December 25, 2015 / best practices, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, operator training, optimization, strategic planning, supplier relationships, supply chain
In today’s competitive marketplace, it is tempting to base supplier relationships on price. Yes, quality is always a consideration, but cost typically makes or breaks the deal. However, a growing number of manufacturers are starting to place more value on their supply chain by focusing less on price and more on building strategic partnerships that offer long-term benefits.
In fact, supply chains are expected to be “a key value driver” for engineering and manufacturing companies over the next 10 years, according to the report, Building the World: Engineering & Manufacturing 2025+ from DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. Specifically, the report says that manufacturing leaders will understand the importance of collaboration and will create new supply chain concepts to differentiate themselves in the market and stay competitive. For example, some companies may build regionalized supply chains to better adapt to shifts in economic activity.
Big name companies like Cargill, Coca-Cola, and Amcor Asia-Pacific are already establishing more collaborative supplier relationships, and they are seeing results. A case study on Bob Evans Farms and Gordon Food Services (GFS) featured here in Supply Chain Quarterly provides a great example. For the last four years, Bob Evans and GFS have been working to jointly identify and actualize opportunities for profit growth through the use of cross-functional teams. So far, the financial benefits have exceeded $31 million dollars, according to the article.
Forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations can take a similar approach with their supply chains. While smaller operations may not have the time or resources to adopt the in-depth methodology utilized by Bob Evans and GFS, there are some simple ways forges can position their supply chain to bring more value. A new eBook from the LENOX Institute of Technology provides four strategies managers can use to build more value into their supplier partnerships:
- 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.
Ultimately, the goal is to build a relationship that benefits both you and your suppliers. How can you create more of a win-win relationship with your supply chain?
To read more about the benefits of value-added supplier relationships, including some key areas where suppliers can help, download the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, or check out the white paper, Managing Your Blade Manufacturer Relationship.
December 10, 2015 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, lean manufacturing, optimization, productivity, strategic planning, supply chain, workflow process
With the rise of online retail giant Amazon, nearly anything—from batteries to furniture (and more)—can be delivered to front doors across America within the same day of ordering. With free two-day shipping and even the introduction of drone deliveries, consumers are increasingly becoming used to clicking and receiving.
In fact, there’s a name for this focus on responsiveness. It’s called the “Amazon Effect,” and according to manufacturing consultant Lisa Anderson, this mentality is creeping its way into manufacturing. For example, one of her clients, a building product manufacturer, ships out a product within 24 hours as a worse case scenario, while another ships within two days.
Industrial metal-cutting companies and fabricators are no exception to this trend. Customers are now expecting orders to be completed in half the time they were just 5 years ago. Like all manufacturers, today‘s fabricators are faced with doing more (increased demand) with less (efficient resource allocation) as quickly as possible.
As reported in the LENOX Institute of Technology white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Fabricators’ Metal Cutting Operations, customer service and delivery continue to be a top challenge for fabricators as they attempt to balance quality with speed. Forecasts and schedules can help fabricators estimate delivery times, but when it comes to improving response time, the proof is usually in the process.
To get orders out the door faster, managers need to take the time to evaluate their processes and observe where and how product travels on the shop floor. A recent article from manufacturing.net provides four key areas fabricators should focus on:
- Rethink the manufacturing footprint. While ordering raw materials offshore helps save costs, it can extend lead times from 30 days to more than 180 days. To deliver faster, consider bringing operations back stateside. Talent can be recruited with new facilities or by relocating operations to maintain a competitive advantage.
- The right product for the right customer. To ensure you have the right product for the right customer at the right price, fabricators need to reduce complexity in their operations. Start by cleaning inventory and assessing SKUs to determine which ones should stay in the portfolio. Then, work with customers and stakeholders to assess the impact of new launches and discontinued products. Tracking customer schedules, including exceptions to lead time, order minimums and costs will help provide customer profitability. Equipped with knowing which customers and products create the most value, fabricating operations can then reduce the number of suppliers to better manage materials flow and delivery.
- Improve material flow and inventory accuracy. Simplify operations and reduce inventory to shorten lead times. Keep inventory organized so it’s easy to find when needed and easy to see when it’s time to reorder.
- Continuously improve. Lean manufacturing and an efficient process is the foundation of improving response time. Simplifying production from supply chain to delivery all adds up to shorter lead times.
Out of the four strategies offered in the article, the last strategy is probably the most important. While continuous improvement has long been touted as a best practice, it shouldn’t be overlooked. It takes time to constantly improve, but lean tools and other improvements strategies are almost always worth the effort. According to an article from Industry Week, one manufacturer cut lead-time in half—from 10.5 days down to 5 days—by taking the time to conduct a value stream map exercise. Specifically, the team mapped out each area of operations and was able to optimize production from receiving to shipping.
In a hectic fabricating environment, it’s easy to push product through and forget about the process. However, with today’s on-demand mentality, manufacturers can’t afford to miss any opportunity to improve response time. By evaluating and rethinking some of the key areas of their operation, fabricators can optimize their processes and, in turn, better meet the demands of their customers.
