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operations metrics

Strategies to Help Metal Service Centers Keep Safety First

August 5, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , ,


Safety is one of those issues that every manufacturer knows is important, yet as evidenced by the unending list of OSHA fines, it is pretty clear that it often slips through the cracks. Even big name companies like Exxon can fall short.

Put simply, your manufacturing operation can never be too safe. Like any other process or initiative, safety should be approached with continuous improvement in mind. This means that service centers, as well as any other manufacturing operation, need to continually reevaluate their safety procedures and processes to look for areas for improvement.

The manufacturing industry as a whole is promoting this type of mentality, knowing that “safety first” needs to be more than just an underlying principle. It needs to be an ongoing, active practice. The Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI), for example, recently teamed up with the National Safety Council to offer ongoing, relevant safety tools and resources to its members. “Advocating for an industry-wide safety culture is a critical part of all that we do at MSCI,” said M. Robert Weidner, III, MSCI president & CEO. (You can access MSCI’s resources here.)

To help service centers keep safety at the forefront, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) has researched some best practices being used by industry leaders. Read below to discover some safety strategies and the additional benefits they can bring to your service center:

operations metrics

2017 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook

April 1, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


While no one would likely call it a “boom,” recent months have provided good news for industrial manufacturing. Reports have been positive, and business confidence among metal-cutting companies and other industrial manufacturers is up. Experts admit that some challenges and risks remain, but most believe that growth will continue in 2017 and well into 2018.

Seeking Stability

There is no question that uncertainty has plagued the manufacturing sector for the last several years. Hints of recovery followed by sluggish growth have made it hard for many companies to trust that business was fully rebounding. Last year, terms like “cautiously optimistic” were being thrown around, but many were still wondering — “Are we there yet?’”

Reports and forecasts indicate that we are at least heading in the right direction—both globally and within the U.S. The JP Morgan Global Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) has remained above the neutral 50.0 mark throughout the past 13 months and registered 53.0 in February and March—its highest level in 69 months. According to the bank, the expansion in March “remained broad-based by product type, with PMI readings for the consumer, intermediate, and investment goods sectors all signaling further solid growth.”

Forecasts from Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) also point to growth, although slower than some would like. According to the latest outlook, manufacturing growth is expected to be 1.2% in 2017 but then accelerate to 2.6% in 2018. Average annual manufacturing output growth is expected to be 1.5% between 2017 and 2020.

Recent data show U.S. manufacturing expanded in March, following a very strong February. The Institute for Supply Management Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) hit 57.2% in March, a 0.5 percentage point reduction from a record-setting 57.8% in February 2017. Of the 18 manufacturing industries, 17 reported growth in March, including Fabricated Metal Products and the Primary Metals industries. According to one survey respondent from the Fabricated Metals segment: “Regional business is strong. Hiring qualified team members has improved.”

Cliff Waldman of MAPI says that March data adds to mounting evidence that U.S. manufacturing output performance is on track for moderate improvement, relieving the factory sector from the sluggish growth that has plagued it since 2013. “Data on actual manufacturing output from the Federal Reserve are basically in sync with the recent ISM data as they show an acceleration of growth in U.S. manufacturing since the beginning of 2017,” Waldman said in a blog post. “However, the year-over-year improvement thus far is moderate. Nonetheless, the reasonably broad-based nature of factory sector growth in both January and February suggests growth stability.”

Steel Confidence

Business confidence among industrial metal-cutting companies and other manufacturers is also up. The first-quarter Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey from The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) revealed that manufacturers’ optimism rose to a new all-time high in the survey’s nearly 20-year history.

According to NAM, the rising confidence stems from the hope that the new administration in Washington, D.C. will bring much-needed regulatory relief, as well as tax code reforms and a significant infrastructure package. “Indeed, business leaders are cautiously hopeful that pro-growth policies from Washington will allow the country to emerge from the sluggish expansion seen in the years since the Great Recession,” the association said in the report.

Metal companies are confident as well. According to industry leader ArcelorMittal, global apparent steel consumption is estimated to have expanded by 1% in 2016. Based on the current economic outlook, ArcelorMittal expects global apparent steel consumption to grow further in 2017 by between 0.5% and 1.5%.

In the U.S., Mittal says that apparent steel consumption (ASC) declined in 2016 by approximately 1.0% to 1.5%, driven in large part by a significant destock in the second half of 2016. “However, underlying demand continues to expand and the expected absence of a further destock in 2017 should support ASC growth in the U.S. of approximately 3.0% to 4.0% in 2017,” the company said in its 2016 Annual Report.

