Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Increase Safety by Getting Back to Basics

November 30, 2015 / , , , , , ,

Nearly every manager recognizes the need for workplace safety and aims to foster a safe environment within their operations. In fact, the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the rate for nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses continues to decline—and has so for the past 12 years.

According to OSHA’s “Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses,” private industry employers reported 54,000 fewer nonfatal injury and illness cases in 2014 compared to the prior year. Unfortunately, the manufacturing industry is the exception. OSHA data shows that although the total number of manufacturing cases remains unchanged, the number of cases that required a job transfer or restriction (DJTR) exceeded those that only required days away from work (DAFW). In other words, the majority of all manufacturing cases were serious enough in nature that those workers involved could not return to their job or had job restrictions after the workplace accident.

It is clear that industrial metal-cutting companies need to place a priority on safety—despite the many other priorities today’s high-production environment demands. As a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology points out, ball and roller manufacturers are facing many operational challenges, but safety shouldn’t be pushed to the wayside. Instead, it should be integrated into day-to-day processes. By instituting standard safety procedures, industrial metal-cutting companies can ensure their workforce stays healthy and productive.

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers improve safety in their daily operations, below are a few strategies to consider:

  1. First, managers must ensure that employees have shared beliefs and values. This is generally achieved and agreed upon during a Safety Excellence Workshop where employees agree about the current status of the workplace and opportunities for improvements and change. For example, the group can agree that they want everyone to go home safe every day and then identify and implement how that goal can be achieved.
  2. The second element of Partner-Centered Safety is focused on the workplace environment. During the Safety Excellence Workshop, employees discuss the challenges they face and then develop a plan to help and support each other during those challenges. This ensures that the best safety decisions are being made in the moment when action is needed.
  3. The third element, also developed in the workshop, happens intrinsically throughout the process. The third element provides cohesion and order for the organization. What Knowles calls “The Bowl,” is essentially a culture of safety where outliers are called out and leaders and managers help everyone understand and maintain the safe culture. This sense of behavior and standards creates an agreed-upon culture that provides cohesion and order for the workplace, and empowers employees to follow and enforce those shared values and action plans created earlier in the workshop.

How does your company promote safety in your daily operations?


Machine Shops Use Ergonomics to Increase Productivity and Reduce Injury

November 20, 2015 / , , , , , , ,

Of all the challenges that industrial metal-cutting companies face, process and workflow bottlenecks are at the top of the list. While lean manufacturing practices have helped machine shops streamline production processes and improve machine efficiency, many shops are using other methods aimed at optimizing their human capital. One strategy is to improve ergonomics.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), ergonomics is defined as fitting a person to a job to help lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the number and severity of work-related injuries.

As a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology explains, larger volumes and longer hours of operation can easily turn the smoothest running operation into a frenzied, disorganized, and dangerous mess. However, when an operation is organized with ergonomics in mind, workers can maintain a high level of productivity while also staying safe.

U.S.-based automaker Ford, for example, is working with ergonomic experts to analyze its assembly line and workstations to prepare for more than 100 new vehicle launches, reports IndustryWeek. Using technology used by professional athletes to assess their performance, Ford captured the data of arm, leg, back and torso movements with motion-capture sensors, 3-D printed equipment and virtual workstations. The experts then analyzed more than 50,000 data points related to muscle strength and weakness, joint strain, and body imbalance to improve plant design and operations. The changes resulted in two significant improvements:

Metal-cutting companies like California-based Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ) are also using ergonomics as a smart business tool. After performing an in-depth ergonomic study at one of its metalworking facilities, EMJ made several changes on the shop floor, including repositioning band irons and adjusting the height of staging tables. As a result, the service center was able to reduce employee injuries, improve operator efficiency, and increase output.

While the benefits of workplace ergonomics are clear, how to successfully implement them on the shop floor can be murky. An article from EHS Today says the key is to engage your employees in the process by using the following five principles:

  1. Invite them. Be clear about your goals to create an ergonomic plan and have your employees be part of the process. Genuinely invite them to be involved, and let them know your intentions are to help make their lives easier and safer.
  2. Communicate. Continue the transparency by keeping the lines of communication open. Use announcements, bulletin boards, safety meetings, and training sessions to keep the ergonomic conversation going.
  3. Train your team members. A team is as only as good as its people. Train your employees for success with ergonomic awareness and skills development training. Use real-world examples (i.e., pictures and case studies) to illustrate the before and after.
  4. Celebrate wins. Celebrate ergonomic successes. This will help keep momentum going and shape a culture of safety.
  5. Respond quickly. When an employee suggests an improvement, respond immediately and with enthusiasm. Keep the team member updated on the improvement process—and don’t forget to say thank you.

