December 25, 2014 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, human capital, industry news, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, productivity, Safety, strategic planning, training
For many industrial metal-cutting organizations, “company culture” is nothing more than a management buzzword that brings up images of Google employees playing video games and drinking lattes. However, work culture is a critical component to any company’s success, whether you are a Fortune 100 tech firm or a family-owned forging operation.
Take GM Motors as an example. After dealing with a huge safety crisis earlier this year, the auto giant is in the midst of a corporate makeover based largely on culture change. According to an article that appeared in IndustryWeek, CEO Mary Barr is trying to create a new culture at GM based on ownership, candidness, and accountability—three traits she hopes will set a new tone for the manufacturing company. To put it another way, Barr believes that culture could indeed be the key to GM’s future success.
On a macro level, the goal for any organization is to create a positive work culture. The challenge is figuring out how to accomplish that within the confines of your operation. An archived article from Forbes gives a list of five tips for creating a successful office culture; however, they are applicable to any work environment:
- Seek out Employees with PHDs. This doesn’t mean look for highly educated employees. Instead, the goal is to hire and empower employees that have the Passion, Heart, and Desire (PHD) to do well and to see the company do well.
- Don’t Confuse Activity with Results. The work your employees perform should directly—and positively—impact the stated goals of your company.
- Appoint leaders with Focus, Consistency and Discipline. While employees may embody the company culture, management builds it. Choosing leadership with these qualities will build a team with similar qualities.
- Merit Counts. It’s not rocket science: Employees aware of merit-based promotions and responsibilities are more apt to possess a positive work ethic and opinion of your company.
- Attitude vs. Aptitude. While experience and knowledge is important, it can be taught. Attitude, however, cannot. Attitudes are huge contributors to company culture. If you want a positive culture, you need employees with positive attitudes.
Managers who think their operation doesn’t have a work culture—or that they don’t need to bother cultivating one—are quite mistaken. If there are employees, there is a culture. The real question is whether or not it is a positive culture and, even more so, if the culture reflects the long-term goals and ideals of the company. Defining an operation’s work culture requires managers to take a hard look at the DNA of their operation. Is safety a priority or a value? Do managers walk the floor and interact with operators? Do you involve plant-level staff in process improvement activities (a key element of lean manufacturing)? What are the attitudes of the staff? Are you just filling positions, or are you strategically choosing employees that reflect your company’s ideals?
What does this look like in a metal-cutting environment? Scot Forge, a metal forging operation based in Spring Grove, IL, states here that their company has a “unique culture” built on employee ownership, continuous improvement, safety, reward, camaraderie, and community.
Yarde Metals, a metal service center featured here in a series of case studies, also shows that a positive work culture doesn’t mean management can’t have high expectations. According to Greg Sioch, lead foreman, operators at Yarde know that if quality isn’t maintained, they will be held accountable. “If a piece of material is rejected by the customer, we know who cut it, so it goes back to that associate and they are held accountable,” Sioch says. “That’s our culture. The associate is expected to follow their procedures and hold that quality.”
With the new year upon us, perhaps it is time to take a closer look at your work culture and see how it lines up with your 2015 goals. By asking a few critical questions and instituting some of the strategies suggested in Forbes article, managers can objectively evaluate their facility’s current work culture and, more importantly, start to institute changes to make it better.
November 5, 2014 / best practices, Employee Morale, human capital, LIT, operator training, ROI, Safety, strategic planning
As many manufacturing experts will attest, today’s manufacturers need to do more than simply call safety a priority. As we discussed in an earlier blog, priorities can change. Instead, safety should be considered a core value that will be maintained for as long as your service center operates.
This concept sounds great in theory, but the reality is that very few managers actually understand what that entails and still treat safety as a siloed department or initiative within their operation. Like any company value, safety requires top-down support. This means that senior managers need to weave it into the very fabric of the company so that it becomes second nature to every employee, not just the safety director. In other words, safety should be part of your company culture.
Unfortunately, this isn’t going to happen overnight. Building a culture of safety takes strategy, action, and most of all, time. The good news is that it is possible, and as this article from Safety + Health proves, it can certainly pay off in the long run.
What does it take to cultivate a safety culture in your metal service center? The answer to that question will depend largely on the dynamics of your company and your employees, but below are a few basic guidelines to put you on the right path.
