March 20, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, human capital, industry news, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, optimization, performance metrics, preventative maintenance, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
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:
- Look at profitability, not just productivity. As explained here, overall equipment efficiency (OEE) is a critical metric that measures the percentage of production time that is truly productive. It takes into account all six types of loss, resulting in a measure of productive manufacturing time. According to a recent article from Modern Machine Shop, OEE is helpful, but it may not be enough on its own. “Managers have to balance decisions about maximizing the part-making capability of their equipment with decisions about the money-making potential of this equipment,” the article states. “OEE ratings alone provide an incomplete picture.” The article goes on to describe a measurement called Financial OEE (FOEE), a trademarked name for a new feature of a communications platform from Memex, which accounts for profitability. As stated in the article, “FOEE helps a shop understand how machine performance is helping (or hurting) profitability. This insight provides guidance—and incentive-to focus on the most appropriate productivity improvement efforts.” More specifically, FOEE is the current-state hourly profit divided by a value representing a world-class level of profit. This ratio compares what profit a company made with what profit could have been made at world-class levels. This information can help shops see the financial value of improving the machine’s performance. To read more about this metric, check out the full article here in Modern Machine Shop.
- See existing equipment as an asset. A common struggle among many shops is finding enough working capital to invest in new equipment. To help fight this battle, a recent article from Canadian Metalworking discusses how shops can use the value of existing equipment on the floor. “An asset-based lender, one who has experience in the manufacturing industry, will recognize that a good, brand-named machine tool that has been paid for in full, is an asset that can be leveraged,” the article states. “The equipment is used to provide collateral for financing new machinery, or as a resource to raise working capital to cover the additional costs of product development using existing equipment.” This does require the shop to have a full understanding of how existing equipment is evaluated and how it can be leveraged. To read some tips on properly evaluating and grading your machinery, click here for the complete article.
- Consider the value of maintenance. It’s a pretty simple fact: Equipment that isn’t running is pretty much worthless. This seems obvious, but many shops still put preventative maintenance (PM) and other housekeeping tasks on the back burner in an effort to stay productive. The irony is that this usually ends up hurting productivity in the long run. As stated in the brief, Cost Management Strategies for Industrial Metal-cutting Organizations, there are several aspects of equipment maintenance that contribute to overall costs. “From an operations standpoint, managers can keep costs under control by making sure metal-cutting equipment is operating as optimally as possible,” the brief states. This includes ensuring that equipment is running at the proper settings and that fluids are adequate. Closely monitoring blade life and maintenance reports are also critical. Perhaps the most important consideration is a strong preventative maintenance program. Programs can be as detailed as a shop feels is necessary, but a few checkpoints are outlined here in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology. If limited personnel is the issue, check out this blog about getting equipment operators involved in daily PM tasks.
What other factors contribute to the value of your metal-cutting equipment?
February 28, 2017 / best practices, Cost Management, Employee Morale, human capital, industry news, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, ROI, skills gap
The idea of investing in your employees sounds good in theory. In fact, many would say that this is a trend among manufacturers as they try to find ways to address the widening skills gap.
But as any metals executive knows, theories don’t pay the bills. Resources designated to employees may offer some “soft” benefits like improved morale, but is there any financial benefit to investing in employees?
Research shows that the answer is yes: Investing in employees does offer a good return on investment (ROI). In an article published by Harvard Business Review, Alex Edmans, professor of Finance at London Business School, says that research of stock market data clearly reveals that the benefits of investing in employees outweigh the costs and that employee satisfaction improves firm value.
“I studied 28 years of data and found that firms with high employee satisfaction outperform their peers by 2.3% to 3.8% per year in long-run stock returns—89% to 184% cumulative—even after controlling for other factors that drive returns,” Edmans writes in HBR. “Moreover, the results suggest that it’s employee satisfaction that causes good performance, rather than good performance allowing a firm to invest in employee satisfaction.”
According to Edmans, the findings have major implications. “For managers, they imply that companies that treat their workers better, do better,” he writes. “While seemingly simple, this result contradicts conventional wisdom, which uses cost control as a measure of efficiency.” (You can see all the details of Edmans’ findings here.)