Have you analyzed your workflow for ergonomic inefficiencies? If so, what changes have you made and what improvements have you experienced?


Creating a Visual Workplace in Your Machine Shop

October 20, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,

As manufacturers continue to look for new and creative ways to gain productivity and engage employees, many are adopting a lean manufacturing concept called the visual workplace. The idea is for managers to use visual devices and cues to not only better organize their workspaces, but to help workers better understand their tasks.

Visual management expert and author Gwendolyn Galsworth defines the visual workplace as follows:
“a work environment that is self-ordering, self-explaining, self-regulating and self-improving—where what is supposed to happen, does happen, on time, every time, day or night—because of visual devices.”

However, this means much more than simply hanging up a few posters and signs. Specifically, Galsworth wrote in Quality Digest that a visual workplace should meet the following criteria:

So what does that look like in practice? This will likely vary depending on the culture, layout, and goal of an operation. In fact, this is where managers and operators can get creative. Visual devices can range from a green flag that tells a supervisor that a machine is producing on schedule, to a color-coded chart that prioritizes an operator’s tasks. In general, the goal is to utilize as many visual cues as possible to keep the workplace organized, productive, and safe.

LENOX, for example, recently instituted a Safety Sticker program, which 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.”

Another industrial metal-cutting company, featured here in a white paper, has color-coded its blade stocking process. Each blade is marked with a colored tag, which corresponds to a chart that helps operators easily determine the right blade for the job. Stocking shelves are also color-coded, allowing operators to quickly locate and restock blades. This has improved operator efficiency, reduced the occurrence of operator blade selection errors, and prolonged overall blade life.

A recent column from Modern Machine Shop describes a few other creative visual tactics that have been successfully implemented at machine shops:

Regardless of the methods you choose, the purpose of creating a visual workplace is to improve organization, productivity, safety, and, of course, communication.

What visual devices could you use to improve operations at your machine shop?


Can Your Service Center Be More Environmentally Friendly?

October 5, 2015 / , , , , , , ,

For years, manufacturers were bombarded with the “green movement.” Everything from conference keynotes and annual reports to football commercials centered on sustainability and the many ways manufacturing leaders were “going green.”

And while the trend has died down in recent years—replaced by buzzwords like “big data” and “connectivity”—the issue is still very relevant. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just implemented a new ozone rule that will affect the metals and larger manufacturing community. Under the new regulation, “facilities may be required to install costly pollution control equipment, limit production, or forgo expansion,” according to an article from industry publication Edge.

The final ruling, which was just published this month, isn’t as strict as many manufacturers feared it would be; however, organizations like the Metal Service Center Institute (MSCI) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) openly oppose the new directive. “The new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America—and destroy job opportunities for American workers,” Jay Timmons, CEO of NAM, said in a press release.

Whether by force or by choice, the point is that sustainability efforts will continue to be important for manufacturers. If you haven’t already started changing the way your metal service center operates, now is the time to make some environmentally conscious changes. Below are just a few ideas to get you started:

What changes have you made to make your service center more environmentally friendly?


Reallocating Resources in Your Fabrication Shop

September 10, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,

If there is one operational pain point that every manufacturing executive faces, it’s resource allocation. From a strategic standpoint, it would be ideal for managers to make continuous changes within their operations, both in terms of equipment assets and human capital. However, budget and time constraints, an unstable market, and labor shortages are making it more difficult than ever for managers to gauge if and when resources should be reallocated.

In fact, according to research from McKinsley Quarterly, most companies rarely shift resources at all, even during times of financial crisis. Instead of making adjustments, many executives tend to “play it safe,” resist change, and, as a result, often limit their company’s growth potential.

If this sounds familiar, perhaps it is time to take a closer look at how you are distributing resources within your fabrication shop. Do you find yourself using the same strategies you have used for years, or are your tailoring your strategy to today’s market trends? For example, are you allocating more resources to your human capital to prepare (or respond) to the widening skills gap? What about technology? Are you considering new investments in software, automation, or other metal-cutting advancements to increase productivity or expand your market reach? Today’s leaders need to be sure they are making strategic choices that benefit both the company and employees, while avoiding the trap of making allocation decisions because “that’s the way they’ve always been done.”

Of course, the challenge is figuring out which investments will generate the best return. While there is always an element of risk to any strategic decision, the following are a few best practices today’s managers should consider when reallocating resources in their fabrication shops:




Best Practices for Maintaining Safety in Your Forge

August 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,

Almost every manufacturer understands the importance of maintaining a safe operation. Although high safety scores won’t typically win an operation more customers, low incident rates are often a sign that an operation is efficient and that workers are well trained. A good safety record can also result in lower maintenance and insurance costs, as well as higher quality and employee satisfaction. As a previous blog revealed, some forges even consider safety a strategy.

However, as recent headlines have shown, even the most successful manufacturing operations can let their standards slide. If managers don’t continue to put safety first—or have audit processes in place—the reality is that a shop may find itself in a full-blown safety crisis that could have been avoided.

To help forges maintain a safety-first operation, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) researched some of best practices being used by industry leaders. Read below to discover some simple safety strategies that can easily be adopted by any forging operation:


A Fresh Look at Safety in Your Fabrication Shop

March 10, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , ,

Every fabricator knows that safety is important. Unfortunately, many companies fail to understand that safety needs to be more than just a priority. Instead, it needs to be viewed as a value—something that carries a cost. Injured workers can’t be productive, which means safety directly affects your operations and your profitability. In fact, some fabrication experts argue that safety is a primary component of operational effectiveness.

And, of course, if you value your employees at all, then treating their safety as a value should really be a no-brainer.

But how do you position safety as a value? How do you ingrain it into the culture of your fabrication shop? Below are a few strategies that should help get you and your operation on the right track:


How Industrial Metal Companies Can Prepare for New GHS Chemical Labeling Requirements

March 1, 2015 / , , , , ,

As most manufacturers are now aware, new changes to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) are bringing the United States into alignment with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS). In fact, based on the compliance timeline (listed below), your employees should already be trained on the regulation changes. With the next compliance deadline just around the corner, the question remains: Is your industrial metal company prepared?

Overview of GHS Labeling Requirements
The history of HCS dates back to 1983, when OSHA first established the standard to help inform employees about the hazardous chemicals they were working around. HCS mandated that chemical hazard labels be applied to all chemical containers, material safety data sheets (MSDS) be distributed with each chemical, and workers undergo chemical safety training.

The good news is that the new requirements don’t change the overall framework of the original Hazard Communication Standard but, instead, aim to harmonize them with worldwide chemical standards. OSHA provides the following explanation for the revised standard:

“This update to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) will provide a common and coherent approach to classifying chemicals and communicating hazard information on labels and safety data sheets. Once implemented, the revised standard will improve the quality and consistency of hazard information in the workplace, making it safer for workers by providing easily understandable information on appropriate handling and safe use of hazardous chemicals. This update will also help reduce trade barriers and result in productivity improvements for American businesses that regularly handle, store, and use hazardous chemicals while providing cost savings for American businesses that periodically update safety data sheets and labels for chemicals covered under the hazard communication standard.”

The government organization goes on to say that while the original standard gave the workers the “right to know,” the new Globally Harmonized System gives workers the “right to understand.” For a full overview on the new regulations, you can visit the OSHA website here; however, an archived article from gives a great summary of the key changes:

How to Prepare
What does this new standard mean for your industrial metal-cutting operation? As a chemical user (i.e., coolants), OSHA states that you should continue to update your safety data sheets when new ones become available, as well as provide training on the new label elements and update hazard communication programs if new hazards are identified.

If you haven’t done so already, Modern Metals offers the follow recommendations for modifying your hazard communication program to comply with OSHA’s revised HCS:

Compliance Deadlines
Based on the compliance timeline, your operation should have already trained your employees on the new label elements and SDS format. However, you technically have until June 2016 to update your labeling and hazard communication department (as needed) and complete any additional safety training (see below).

OSHA compliance dates

Chemical suppliers, however, need to be in full compliance by June of this year. This means they should have reclassified their chemicals and produced GHS-formatted labels and safety data sheets in the new expanded format. Distributors have until December to distribute old inventory that has already been labeled.

Benefits of GHS
In the end, OSHA believes that revised standard will benefit U.S. manufacturers and the 43 million workers who produce or handle hazardous chemicals across the country. By streamlining labels and data sheets, the modification is expected to prevent more than 500 workplace injuries and illnesses and 43 fatalities annually. OSHA also estimates that it will result in cost savings to American businesses of more than $475 million in productivity improvements, fewer safety data sheet, and label updates and simpler new hazard communication training.

As this article from Production Machining points out, the new standard also gives metals companies the chance to apply continuous improvement to their hazcom training programs, whether that means better training documentation or ensuring that chemical safety data sheets are scanned and archived to back-up servers. “Use this change to improve your ability to provide evidence of your recordkeeping, training and evidence of effectiveness,” the article suggests.

Perhaps the new HCS is a good reminder to everyone that safety isn’t a static issue, but like every other aspect of your operation, needs to be re-addressed and re-evaluated for possible improvements.


Top Trends Affecting Metal Service Centers in 2015

February 5, 2015 / , , , , , , ,

Based on recent data, the metal service center industry entered 2015 on the right foot. According the latest Metals Activity Report  from the Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI), U.S. service center shipments of both steel and aluminum were higher in December 2014 than in the prior year. In addition, year-to-date U.S. steel shipments were higher than 2013 by 4.2% while year-to-date U.S. aluminum shipments were up 8.1% year over year. Canadian results for December 2014 and for the year were similar.

All of that good news falls in line with most industry forecasts. As we reported here, industry trade publication Modern Metals says the outlook for 2015 is mostly positive. However, the magazine also warns that “competition, domestic and foreign, is always the overriding force that determines whether volume, price and demand forecasts are in balance.”

Indeed, even with positive expectations, service centers need to be aware of some of the potential challenges they will face and, even more so, start finding ways to be prepared. Earlier this month, MSCI President and CEO M. Robert Weidner III discussed the top trends challenging the metals industry in his State of the Industry address. Below are the three of the five challenges that he outlined, as reported by (you can read the full coverage here.):

In his last two points, Weidner stressed the importance of employee safety and ongoing training as a means of attracting and maintaining workers. Investing in areas like safety and education shows employees that you value them, which only encourages them to invest right back into the company. In addition, LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark survey of industrial metal-cutting companies provides evidence that investing in areas like training can provide additional benefits, including better quality, faster on-time customer delivery, higher revenue per operator, and lower rework costs. In other words, it’s a win-win for everyone.

Only time will tell if industry performance plays out the way everyone expects. After all, forecasts are really only educated guesses. However, managers need to be sure they remain aware of trends like those outlined by Weidner so they can make informed decisions and be as prepared as possible for whatever 2015 brings.


Why Your Metal Service Center May Want to Consider Coolant Recycling

January 5, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , ,

If your metal service center is doing its part to ensure proper coolant management, then you are fully aware that it is not as simple as it seems. From choosing the right coolant to proper fluid prep and monitoring, getting the most out of your metal-cutting fluids takes time and effort, but it is well worth the investment.

Cut quality, productivity, and cost savings are all major reasons your service center should continue to make coolant management a priority. Case in point: As this white paper explains, low coolant levels on a band saw can lead to premature and uneven wear of band wheels, which can cost $1,000 each. Poor fluid management can have negative effects on circular saws as well, causing blade problems such as excessive edge chipping and tooth damage. (You can read more about that here.)

Really, any informed manager can typically accept the ROI argument for most areas of coolant management, except maybe when it comes to disposal. In today’s environmentally conscious world, coolant waste disposal can get expensive (up to $0.50 a gallon), and if you are a larger service center, this adds up fast.

For this reason alone, more and more manufacturers are investing in in-house coolant recycling. Some experts claim that coolant recycling can cut coolant waste disposal costs by up to 90 percent, and according to an archived article from Manufacturing Engineering magazine, tool life can also be significantly extended—from 25 percent up to 209 percent—with effective coolant recycling equipment.

In a recent article from Canadian Metalworking, Tom Tripepi, technical director for the fluid filtration division of PRAB, discusses some of the advantages of in-house coolant recycling. Below are a few highlights from the article:

To read about some metal-cutting companies that have reaped the benefits of coolant recycling, check out these case studies. SME also offers technical papers that discuss more recycling best practices as well as a review of the different types of recycling technologies.

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