73-percent of industrial metal cutting operations that follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also report that their job completion rate is trending upward year over year—a meaningful correlation. The implication is that less disruptive, unplanned downtime and more anticipated, planned downtime translates into more jobs being completed on time.
  2. Embrace proactive care and maintenance of cutting equipment and tools. Ongoing operator monitoring, coupled with corrective instruction and coaching, can have a direct benefit on industrial metal cutting operations—improving their ability to meet customer demands, drive revenues and lower costs.
  3. Invest in human capital. Historically, metal executives have been more likely to invest in technology rather than their people; however, the benchmark survey provides evidence that investing in human capital is critical not only to attack operator error itself, but also to improve on-time customer delivery, drive higher revenue per operator, and lower rework costs.

While industrial metal-cutting companies are set to benefit from another strong year in construction, preparing for changes in segment demand and prices will set the foundation for a solid performance in 2017.

What strategies is your organization taking to take advantage of the construction boom?

maintaining talent

Five Simple Steps for Boosting Productivity in Your Machine Shops

August 20, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Improving productivity is a constant goal for any manufacturer. In today’s increasingly competitive and uncertain market, machine shops are no different.

To boost efficiency, manufacturers have long implemented lean manufacturing practices as part of their overall operational strategy. As cited in this eBook, 5 Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, there are a host of lean manufacturing tools to consider, including:

While lean manufacturing practices are anything but new, machine shop managers can take a more simplified approach to improve efficiency at even the most customized shop set-up. According to LeanProduction.com, manufacturers can experience great improvements in productivity through small daily increments. The idea is to identify and fix one problem each day using three questions (one each for Information, Focus, and Action) to identify problems from plant floor information, decide which issue to fix, and then take action to correct it. (Click here for some examples of the three questions.)

A Modern Machine Shop blog, however, notes that while improving productivity is essential to maintaining competitiveness, productivity on the shop floor comprises much more. “Productivity on the manufacturing floor depends on a combination of efficient employees, equipment, and processes,” the blog states. “Before you can adopt any method for productivity improvement, you’ll need to measure your existing output levels, create a baseline, and implement solutions for measuring change.”

The blog article goes on to list eight steps to help manufacturers design a more productive and successful manufacturing floor. Read on for a summary of five of the eight steps (Read all eight steps here.):

  1. Examine the workflow. Analyze the people, technology, and processes required for production, as well as the procedures, communication tools, and resources available. Identify the pain points and note how changes would impact the overall system.
  2. Update business processes. Share workflow problems with project managers to make improvement plans. Evaluate performance and interpret any appropriate changes.
  3. Invest in continued employee education. Be sure to keep your workforce up-to-date on the latest machining and manufacturing technologies. New advancements often require new skills for certain tasks and regular training will keep your machine shop running efficiently.
  4. Get smarter machining tools. Even if your workforce is trained, they can only work as fast as their tools. While advanced machinery can be costly, the investment pays off in the long run by helping companies stay competitive.
  5. Invest in maintenance. While new equipment can boost productivity, it also requires maintenance to ensure that it continues working efficiently. Employees should know how to troubleshoot in instances of system downtime, quickly find root causes of errors, and then correct them. Remember to consider the process, the blueprint, and the material when making adjustments.

Whether you run a high-mix or a small-scale shop, increasing productivity is essential to remaining competitive in today’s industrial metal-cutting industry. While there’s no sure-fire formula when it comes to boosting productivity, taking the time to drive improvements across the shop and making small adjustments from a baseline assessment can make a big impact.

What strategies has your machine shop used to increase productivity on the floor?

maintaining talent

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 (www.eduFACTOR.org) 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?

maintaining talent

Big Picture Trends Affecting Machine Shops

June 20, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


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:

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?

maintaining talent

Making Continuous Improvement Work in Your Fabrication Shop

June 10, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


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:

Sustainable Success
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.

maintaining talent

Should Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization Be More Transparent?

June 1, 2016 / , , , , , ,


Like any fad, management trends come and go. However, that isn’t to say that they aren’t valuable and worth considering. In fact, most of the time, management trends are in direct response to shifts in cultural expectations and work attitudes.

The incoming millennial generation is a good example. As the manufacturing industry attempts to fill the widening skills gap, experts and manufacturing giants like IBM have been suggesting several ways companies can attract this new generation and get them excited about careers in manufacturing.

One trend that continues to gain ground is the push for transparency. In fact, Forbes lists this is as one of the top management trends of 2016 based on research. “Simply put, people like and appreciate being dealt with openly and honestly,” Forbes notes.

According to an article from the Harvard Business Review, there are several terms that describe this trend, including open-book management (OBM), economic transparency, and ownership culture. “Whatever you call it, it means encouraging employees to think and act like businesspeople rather than like hired hands,” the HBR article explains.

In other words, today’s managers should treat employees in a way that engages them and encourages them to take ownership of their jobs. “At open-book companies, it’s part of everyone’s job to contribute to the success of the business,” the HBR article states. “Managers help employees understand, track, and forecast key numbers. They welcome ideas for improvement. They reinforce the ownership mindset by sharing profit increases with everyone, usually through bonuses funded by the increase itself.”

LeanWerks, a contract manufacturing shop featured here in Modern Machine Shop, has instituted an OBM style that allows operators to readily see how their performance affects the company’s bottom line. Reid Leland, president, uses OBM in his shop to facilitate a better line of communication and understanding between management and employees, creating a more transparent and “flattened” organization.

According to the MMS article, Leland’s shop bases its OBM style on three key elements:

Of course, not every shop owner will feel comfortable sharing financial details and may not be able to share profits, but there are certainly benefits to actively engaging employees and creating more of a reciprocal relationship between the executive office and shop floor. According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, a growing number of managers are finding that operators who take ownership of their process or work area can be invaluable assets to the company.

“Employee “buy-in” can positively affect all aspects of an industrial metal-cutting operation, including quality, productivity, and in the end, the bottom line,” the eBook states. “Similarly, when employees feel disconnected, those same business areas can be negatively affected.”

As the eBook points out, operators who feel valued are more likely to value their jobs and their employer. Even if you aren’t ready to open up your books for the whole company to see, strategies such as collecting feedback, investing in continued education, and setting goals and incentives can all help encourage employee ownership, foster better communication, and improve morale.

How transparent is your industrial metal-cutting organization? In what ways could you encourage employee ownership and facilitate better communication?

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