When was the last time you re-evaluated your fabrication processes?
December 5, 2015 / blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, cost per cut, LIT, material costs, optimization
Any metal-cutting expert knows that having the right blade for the job is critical. Although it may seem like a small operational detail, blade performance impacts several key business areas, including productivity, maintenance, quality, and tooling costs.
Like any purchasing decision, blade selection needs to be strategic, taking into consideration a host of variables—business goals, material type, equipment, and operator skill level, to name just a few. Blade performance is also based on several variables—the cutting application, blade specification, number of teeth per inch, tooth set, etc. Put simply, not every blade is created equal, and choosing the wrong blade can result in poor quality cutting and higher operational costs.
The problem is that many of today’s service centers don’t even realize they are using the “wrong” blade. In many cases, companies settle for “good” instead of “great.” Managers and operators become content with the blade technology they’ve been using for years and end up missing out on the benefits a new blade technology could bring to their operation.
This is a common occurrence in band sawing. For example, many service centers have used bi-metal band saw blades over the years and have had decent results. And in many cases, bi-metal blades are a good choice. However, there are applications in which carbide blade technology would be the better choice.
Many companies are finding that making the switch to carbide blade technology can provide savings and productivity gains they would never have achieved with bi-metal blades. This was the case for Aerodyne Alloys, a metal service center featured here in Today’s Energy Solutions. For years, the company’s Greenville, South Carolina facility used bi-metal blades to cut its toughest metals, including stainless steel, nickel alloy, and super-alloys like Inconel 718 and Hastelloy.
To gain more performance out of its band saws, Aerodyne decided to upgrade to carbide blades. Carbide-tipped band saw blades use strong, durable materials to provide high performance, faster cutting, and prolonged blade life. The blade tooth has carbide tips welded to a high-strength alloy backing, allowing the metal service center to take on hard, nickel-based alloys, as well as stainless steel, tool steel, and titanium.
In addition to tackling hard-to-cut metals, carbide-tipped band saw blades offer longer blade life and faster cutting. The white paper, Characteristics of a Carbide-Friendly Band Saw Machine, further elaborates the benefits of the carbide technology by providing a real-life comparison between a bi-metal blade and a carbide-tipped blade. The test produced the following results:
- The bi-metal band saw blade (LENOX Contestor GT) ran 120 feet per minute with a feed rate of 0.53 inches per minute.
- The carbide blade (LENOX Armor CT Black) ran at 320 fpm with a feed rate of 3.11 inches per minute.
Ultimately, the higher speed and feed rate of the carbide blade enabled it to make the cut 13 minutes faster, translating into 160 more parts produced during an 8-hour shift than its bi-metal counterpart.
Carbide-tipped band saw blades can also deliver benefits to a metalworking operation by producing an improved surface finish. In many cases, a cut part will require additional processing steps downstream in order to refine the finish. By having a smoother finish, the carbide blade can reduce the number of secondary processes, which saves both time and money.
A good example of this is LENOX’s new carbide blade technology, which was featured in the latest issue of Modern Metals. Developed to cut aluminum and nonferrous alloys, the carbide-tipped band saw blade is able to make straight cuts at high speeds without sacrificing surface finish. As stated in the article, the blade tip’s particular grade of carbide wears very slowly, which is ideal for cutting aluminum. A multi-chip tooth pattern balances the chip load and reduces cutting forces, and sharp-edged teeth and high rake angles penetrate material more easily. The cutting tool is said to be the latest blade designed specifically to cut aluminum and nonferrous parts often used in today’s aerospace and automotive applications.
As carbide blade technology continues to advance, the more options service centers have to optimize and grow their operations. Whether the goal is to take on a harder material, improve performance, or increase quality, carbide-tipped blades are an investment worth considering. While the upfront product cost may be higher than other blade types, benefits like improved productivity, lower operational costs, and higher customer satisfaction will pay off in the long run.
For more information on the benefits of carbide blade technology, click here to download the white paper, “Leveraging Carbide Blade Technology to Increase the Productivity of Your Sawing Operation.”
December 1, 2015 / agility, circular sawing, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, optimization, productivity, quality, ROI, strategic planning
Last month, executives from the metal forming, fabricating, and welding industries visited Chicago to walk the aisles of McCormick Place for Fabtech 2015. As to be expected, the trade show featured hundreds of new products and technologies. However, many are saying this year’s show was about more than just the latest gadget.
“A certain excitement permeated this year’s show, and it wasn’t just about this incredibly fast laser, that press brake that eliminates setup time, or that welding power source that connects to the cloud and simplifies welding parameter selection,” writes Tim Heston, senior editor, in a column appearing on thefabricator.com. “It was about how all these technologies and more can work together to make a shop better.”