Sentiment about customer markets is also positive. Mark Millett, president and CEO of Steel Dynamics Inc., told Modern Metals that he expects growth in the energy sector and continued growth in construction spending, “especially for larger public sector infrastructure projects.”

And although there have been reports that automotive manufacturing peaked in 2016 and will decline in 2017, metals companies don’t seem too worried. AK Steel told MM that a richer product mix, including the premium pricing that can be obtained on newer, more specialized or custom grades, should help offset declines. “Our volumes are going to be fairly stable, and fairly steady compared to what they were last year,” Kirk Reich, AK Steel president and COO, said in the MM article.

Trends to Watch

That’s not to say that companies don’t still have some concerns. In late January, M. Robert Weidner III, president and CEO of the Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI), urged the new Trump administration to take serious and immediate action to restore growth and to help the industrial metals supply chain fully recover from the lingering effects of the Great Recession and government policy.

“The industrial metals sector needs action now,” Weidner said, noting that service center aluminum shipments are registering 20 percent below their pre-Great Recession peak, and carbon steel shipments from service centers are still down 30 percent. “The erosion in the U.S. industrial metals supply chain hurts our communities; erodes local, state, and federal tax revenue; and reduces the pool of well-paying U.S. jobs,” Weidner continued.

The strong dollar and reduced capital spending are also concerns. “Signs of wide, yet modest, improvement in global growth are the key drivers of better performance in U.S. manufacturing,” Waldman of MAPI says. “Unfortunately, the problems of a high dollar, a long-term capital spending malaise, and significant policy uncertainty remain to challenge the magnitude of the U.S. manufacturing improvement, even as the world finally provides much-needed support for U.S factories.”

Many industrial manufacturers also remain risk averse. In a recent PwC survey, only 30 percent of U.S.-based industrial manufacturing senior executives said that their companies were planning to increase spending on information technology in the subsequent 12 months. “There is a remarkable opportunity here,” PwC says in a blog post. “Yet the industrial manufacturing sector remains risk averse, unwilling to spend on new machinery, software, and talent during a period of protracted slow growth and limited proven solution.”

According to PwC, there are six actions industrial manufacturers can take to be more profitable in 2017. You can read the full list here, but the following four strategies are the most applicable to industrial metal-cutting companies:

Of course, a major technology overhaul may not be possible for every shop, but there are always improvements that can be made. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, thriving in today’s market requires companies to embrace change and focus on continuous improvement in all areas of their business.

“Whether implementing a lean manufacturing tool to improve processes or investing in training to develop people, proactive leaders are focused on making positive changes in their operations so they can quickly respond to today’s changing customer demands,” the eBook states.

Yes, the sentiment among industry players and experts is positive, but that doesn’t mean companies should put improvement activities on the backburner. Industrial metal-cutting organizations that keep a close eye on mega trends while continuing to optimize their internal operations may not only do well in 2017, but exceed expectations.

operations metrics

A Closer Look at the Value of Your Machine Shop’s Equipment

March 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


As we reported in a previous blog, capital spending among machine shops and other metalworking companies has been down for the last several years. This has been largely due to an unstable marketplace and low business confidence among shop owners. The good news is that industry reports suggest a rebound in the near future.

However, this dip in spending has caused many shops to take a closer look at the value of their existing equipment. When new equipment isn’t in the cards—and even if it is—it is important for today’s managers to understand the total cost of running their metal-cutting equipment and, even more so, what their total worth is from an operations standpoint.

Below are just a few ways shops can be sure they are looking at the value—not just the cost—of their existing equipment:

What other factors contribute to the value of your metal-cutting equipment? 

operations metrics

A Look at Industry 4.0 in Your Fabrication Shop

October 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


Thanks to advancements in machine-to-machine (M2M) and communications technology, many believe the manufacturing industry is on the brink of the “fourth industrial revolution,” also known as Industry 4.0. This concept has been widely discussed and promoted in Europe, especially by German manufacturers Siemens and Bosch, but the term is starting to gain traction in the U.S as well.

What is Industry 4.0?
Because it is a newer term, definitions for what comprises Industry 4.0 vary greatly. A report from Deloitte states that there are four characteristics that define Industry 4.0:

  1.   Vertical networking of smart production systems
  2.   Horizontal integration via a new generation of global value chain networks
  3.   Cross-disciplinary “through-engineering” across the entire value chain
  4.   Acceleration through exponential technologies

An article from Forbes defines Industry 4.0 as “a combination of several major technology innovations, all maturing simultaneously, and expected to have a dramatic impact on manufacturing sectors.”  More specifically, the article states that technologies such as advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, sophisticated sensors, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things, are joining together to integrate the physical and virtual worlds.

