July 25, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, material costs, operations metrics, performance metrics, productivity, quality, root cause analysis
In industrial metal-cutting, a small amount of scrap is inevitable. However, reducing material waste should still be a top goal for forges that cut and process metal. Like all other forms of waste, scrap negatively affects profitability, especially if it is generated out of error.
The truth is that any amount of scrap or rework you’re experiencing in your operations provides an opportunity for improvement. Taking the time to reduce scrap often leads to better productivity and higher quality cuts. According to this article from CONNSTEP, a Connecticut-based continuous improvement organization, reducing scrap and rework rates can also improve cash flow. “The number one reason small businesses go out of business is lack of cash flow,” the article states. “If the scrap rate is 8 percent of your production now and it is reduced to 6 percent, that newly created 2% may now be used to produce new/additional product and your savings should account for the cost avoidance of using new/additional material to complete the existing order.” In other words, by reducing rework and scrap from occurring, industrial metal-cutting organizations can actually generate money that goes right to their bottom line.
If you are a forge that cuts and processes metal, here are a few strategies we gathered to help you reduce your scrap rates:’
- Measure and compare. As with any continuous improvement activity, you need to start with measurement. If you aren’t measuring your scrap rate, this is your first step. If you are tracking scrap, you may also want to consider other helpful metrics, including first-pass yield, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), dock-to-dock time, manufacturing cycle time, and inventory turns. You should also know your scrap and rework costs. Once you have some quantifiable data, you should compare your operation to others in your industry. Benchmarking is the only way to gauge whether or not you need serious improvement. For example, 81 percent of the industrial metal-cutting companies surveyed by the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) said their scrap and re-work costs are “always” (23 percent), “mostly” (45 percent) or “occasionally” (less than 5 percent). How does your operation stack up?
- Evaluate Operators. If you know your scrap and rework rates could be better, identifying the root cause of the issue is the only way to make any real, sustainable improvements. Often times, high inventory levels and scrap rates are indicators of “hidden” inefficiencies such as operator error. Are all of your operators properly trained on how to use equipment? Are they running saws at optimal levels, or are they just focused on getting the job done as fast as possible? Have you recently taken on a new job that may require a different cutting tactic or a blade type? Poorly trained operators that misuse equipment or fail to perform basic tasks like breaking in blades often lead to low-quality cuts, higher instances of scrap due to error, and shortened blade life—all of which add up to elevated costs.
- Pick for clean. While quick turnaround is always a goal, scrap can quickly get out of control if operators are reaching for a new piece of material every time they start a job. That’s why many companies are moving away from the “pick for speed” method of inventory selection and, instead, are embracing “pick for clean” methods. Picking for clean is the practice of picking high-quality leftover materials from a previous job to use up the inventory. In other words, you reach for remnants first. This keeps inventory and material costs low. Structural Steel of Carolina, a fabricator featured here in a series of industry case studies, uses a software-based inventory system to help facilitate this strategy. According to Superintendent Gary Kirkman, the software system tells operators exactly what material to use and how much drop off they can expect. “That is how we determine what we keep and what we throw away,” he explains. “Scrap less than 4 feet in length is considered waste, but any pieces 5 feet and longer are entered back into the inventory system to be reused.”
In the end, scrap is just one of the many areas of waste that today’s leading forges are trying to attack. However, with the cost of inventory being so high, no industrial metal-cutting organization can really afford to ignore a pile of wasted material that could have been used for profit. When it comes down to it, every piece of scrap counts in today’s lean manufacturing world. However, by implementing some of the above strategies, not every piece of scrap has to count against you.
June 20, 2014 / agility, best practices, industry news, LIT, operations metrics, performance metrics, ROI, strategic planning
According to research quoted in a recent article from MetalForming Magazine, 45% of manufacturers list “improving business execution” as a primary goal for 2014. In today’s uncertain marketplace, this isn’t much of a surprise. In short, agility is key.
However, manufacturers are finding that achieving this goal is a lot harder than it sounds. As the MetalForming article states, companies need to start by clearing “some common hurdles, most notably delays in decision-making due to a lack of timely information, and an inability to quickly react to change.”
