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operator training

Preventative Maintenance Tips for Forges that Cut and Process Metal

August 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


While some downtime is inevitable, more and more forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies are discovering that proper maintenance and proactive care of equipment can significantly reduce its occurrence.

The problem is that maintenance departments are typically busy putting out fires, which pushes anything “preventative” to the side. Why take the time to stop a potential problem when there are enough real problems happening right now?

However, as stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, proactively addressing maintenance issues allows managers to reduce costs, increase blade and tooling life, and, most importantly, avoid costly mistakes. “With a simple check-list, operators can enhance their knowledge base and positively affect performance on the shop floor,” the eBook states.

What does this look like in practice? According to the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, operators can conduct daily preventative maintenance (PM) checks in less than 10 minutes. Programs can be as detailed as a manager feels is necessary, but in a band saw environment, the following are a few key checkpoints to include:

Although many shops conduct PM checks at the start of each shift, there are several ways managers can schedule their PM procedures. In a recent blog, maintenance software provider SM Global offers four possible PM schedules:

  1. Date based: Schedule PM checks every X amount of days, weeks or months. So, for example, you can have a maintenance task scheduled every 5 business days, on every Friday, the second Monday of every third month, every January on the first Wednesday and so on.
  2. Meter based: There are two different meter types. In one, you schedule maintenance every time a meter reading increases or decreases by a certain amount. For example, an oil change when a meter reading increases by 3000 miles. The second type is a batch meter. You schedule maintenance after an equipment processes X number of units. For example, replace a bearing every time the equipment produces 500 widgets.
  3. Alarm based: You schedule a maintenance task every time an alarm condition happens. For example, an alarm could be excessive vibration on a machine. You can schedule a PM check on the machine when this alarm occurs.
  4. Relative to another task: Start a new maintenance task when another task completes. For example, order more coolant every time you clean your fluid/lubricant reservoir and screen (typically every 3 months).

If your metal forging operation doesn’t have a current PM program in place, you may want to consider working closely with your equipment and tooling supply partners to set up daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual PM schedules. In addition to helping you create checklists, many provide complimentary annual or bi-annual PM check-ups, which can provide more in-depth equipment diagnostics.

operator training

Reducing Operator Error in Your Machine Shop

August 15, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , ,


A top goal of every operations manager is to reduce error on the shop floor, whether it be mechanical error or human error. While 0% error rates are pretty hard to achieve, the reality is that even a small percentage of error can quickly add up.

An article from Competitive Production puts this into perspective:

“If things are done correctly 99 percent of the time, that equates to two unsafe landings at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport each day; 16,000 pieces of lost mail each hour; 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions each year; or 500 incorrect surgical procedures completed each week. In manufacturing, the slightest of errors, for example one-tenth of a percent, can have a significant impact on a company’s financial performance and profitability.”

When it comes to band sawing, error remains a top concern for managers. As Matthew Lacroix of LENOX explains here, fabricators and other metal-cutting shops have three main areas of concern regarding their band saw processes. “The top frustrations that we repeatedly hear from fabricators are machine downtime, blade failure, and operator error,” he tells Canadian Metalworking. “In each case, there are steps they can take within their own organizations to manage the problems.”

The white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, provides a few steps managers can take to reduce error in their band saw department:

operator training

Four Ways Fabricators Can Encourage Lean Success

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

operator training

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:

operator training

How Gemba Visits Can Benefit Your Metal Forge

July 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , ,


Like most industrial manufacturing segments, metal forges have embraced lean manufacturing and the benefits it can bring. Although not every operation has the resources to undergo a total lean transformation, industry leaders like Jorgensen Forge have adopted simple lean tools and practices to eliminate waste, lower costs, and improve customer responsiveness.

One lean manufacturing tool that continues to gain popularity among operations managers is “going to the Gemba” or taking a “Gemba walk.” This practical lean tool gives management a clear view of what is happening on the plant floor and, more importantly, reveals areas for possible improvement. As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, “Gemba” is the Japanese term for “actual place,” but has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In a manufacturing environment, this is typically the shop floor. Many lean experts advise manufacturing executives to make time to visit this place—known as taking a “Gemba walk”—so they can see their operation from the front lines.

There are several ways managers can “go to the Gemba.” According to a Target Online article from the Association of Manufacturing Excellence, there are three types of Gemba visits:

  1. Leadership Gemba Visits. In these visits, the focus is on the culture, developing trust, learning more about the operations, and finding ways to improve the working conditions of the team members. These Gemba visits are typically conducted by managers and executives (individually or in pairs). They don’t usually have an agenda or follow a prescribed process. The leader simply goes to the Gemba to engage with the team members in a meaningful way and searches for opportunities to make their work less frustrating and more fulfilling.
  2. Leader Standard Work Gemba Walks. These Gemba walks typically have an agenda or a theme and occur on a regular cadence. These are structured and can be done individually or in groups. Many management teams have standard processes for visiting team huddles, checking hour-by-hour charts, doing 5S audits, or doing safety observations. Others visit the Gemba with a specific theme in mind for the walk, such as reviewing autonomous maintenance practices, learning about kaizen activities, discussing safety procedures, reviewing visual management practices, etc.
  3. Problem-Solving Gemba Visits. Typically, the purpose of a problem-solving Gemba visit is to go to the source of a problem in order to observe it first-hand, talk to those closest to the problem, and determine if countermeasures are needed while working to determine the root cause of the problem. This is also a great opportunity for leaders to talk to team members about the problem-solving process and root cause analysis.

Why are Gemba visits so important? This article from The Leadership Network lists a few ways Gemba visits can be beneficial:

  1. First-hand knowledge is the highest form of information. A regular Gemba walk will give managers transparent and unmediated knowledge that is needed to challenge and validate assumptions made by data.
  2. Perspective is gained through experience. A regular Gemba walk allows managers to understand the challenges employees need to overcome on a daily basis to deliver the results that are being promised in the boardroom.
  3. Both people and process matter equally. A regular Gemba walk will help develop a culture that fixes the problems in a process and not one that blames the people performing the process.

If Gemba visits aren’t currently part of your management strategy, perhaps it is time to explore the ways in which it could improve your operation. To read more about this lean manufacturing tool, check out the slideshare presentation, Gemba 101, or read this overview article from iSixSigma.

operator training

Developing Strong Talent in Your Fabrication Shop

July 10, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , ,


Historically, the trend has been for metal companies to put process over people. The manufacturing industry’s shortage of workers with the necessary skills (also known as the “skills gap”), however, is forcing companies to allocate resources back to their workforce.

For many companies, this means changing the way they train and maintain talent, whether that means beefing up training programs or rethinking their hiring tactics. Rockwell Automation, for example, is working to recruit military veterans and leverage their unique skill sets. “We’ve been able to develop a truly groundbreaking program that will help solve a challenge critical to fueling the future growth of the manufacturing sector,” Blake Moret CEO of Rockwell Automation, states here in a press release. “Military veterans possess a unique combination of technical savvy and core work skills that makes them well-positioned for careers in today’s advanced manufacturing environments.”

Companies are also reevaluating how they are maintaining their talent. As lean manufacturing expert Jamie Flinchbaugh says here in IndustryWeek, you can’t “just hire talent and then leave it alone.” Continuous improvement applies to all areas of an operation, including training and maintaining talent.

According to Flinchbaugh, when it comes to building a strong team, manufacturers should consider the following:

  1. Put the right talent in the right place. Hiring is part of this, but so is organizational design. Too often Flinchbaugh says he sees organizations reward talent by taking them out of the place they perform the best. That’s like taking your best hitter on the team and making them a team coach before their retirement as a reward. So top salespeople become sales managers, and top engineers become engineering managers. Is that the best use of their talent?
  2. Talent is responsible for its own improvement. Your talent should hold the primary responsibility for their own development. A lean thinker should be encouraged to improve their talent in any skill that matters, whether personal or professional.
  3. Coach and train. Making the development of talent a core part of your business means integrating it into your management systems. This is not something to delegate to human resources. The hardest part of this is how you leverage your top talent. While not everyone is suited to coaching and training, leveraging your top talent to build more talent is the long-term play.