- Redefine Safety. In an article from EHS Today, Jim Spigener, a senior vice president at consulting firm BST Solutions, says that managers need to redefine safety values within their operations. Instead of just thinking about the number of injuries or the outcome of safety efforts, Spigener says companies need to place a premium on managing risk exposure. For example, while a worker might not end up getting hurt, he or she may still engage in an activity that puts his or her safety at risk. Spigener explains that the goal should be to develop a culture in which people begin to value managing risk exposure and not the injury that might occur as a result of that exposure.
- Leadership is Critical. While employees may embody the company culture, management builds it. In the EHS Today article, Spigener asserts that leadership is the “owner of the culture” and, therefore, can make or break it. To create a safety culture, Spigener believes that leaders need to change their own behavior. This, he says, affects the climate of an operation, which will impact worker behavior. This will eventually start to affect worker beliefs and over time, will lead to a change in culture. “If you manage it well enough and long enough, it turns into the culture,” Spigener tells EHS Today.
- Get Employees Involved. A truly successful safety culture requires employee commitment and “buy in.” This requires employees to not only look out for themselves, but for their co-workers as well. Cargill Metals Supply Chain, an operator of eight service centers, accomplishes this with a safety accountability and monitoring program. According to an article in Forward magazine, Cargill employees are expected to observe one another in the workplace. If an operator sees a co-worker engaged in risky behaviors or working under risky conditions, the operator discusses the observations with the co-worker, provides “one-on-one verbal coaching,” and then fills out an anonymous card to let management know what happened. James Heard, VP of operations, tells Forward that management uses the cards to quantify common at-risk behaviors, and because no names are used, employees are not afraid to fill them out. And the system seems to be catching on. Heard tells Forward that currently, about 225 of the safety reports are filed per month and that number is growing.
- Communicate Constantly. To maintain a safety culture, it is critical to regularly drive home safety messaging. Structural Steel of California, a leading industrial metal-cutting company featured in a series of case studies from the LENOX Institute of Technology, is intentional about making sure that employees know that safety is a critical aspect of the metal products it fabricates, and that mindset has evolved into an overall culture of safety within the company’s two North Carolina facilities. The manager holds a safety meeting every morning with the operators and a safety committee meeting every month. In addition to enforcing the safety message, this constant communication provides ample opportunities for the manager to discuss any other production issues that need to be addressed. As this Plant Services article suggests, it may also be a good idea to let different employees lead safety topic discussions at the beginning of recurring facility meetings. “This will keep employees engaged and responsible for their own safety,” the article states. Leadership can then wrap up the meeting by sharing production results or other safety goals.
September 25, 2014 / best practices, blade selection, Cost Management, LIT, material costs, productivity, resource allocation, Safety, strategic planning
As part of the automotive supply chain, forges that cut and process metal have a prime opportunity for growth over the next few years. The latest data shows that automotive sales continue to climb, and manufacturers are investing in new plants and equipment. In fact, Edmunds.com predicted earlier this year that new car sales would reach 16.4 million in 2014—the highest total since 2006.
And while this is certainly good news for forges that serve this particular market, the not-so-good news is that competition is stronger than ever, both domestically and globally. In an annual survey conducted by Forging magazine, 38% of forges listed foreign competition as a top concern in 2014. Domestically, forges not only have to compete with each other, but find ways to compete with companies offering alternatives to forged components as well.
Forges that want to stand out among their competitors need to prove that they are achieving operational excellence. Part of this requires internal improvements such as reducing scrap, properly allocating resources, and even making safety a top priority. However, it is just as important for managers to take a look outside their doors and invest in technologies and equipment that can make them more innovative and, in turn, more competitive.
To help readers keep a pulse on how to better serve their automotive customers, below are just a few of the innovations that are advancing forged automotive parts, as well as the processes used to create them.
- Materials. One of the growing areas for innovation within the forging industry is in materials. A presentation at this year’s International Forging Congress discussed the production benefits of using microalloyed steels in several forging applications, including automotive spindles. Another article from Forging highlights the cost savings forges can gain by using new materials for structural, case-hardened, and induction-hardened parts. There have also been some new approaches to aluminum forging that are said to produce forgings with enhanced metallurgical and mechanical properties while also saving energy.
- Automation. Automation and computerized controls are making all aspects of the forging process more efficient. Simple controllers on metal-cutting equipment, for example, have allowed companies to assign operators to run more than one machine at a time. Higher level advancements in areas like robotics are also improving production at higher volume forges. According to Forging magazine, better programming features, range of movement, and motion control are creating new efficiencies and cost savings at companies like Parsan Steel Forging and Machining Co., a Turkish manufacturer of automotive parts.