Indeed, it seems the attitude of Fabtech attendees mirrors what several industrial metal-cutting leaders have found: Investing in new technology isn’t about simply cutting a little faster or reducing set-up time. It is about optimizing processes so that every area of the company can benefit—from shop floor operations and maintenance to quality and finance. As Heston writes: “…a fast laser alone won’t ship a product out the door any faster. Even the smallest shops now are tackling front-office planning, scheduling, and often investing in software to streamline information flow throughout an organization.”
In other words, managers should look at the big picture before adopting any new “groundbreaking” technologies. How will this new technology affect your entire operation? What other processes down the line will be impacted by the benefits of the new technology? Do these other processes need updating as well?
That’s not to say, however, that companies should shy away from investing in new technology. In fact, a recent article from manufacturing.net stresses that cutting-edge technology is critical in today’s marketplace.
“The manufacturing sector is a fast-changing, cut-throat industry,” Martin Hurworth, states in the manufacturing.net article. “Firms who make their living there should be constantly looking to invest in new technologies to make their operations smoother, smarter and swifter, not to mention more cost-effective. In a globalized world, staying at the sharp end has never been more important.”
According to Hurworth, strategic technology investment allows companies to improve in three key business activities:
- Sustain Growth and Meet Demand
- Ensure Quality
- Innovate Effectively
Jet Cutting Service has found this to be the case. Last year, the industrial metal-cutting company reached a record-setting 1.1. million cut parts in just one month—310,000 more cut parts than it typically produces on a monthly basis. “I would like to believe that our increase in sales is due to investing in the latest cutting technology, which increases our capacity and production capabilities,” Vice President Mike Baron says in a case study from the LENOX Institute of Technology. “The newer technology also allows us to offer competitive pricing, which has led to many new customers.”
Although Baron admits the financial commitment can be risky, he finds that many technologies are worth the investment. “We need to constantly keep on top of the latest technology out there,” Baron states. “We don’t want to spend extra money, but if it’s going to cut 20 percent quicker than I do now…then we’ll go after it.”
For example, a few years ago, Baron had eight different circular saw blade manufacturers come into his factory to see which blades performed the best. While the process was time-consuming, Baron said it was a huge learning experience for his team and ended up giving him a 20-percent cost savings in the long run.
Will the latest metal-cutting tool or gadget be the answer to all of your operational challenges? Of course not. However, when carefully considered from a strategic, long-term perspective, it could set your company on a growth trajectory you may not have achieved any other way.
What metal-cutting technology investments could positively impact your bottom line?
March 4, 2014 / employee incentives, human capital, optimization, training
For the last several years, most metals companies have been investing in technology to improve productivity. And as the industry tries to deal with the skills gap, that trend will likely continue. In fact, a report from Fabricating & Metalworking expects 2014 to be the year of “unprecedented automation.”
However, industry leaders also realize that automation isn’t going to be the panacea for their workforce challenges, nor is it the only way they can optimize their operations. A growing number of manufacturers are finding that plant floor workers can play just as much of a role in improving efficiency and, if leveraged correctly, can be more of an asset than a cost.
According to this article in The New York Times, a few years ago, motorcycle manufacturer Harley completely redesigned its production system around this concept. The company built a brand new plant, but instead of relying on robots to ramp up productivity, the well-known brand put its value in its workers and the problem-solving skills they brought to the table.
Of course, Harley is a custom, unionized shop. Can the same hold true in a high-production metal-cutting environment? A recent column from IndustryWeek says yes. As evidenced in the winners of its Best Plants Award, IW says that leading manufacturers—both union and non-union—are investing in their plant floor production staffs and are seeing positive bottom-line results.
Here are a few metals companies that also finding that to be the case:
- Yarde Metals, a metal service center based in Southington, CT, has found that employee incentives can pay off. According to a case study from the LENOX Institute of Technology, Yarde has instituted a bonus system that provides operators with financial compensation when the company does well. To keep operators up to date on performance, managers post daily scorecards next to the time clock that lists productivity stats and other key operation metrics. Greg Sioch, lead foreman of the facility’s plate department, says the system has been very successful and that operators are used to getting bonuses. “Everybody knows that if you don’t send out a good product, you are going to be held accountable for it and it is going to ultimately affect the bottom line for everybody,” Sioch said.
- According to the Modern Metals 12th Annual Consuming Industries Survey, several fabricators, service centers, and metals OEMs are investing in internal training and education programs to combat the growing void of qualified workers. Safety, forklift, first aid, lean manufacturing, and operational training are just some of the programs being offered. In the article, “A Mixed Bag,” the magazine quotes one fabricator as saying that it plans to hire unskilled labor at lower rates and increase their pay as they learn skills. Another fabricator tells MM that it pays for any education relating to the metal industry and that it also offers apprenticeship programs.
To succeed in today’s competitive market, metalworking executives need to optimize all aspects of their operations—and that includes their human capital. Whether it’s incentivizing employees to keep quality high, leveraging their problem-solving skills to improve productivity, or providing them with the training to acquire the skills required in today’s automated plant, it pays to value your operators. Like Harley, metals companies have a choice: They can either treat their plant floor operators as costs, or they can turn them into valuable assets.