Research conducted among forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations show similar results. A benchmark study conducted by the LENOX Institute of Technology provides evidence that investing in human capital is critical for improving on-time customer delivery and driving higher revenue. Specifically, the survey of 100 industrial metal-cutting operations found the following:
- 64% of organizations that cite their operator turnover is decreasing year over year also report that on-time job completion is trending upwards—a critical correlation.
- 51% of organizations that reported reduced levels of operator turnover also said their revenue per operator had increased.
With data like this, it is hard to argue against the value of investing in employees. And while most executives think of pay raises when they think of employee investment, the good news is there are several ways forges can invest in employees. The following are just four possible approaches that go beyond pay:
- Listen. Operators that work with equipment every day are a valuable source of information. Be intentional about collecting feedback and implement some of their ideas.
- Equip. Invest in an employee’s future with incentives like continued education or management training. This shows employees that you value their personal success and provides them with new skills that can benefit your operation in the long run.
- Communicate results. Regularly share performance reports with employees by either posting them or discussing them in staff meetings. According to 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.
- Reward. Studies continue to show that goal setting and incentives are effective motivational strategies. Empower your operators by letting them set their own goals. This also holds them accountable for their work and promotes long-term “buy-in” and loyalty.
Investments of any kind usually present some risk, but in the case of human capital, it seems unlikely that there are any real threats or disadvantages. As research confirms, pouring resources into the very people that keep your company running is just good business—in theory and in practice.
How is your forging operation investing in employees?
February 5, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, LIT, operator training, quality, ROI, strategic planning, supplier relationships
Keeping costs low and quality high are the top goals of just about every industrial metal-cutting operation. What’s interesting, however, is that many companies treat these two areas as independent variables. A recent series of articles from IndustryWeek (IW) shows why it is important for managers to look at quality and cost together. More specifically, it recommends that companies quantitatively measure the cost and benefits of quality.
“Tracking the financial impact of any support function is necessary in order to illustrate its value and garner continued support and resources from senior management,” the IW article explains. “This struggle is vitally important for quality management departments that continue to struggle with competing for resources. Once organizations get clarity on the financial impact of quality, the next step is to understand what practices and applications help improve the financial value.”
Unfortunately, this seems to be easier said than done. Based on the results of a 2016 survey conducted by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), approximately 60 percent of organizations say they don’t know or don’t measure the financial impact of quality. According to a report on the survey’s findings, “this lack of measurement may be attributed to not having a common method for capturing the financial impact.”
Many companies also do not understand the benefits of measuring quality and, instead, simply use it as a means of “compliance” or to keep customers happy. This is especially true in today’s market. As stated in the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, customers continue to expect higher quality and tighter tolerances from their metal-cutting suppliers.
However, the IW article states that quality should be about more than “checking a compliance box” or basic due diligence. “Developing a solid foundation of quality assurance for continuous improvement, risk mitigation, and compliance provide immeasurable value,” the article states. “However, once that solid foundation is established, organizations can then leverage quality for the benefit of the customer and enhance brand image, thus serving as a competitive differentiator.”
In fact, based on ASQ and ASQC’s survey findings, “organizations that leverage quality as a strategic asset were more likely to report higher levels of financial gains from their quality program.” In other words, companies are using quality to drive profitability.
For more information on how to start measuring the cost of quality, click here to access IW’s four-part series. The articles look at the relationship between financial benefits and the following areas:
- the role and uses of quality,
- governance and standardization of quality,
- quality training for suppliers, and
- quality incentives and training for staff.
How are you measuring the financial impact quality has in your service center?
January 20, 2017 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, LIT, productivity, ROI, strategic planning
In any manufacturing operation, having the right tool for the job is critical. The challenge is that there will always be instances when the “right tool” won’t be a clear-cut decision.
For example, in metal-cutting, bi-metal band saw blades have been traditionally used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon and structural steels, and some alloy steels. However, blade technology is evolving, and there are now carbide-tipped band saw blades on the market that have been designed specifically to cut aluminum and non-ferrous alloys. This begs the question: Is the new technology worth the investment, or would it be smarter to stick with a tool operators already know?
Answering those types of questions is never easy and takes careful consideration, especially when there is some investment necessary. In today’s competitive market, even a simple tooling decision is strategic.