In a metal-working environment, it is also critical that operators and other employees feel valued. While the idea of empowering employees sounds a bit cliché, a growing number of managers are finding that operators who take ownership of their process or work area are invaluable. According to the brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” operator “buy-in” can positively affect all aspects of an industrial metal-cutting operation, including quality, productivity, and in the end, the bottom line. Similarly, when employees feel disconnected, those same business areas can be negatively affected. Strategies such as collecting feedback, goal setting, and incentives are good ways to encourage employee ownership from the start.

As the skills gap has proven, investing in talent is just as important as investing in technology and process. Metal-cutting companies—not to mention the manufacturing industry at large—can’t afford to neglect one of its greatest assets. In the end, building and cultivating high-quality talent is necessary for building and cultivating high-quality services and products.

 

operator training

Machine Shop Outlook for 2017 and Beyond

May 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , ,


The year started out on a high note for machine shops, and current reports suggest the upward trend will continue throughout 2017. How should machine shops respond?

A Bright Picture

The new year meant good things for machine shops and other industrial metalworking companies. According to the Gardner Business Index, the metalworking industry grew in January for the first time since March 2015, reaching its highest point since May 2014.

That momentum has continued throughout the year. Both February and March registered growth, with the Index hitting its highest points since March 2012. Growth continued in April as well, although at a slightly slower rate. However, as Steven Kline, director of market Intelligence at Gardner Business Media, states here, “Expansion is still the greatest it has been in three years.”

Customer segments are also experiencing growth. According to Kline’s report, power generation was the fastest growing industry in April, growing for the second time in three months. Twelve other industries recorded strong growth as well. Industrial motors/hydraulics/mechanical components grew at an accelerated rate for the fourth month in a row; aerospace continued its streak of growth at six months; and job shops and oil/gas-field/mining machinery also grew in April.

Other economic indicators point to good news. As reported here by Cliff Waldman, chief economist at the MAPI Foundation, manufacturing employment has now increased for five consecutive months, with an average of 14,200 new jobs gained per month. “Overall, this is the most convincing evidence that the broad manufacturing picture is starting to show some real improvement from years of weakness,” Waldman states.

Getting Smart for the Future

Yes, the near-term picture looks bright for machine shops. However, industry leaders can’t rest on their laurels and need to be sure they are prepared for where the market is heading. Perhaps the biggest trend happening within manufacturing is what many call the “fourth industrial revolution.” As explained in a previously published blog, the fourth industrial revolution (also called “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.

Companies like EVS Metal, a precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ, have already started thinking about what this means for their operation and how they can adapt. From a practical standpoint, shops 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.

However, according to an article from Production Machining, companies need to more than just invest in technology. Matthew Kirchner, managing Director, Profit 360, explains here that manufacturers that wish to capitalize on the coming revolution will require a new level of knowledge, aptitude, and disciplines in the following four areas:

Equipped for Success

As machine shops move into the second half of the year, the key will be to not only make the most of current market conditions, but to also strategically prepare for the future. Like any trend, it will take a while for the fourth industrial revolution to fully materialize. However, many experts are saying that industry leaders are embracing this next generation of manufacturing and, more importantly, are starting to make investments. Is your shop in a position to do the same?

operator training

The Importance of Ergonomics in Your Metal Forging Operation

March 25, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


For years, manufacturers have relied on lean processes to improve productivity and to reduce waste. This is certainly a good thing from an operations standpoint. However, from a safety and health perspective, lean manufacturing can have a few drawbacks.

For example, lean practices make jobs highly repetitive. As pointed out in this article from Industrial Engineer, repetitive jobs often eliminate critical rest time for employees. “The repetitive jobs take their toll on employees as stressful postures and high forces are repeated over and over throughout the day,” the article says. “In the long run, the financial savings from the productivity gains and quality improvements are used to pay for the higher cost of workers’ compensation claims.”

This is why many forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations have incorporated ergonomics into their production processes. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), ergonomics is defined as fitting a person to a job to help lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the number and severity of work-related injuries. Strategic equipment placement and improved ergonomics not only keep employees safe and healthy, but they are key aspects of high productivity and optimized workflow. The fewer times an operator touches a material, the fewer chances for injury and human error, both of which contribute to productivity.