Simply put, Industry 4.0 is the advent of the long-awaited “smart factory,” in which connectivity and advanced technologies are being used to streamline decisions, optimize processes, eliminate waste, and reduce errors.

Industry 4.0 In Practice
According to the Forbes article, Industry 4.0 has the potential to offer manufacturers three major benefits:

What could this look like in your fabrication shop? EVS Metal, a precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ, says here in a blog post that Industry 4.0 “will eventually impact the way we fabricate and machine both single items and finished products, from start to finish, including warehousing and shipping, whether we’re manufacturing full production runs, or single prototypes.”

On a small scale, fabricators can start by equipping components and machines with necessary Industry 4.0 features, such as sensors, actuators, machine-level software, and network access to measure productivity of metal-cutting equipment. For example, one metal service center, featured here in a white paper, is using an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by each band saw and each blade. At any point, the operations manager can go to a computer screen, click on a saw, and see how many square inches that saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This has allowed the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.

This, however, is only the beginning. Once a manufacturer starts capturing relevant data from multiple machines, this data can be further analyzed to detect patterns, helping managers forecast and, eventually, automate decision-making processes. In a metal-cutting environment, this might include predicting blade life and equipment maintenance needs, which would essentially turn disruptive, unplanned downtime to more anticipated, planned downtime. This could translate into more jobs completed on time.

The Time is Now
Like any trend, it will take a while for Industry 4.0 to fully take hold. However, many experts are saying that industry leaders are embracing this next generation of manufacturing and, more importantly, are starting to make investments.

A PwC survey encompassing 2000 participants across nine industry sectors has concluded that Industry 4.0 will revolutionize industrial production and that first movers are transforming into digital enterprises. According to the study, 33% of companies say they’ve achieved advanced levels of digitization today, and 72% of companies expect to achieve advanced levels of digitization by 2020.

While no one believes the changeover to Industry 4.0 capabilities will come cheap, more than half of companies in PwC’s survey expect a return on investment within two years. “The payoff will potentially be enormous, as competitive landscapes get redefined,” PwC states. “Industrial companies need to act now to secure a leading position in tomorrow’s complex industrial ecosystems.”

Is your fabrication shop ready to invest in Industry 4.0?

operations metrics

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?

operations metrics

Determining which KPIs to Measure in Your Ball and Roller Bearing Operation

September 30, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Most companies that have adopted lean manufacturing strategies know the importance of measurement. When a manufacturing operation can quantitatively assess their performance, it can start to make significant improvements and set realistic goals to stay competitive. In fact, according to a series of case studies on high production metal-cutting companies, measurement was noted as a key best practice.

However, metrics are only meaningful if they are tied to strategy. That’s where key performance indicators (KPIs) come into play. Unfortunately, some companies fail to understand the purpose of KPIs and, therefore, are unable to take full advantage of the benefits they can provide. All KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. Understanding the difference is critical.

What are KPIs?
KPIs are the measurements selected by a company to give an overall indication of the health of the business. KPIs are typically dominated by historical, financial measurements, but most experts agree that they are more valuable if they also include operational measurements. Unfortunately, choosing the right KPIs to track isn’t as easy as it sounds and takes careful consideration.

There are hundreds of KPIs that can be measured, but experts suggest that companies focus on a select few. According to the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC), manufacturers need to make sure all KPIs are aligned with the company’s business goals and strategy. Tasks should be explicit and all actions should support a larger goal. When it comes to KPIs, it is quality—not quantity—that matters.

Choosing the Right KPI
Because they are tied to strategy, KPIs will vary by organization. However, an article from Red Lion outlines seven of the common production KPIs used on automated plant floors:

  1. Count (Good or Bad). An essential factory floor metric relates to the amount of product produced. The count (good or bad) typically refers to either the amount of product produced since the last machine changeover or the production sum for the entire shift or week.
  2. Reject Ratio. Production processes occasionally produce scrap, which is measured in terms of reject ratio. Minimizing scrap helps organizations meet profitability goals so it is important to track whether or not the amount being produced is within tolerable limits.
  3. Rate. Machines and processes produce goods at variable rates. When speeds differ, slow rates typically result in dropped profits while faster speeds affect quality control. This is why it is important for operating speeds to remain consistent.
  4. Target. Many organizations display target values for output, rate and quality. This KPI helps motivate employees to meet specific performance targets.
  5. Takt Time. Takt time is the amount of time, or cycle time, for the completion of a task. This could be the time it takes to produce a product, but it more likely relates to the cycle time of specific operations. This KPI helps manufacturers quickly determine where the constraints or bottlenecks are within a process.
  6. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). OEE is a metric that multiplies availability by performance and quality to determine resource utilization. Production managers want OEE values to increase because this indicates more efficient utilization of available personnel and machinery.
  7. Downtime. Whether the result of a breakdown or simply a machine changeover, downtime is considered one of the most important KPI metrics to track. When machines are not operating, money isn’t being made so reducing downtime is an easy way to increase profitability.