To assist managers with the task of selecting the best machine tools for their operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following tips:
- Form an internal team. Good strategic decisions are very rarely made alone. As a recent article from Modern Machine Shop explains, even a decision like buying a new machine tool should include input from every department it may impact (i.e., engineering, production, maintenance, etc.). This, the article states, is why forming an internal machine-tool buying committee is a good idea. “During the machine-buying process, some companies will form committees, especially when numerous departments will be involved in and responsible for the daily operation of the machine,” the article states. “Buying committees allow each department to have input, conveying their requirements and concerns prior to machine selection.” You can read more about this best practice here on Modern Machine Shop’s blog.
- Work closely with suppliers. More and more managers are finding that collaborative supplier relationships are critical to business success. In fact, according to the book, Strategic Supply Chain Management by Shoshanah Cohen and Joseph Roussel, companies that strategically utilize their supply chains realize better business results than their competitors. This can include your tooling suppliers. When looking at a new machine tool, a trusted supply partner should be willing to provide informational and educational materials about new tools and technologies, as well as additional services such as short-term trial runs and training support. Some may even be willing to help you measure and analyze the success of a new tool. No one knows your equipment and tooling better than the people who designed it, and a good supplier should be willing to share their expertise with you—no questions asked.
- Look at the total cost. Like any good purchasing decision, tooling selection needs to take into account the total operational costs of running the tool, including maintenance costs and equipment requirements. Case in point: While carbide-tipped band-saw blades are more advanced in the right application, they do not perform well with a lot of vibration. Therefore, they can only be used with certain types of saws—a critical purchasing consideration. As explained in the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job, making the “right” blade choice requires managers to weigh three key factors:
- upfront costs against overall operating and maintenance costs
- long-term productivity of a machine and its intended use
- equipment and blade life, as well as cost per cut
What best practices does your team follow when choosing a new machine tool?
January 1, 2017 / best practices, industry news, LIT, productivity, quality, ROI
It’s a new year, which means companies are getting a jump start on major projects and working toward new goals. For many manufacturers, this includes transitioning from the ISO 9001:2008 quality management standard to the updated ISO 9001:2015 standard. Although the revised version of the standard was published back in September 2015, companies have until September 2018 to complete the transition. The following is a quick summary for industrial metal-cutting companies that are considering recertification.
While many would say that ISO’s most recent revision is “significant,” as explained here in an article from the Association of Manufacturing Excellence (AME), the changes are more evolutionary then revolutionary. “These new guidelines are less prescriptive than previous versions – an effort to adapt to the working conditions of the 21st century,” the AME article states. “ISO 9001:2015 is the result of the intensive study from experts in about 95 countries throughout a three-year period. It’s a tool to help improve efficiency while maintaining the ability to adapt to today’s quickly changing work environments.”
Some of the key updates in ISO 9001:2015 include the introduction of new terminology, restructuring of some information, and increased leadership requirements. Another key change is that the new update incudes ten clauses, whereas the previous version included only eight. According to Luc Marivoet, a quality expert at Paulwels Consultant, the first three clauses in ISO 9001:2015 are largely the same as those in ISO 9001:2008, but there are considerable differences between ISO 9001:2008 and ISO 9001:2015 from the fourth clause onwards. More specifically, the last seven clauses are now arranged according to the PDCA cycle (Plan, Do, Check, Act). You can read more about the clause changes here.
Overall, most experts agree that the newly updated standard is more relevant and has been written for the benefit of organizations, not auditors. ISO says that the revised standard was designed to bring companies the following benefits:
- Puts greater emphasis on leadership engagement
- Helps address organizational risks and opportunities in a structured manner
- Uses simplified language and a common structure and terms, which are particularly helpful to organizations using multiple management systems, such as those for the environment, health & safety, or business continuity
- Addresses supply chain management more effectively
- Is more user-friendly for service and knowledge-based organizations
Steps to Update
As noted above, companies have a three-year transition period from the date of publication (September 2015) to move to the 2015 version. This means that, after the end of September 2018, a certificate to ISO 9001:2008 will no longer be valid.
Why go through the recertification process? That question is discussed in more detail here, but in general, it is widely accepted that ISO 9001 certification provides companies with several benefits, including improved quality and cost savings. In fact, the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, lists ISO 9001 certification as a key strategy for industrial metal-cutting companies that want to improve their performance.