- Tooling. Continued advancements in the area of tooling are also creating efficiences in processes such as band saw cutting. Carbide-tipped band saw blades, for example, are widely used among forges that are cutting tougher metals like stainless steel. Designed with a high performance backing steel and optimized carbide grades, these blades offer high cutting performance and longer blade life. A forge mentioned in this white paper, for example, was able to reduce its cut times by one half and double its blade life by switching from a bi-metal band saw blade to a carbide-tipped blade.
July 5, 2014 / best practices, human capital, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, quality, Safety, skills gap
Too many manufacturing executives underestimate the power of investing in their operators. As this 2012 study from PwC confirms, metal executives have traditionally preferred to invest more in technology than in their talent. However, that is slowly changing.
While the idea of empowering employees sounds a bit cliché, a growing number of managers are finding that operators who take ownership of their process or work area are truly invaluable. Employee “buy-in” can positively affect all aspects of an industrial metal-cutting operation, including quality, productivity, and in the end, the bottom line. Similarly, when employees don’t “buy-in” or feel disconnected, those same business areas can be negatively affected. High turnover is both expensive and time consuming, especially in light of the current skills gap. Finding, training, and maintaining talent are some of the biggest challenges facing today’s service centers, not to mention the manufacturing industry at large.
As this article from Reliable Plant points out, employee engagement is a complex, two-way process. “Companies must engage employees in their principles, programs and policies, and encourage them to respond through participation,” the article says, adding that this creates “loyalty, pride and a sense of identity and community.” This may start with basic actions like creating a safe and enjoyable workplace for operators, as well as more appealing incentives such as continuing education and bonuses. But it shouldn’t stop there. Investment needs to go both ways. In fact, according to Forbes, part of the goal should actually be to keep employees dissatisfied:
“Dissatisfied employees are actually more likely to deliver higher performance. I don’t mean dissatisfied with their job, their company or their boss, but dissatisfied with their own performance, their team’s performance and their company’s performance. One of the most important jobs of the mid-market CEO is to create an environment in which the team is dissatisfied with the current state of things and are striving to become more satisfied.” (Forbes, “Why You Need Dissatisfied Employees, 08/03/2012)
So how to do get your operators to be both (dis)satisfied and invested? Below are a few best practices and resources that may help answer that million-dollar question:
- Encourage Innovation. As this Modern Metals (MM) article states, urging operators to take ownership of their jobs and actively participate in improvements creates a culture of success. The key, the article states, is to inspire everyone to be an innovator. Service Center Metals, a metal service center featured in the MM article, asks workers to come up with new ways to improve their processes, reduce costs, and increase safety and quality. “We expect everybody to come up with ideas to make us better,” Scott Kelly, the president and CEO, told MM.
- Don’t Underestimate Incentive. In today’s competitive market, incentives and benefits often feel like an added cost, but they can also provide employee motivation and loyalty. At least that is the case for Schupan & Sons Inc. In a Q&A with Forward magazine, CEO Marc Schupan said that one of the reasons many of his staff members have a long tenure is because his company intentionally tries “to do the right thing” for its employees. For example, when fuel prices got out of hand, Schupan said he instituted a gas allowance for all hourly people. “We have a philosophy here: They know when we do well, they’ll do well,” he told Forward. “And when things are tough, we’ll suffer through it together.”
- Build Trust. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), trust is essential to boosting employee engagement, motivation, and candor. This is critical in smaller operations, but it is also important in larger operations, where there can be a greater separation between plant-floor employees and management. Building bridges of trust between operators, supervisors, and the executive office creates a more team-oriented atmosphere and fosters communication—both of which can help improve productivity. Check out the full HBR article here [LINK] for a great list of trust-building principles and action items, including a discussion on transparency and giving credit when credit is due.
- Provide Training. Perhaps the greatest benefit you can give your operators is knowledge. Investing in their skills empowers them to invest right back into the company. The most obvious way to do this is through a strong training program that caters to both new and existing employees. Yarde Metals, a leading metal service center featured in this series of case studies, has new employees follow a formal training program that requires signatures from both the trainee and supervisor when the training is complete. The signed certificate is then placed into the employee file. The same procedure is followed any time the company purchases a new blade or piece of equipment so that operators are not only properly trained, but held accountable if there are problems down the line. Metal Cutting Service, Inc. (MCS), another leading metal-cutting company, goes one step further and pays for any continuing education operators want to do on their own time. According to MCS president David Viel states, “Ongoing training shows an interest in the people, and they know that education is important and that we have invested in them.”