Making it Count
For many managers, the above list and the resulting data may feel overwhelming. Others may be so afraid of missing something that they end up measuring more information than necessary. For example, research from the Advanced Performance Institute finds that less than 10% of all the metrics that are collected, analyzed and reported in businesses are ever used to inform decision-making.  That means 90% of the metrics are wasted, or worse, used to drown people in data while they are thirsting for insights.

The question then becomes: How many KPIs are enough? Or, even more so, how much data is too much?

An article from IndustryWeek suggests that companies follow the “Rule of Three,” which involves dividing all KPIs into organizational categories and then focusing on the top three metrics within that category. This is a good way to keep managers focused on improvement without data overload.

If you are still unsure where to place your focus, the University of Wisconsin-Madison recommends that manufacturers in 2016 zero in on KPIs that fall under the following four themes:

As a high production manufacturer, odds are that your ball and roller bearing operation is already tracking some of the above KPIs. However, if that is not the case, now is the time to start identifying a few to measure. If the process feels overwhelming, do some research, ask your supply chain for help, and get started. In the words of quality expert H. James Harrington: “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and, eventually, to improvement.”

operations metrics

Benefits of Using Predictive Maintenance Analytics in Your Forging Operation

September 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


With changing customer requirements and an increasingly competitive marketplace, leading manufacturers are finding it pays to be proactive—not reactive—in their strategic approaches. Instead of simply measuring performance, many companies are taking the next step and using measurement to anticipate and prevent future challenges—a concept known as predictive operations management.

This trend has found its way into industrial metal cutting. According to the LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations, companies can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”

One such approach is predictive maintenance. Not to be confused with preventative maintenance, which uses planned maintenance activities to prevent possible failures, predictive maintenance (also known as condition-based maintenance) uses data-driven analytics to optimize capital equipment upkeep.

Reliable Plant defines predictive maintenance as “the application of condition-based monitoring technologies, statistical process control, or equipment performance for the purpose of early detection and elimination of equipment defects that could lead to unplanned downtime or unnecessary expenditures.” By using tools to predict and then correct possible failures, operators can keep machines running while eliminating unnecessary preventative maintenance downtime and reducing reactive maintenance downtime.

In fact, predictive maintenance was identified in a McKinsey Global Institute report as one of the most valuable applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the factory floor. The report, The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype, says that predictive maintenance using IoT has the potential to reduce equipment downtime by up to 50 percent and reduce equipment capital investment by 3 to 5 percent by extending the useful life of machinery. “In manufacturing, these savings have a potential economic impact of nearly $630 billion per year in 2025,” the report states.

According to an article from Manufacturing Business Technology, the potential benefits of predictive maintenance analytics go beyond predicting machine failure. The magazine lists several wide-ranging implications the technology has for the manufacturing industry, including the following:

  1. Part harmonization. Predictive models are able to show which parts will be the first in line to fail, what will need replacing in the next six months, for example. This then allows teams to better manage inventories, stockpile the right parts, and even bulk order replacements before they are needed.
  2. Cost-benefit analyses. Teams are better equipped to do cost benefit analyses and further understand the risks of not performing maintenance at any given time. Presenting this data to the C-suite, and outlining future risk weighed against a smaller outlay at the present time, is a far more compelling argument than suggesting a piston might eventually need replacing.
  3. Warranty Claims. Defining the optimal cost and duration for any given warranty is a great challenge for many manufacturers. Analytics can help better define these boundaries by modeling usage patterns.

Of course, all of these benefits come with a cost. One of the major drawbacks of predictive maintenance analytics is that it requires a high upfront investment for condition monitoring equipment and software, as well as a high skill level and experience to accurately interpret condition-monitoring data. There are also privacy and security issues that need to be addressed. For smaller forges, this could be a huge stumbling block, although some may discover that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.

In the end, predictive maintenance may not be an option for every shop or every piece of equipment, but in today’s competitive market, it might be worth the research. Many companies are finding that the potential benefits of the technology are opening up new opportunities for improvement and growth that were once not possible.

operations metrics

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?

operations metrics

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?

operations metrics

Predictive Maintenance Helps Metal Service Centers Reduce Downtime

June 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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:

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:

According to the AMM article, several metals leaders are reaping the rewards of predictive maintenance, including:

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.

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