There is no question that transitioning to the new standard will take considerable time and resources. ISO offers the following tips for companies that are transitioning to ISO 9001:2015:
- Familiarize yourself with the new document. While some things have indeed changed, many remain the same. A correlation matrix, available from ISO/TC 176/SC 2, will help you identify if parts of the standard have been moved to other sections.
- Identify any organizational gaps which need to be addressed to meet the new requirements.
- Develop an implementation plan.
- Provide appropriate training and awareness for all parties that have an impact on the effectiveness of the organization.
- Update your existing quality management system to meet the revised requirements.
- If you are certified to the standard, talk to your certification body about transitioning to the new version.
To further assist industrial metal-cutting companies that are seeking ISO 9001:2015 certification, the LENOX Institute of Technology has gathered a few helpful resources:
- Click here to download and purchase ISO 9001:2015.
- Click here to download ISO’s transition guidance document.
- Click here to watch a video describing why ISO decided to update the standard.
- Click here to download a checklist to assist you through the transition.
How might recertification benefit your industrial metal-cutting organization?
December 15, 2016 / Cost Management, industry, maintaining talent, quality, ROI, strategic planning, training
Industrial manufacturers find themselves competing in an increasing uncertain global market with rising customer expectations and ever-evolving technology, according to the 19th Annual Global CEO Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
The survey found that only 24% of manufacturing CEOs think global growth will improve over the next 12 months compared to 34% last year, and 23% think it will worsen compared to 18% the prior year. In addition, just 29% of industrial manufacturers are confident of revenue growth in the next 12 months, but when given a three-year span, 46% of manufacturers think they’ll see growth.
Data also suggests that CEOs believe business risk has increased. According to the survey, 55% of industrial manufacturing CEOs said opportunities have increased during the past three years; however, 61% believe the number of threats has increased.
The PwC survey, which interviewed 205 industrial, manufacturing CEOs in 53 countries, revealed that industrial manufacturing companies are working hard to deliver results year after year, but most understand that the future brings complex challenges. The survey highlights three key focus areas for today’s industrial manufacturing CEOs:
- Great expectations and influences. When asked to describe their company’s purpose, the survey found many industrial manufacturing CEOs believed it was centered on filling customer needs or developing first-class products, but others said it was creating a great place to work for employees or achieving social goals. And the influences that impact that purpose and overall strategy are many. As one would expect, customer demands drive final products, but 89% of industrial manufacturers say their customers and clients have an impact on their overall business strategy. Supply chain partners weigh-in, too, with 88% of CEOs planning to address social and environmental impacts of their supply chain. In addition, competitors and peers are also a focus, with a third of CEOs saying they too have a high impact on strategy.
- Technology and talent. Executives know Industry 4.0 has arrived and are working to invest in new innovations and train their workforce to capitalize on their investments. The survey found that 90% of industrial manufacturing CEOs plan to make changes in how they use technology to assess and deliver on wider stakeholder expectations. However, with new technology comes new skill requirements, and 76% of respondents say they are concerned about the availability of key skills to grow their business. In response, more than half of CEOs are changing their talent strategy.
- Measuring and communicating success. Data showed that 60% of survey respondents said innovation is the number one area where the business could do more to measure the impact and value for stakeholders. Not only are CEOs realizing they need to measure and track business success, but that they also need to communicate that success. The survey found that 68% of CEOs believe R&D and innovation has the potential to drive better engagement with wider stakeholders. Together with customer relationship management, data and analytics take the top three spots—validating smart manufacturing will be a driving force for industry leaders.
Like any industrial manufacturer, PwC’s survey findings can help metal-cutting organizations prepare for another challenging, but transformative, year. As reported in the case study, “Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies,” sometimes this means investing in technology. Jett Cutting Service, for example, hit a record-setting 1.1 million cut parts last year and attributes the milestone to smart investments. “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 said. “The newer technology also allows us to offer competitive pricing, which has led to many new customers.”
However, Jett Cutting also understands that it needs to be just as committed to its employees and its customers. The metal-cutting organization also has a strong training program for new employees, an ISO certification program to maintain high quality standards, and additional training for existing employees every time new equipment or software is purchased.
For many metal-cutting companies, 2016 certainly hasn’t been the best of years, but it also hasn’t been the worst. As PwC’s survey confirms, no one is confident about what next year will bring; however, industrial manufacturing leaders aren’t standing idle. Jett Cutting and many others are investing in new technology and training now to prepare for growth in the future.
How is your industrial metal-cutting company investing in the future?
December 10, 2016 / best practices, customer delivery, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, quality, ROI, skills gap, strategic planning
With all the buzz around connectivity and “smart” factories, it appears as if the manufacturing industry is on the brink of a major shift. Some experts, as we reported here, are calling this Industry 4.0. Even companies in more mature industries like metal fabrication are starting to realize that the demands of today’s customers are not only changing the scope of their work, but the way in which they actually need to do their work.
“Investments in fabricating technology, information systems, and employees will be necessary to stay on top of the growing complexity in the metal fabricating business,” Dan Davis, editor of The Fabricator, says here in a recent editorial. “There’s no other way around it in this world of massive customization in manufacturing.”
While most industry leaders understand the capital and technology investments that may be necessary in the near future, many fail to realize the growing importance of investing in employees and, more specifically, in their training. In today’s lean manufacturing world, metal fabricators and other industry metal-cutting organizations have been conditioned to think in terms of efficiency. This means that secondary activities like employee training are often neglected because they don’t directly contribute to the bottom line.
However, as stated in the brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” research shows that investing in areas like training can provide a host of benefits, including better quality, faster on-time customer delivery, higher revenue per operator, and lower rework costs. “Put simply, companies can’t afford to neglect one of its greatest assets,” the brief states. “By investing resources into the workforce, industrial metal-cutting leaders can better equip themselves for today, as well as the future.”
For shops that want (or need) to beef up their training programs, an article from Foundry magazine provides some insight on what it takes to create an effective training program. According to the article, training programs should include a strong combination of education, engagement, and use: “Training must educate by teaching skills, transferring knowledge, cultivating attitudes and hitting other specific targets. But training that is purely educational doesn’t get results. That is why training must present information in ways that are engaging, interactive and require the learner to think and use the information learned.”
The article goes on to describe a method often used in training known as VAK Attack. VAK is an acronym describing the three ways people learn, as spelled out below:
- Visual learning happens when people watch materials that can include videos, PowerPoints, charts and other visual elements.
- Auditory learning happens when people learn by listening to people who might be other trainees, compelling trainers, visitors and others.
- Kinesthetic learning happens when people get out of their seats and move around as they take part in work simulations, games, and other meaningful exercises.
According to the Foundry article, effective training should include all three of the VAK principles so that employees can better learn and absorb the information presented. The author also suggests hiring an outside trainer to ensure long, impactful results. (You can read the full article here.)
It would be hard for anyone to ignore the advancements of the manufacturing industry; however, too many companies are ignoring the role employees play in today’s increasingly complex production environments. By investing in employees and their training, today’s metal fabricators can prepare for the future and, more importantly, stay competitive today.
How is your fabrication shop investing in employee training?
November 30, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, operator training, preventative maintenance, ROI, strategic planning
In today’s challenging market, any edge you can carve out against the competition is beneficial. While traditional improvement strategies such as lean manufacturing, ongoing training, and preventative maintenance can help improve your operational success, top performers are looking beyond long-established methods to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
According to the brief, “Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” industry leaders understand the importance of thinking outside the box. “In the spirit of continuous improvement, best-in-class managers need to explore all of the ways they can save their operation time and money,” the brief states.
Enter sustainability—the latest initiative manufacturers are using to reduce costs and gain a competitive advantage. Whether implementing strategic energy plans or adopting more environmentally friendly processes, today’s industrial manufacturers are finding that “going green” can provide bottom-line savings.
For example, according to The U.S. Green Building Council report, LEED in Motion: Industrial Facilities, more than 1,755 industrial facilities have received a voluntary green building certification system called LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. As stated here in a blog from Frost & Sullivan, experts believe that the operational efficiencies gained by following LEED building principles are real and measurable.
Take Fiat Chrysler’s Trenton South Engine plant as an example. The Michigan-based facility was the world’s first engine plant to achieve a Gold LEED rating, which has helped cut the plant’s annual CO2 emissions by 12,000 metric tons, reduced energy consumption by 39%, and saved about $1.6 million a year.
Ball and roller bearing manufacturers are following suit. For the last 17 years, industry leader SKF has been listed as one of the most sustainable companies by the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI). “Our long-running inclusion in the DJSI is something that we are all very proud of within SKF,” stated Rob Jenkinson, director of corporate sustainability at SKF. “Sustainability issues for businesses have evolved during this period, with an ever increasing focus on reducing negative environmental impacts and doing more for society as a whole. We maintain our focus on understanding these issues and the role we can play to help address them—now, and in the future.”
New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Inc. (NHBB) is also focused on sustainability as a strategy and has a formal Energy Management Plan in place. “Energy management is at the core of our strategy to achieve sustainability because it is so vital to our long term health,” the company says on its website. “Rapid economic growth, especially in the developing world, is expected to increase global energy consumption 40% by 2035. The expected increase in energy costs and the potential for supply disruptions compels us to identify and implement aggressive energy efficiency improvements.”
Instead of embracing sustainability as something that’s just “good to do,” more and more manufacturers are realizing that there are practical short-term and long-term financial benefits to implementing environmentally conscious improvements, according to a blog from the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). The industry group lists five key business advantages to adopting sustainable practices. The following are the top three: (You can read the full list here.)
- Reduce Energy-Related Costs. Energy and water costs are a prime concern for manufacturers. Focusing on improvements can reduce these expenses, typically on an annual basis. In addition, switching to energy-efficient lighting and adjusting lighting levels in accordance with your production schedule will reduce your long-term electrical costs. Regular equipment inspections can also prove beneficial.
- Attract New Customers and Increase Sales. Green and sustainable practices can make your company more marketable. Consumers are more conscious of the environment, and making improvements will strengthen your reputation. Whether you’re an OEM or a supplier, highlighting your initiatives to the public will help you attract a whole new base of customers, resulting in increased sales.
- Tax Incentives. There are a variety of tax credits and rebates on both the federal and state level for manufacturers who proactively implement more sustainable improvements. There may be incentives available to your business. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s website and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.
Of course, the bigger picture benefit of sustainability is its positive impact on the environment. However, as Fiat, SKF, NHBB, and many other industrial manufacturers are discovering, developing and integrating a detailed sustainability vision into your long-term strategic plan can have real, measurable business advantages that contribute to the bottom line.
November 20, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, customer service, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, ROI, strategic planning, workflow process
Research continues to show that leading industrial metal-cutting companies are focused on continuous improvement. For example, according to the latest Top Shop benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop magazine, “top shops” (defined as the top 20 percent of the 350 shops that were surveyed) are more likely to apply lean-manufacturing methodologies than other shops. They are also more likely to have cultures of continuous improvement. Specifically, the survey revealed that 62 percent of top shops have adopted formal continuous improvement programs compared to only 46 percent of other shops.
The survey also found that shops are implementing a variety of improvement tools to stay competitive. One tool in particular that is widely used is value-stream mapping (VSM). In fact, the survey found that almost 40 percent of top shops are using this lean methodology compared to only 20 percent of other shops.
As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, VSM is a “paper and pencil” tool that helps managers visualize and understand the flow of material and information as a product makes its way through the value stream. The map is a representation of the flow of materials from supplier to customer through your organization, as well as the flow of information that support processes as well. According to iSixSigma, this can be especially helpful when working to reduce cycle time because managers gain insight into both the decision-making and the process flows.
Although it is easy to become overwhelmed by the terminology, an archived article from Ryder outlines VSM in five simple steps:
- Identify product. Determine what product or product groups you will follow. Focus on one product at a time and start with the highest volumes.
- Identify Current Flow. Once you’ve defined the scope, the next step is to create a “current state map,” or a visual representation of how the process (or processes) in the warehouse is operating at the present moment. Key data points such as units per month, shipping frequency/schedules, hours of operations (available time), number of shifts worked, or any pertinent information around customer demand should be gathered before beginning the current state.
- Observe. Get on the floor and walk the entire process through step-by-step. Take notes and compile data such as inventory, cycle times, and number of operators.
- Make the map. Literally map out the process you just witnessed by drawing it out on a board. Include the data you collected and place inventory numbers under each step in the process. This will identify your bottlenecks.
- Create (and implement) a plan. Now that you know what and where your process improvements are, choose one or two to focus and improve on in a set amount of time. Once those are complete, you can prioritize the other bottlenecks to improve lead times.
