June 20, 2014 / agility, best practices, industry news, LIT, operations metrics, performance metrics, ROI, strategic planning
According to research quoted in a recent article from MetalForming Magazine, 45% of manufacturers list “improving business execution” as a primary goal for 2014. In today’s uncertain marketplace, this isn’t much of a surprise. In short, agility is key.
However, manufacturers are finding that achieving this goal is a lot harder than it sounds. As the MetalForming article states, companies need to start by clearing “some common hurdles, most notably delays in decision-making due to a lack of timely information, and an inability to quickly react to change.”
This is why more and more companies are focused on data-driven manufacturing. As stated in the 2014 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), best-in-class machine shops are forming strategies, making decisions, and optimizing their operations using hard, quantifiable information. Anything else is just guessing.
The challenge is finding an efficient way to not only gather “timely data” but also store it, interpret it, manage it, and share it across your entire organization. Odds are you don’t have a fully staffed IT department waiting in the wings.
This is where business management software like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) can be helpful. ERP software is typically a suite of integrated applications that allows an organization to efficiently manage their business and automate back office functions. It combines all facets of an operation, including product planning, development, manufacturing, sales and marketing. It can be managed in-house, or as is the case with many machine shops, purchased as software as a service (SaaS).
Top-tier manufacturers and large enterprises have been touting the benefits of ERP systems for years. They can improve productivity, enhance cross-functional communication, and speed the “quote to cash” cycle. Even so, smaller shops often shy away from these systems because they can also be expensive, complex, and far too often, fail to provide bottom-line results.
That’s not to say you should write off ERP systems all together. It just means a little research is in order. Below are a few resources we gathered to help you dig a little deeper into the benefits ERP can offer your machine shop, along with a few pointers to ensure success.
- Key Considerations Before Implementation. A recent article that appeared in Project Times provides five key points to consider before you decide whether or not to implement an ERP system. Written by supply chain consultant Lisa Anderson, the editorial starts by warning manufacturers to refrain from getting all the bells and whistles. “Take a step back and focus 80% of your efforts on the 20% of functionality that drives your business,” Anderson suggests. You can read the rest of the article here.
- Purchasing Tips When Selecting a System. Once you have decided to move forward and invest in an ERP system, choosing the actual system can be overwhelming. This article from ThomasNet provides some important tips to follow when choosing an ERP system for a manufacturing business. The article goes through six critical points, such as taking a look at your company’s technology strategy and capabilities, as well as closer evaluation of the cost implications of the system.
- Lessons From Your Peers. Knowing what has worked and hasn’t worked for other machine shops can provide valuable information and reduce the trial-and-error phase for your shop. Check out this Modern Machine Shop article, which provides links to several case studies of shops that have implemented ERP systems. You should also consider speaking with your supply chain partners to see if they have had success with an ERP system. As LIT’s white paper on managing supplier relationships suggests, they may even be willing to assist you in determining key data points.
June 15, 2014 / best practices, continuous improvement, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, performance metrics, productivity, quality, ROI, strategic planning, value-added services
Most manufacturers understand that they are only as good as their supply chain. Quality starts well before a product enters the doors of a production facility.
Industry leaders, however, are finding that with a little strategy, the supply chain can add a lot more than a quality service or product. When positioned correctly, they can add value.
A recent report from Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium confirms this philosophy. After polling 172 supply chain professionals, a strong 80% of respondents reported that they felt that the supply chain is an enabler of business strategy. A majority of companies also felt that supply chain is a source of business value and a competitive advantage. This, along with the report’s other findings, led the Consortium to conclude that the importance of an integrated supply chain and overall business strategy cannot be ignored. “The better the level of alignment is, the more likely it is that companies are achieving their objectives for cost reduction, customer service, and other metrics,” the report stated.
What’s interesting, however, is the report revealed that a fairly high 35% consider the supply chain a standalone function. This indicates there still is some work to be done. Positioning and treating your supply chain as trusted partners—not just as independent service providers—can be an effective strategy in helping you achieve company goals. For instance, if your goal is to increase productivity, perhaps your suppliers can offer troubleshooting expertise and even training in specific areas of your operation. Or, as was the case with leading metal service center Aerodyne, they may even be able to provide useful, practical tools like free software to help your operators work smarter.