Not sure where to start? An article from IAC Industries describes possible workplace risk factors and suggested solutions. For example, there are at least six different types of musculoskeletal risk factors operators may face:

  1. Forceful exertions and motions.
  2. Extreme or repetitive exertions, postures and motions.
  3. Duration of exertions, postures, motions, vibration and cold.
  4. Insufficient rest or pauses.
  5. Work factors (for instance, close performance monitoring, wage incentives, machine-paced work).
  6. Environmental factors.

The article then goes on to describe an example of an ergonomic workstation design. According to IAC, incorrect working height is often responsible for extreme postures and motions at the workstation. Recommendations for the appropriate working height are as follows:

Of course, this is just one of the many ways a manufacturer can improve ergonomics within their operation. Another article from Ergonomics Plus, an Indianapolis, IN-based company, offers a 10-point checklist to help managers create a framework for building a successful ergonomics process. According to the company, a solid ergonomics process doesn’t have to be complicated to be successful, but it can be challenging to get all the right pieces in place and achieve sustainable results. You can review the entire checklist here.

If these suggestions feel overwhelming or you don’t quite know where to start, you may want to consider bringing in some professional help. Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ), a metal service center featured here in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, decided to perform an in-depth ergonomic study at one of its metalworking facilities. With the help of a third-party resource and input from its shop floor employees, the company made several changes to the shop floor to eliminate unnecessary handling and transportation of material. Ergonomic improvements ranged from repositioning band irons to adjusting the height of staging tables. By optimizing the workflow, EMJ has seen a reduction in employee injuries, improvements in operator efficiency, and increased output. The service center has also seen an increase in shop floor morale, as operators feel they are playing a critical role in helping the facility succeed.

In what ways could you incorporate ergonomics into your forging operations?

operator training

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? 

operator training

Apprenticeships May Help Your Service Center Fill Skills Gaps

March 5, 2017 / , , , , , , , ,


Data from the U.S. Labor Department continues to show that the skills gap is real. As reported here by the Wall Street Journal, the number of open manufacturing jobs has been rising since 2009, and 2016 registered the highest number in the past 15 years.

Why does this continue to be an issue? According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, there are several layers to the current workforce challenge. First, skilled production workers are one of the largest workforce segments facing retirement in the near term, which will have an impact on the number of experienced workers on the shop floor.

Meanwhile, the current talent pool isn’t what it should be. Streamlined production lines and more process automation have changed the nature of manufacturing work, and the incoming generation of workers either isn’t interested in working anywhere near a production line or lacks the necessary skills and technical knowledge.

The question continues to be, then, how can companies fill the gap? While the issue is too complex for one “sure-fire” solution, many believe that training and, more specifically, apprenticeship programs are an effective way for companies to fill their employee pipeline and build their team’s skill set.

An article from IndustryWeek argues that while colleges may turn out students that may know things, manufacturing companies need students that can do things. This is why apprenticeships are key. “Perfectly positioned at the intersection between knowledge and training, apprenticeship programs are ideal talent incubators,” the article states. “The positive outcomes of skills training are many: stronger communities, a skilled and confident workforce and an increase in the number of career opportunities for our young people.”

The U.S. Department of Labor defines apprenticeships as “an employer-driven, ‘learn while you earn’ model that combines on-the-job training, provided by the employer that hires the apprentice, with job-related instruction in curricula tied to the attainment of national skills standards,” according to its web site.

With hands-on jobs like metal-cutting, it’s hard to argue against the benefits of on-the-job training. However, the problem is that many companies don’t want to pay for it. The apprenticeship model typically involves progressive increases in an apprentice’s skills and wages, which can be viewed as costly to organizations, especially if they are afraid employees will take their skills elsewhere.

The good news is that there are several new initiatives out there that are trying to alleviate that cost by joining the industry and government together. Below are two examples:

While apprenticeship programs aren’t by any means a new idea, they could be exactly what manufacturing needs—again. For an industry that has spent a lot of the last few decades focusing on process and efficiency, it’s time to place the focus back on people. By investing time and resources into building a highly skilled workforce, you are ultimately investing in your company’s long-term success.

How is your company building a skilled workforce? Could an apprenticeship program help close the skills gaps in your operation? 

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