This is why more and more companies are focused on data-driven manufacturing. As stated in the 2014 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), best-in-class machine shops are forming strategies, making decisions, and optimizing their operations using hard, quantifiable information. Anything else is just guessing.
The challenge is finding an efficient way to not only gather “timely data” but also store it, interpret it, manage it, and share it across your entire organization. Odds are you don’t have a fully staffed IT department waiting in the wings.
This is where business management software like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) can be helpful. ERP software is typically a suite of integrated applications that allows an organization to efficiently manage their business and automate back office functions. It combines all facets of an operation, including product planning, development, manufacturing, sales and marketing. It can be managed in-house, or as is the case with many machine shops, purchased as software as a service (SaaS).
Top-tier manufacturers and large enterprises have been touting the benefits of ERP systems for years. They can improve productivity, enhance cross-functional communication, and speed the “quote to cash” cycle. Even so, smaller shops often shy away from these systems because they can also be expensive, complex, and far too often, fail to provide bottom-line results.
That’s not to say you should write off ERP systems all together. It just means a little research is in order. Below are a few resources we gathered to help you dig a little deeper into the benefits ERP can offer your machine shop, along with a few pointers to ensure success.
- Key Considerations Before Implementation. A recent article that appeared in Project Times provides five key points to consider before you decide whether or not to implement an ERP system. Written by supply chain consultant Lisa Anderson, the editorial starts by warning manufacturers to refrain from getting all the bells and whistles. “Take a step back and focus 80% of your efforts on the 20% of functionality that drives your business,” Anderson suggests. You can read the rest of the article here.
- Purchasing Tips When Selecting a System. Once you have decided to move forward and invest in an ERP system, choosing the actual system can be overwhelming. This article from ThomasNet provides some important tips to follow when choosing an ERP system for a manufacturing business. The article goes through six critical points, such as taking a look at your company’s technology strategy and capabilities, as well as closer evaluation of the cost implications of the system.
- Lessons From Your Peers. Knowing what has worked and hasn’t worked for other machine shops can provide valuable information and reduce the trial-and-error phase for your shop. Check out this Modern Machine Shop article, which provides links to several case studies of shops that have implemented ERP systems. You should also consider speaking with your supply chain partners to see if they have had success with an ERP system. As LIT’s white paper on managing supplier relationships suggests, they may even be willing to assist you in determining key data points.
June 15, 2014 / best practices, continuous improvement, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, performance metrics, productivity, quality, ROI, strategic planning, value-added services
Most manufacturers understand that they are only as good as their supply chain. Quality starts well before a product enters the doors of a production facility.
Industry leaders, however, are finding that with a little strategy, the supply chain can add a lot more than a quality service or product. When positioned correctly, they can add value.
A recent report from Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium confirms this philosophy. After polling 172 supply chain professionals, a strong 80% of respondents reported that they felt that the supply chain is an enabler of business strategy. A majority of companies also felt that supply chain is a source of business value and a competitive advantage. This, along with the report’s other findings, led the Consortium to conclude that the importance of an integrated supply chain and overall business strategy cannot be ignored. “The better the level of alignment is, the more likely it is that companies are achieving their objectives for cost reduction, customer service, and other metrics,” the report stated.
What’s interesting, however, is the report revealed that a fairly high 35% consider the supply chain a standalone function. This indicates there still is some work to be done. Positioning and treating your supply chain as trusted partners—not just as independent service providers—can be an effective strategy in helping you achieve company goals. For instance, if your goal is to increase productivity, perhaps your suppliers can offer troubleshooting expertise and even training in specific areas of your operation. Or, as was the case with leading metal service center Aerodyne, they may even be able to provide useful, practical tools like free software to help your operators work smarter.
As this Forbes article states, long-term, worthwhile suppliers should treat manufacturers as more than just clients. They, too, should treat you like a partner, which means they should be willing to offer more than one-dimensional service. If that isn’t the case for your organization, it may be time to reevaluate your supply chain or, even more so, reevaluate how you are utilizing your supply chain.
How do you position your supplier relationships to bring value to your company? A recent white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following strategies:
- Schedule on-site visits. Expect your prospective supplier to assume a “partner” role from day one by focusing more on service than on the sale of the product. To facilitate this relationship, start by asking for an on-site needs assessment. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your business goals in person, as well as providing the vendor with a full overview of your operation.
