October 5, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer satisfaction metrics, Employee Morale, human capital, lean manufacturing, maintaining talent, operations metrics, operator training, productivity, ROI, Safety
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- As reported here, a maker of bulked continuous filament carpet yarn recently realized an estimated $27 million in savings a full year ahead of schedule by focusing on accountability. According to the article, an eight-person team used a Six Sigma process to improve operator, equipment and product accountability by defining metrics, creating and following processes, tracking data and making improvements based on their findings.
- Ocean Spray, the largely known beverage and cranberry food product company, also saw huge improvements at its manufacturing facility in Kenosha, WI. The plant, which was nicknamed “Broken Down Kenosha,” was transformed into what the company’s executives now call “New and Improved Kenosha” due largely to its focus on company culture and workforce accountability. As reported by Training magazine, the tactic didn’t come without some financial investment, but the company said the cost far outweighed the outcome, which resulted in safety, cost, and material use improvements.
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?
September 20, 2016 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, continuous improvement, Cost Management, operator training, preventative maintenance, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
Most metal-cutting professionals agree that lubricants are a critical part of any sawing operation. As explained in the reference guide, User Error or Machine Error?, insufficient sawing fluid can cause a host of metal-cutting issues, from premature blade failure to poor cut quality.
Metal-cutting fluids save maintenance time, improve cut quality, and extend tooling life. However, not all lubricating options are created equally. As this blog post describes, managers have a wide range of lubrication options available to them. And while fluid selection may seem like a small detail, it should be treated like any other operational purchase—with both strategy and cost in mind.
One lubricant choice that many machine shops overlook is Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL). This alternative option sprays a very small quantity of lubricant precisely on the cutting surface, eliminating any cutting fluid waste. In fact, many consider it a near-dry process, as less than 2 percent of the fluid adheres to the chips.
MQL is great for smaller saws and for structural applications, but it is also versatile enough to be used in both precision circular sawing and band sawing operations. To help machine shops determine whether or not MQL is a good fit for their operation, below are just a few of its key benefits:
- Lower long-term costs. Although MQL fluids typically cost substantially more per gallon, less than 1/10,000 of the amount of fluid is used. It also eliminates the need to invest in reclamation equipment such as sumps, recyclers, containers, pumps, or filtration devices.
- Less waste. Another major benefit is that MQL is a much more sustainable option. As an article from Fabricating & Metalworking discusses, metal chips produced during MQL machining are much cleaner than conventional approaches. Near-dry chips are easier to recycle and more valuable as a recycled material. Conversely, “wet” processes like flood coolants produce “increased and on-going lifecycle costs in the form of energy consumption, chemical maintenance, water make-up, disposal of used cutting fluids, and then starting the cycle of waste/recovery all over again by replenishing consumed fluids,” the article states.
- Less maintenance. The smaller amount of coolant means that less fluid sticks to the part. This reduces the need to clean parts after cutting. Also, MQL fluids do not have to be diluted with water. Flood coolants, however, have to be mixed with water, and operators need to monitor the concentration as fluid is lost, water evaporates, etc.
Of course, changing over to MQL is not as simple as just plugging in a new lubrication system. Implementation will require some research, training, and upfront investment. In fact, as a recent article from Modern Machine Shop points out, MQL can also present some manufacturing challenges. According to the magazine, operations managers should consider the following before deciding to implement MQL:
- MQL does not have comparable chip evacuation abilities to those of wet machining.
- MQL is still not well suited for deep-hole drilling, energy-intensive processes such as grinding, special operations like honing and small-hole drilling, or for difficult-to-machine materials such as titanium and nickel-based alloys.
- MQL still produces a very fine mist, which can be more difficult to filter.
- MQL implementation may require changes to the machine tool and processing strategy.
Although MQL may not be suitable for every shop, in many cases, it can offer significant advantages to your business, your employees, and the environment—three major reasons to at least consider using it in your metal-cutting operations.
For more information about what is needed to use MQL, including equipment requirements and some “rules of thumb,” you can download a copy of The MQL Handbook here.
Non-Residential Construction Industry Continues to Create Demand for Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies
September 15, 2016 / best practices, Cost Management, human capital, industry news, maintaining talent, operations metrics, operator training, Output, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, strategic planning
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
August 25, 2016 / benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, LIT, operator training, Output, performance metrics, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality
Any manufacturing executive tracking industry trends will no doubt run across terms like “big data,” “cloud computing,” and the “Internet of Things.” In fact, according to the results of a survey from Deloitte and the Council on Competitiveness, these types of advanced technologies have the power to put the U.S. back on the map as the most competitive manufacturing nation.
“CEOs say advanced manufacturing technologies are key to unlocking future competitiveness,” the report summary states. “As the digital and physical worlds converge within manufacturing, executives indicate the path to manufacturing competitiveness is through advanced technologies, ranking predictive analytics, Internet-of-Things (IoT), both smart products and smart factories via Industry 4.0, as well as advanced materials as critical to future competitiveness.”
As a forging executive, however, the question becomes: How does this technology apply to my operation? Or to put it another way: How do these “buzz words” play out on the shop floor?
One technology application, featured here in Forging magazine, gives a good indication of what cloud-computing and connectivity could look like in a metal-cutting operation. Specifically, the article features a cloud-based bandsaw monitoring system that offers three key features:
- Blade Life Assessment. Monitoring and alert notification of a saw blade’s remaining useful life. The technology will provide advance notice of required saw blade replacement.
- Increased Machine Efficiency & Machine Life. The technology provides real-time analysis of individual components and overall machine health status. It can send notifications of abnormal conditions from motors and bearings. It also alerts on frequent consumable items like hydraulic and cutting fluid.
- Increased Operational Efficiency. The technology can provide production reports to aid in identifying best practices and training needs. An advanced monitoring and notification system alerts the operation when machine maintenance is needed which aids efficiency in the scheduling of planned events.
These are no small benefits. In fact, they fall right in line with two of the strategies listed in the Benchmark Study of Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations from the LENOX Institute of Technology. According to findings from the study, forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations can gain additional productivity on the shop floor by investing in smarter, more predictive operations management approaches and by taking a more proactive approach to equipment and blade maintenance. By using cloud-based monitoring to track blade life and machine health status, managers can do just that by anticipating downtime, which, as the study states, “translates into more jobs completed on time.”
Of course, bandsaw monitoring is just one possible application. As we reported here in our annual forging industry forecast, controls and sensors are also being developed and implemented to monitor the forging process in a bid to automatically sense and compensate for any variation in the process. This type of consistency not only boosts efficiency, but could have some major quality benefits as well.
An article from IndustryWeek provides a few more application examples. The article describes how three leading companies are using advanced technologies to connect just about everything and anything—video cameras to monitor workflow process, safety helmets to track employees, and end products to predict reliability—all of which shows that the potential applications are only as limited as a manufacturer’s creativity.
What possible applications could cloud-based monitoring and other advanced technologies have in your forging operation?
August 20, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, preventative maintenance, workflow process
Improving productivity is a constant goal for any manufacturer. In today’s increasingly competitive and uncertain market, machine shops are no different.
To boost efficiency, manufacturers have long implemented lean manufacturing practices as part of their overall operational strategy. As cited in this eBook, 5 Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, there are a host of lean manufacturing tools to consider, including:
While lean manufacturing practices are anything but new, machine shop managers can take a more simplified approach to improve efficiency at even the most customized shop set-up. According to LeanProduction.com, manufacturers can experience great improvements in productivity through small daily increments. The idea is to identify and fix one problem each day using three questions (one each for Information, Focus, and Action) to identify problems from plant floor information, decide which issue to fix, and then take action to correct it. (Click here for some examples of the three questions.)
A Modern Machine Shop blog, however, notes that while improving productivity is essential to maintaining competitiveness, productivity on the shop floor comprises much more. “Productivity on the manufacturing floor depends on a combination of efficient employees, equipment, and processes,” the blog states. “Before you can adopt any method for productivity improvement, you’ll need to measure your existing output levels, create a baseline, and implement solutions for measuring change.”
The blog article goes on to list eight steps to help manufacturers design a more productive and successful manufacturing floor. Read on for a summary of five of the eight steps (Read all eight steps here.):
- Examine the workflow. Analyze the people, technology, and processes required for production, as well as the procedures, communication tools, and resources available. Identify the pain points and note how changes would impact the overall system.
- Update business processes. Share workflow problems with project managers to make improvement plans. Evaluate performance and interpret any appropriate changes.
- Invest in continued employee education. Be sure to keep your workforce up-to-date on the latest machining and manufacturing technologies. New advancements often require new skills for certain tasks and regular training will keep your machine shop running efficiently.
- Get smarter machining tools. Even if your workforce is trained, they can only work as fast as their tools. While advanced machinery can be costly, the investment pays off in the long run by helping companies stay competitive.
- Invest in maintenance. While new equipment can boost productivity, it also requires maintenance to ensure that it continues working efficiently. Employees should know how to troubleshoot in instances of system downtime, quickly find root causes of errors, and then correct them. Remember to consider the process, the blueprint, and the material when making adjustments.
Whether you run a high-mix or a small-scale shop, increasing productivity is essential to remaining competitive in today’s industrial metal-cutting industry. While there’s no sure-fire formula when it comes to boosting productivity, taking the time to drive improvements across the shop and making small adjustments from a baseline assessment can make a big impact.
What strategies has your machine shop used to increase productivity on the floor?
August 5, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, operator training, strategic planning
With yet another recent decline in metal shipments, industrial metal-cutting companies are paying close attention to cost management as a part of their business strategy.
According to recent data from the Metal Service Center Institute (MSCI), U.S. service center steel shipments declined in June by 5.1% from the prior-year, while shipments of aluminum decreased by 6.5%. Inventories also declined, with steel down 16.5% and aluminum down 1.5% from the prior-year. The story is equally bleak in Canada, where shipments of steel are down 14.4% and aluminum declined 16.5% from a year ago.
As stated in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, managing costs is one of the top five operating challenges for metal service centers. However, at a time when uncertain market conditions remain, manufacturers are laser-focused on the bottom line to ensure they stay competitive.
Traditionally, there are a few manufacturing cost areas that companies typically zero in on as they try to boost their profit margins. According to an article from Chron, these include:
- Labor costs
- Material costs
- Overhead costs
- Capital investment
Another way metal service centers keep costs under control is ensuring equipment is operating as efficiently as possible. This includes running at the proper settings and using the right blades. For example, as explained in this blog post, although a coated saw blade adds a premium cost upfront, the blade’s life is nearly double and can slice cutting time in half, ultimately leading to savings and increased productivity.
While all of these tactics can certainly be effective, an article from IndustryWeek (IW) notes that companies can do more than simply focus on the “traditional” costs to help manage the bottom line. Specifically, the article says that companies can indirectly manage costs for the long-term by incorporating specific goals into their overall improvement plans. In fact, the article suggests that focusing simply on costs can be detrimental to a company’s success.
According to the IW article, costs should not be the main goal or focus of any improvement program, regardless of how tempting it can be to make changes solely for the impact on the bottom line. Disguising cost-cutting as an improvement can lead to low morale, resistance to support other improvements, and lack of engagement. Instead, the article states that companies should consider the following four action steps to realize cost improvements as part of a larger improvement plan:
- Employee training. Make sure everyone from the CEO to every worker in every function receives training in the improvement tools and philosophies. Make sure top management backs the changes and keep the session impactful and memorable.
- Spend time with and discuss finances upfront. Spend time with the financial community and hold discussions on costs and savings before the improvement project starts. Work with the financial team to develop a tracking system for possible problems to prove cost savings in the future.
- Include financial colleagues. Be sure to include a person from the financial community in each improvement team. This person will be able to validate cost savings and ensure all costs are tracked accurately.
- Include costs as part of a larger plan. Improvement initiatives need to be part of a long-term plan in order to really change operations, including realized cost savings. Otherwise, the improvement will only be temporary with the risk of the organization returning to its old habits or making them worse.
By including employees and financial community members in an overall improvement plan from the start, metal service centers can experience both operational and financial efficiencies. The goal is to think about costs strategically. Balancing cost savings as part of a larger plan will benefit the organization in the long run by offering continued returns.
What cost management strategies have worked for your metal service center?
July 30, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, LIT, operator training, productivity, skills gap
As manufacturers continue to seek ways to reduce the industry’s skills gap, more and more emphasis is being placed on human capital. While the tendency has been for companies to focus more on technology than on people, companies are starting to understand the value of investing in their employees as they attempt to attract a new generation of workers—a generation that doesn’t have the necessary skills or even interest in manufacturing.
One huge area that manufacturers are focusing on is operator training. Many companies are either updating their current programs or rebuilding their entire training process to not only ensure that new employees have the right skills, but to keep them motivated and excited about their manufacturing careers.
Of course, there are several tactics ball and roller bearing manufacturers can employ to enhance their training programs. Based on research from the LENOX Institute of Technology, the following four strategies are worth noting:
- Use Technology. As discussed in an earlier blog post, mobile technology is changing the manufacturing landscape. Besides increasing productivity, portable devices can be leveraged for other business functions, including training. For example, devices can be used as virtual training textbooks. As an article from American Machinist explains, companies can create web-based training that is optimized for smartphones and tablets to help employees brush-up on best practices, learn new techniques, and develop new skills anywhere and at any time. This tactic may be especially attractive to the incoming, tech-savvy generation of workers.
- Use Visual Aids to Motivate. Although technology can certainly have its benefits, a simple visual aid can also speak volumes to employees by both motivating them and holding them accountable. Tech Manufacturing, a contract machine shop featured here in Modern Machine Shop found this to be true. In an effort to improve cross-training among employees, the company began tracking employees’ time with various equipment, awarding bronze, silver or gold status based on the hours logged. The sheet is posted in the shop for any staff member to see. There was no reward system attached to the status level; however, the company found that cross-training began to increase as soon as it began posting the skills and status levels.
- Use Diverse Skills as an Asset. By 2020, companies will be challenged with balancing five generations in the workplace, according to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Company. However, managers can use the different strengths found within a multigenerational workforce as an asset. While younger, less experienced workers may lack industry knowledge, they are typically more technology savvy and more willing to embrace new techniques. 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. When leveraged appropriately, many companies are finding they can use this diversity as an opportunity to improve operations and create new and innovative solutions to traditional problems.
- Use Ongoing Training to Develop Leaders. One important best practice for any manufacturer is to implement an ongoing training program, either internally or with the help of a supply chain partner. According to the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal Cutting, too often metal-cutting operations only provide upfront training, as opposed to continually reinvesting in their operators. Leadership training, in addition to basic operator training, will be key for managers struggling to fill skills gaps and replace retired employees. Just like existing customers are often the greatest source of new business, the underdeveloped potential of existing employees could be an operation’s greatest source of new talent.
What strategies are you using to improve training at your manufacturing operation?
July 20, 2016 / best practices, LIT, operator training, strategic planning, supplier relationships, value-added services
Most manufacturing organizations agree that supplier relationships are one of the key building blocks of success. While there are still some companies that base their supply chain on price, many industry leaders believe that a strong supply chain can (and should) be about more than the most affordable product or service.