As this Forbes article states, long-term, worthwhile suppliers should treat manufacturers as more than just clients. They, too, should treat you like a partner, which means they should be willing to offer more than one-dimensional service. If that isn’t the case for your organization, it may be time to reevaluate your supply chain or, even more so, reevaluate how you are utilizing your supply chain.
How do you position your supplier relationships to bring value to your company? A recent white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following strategies:
- Schedule on-site visits. Expect your prospective supplier to assume a “partner” role from day one by focusing more on service than on the sale of the product. To facilitate this relationship, start by asking for an on-site needs assessment. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your business goals in person, as well as providing the vendor with a full overview of your operation.
- Do your homework on supplier claims. While many companies often promise unmatched service and technical support, the key is to look for companies that provide resource allocation metrics that support their claims. Do they have adequate field coverage? What is the tenure and continuity of their support team?
- Include training in your purchase agreement. Most suppliers should be willing to provide some level of value-add training as part of the purchase agreement. This is especially important when it comes to your equipment and tooling providers. No one knows your production equipment better than the people who designed it, and they should be willing to share that expertise with you.
- Expect thought leadership and self-service tools. Industry-leading partners should be able to support your business by providing informational and educational materials, as well as practical tools and services. You can and should rely on your supplier to be an industry thought leader that provides a steady stream of valuable industry trends data, operational strategies, and technical product information.
- Have your partner help you measure performance. Most managers have heard the mantra, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” However, most industrial metal-cutting companies don’t possess all of the knowledge, resources, or infrastructure necessary to collect efficiency data, let alone analyze it. This is where a supply partner can help. By working closely with your supplier, you should be able to gather some quantifiable, useable data.
In the end, today’s competitive marketplace requires manufacturers to focus more on value than on cost if the objective is long-term success. While cost-effective products provide short-term benefits, aligning the right suppliers with your business strategies—and then leveraging their services to achieve company goals—will likely offer a greater ROI than any product ever could.
May 28, 2014 / agility, best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, customer delivery, LIT, quality, ROI, strategic planning, value-added services
What does it take to keep your customers satisfied? In today’s demanding market, most industrial metal-cutting companies would say high quality, competitive costs, and on-time delivery. However, those have always been the hallmarks of any good manufacturer, and some might argue that the last few years weeded out any companies that even remotely lagged in these key areas.
So, what does it really take to keep your customers satisfied? Or, as this Inc. article points out, perhaps the better question is whether or not customer satisfaction is what you should be trying to achieve. According to the Inc. author, customer satisfaction is “tepid and minimal”, has “no bearing on future buying decisions,” and can be “safely ignored.”
Instead, manufacturers should be spending their efforts building some level of customer loyalty, the article argues, as well as what the Inc. author calls “product evangelism.” In short, the author maintains that companies need to focus less on simply satisfying customers and, instead, focus more on: 1. bringing value that goes above and beyond, and 2. a strong brand message that is unique and relevant. As the article title suggests, that is how you develop a customer relationship that “trumps all the rest.”
The Inc. author isn’t the only one buying into this mentality. In recent years, many leading companies have endeavored to take their customer service to the next level, creating what consultant Lisa Anderson refers to as the “Amazon Effect.” From no-hassle refunds to 24-hour availability, Anderson believes that manufacturers and distributors have something to learn from the exceptional service standards set by Amazon. “It has become apparent that those businesses that leverage the Amazon Effect will thrive while the rest are left in the dust,” Anderson said in a recent article from Industrial Distribution.
How you “amp up” your customer service game will largely depend on what you already have in place, but the following are a few strategies to get you thinking:
- Revaluate Outsourced Services. Sometimes enhancing customer service may be as simple as bringing an outsourced service in-house. While this strategy may not always be cost-effective, for D&J Technologies, it was worth it in the long run. The machine shop, featured in this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, discovered that sending out parts for nickel-plating was causing a bottleneck and making it difficult to guarantee on-time delivery of finished parts. By bringing plating in-house, D&J was able to provide its customers with an additional service, remove a production bottleneck, and speed up the delivery process.
- Engage Customers. As many leading companies are discovering, the voice of the customer can be a valuable tool. According to a recent research report from consulting firm Aberdeen Group: “The customer has become much more than a product delivery channel and instead has morphed into an integral stakeholder with the clout to determine the viability of the organization, and their voice can no longer be taken for granted.” Of course, customer feedback requires some form of measurement, which can mean anything from tracking every call to your service center to having your sales team proactively reach out to customers for input. The goal is to both gather and leverage customer feedback to identify problem areas and reveal new service opportunities.
- Get Savvy. While Twitter hasn’t exactly changed the face of industrial manufacturing, many companies are finding ways to use the digital revolution to gain an edge. For example, Sapa, an aluminum extrusion manufacturer recently featured in a Modern Metals, has added its design manual to Apple’s App Store. According the company, the app provides a new channel to reach customers as well as any other professionals that are eager to learn about aluminum and aluminum profiles. The manual is also available on the company’s website and has more than 4,500 registered users, Modern Metals reports.
- Develop a Story. As the Inc. article states, building a compelling company message can attract customers on an emotional level that goes beyond cost. What is unique about your company and its values? How do your services translate those values? Most importantly, how are you communicating this message to your customers? This article from Fabricating & Metalworking provides more than 20 tools to help you build your organization’s brand story.
May 20, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, customer satisfaction metrics, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, quality, ROI, strategic planning, value-added services
As the industrial metal-cutting industry becomes more competitive, a growing number of machine shops are looking for ways to differentiate their operations, whether that means offering value-added services or implementing the latest lean techniques.
One best practice that many of today’s leading shops tout is ISO 9001 certification. The standard, described in detail here, is based on a number of quality management principles, including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and continuous improvement. The basic goal of the standard is to help companies provide customers with consistent, good quality products and services, which, in turn, often brings business benefits like improved financial performance.
Metal Cutting Service, a specialty shop based in City of Industry, CA, has reaped the rewards of ISO certification, including improved productivity and quality. The company, featured in a series of LIT case studies, estimates that quality has improved 20 to 30% since it became ISO certified more than 12 years ago.
However, ISO certification isn’t a quick fix nor should it be taken lightly. Like any company-wide initiative, it requires time, money, and strategic planning. Here are a few points to consider before undergoing ISO certification:
- Understand the purpose. If you haven’t done so already, do your own research on the standard. You can download a basic brochure here. As this Quality Digest article states, many companies go into ISO 9001 certification under the incorrect assumption that the standard itself is supposed to be implemented to ensure quality. However, as the QD author states, this just isn’t true. “ISO 9001 was never intended to be used to design or implement quality management for any organization, but merely to assess quality management,” he says. “Sure, management might glean some details about QMS [quality management system] development from analyzing ISO 9001 requirements, but the requirements are not supposed to establish any QMS. A company must first establish real-time standard operating procedures (SOPs), and then look at how they compare to ISO 9001 requirements.” In other words, as the author quips, make sure you don’t put the cart before the horse.
- Reach out to other shops. Finding out why and how other machine shops approached ISO certification can help you determine if certification is worth the time and financial investment, as well as what you should (and shouldn’t) do in the process. As this Modern Machine Shop article suggests, contact some certified shops—particularly ones about the same size as yours—to get a feel for whether ISO certification is right for your operation. If you find a shop that hasn’t found value in certification, try to find two shops that have had a good ROI and then compare their approaches. However, managers need to realize that no two certification processes are going to be the same. The cost and time of ISO 9001 registration and implementation will vary depending on the size and complexity of your organization and on whether you already have some elements of a quality management system in place.
- Consider getting some support. If you decide to follow through with certification, there are several services and consultants that can help. Although third-party support may initially seem cost-prohibitive, don’t completely write it off. You may find it is worth the investment, especially if you are short-staffed. You can find a list of training and other service providers here on ThomasNet.com, and there are also several software programs available that can help you streamline the process. This is also an area where external insight from other shops can be helpful. Did they utilize any support services? If so, what was the most helpful? If not, do they wish they would have in hindsight?