- Do your homework on supplier claims. While many companies often promise unmatched service and technical support, the key is to look for companies that provide resource allocation metrics that support their claims. Do they have adequate field coverage? What is the tenure and continuity of their support team?
- Include training in your purchase agreement. Most suppliers should be willing to provide some level of value-add training as part of the purchase agreement. This is especially important when it comes to your equipment and tooling providers. No one knows your production equipment better than the people who designed it, and they should be willing to share that expertise with you.
- Expect thought leadership and self-service tools. Industry-leading partners should be able to support your business by providing informational and educational materials, as well as practical tools and services. You can and should rely on your supplier to be an industry thought leader that provides a steady stream of valuable industry trends data, operational strategies, and technical product information.
- Have your partner help you measure performance. Most managers have heard the mantra, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” However, most industrial metal-cutting companies don’t possess all of the knowledge, resources, or infrastructure necessary to collect efficiency data, let alone analyze it. This is where a supply partner can help. By working closely with your supplier, you should be able to gather some quantifiable, useable data.
In the end, today’s competitive marketplace requires manufacturers to focus more on value than on cost if the objective is long-term success. While cost-effective products provide short-term benefits, aligning the right suppliers with your business strategies—and then leveraging their services to achieve company goals—will likely offer a greater ROI than any product ever could.
April 30, 2014 / agility, benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, industry news, KPIs, LIT, operations metrics, Output, performance metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, strategic planning
A recent report from Gartner continues to build the case that metrics and smarter, more predictive management strategies are critical for industrial metal-cutting companies that want to succeed in today’s competitive landscape. In fact, according to the consulting firm, organizations that use predictive business performance metrics will increase their profitability by 20 percent by 2017.
“Using historical measures to gauge business and process performance is a thing of the past,” Samantha Searle, research analyst, said in a Gartner press release. “To prevail in challenging market conditions, businesses need predictive metrics—also known as ‘leading indicators’—rather than just historical metrics (aka ‘lagging indicators’).”
Gartner said that predictive risk metrics are particularly important for mitigating and even preventing the impact of disruptive events on profitability. The key is for companies to have predictive metrics that contribute to strategic key performance indicators (KPIs); however, Gartner discovered that many companies are failing to do just that.
Metrics vs. Strategic KPIs
After conducting a survey of 498 business and IT leaders in the fourth quarter of 2013, Gartner analysts found that while 71% of business and IT leaders understood which KPIs are critical to supporting the business strategy, only 48% said they can access metrics that help them understand how their work contributes to strategic KPIs. In addition, only 31% had a dashboard to provide visibility into KPIs.
However, according to Searle, even visible metrics won’t help drive strategic business outcomes if business leaders don’t have the right metrics in place. The problem, she says, is that managers often misinterpret the goal of a KPI.
The first thing companies need to realize is that KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. A KPI is a measure that should indicate what you need to do to significantly improve performance—or that indicates where performance is trending—which means it is predictive in nature. However, Gartner’s Searle says many companies don’t have predictive measures in place. “They persist in using historical measures and consequently miss the opportunity to either capture a business moment that would increase profit or intervene to prevent an unforeseen event, resulting in a decrease in profit,” she explains.
If you are still unsure of what qualifies as a KPI, check out this article, which lists five rules for selecting the best KPIs for your manufacturing organization. As the article states, “the key to success is selecting KPIs that will deliver long-term value to the organization.”
The larger lesson here is that in today’s fast-moving market, companies need to anticipate business events—not react to them. From a high level, Gartner is saying that this requires KPIs that are predictive. But what does this mean from a plant-floor level? What type of shop floor metrics can help businesses anticipate business events and provide input into strategic KPIs?
A benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) may provide a little insight. The following are two of the study’s key findings:
- 67% 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.
- 51% of organizations that “always” follow scheduled and preventative maintenance plans say that blade failure is predicted “always or “mostly.” This shows that preventative maintenance helps operations predict blade failure. And as any metal-cutting leader knows, predicting blade failure not only keeps production flowing, it also helps tooling and maintenance costs under control.