In an interview with Modern Metals, Aviva Leebow Wolmer, CEO of Pacesetter, stresses that cultivating strong ties with suppliers is critical to achieving the metal service center’s goals—goals that go far beyond price. “Pacesetter believes in the power of teamwork, where the entire supply chain comes together to focus on reaching goals,” Wolmer tells MM. “It’s easy to provide a low-price model to try to buy business away from the competition, but not every company is built to offer the level of service, partnership and trust that Pacesetter’s customers and suppliers are accustomed to. We want our suppliers and customers to feel they are a part of the Pacesetter family.
“Facilitating long-term partnerships helps to create value and offer advantages that may not be available if we focused only on price,” Wolmer continues. “We promote collaborative efforts up and down the supply chain and find long-term solutions to satisfy everyone’s needs.”
Other companies are taking a similar approach when building supplier relationships. For example, American Axle & Manufacturing (AMM), an automotive parts supplier featured here in Supply Chain World, works closely with suppliers long before price is even discussed.
“Our goal is to source several years in advance by working on new technologies and bringing suppliers in before we talk about price,” explains Jake Stiteler, AMM’s chief procurement officer. “We look at them to find the best technology and delivery, and we look at advanced cost modeling to agree on what prices should be. We’ve flipped the spectrum by having technology and capabilities drive the process, and by working with prequalified suppliers on finding ways to take cost out upfront instead of negotiating pricing at the end.”
Of course, in today’s market, price will still be important for machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting organizations looking to stay competitive. However, there are ways organizations can build more value into their supplier relationships. An eBook from the LENOX Institute of Technology lists three strategies to do just that:
- 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.
- 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.
In addition to the above three strategies, managers should also do their 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? What can they bring to your shop that other suppliers aren’t offering? Therein lies the value.
Ultimately, the goal for any manufacturer should be to turn vendor relationships into strategic partnerships. By looking beyond price and by focusing on value, machine shops can develop a strong supply chain that can have a significant impact on the bottom line.
July 15, 2016 / employee incentives, Employee Morale, industry news, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, skills gap
With more baby boomers leaving manufacturing jobs than entry-level candidates choosing a career in manufacturing, there’s no doubt that the manufacturing skills gap exists. However, a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and The Manufacturing Institute found that while some manufacturers aren’t feeling the gap yet, others are worried the gap will widen.
According to the June 2016 PwC study, 33% of manufacturers say they have little or no difficulty hiring talent while 41% have “moderate difficulty.” This doesn’t mean, however, that a worker shortage isn’t on the horizon: 31% of manufacturers see no skills shortage now but expect to see one within the next three years. In addition, another 26% believe the gap has already peaked and 29% think it will only get worse.
While no one knows if or when the gap will worsen, the point is that companies need to address it now. In most cases, managing the gap will require companies to change the way they train and maintain talent. According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, companies are rethinking their hiring tactics and beefing up training programs to help bridge the gap.
Aluminum manufacturer Alcoa, for example, has quadrupled the number of its internships at its Technology Center in New Castle, Penn., in the past three years to ensure it attracts and retains top talent, according to an article from IndustryWeek. In addition, the company is partnering with a community college to train 60 students in additive manufacturing and 3-D printing.
The Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Intl. is also working to boost enrollment in metal forming and fabricating career paths. As reported here, the association developed a multi-media site to showcase stories, videos and interactive resources to raise awareness of technical education. Educators at 12 schools across the country will have memberships to the site (www.eduFACTOR.org) in an effort to attract and develop a new-generation workforce.
In addition to new hiring strategies, companies also need to be sure their training programs are designed to take on a new generation of workers. According to an article from American Machinist, there are a few ways to implement effective training to help bridge the skills gap:
- Make training mobile. As we discussed in this blog post, mobile technology is changing the manufacturing landscape. Besides increasing productivity, portable devices can be used as virtual textbooks. Create web-based training that is optimized for smartphones and tablets so your workforce can brush-up on best practices, learn new techniques, and develop new skills anywhere and at any time.