June 25, 2014 / best practices, Cost Management, Employee Morale, human capital, KPIs, LIT, operator training, productivity, Safety, strategic planning
While most managers would list safety as a top concern and maybe even a priority, only a select few would list it as a strategy. A growing number of industrial metal-cutting companies are finding, however, that building their operations around this critical business area offer benefits that can improve the bottom line.
As we stated in an earlier blog post, safety has a direct impact on operations. Put simply, injured operators can’t be productive. The concept seems basic, but even leading manufacturers often fail to realize this. In a recent IndustryWeek (IW) article, Craig Long, a vice president at Milliken & Company, admits that this was something Milliken failed to do in its early years. While the manufacturer had always worked hard on safety, it was doing so in a silo. “We saw no connection between safety and operations. We were in survival mode,” Long writes in the IW article.
Long goes on to describe the safety journey of another leading manufacturer, Alcoa, and how its intentional safety efforts improved profitability to record-setting levels. Following the lead of Alcoa and other leading manufacturers, Long states in IW that Milliken spent several years repositioning its operations around safety and, as a result, has seen tremendous financial benefits, including doubling the S&P 500’s rate of earnings growth.
An increasing number of leading-edge forges are also using plant safety as a strategic lever. Every year, the Forging Industry Association (FIA) recognizes three forges for their exceptional safety efforts, and this year’s winners all stressed that safety is at the core of their company’s success. However, as one winner emphasized, the top goal should be ensuring that every employee goes home without an injury. “To us, the impact of an employee being injured, regardless of where it happens, has a negative impact on the injured individual, his/her family, and to our company, in that order of importance,” John P. McGillivray, Safety & Environmental manager at Scot Forge Co., told Forging Magazine.
So how do you build your forge around safety so that both your employees and business benefit? Below are a few tips we gathered to help you begin a safety-first journey:
- Start at the Top. In the IW article, Long lists nine keys to safety, but he starts with the most important—executive buy-in. Like any company-wide value, safety needs to have top-level commitment and support. Long even suggests that companies appoint a chief safety officer. “This moves safety from just another program to an uncompromised value within the organization,” he states in IW article. You can read the entire article and its safety suggestions here.
- Look at the Numbers. If you need proof that safety has bottom-line implications, take a look at the facts. A recent editorial from The Fabricator says that managers should start by evaluating workers’ compensation costs, lost time related to injuries, time spent in incident investigations and follow-up, and direct medical costs. These numbers will quickly demonstrate the cost of poor safety. The article also encourages manufacturers to be proactive with safety actions and develop key performance indicators (KPIs). TheFabricator.com provides a list of possible safety KPIs here.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. The only way to encourage a safety-first environment is to make sure that everyone—from the top down—hears the message loud and clear and often. Safety reporting sets the tone of an organization by reminding operators that 1. Their safety is important to you and 2. You are serious about it. Structural Steel of California, a leading industrial metal-cutting company featured in a series of case studies from the LENOX Institute of Technology, is intentional about making sure that employees know that safety is a critical aspect of the metal products it fabricates, and that mindset has evolved into an overall culture of safety within the company’s two North Carolina facilities. The manager holds a safety meeting every morning with the operators and a safety committee meeting every month. In addition to enforcing the safety message, this constant communication provides ample opportunities for the manager to discuss any other production issues that need to be addressed.
Best-in-class forges know that a tactical approach to plant safety provides benefits beyond meeting OSHA requirements or winning awards. Today’s managers need to value safety because it actually holds value that can positively—or negatively—impact their workforce and, in the end, the bottom line.
June 10, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, human capital, LIT, maintaining talent, productivity, quality, root cause analysis, Safety
When quality hiccups or bottlenecks occur, the first instinct is to blame the machine. A quick blade replacement or tooling adjustment is the go-to response, and in the short-term, the problem is addressed. Production continues, and the order is eventually filled.
However, industrial metal-cutting leaders know that quick fixes are not doing anyone any favors, especially when quality is involved. Fabricators with high quality standards need to be sure that all areas of their cutting operation are optimized; otherwise, their costs are going to go through the roof. For instance, an operator that doesn’t understand the proper speed setting for a specific type of metal might end up going through a half a dozen blades to maintain a square cut, when the job should have only required two blades.