Both of the benchmark findings are, in fact, key metrics that can help industrial metal-cutting companies better understand strategic KPIs. In this case, we discovered that a proactive strategy like preventative maintenance can help managers plan for downtime and, in essence, allows them to create “predictive downtime,” which can actually improve cutting performance and extend equipment life. This is a much different from “interruptive downtime,” which can hurt performance, reduce on-time customer delivery, and increase material costs.
Based on this example, the KPI might be whether or not an organization is hitting its preventative maintenance schedule or whether or not the cadence of preventative maintenance is increasing or decreasing. For instance, if production was increasing but preventive maintenance measurements were static, it could predict massive failure issues.
Moving forward, here are a few questions to consider: What metrics are you using to measure business performance? Are they KPIs? Are your management strategies focused on being proactive or reactive? Are there ways you can predict business events such as blade failure and machine downtime?
Answering these key questions may help you determine whether or not your company is on track to increased profitability or at risk for being stagnant. Proactive strategies like the predictive metrics suggested by Gartner and the preventative measures suggested by the LIT study are critical for industrial metal-cutting companies that want improve their agility and, most importantly, their bottom line. Leaders are realizing that they need to act now—not later—if they want to be successful in the future. When it comes to today’s manufacturing landscape, good things will not come to those who wait.
April 20, 2014 / continuous improvement, human capital, industry news, LIT, maintaining talent, operations metrics, operator training, performance metrics, skills gap, strategic planning
Here’s the good news: Data continues to show that 2014 will likely be a year of growth. Gardner’s most recent metalworking business index (MBI), for example, showed that conditions in the metalworking industry expanded in March for the third straight month and the fourth time in five months. According to Modern Machine Shop, this was the fastest rate of growth since March 2012. Additional MBI findings revealed positive trends in several key business areas, including new orders and production, capacity utilization and spending, employment, and supplier deliveries. You can read the full report here.
All of this good news, however, comes with some uncertainty. As reported in LENOX Institute of Technology’s (LIT) 2014 outlook, most metals executives are only cautiously optimistic about the near-term future. Political issues, pricing pressures, and talent shortages are issues weighing heavily on industrial metal-cutting companies, leaving executives with no choice but to focus on continuous improvement as they attempt to strategically approach a shaky marketplace.
For machine shops, taking the time to make improvements is a challenge in itself, especially if business is starting to pick up. However, leading-edge shops know that in today’s demanding market, optimization is the only way to stay competitive. In other words, they are making time.
While you may not have the resources to undergo a major improvement initiative in 2014, the following are two key trends today’s machine shops need to consider:
- Data-Driven Manufacturing. Yes, “big data,” the Internet of Things, and digital manufacturing have all become industry buzzwords. But as this article from Modern Machine Shop Editor Mark Albert suggests, behind all of this terminology is a trend that can’t be ignored: Today’s machine shops need to make decisions based on information. In fact, Albert says this is the only way that production can move forward. “Facts and figures determine the path a manufacturing process should take, and they propel it ahead,” he states. “To drive manufacturing, factual information has to be available so that people, as well as computers, can use it.” Whether you are manually measuring cut times or implementing cutting-edge monitoring software, the point is that today’s manufacturing decisions need to be based on real, quantitative data.
- Closing the Gap. For years, experts have been warning manufacturers about the skills gap, but it is just now starting to have an impact. Case in point: Prime Advantage Corporation, a buying consortium for midsized manufacturers, recently conducted a survey of CFOs from its member companies. According to the results, 65% of those surveyed said they have open positions that they are seeking to fill, but are having difficulty filling the jobs because of a lack of qualified labor. Other reports are revealing similar trends. To close this gap, companies are discovering that they need to start investing in their human capital. This is a change from the last few years, when metals executives invested more in technology and equipment. In addition to addressing the skills gap, LIT’s benchmark survey of industrial metal-cutting companies provides evidence that investing in areas like training can provide additional benefits, including better quality, faster on-time customer delivery, higher revenue per operator, and lower rework costs.
To read more about trends we expect to see in 2014, check out LIT’s 2014 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook.