The Importance of Work Culture in Forges

December 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , ,

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:

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.


Creating a Safety Culture In Your Metal Service Center

November 5, 2014 / , , , , , , ,

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.


Innovations that are Advancing Forged Automotive Parts

September 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,

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, 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.


Empowering Operators in Your Metal Service Center

July 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,

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:



Safety as a Strategy in Forges

June 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,

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:

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.


Long Term Solutions for Improving Cut Quality in Metal Fabrication

June 10, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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:


Gemba Walks May Be the Key to Lean Success in Metal Service Centers

May 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,

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:


The Importance of Ergonomics in Lean Fabrication

March 10, 2014 / , , ,

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:

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.


Is It Time to Change How You Allocate Resources within Your Service Center?

February 5, 2014 / , , ,

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 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:

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.


The Value of Safety

December 15, 2013 / , ,

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:

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.

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