The harsh reality is that today’s customers are demanding tighter tolerances and higher quality without the added cost. While it is tempting to make knee-jerk responses to meet tight timetables, fabricators that want to remain competitive need to focus on long-term solutions to improve cut quality. Really, you can’t afford to do it any other way.
With the right strategies in place, maintaining premium cut quality doesn’t have to cost a premium. Here are a few to consider:
- Evaluate your operators. Sometimes the root cause of quality or cost issues isn’t what it is cutting your metal; it’s who is cutting your metal. According to research from ARC Advisory Group, the global process industry loses about 5% of annual production due to unscheduled downtime and poor quality. But here’s the kicker: almost 80% of these losses are preventable, with 40% largely due to operator error, ARC estimates. When problems arise, don’t fail to consider the human variable. A lack of skill sets, business knowledge, and low employee morale can affect quality, as well as other areas like cost, maintenance, and safety. One way to address this is by implementing a strong ongoing training program, either internally or with the help of a trusted supplier. To read about more strategies for attacking the human variable, check out the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment.
- Break in blades. According to LIT’s benchmark study, breaking in band saw blade is a best practice among fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies. According to the study, 45% of organizations surveyed reported they “always” break in blades, 30% said they do it “most of the time,” and 15% said they do it “occasionally.” While breaking in a blade may seem tedious, highly skilled operators know that it pays off in the long run. A new band saw blade has razor sharp tooth tips, and in order to withstand the cutting pressures used in band sawing, tooth tips should be honed to form a micro-fine radius. Failure to perform this honing will cause microscopic damage to the tips of the teeth, resulting in reduced blade life and poor-quality cuts. Completing a proper break-in on a new blade will dramatically increase its life and cut performance.
- Communicate. As this Quality Digest article states, quality is no longer a topic for the Quality department; it should be a company-wide mindset. Talking to operators and maintenance personnel about how their actions affect quality—and then holding them accountable—promotes a bigger picture understanding of the role everyone plays in company success. You may even want to consider including a few key shop floor employees in quality meetings. According to the QD article, a growing number of companies are developing internal cross-functional quality councils that pull in personnel from across the value chain to gain different perspectives and identify new solutions to problems. This type of management encourages employee “buy-in” and creates a team atmosphere— both of which can help build a commitment to quality.
May 5, 2014 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, Safety, workflow process
Most manufacturing executives know that developing a lean culture requires top-down support. Everyone—from the CEO and vice president of operations to the maintenance manager and band saw operator—needs to be on board, or it’s just not going to work.
Unfortunately, many companies have discovered that creating a successful lean environment isn’t as easy as it sounds. In fact, as this blog post explains, there are a lot of ways to do this incorrectly. For instance, leadership is not “committed” simply because they have enthusiastically funded a lean program. They need to actually be involved. At the same time, key improvement decisions can’t be made in an ivory tower.
Change—effective change—needs to start at the ground level, where the work is happening and where the value is created. This place, defined as “gemba” in lean manufacturing terms, is believed to be the key to unlocking true transformation.
“Gemba,” the Japanese term for “actual place,” has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In an IndustryWeek blog post, Bill Wilder, director of The Life Cycle Institute, calls gemba the “beating heart” of an organization, which for manufacturers, is rarely found in the marketing department or an executive desk. Instead, it is almost always found on the production floor.
This means that to make any real change, metal service center executives need to literally take a walk—known as the “gemba walk”—to see their operation from the front lines. Getting out of the office and taking a gemba walk, Wilder says, is the best way for leadership to see, firsthand, what works and doesn’t, and many experts believe it should be the first step in any lean transformation.
In theory, this sounds great, but what should a gemba walk look like in practice? Here are a few tips we gathered to help you “walk the talk” and put you on the path toward an effective top-down lean program:
- Have a plan. This SlideShare presentation, “Gemba 101,” states that there are four steps to gemba success: know your purpose, know your gemba, observe your framework, and validate. You can read the slides to get more information, but the takeaway here is that a gemba walk should be structured. It is not the same as Management By Wandering Around (MBWA), which is often casual and unstructured. In contrast, a gemba walk has a specific purpose. Lean expert James Womack says he has 10 questions he asks every time he takes a gemba walk. You can check out those questions here in this essay, along with a great case study.