- Make it easy to digest. Keep training content short and sweet, especially given that manufacturing and engineering subjects can be detailed and, let’s be honest, not the most exciting to read. Create training content that is streamlined, divided into short chapters or sections, and that is clear, concise, and geared toward employee engagement.
- Teach skills they won’t find somewhere else. Training, in general, will help your industrial metal-cutting operations run more efficiently, but it can also help you edge-out the competition when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Provide training that equips employees with the skills unique to your operation and products, especially with entry-level employees. Custom training will not only boost operational productivity, but will also create an incentive for those employees to grow along with your operations.
Proactively attracting new talent and investing in training can help bridge the skills gap within your industrial metal-cutting operation, but they are only two pieces of the puzzle. Cultivating a company culture that actively and continually invests in its employees can have a long-term effect on not only the quality of your workforce, but the quality of your operations as well. People affect process and can play a huge role in an operation’s success.
Do you think the skills gap is affecting your metal-cutting operations? What strategies are you implementing to bridge the gap?
July 1, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, operator training, productivity, Safety
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 Anheuser-Busch have been known to fall short.
If it has been a while since you have evaluated or updated the safety policies and procedures used in your metal-cutting organization, it may be time to re-focus your efforts. One simple safety tool that is often overlooked is the use of visual devices. According to visual management expert and author Gwendolyn Galsworth, the “visual workplace” is a huge opportunity for managers to create a safer, more efficient, and reliable manufacturing operation.
“Visual devices translate the thousands of informational transactions that occur every day at work into visible meaning and imbeds that into the living landscape of work,” Galsworth writes on her website. “This visible meaning doesn’t just impact performance—it creates performance.”
This means it may also help save on costs. According to the 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the most disabling, nonfatal workplace injuries amounted to nearly $62 billion in direct U.S. workers compensation costs. This translates into more than a billion dollars a week spent by businesses on these injuries. In addition, as stated in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, neglecting to identify and address safety issues can negatively affect operator efficiency, which can reduce output and impact the bottom line.
Put simply: It pays to keep your employees safe, and visual cues are an easy way to accomplish that.
How can you utilize visual devices to improve safety in your facility? The following are just a few ideas:
- Use Color. LENOX Tools has implemented a color-coded Safety Sticker program that visually displays whether or not its operation has had any safety incidents. Sticker dispensing stations and a safety calendar are located at every entrance to the facility, and every employee is required to put on a green sticker with the number of days “accident free” written on it. When a recordable accident occurs, everyone in the facility changes from a green sticker to a red sticker for a seven-day period. After seven days, everyone reverts back to the green sticker. According to Matt Howell, senior manager, the program has been “a good rallying point for the facility and builds energy around safety.”
- Go Digital. An article from Reliable Plant lists several benefits of investing in digital signage. “In today’s visually oriented world of YouTube videos, film and television, digital screens may capture attention far more effectively than static, textual media, especially in business environments where people are focused on their work,” the article states. In addition, unlike static communication tools, digital signage uses sound and can be conveyed and refreshed regularly, improving the likelihood that an audience pays attention and internalizes critical safety information. (You can read the full article here.)
- Demand Attention. While tried-and-true safety assets like warning signs, stripes on the floor, perimeter fencing/blocks, and lock-out/tag-out procedures can be valuable, an article from Canadian Metalworking points out that these tactics are passive. “Over time they tend to become invisible or are just plain ignored,” the article states. To demand attention from workers, the article suggests operations managers consider investing in warning beacons. Light features such as size, color, output and mounting options can all be used to enhance safety and promote employee awareness in key areas of the facility. (Click here to read the full article.)
What visual strategies are you using to improve safety in your industrial metal-cutting operation?