One of the biggest misconceptions about VSM is that it is only applicable to high-volume shops. Like many other lean tools, VSM can usually be adapted to fit high-mix, low-volume machine shops. In an interview with Fabtech, Mike Osterling, a senior consultant with Osterling Consulting, Inc., explains:
“Let’s begin by pointing out that the front office processes (order taking and management) for low-volume, high-mix production processes are much more complex than the front office processes for high-volume low-mix environments – thereby meaning those value streams are in much greater need of VSM alignment! So we need to start those VSMs at the receipt of order (or at receipt of a request for quote), and we need to include leaders from those areas in the actual VSM activity. In some cases we can identify VS product families if there are products that are different, but they go through common production processes. In those situations, there may be opportunities to create areas of flow (or mini-flow).” (You can read the rest of the interview here.)
In an industry driven on speed and schedules, taking a few days to complete VSM or other improvement exercises may seem like wasted time. However, managers need to consider the price of not taking the time to focus on continuous improvement. Investing in tools like VSM can help your shop operate more efficiently, reduce lead time, improve customer service, and as research suggests, help you keep up with your competitors.
November 10, 2016 / best practices, blade life, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, preventative maintenance, ROI, strategic planning, supplier relationships
According to research from Kronos, U.S. manufacturers as a whole are bullish about future growth prospects. As reported by IndustryWeek, the research shows that nine out of 10 company leaders expect revenues to increase every year over the next five years, and well over half anticipate strong annual growth of 5% or more.
That doesn’t, however, mean companies don’t anticipate stumbling blocks. In fact, the report lists five critical challenges today’s manufacturers feel could limit their potential sales and profit growth. Not surprisingly, three of those challenges are cost-related—material costs, labor costs, and transportation/logistics costs.
So while some manufacturers are optimistic right now, there is no question that uncertainty about market conditions remain. The latest data from the Institute for Supply Management, for example, revealed that that Fabricated Metal Products sector contracted in October; however, new orders were up in September. This type of instability means that most fabricators are keeping a close eye on cost.
As stated in the brief, Cost Management Strategies for Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, there are no “one size fits all” answers when it comes to cost management. However, there are some of guiding principals industry leaders are using to keep costs low.
From an operations standpoint, managers can better manage equipment costs by making sure saws and other metal-cutting tools are operating as optimally as possible. According to the brief, this includes ensuring that equipment is running at the proper settings and that fluids are adequate.
“Closely monitoring blade life and maintenance reports are a critical aspect of managing equipment costs,” the brief explains. “If operators are taking too long to cut a specific material or blade costs are up, managers should review equipment settings and monitor the operator in action.” Consistent general and preventative maintenance programs can also help metals executives better manage costs.
From a more strategic standpoint, there are several best practices metal fabricators can follow. Below are three strategies to consider:
- Partner up to increase buying power and save money. As suggested in an article from Thomasnet, partnering with other small businesses can yield volume discounts and achieve savings. Consortiums put the benefits of economies of scale into effect for small businesses that would otherwise be left paying premiums. In addition, small firms should seek strategic partnerships with key suppliers. Purchasing from fewer suppliers saves time and resources while building trust. A small business owner can talk openly with a strategic partner and ensure the company is not overspending due to unnecessary costs.
- Include financial personnel in improvement initiatives. If your company has decided to embark on a continuous improvement activity to save costs, you may want to check out this article from IndustryWeek. In addition to discussing the dangers of disguising cost cutting as improvement, the article also reminds managers to spend time with the financial community and hold discussions on costs and savings before starting an improvement project. Managers should work closely with the financial team to develop a tracking system for possible problems to prove cost savings in the future. The article also suggests that a person from the financial community be included in each improvement team. This person will be able to validate cost savings and ensure all costs are tracked accurately.
- Factor time into the cost equation. While most people believe the old adage “time is money,” traditional accounting practices don’t exactly account for the cost of time—specifically, customer lead times—in metal fabrication. As explained in an article from The Fabricator, traditional cost accounting treats inventory as an asset and does not capture the true costs of long lead times. However, according to the author of the book, The Monetary Value of Time, there is an accounting method that corrects this oversight and complies with generally accepted accounting principles. You can read more about this method here.
Regardless of whether you are optimistic about the market and making investments or taking a more cautious approach and holding your pennies close, it is always important to closely monitor costs. By taking the time to approach cost strategically, today’s metal fabricators can save money, stay competitive, and, hopefully, see long-term increases to the bottom line.