- Think—and walk—horizontally. According to Womack, value flows horizontally. Unfortunately, organizations are organized vertically. As described in this IndustryWeek article, the key to a successful gemba walk is to select a value stream, gather all the managers from all the vertical functions that touch the value stream, and then walk together. This likely includes CEOs and COOs, customers, suppliers, and value-stream leaders.
- Respect and Engage. As this iSixSigma article states, a gemba walk is not an opportunity to find fault or enforce policy, nor is it a time to solve problems or make changes on the spot. Instead, it should be “a time of observation, input and reflection.” Leadership should go on the walk with an open mind and welcome suggestions from operators and other shop floor employees. A good example of this more team-centric approach is described in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers. As the paper states, one service center continuously asks operators for ideas to make its cutting processes safer and faster and, when appropriate, brings those ideas to fruition. This tactic has not only improved operational efficiency, it has also shown operators that they are a critical aspect of the company’s success.
March 10, 2014 / human capital, lean manufacturing, quality, Safety
Over the last ten years, the term “efficiency” has moved beyond an industry buzzword to an industry expectation. Most fabricators have incorporated some form of lean principle into their operation, and those that haven’t are starting to consider it. In today’s market, only the “leanest” survive.
What many managers may not realize, however, is that lean processes can make jobs highly repetitive. As pointed out in this article from Industrial Engineer, this often eliminates critical rest time for employees. “The repetitive jobs take their toll on employees as stressful postures and high forces are repeated over and over throughout the day,” the article says. “In the long run, the financial savings from the productivity gains and quality improvements are used to pay for the higher cost of workers’ compensation claims.”
This is why many leading fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting organizations are incorporating ergonomics into their lean processes. Strategic equipment placement and improved ergonomics not only keep employees safe and healthy, but they are key aspects of high productivity and optimized workflow. The fewer times an operator touches a material, the fewer chances for injury and human error, both of which contribute to productivity.
Here are just two examples of how ergonomic improvements can make a difference in an industrial metal-cutting operation:
- Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ), a metal service center featured in this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, recently performed an in-depth ergonomic study at one of its metalworking facilities. With the help of a third-party resource and input from its shop floor employees, the company made several changes to the shop floor to eliminate unnecessary handling and transportation of material. Ergonomic improvements ranged from repositioning band irons to adjusting the height of staging tables. By optimizing the workflow, the company has seen a reduction in employee injuries, improvements in operator efficiency, and increased output. EMJ has also seen an increase in shop floor morale, as operators feel they are playing a critical role in helping the facility succeed.
- SIGCO Inc., a glass and architectural metal fabricator featured in Assembly Magazine, made an investment to replace the traditional jib cranes and hoists workers were using to move 500-pound products. According to the article, the operations manager acknowledged that each piece of new equipment cost less than an average worker’s compensation back-injury claim—an indication that it was well worth the investment.
To read more about the impact lean manufacturing processes can have on employee health, check out this article from the Safety Daily Advisor. While being “lean” may be expected of today’s manufacturers, as the article warns, fabricators need to be sure they aren’t becoming anorexic.
February 5, 2014 / continuous improvement, resource allocation, Safety, training
One of the most common pain points for metal service center executives is allocating resources in the most efficient and economical way. From a strategic standpoint, it would be ideal for managers to make continuous changes within their operations, in terms of both equipment and human capital resources. However, budget and time constraints have made that a challenge for many industrial metal-cutting operations.
As stated in this article from McKinsey Quarterly, most executives find themselves stuck in the trap of allocating resources the same way over and over again and expecting different results. Specifically, the management consulting firm states, “Every year, they turn the handle on the same strategy-development, capital-planning, talent-management, and budgeting processes, and every year the outcome is only marginally different from the one they reached in the previous year and the year before that.” Alternatively, McKinsey suggests that managers who refocus these processes have an opportunity to deliver different results.
A separate article from Manufacturing.net goes one step further and says that 2014 should be the year that executives dump all “tribal knowledge”— the tendency to do things simply because “it’s the way we’ve always done it” — and start using actual facts and data to make decisions. “The bottom line in today’s mobile-enabled, hyper-connected world: Companies that continue to rely on tribal knowledge and myths alone are falling further behind enterprises that are dealing in reality and actionable fact,” the article says.
Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at how you are distributing resources within your metal-cutting operation. Do you find yourself using the same resource allocation strategies you have used for years? Are you using facts and hard data to make those decisions? Are those decisions improving efficiency? And, last but definitely not least, do you know what other metal service centers are doing?
A recent white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) lists several ways leading metal service centers are choosing to reallocate their resources to improve efficiency. Below are two examples from the paper that show how technology investments like software can pay off:
- One metal service center developed an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by each saw and each blade. At any point, the manager can go to a computer screen, click on a saw, and see how many square inches that saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This has allowed the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas. According to the company, the technology upgrade helps keep equipment continuously running, which has made it a worthwhile investment.
- Another service center is using technology to close an operational gap between its order-tracking system and sawing equipment. Historically, employees would input order information into the company’s system, print out a report, and deliver it to the operator. The operator would then have to reenter the data into the sawing equipment. By developing a communication bridge between the saws and the computer system, the company no longer needs to enter the same data twice. This has reduced the chance of human error and eliminated an unnecessary production step and, as a result, has improved efficiency.
Of course, managers can make other, non-technology related investments in areas such as training and safety and also get a high return. Every operation is different, with its own unique strengths to build on and weaknesses to improve.
The first question managers need to ask themselves is whether or not it is time for a change. Are you making strategic, proactive decisions for your industrial metal-cutting operations, or are you simply doing things “the way they’ve always been done?” As suggested in the McKinsey Quarterly article, today’s unpredictable market requires managers to be more agile in all of their business decisions, including resource allocation.
December 15, 2013 / Employee Morale, Output, Safety
In an industrial metal-cutting environment, safety is critical. Everyone knows that. In fact, most managers would probably list it as a top priority. However, in practice, most of those same managers treat safety more like a necessary evil than a business strategy. In other words, their safety initiatives are built around simply meeting OSHA requirements, not as a means of maintaining—or better yet, improving—the bottom line.
The truth is that most managers need to shift their mindset when it comes to safety. Randy DeVaul, author of Performance Safety: A Practical Approach and Performance Safety: Lessons For Life, argues that safety should be viewed as a value, not a priority. What’s the difference? According to DeVaul, priorities change depending on the circumstances; however, a value is maintained, regardless of the circumstances. In other words, safety should be a constant, and it should be integrated into every aspect of your industrial metal-cutting processes.
The concept is actually fairly simple: Injured operators can’t be productive.
If your best operator is constantly calling off because of a bad back, someone else needs to be trained to take his place. This not only takes time away from production, it could also affect quality. And, of course, there is the cost element.
There are several ways safety can have an impact on overall business operations, but here are three key points today’s managers should consider:
- An unsafe environment is expensive. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “businesses spend $170 billion a year on costs associated with occupational injuries and illnesses—expenditures that come straight out of company profits.” In fact, a 2012 workplace safety study by Liberty Mutual says that overexertion, which is defined as “injuries related to lifting, pushing, pulling, holding, carrying, or throwing,” cost businesses $13.61 billion in direct costs. However, by establishing safety and health management systems, the Department of Labor says that workplaces can reduce their injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent. That’s pretty significant in today’s challenging marketplace.
- Low safety scores can indicate poor workflow on the shop floor. Constant injuries can be the symptom of larger operational problems. If an operator has to transport a piece of steel halfway across the facility to perform the next process, both safety and productivity are at risk. The less an operator touches a piece of material, the less likely he is going to get injured and the more efficient he can perform. According to LENOX Institute of Technology’s recent paper, Tackling the Top 5 Operating Challenges in Industrial Metal Cutting, simple changes like strategic equipment placement, adjustable “scissor” tables, and elimination of trip hazards can make your shop safer and, in the meantime, eliminate bottlenecks and improve productivity.
- A workplace built around safety can improve employee morale, especially if operators are included in safety initiatives. No one knows the production process better than an operator, which makes his or her input extremely valuable. Managers should be consistently asking production employees how they can make the metal-cutting process faster and safer, whether that means repositioning the saw at a certain angle or adding a table on the backside of the saw to save a trip after each cut. The key is to not only ask for suggestions, but to also follow through and make adjustments. This increases safety and also empowers employees to be a part of the company’s overall success. It’s a win-win for everyone.
While an operator’s wellbeing should always be the top concern, the value of safety goes beyond employee health. A safer environment is more productive; a more productive environment provides more output; and more output provides more money. Really, it’s that simple.