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strategic planning

CEO Survey Reveals Three Key Focus Areas for Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies

December 15, 2016 / , , , , , ,


Industrial manufacturers find themselves competing in an increasing uncertain global market with rising customer expectations and ever-evolving technology, according to the 19th Annual Global CEO Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The survey found that only 24% of manufacturing CEOs think global growth will improve over the next 12 months compared to 34% last year, and 23% think it will worsen compared to 18% the prior year. In addition, just 29% of industrial manufacturers are confident of revenue growth in the next 12 months, but when given a three-year span, 46% of manufacturers think they’ll see growth.

Data also suggests that CEOs believe business risk has increased.  According to the survey, 55% of industrial manufacturing CEOs said opportunities have increased during the past three years; however, 61% believe the number of threats has increased.

The PwC survey, which interviewed 205 industrial, manufacturing CEOs in 53 countries, revealed that industrial manufacturing companies are working hard to deliver results year after year, but most understand that the future brings complex challenges. The survey highlights three key focus areas for today’s industrial manufacturing CEOs:

  1. Great expectations and influences. When asked to describe their company’s purpose, the survey found many industrial manufacturing CEOs believed it was centered on filling customer needs or developing first-class products, but others said it was creating a great place to work for employees or achieving social goals. And the influences that impact that purpose and overall strategy are many. As one would expect, customer demands drive final products, but 89% of industrial manufacturers say their customers and clients have an impact on their overall business strategy. Supply chain partners weigh-in, too, with 88% of CEOs planning to address social and environmental impacts of their supply chain. In addition, competitors and peers are also a focus, with a third of CEOs saying they too have a high impact on strategy.
  2. Technology and talent. Executives know Industry 4.0 has arrived and are working to invest in new innovations and train their workforce to capitalize on their investments. The survey found that 90% of industrial manufacturing CEOs plan to make changes in how they use technology to assess and deliver on wider stakeholder expectations. However, with new technology comes new skill requirements, and 76% of respondents say they are concerned about the availability of key skills to grow their business. In response, more than half of CEOs are changing their talent strategy.
  3. Measuring and communicating success. Data showed that 60% of survey respondents said innovation is the number one area where the business could do more to measure the impact and value for stakeholders. Not only are CEOs realizing they need to measure and track business success, but that they also need to communicate that success. The survey found that 68% of CEOs believe R&D and innovation has the potential to drive better engagement with wider stakeholders. Together with customer relationship management, data and analytics take the top three spots—validating smart manufacturing will be a driving force for industry leaders.

Like any industrial manufacturer, PwC’s survey findings can help metal-cutting organizations prepare for another challenging, but transformative, year. As reported in the case study, “Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies,” sometimes this means investing in technology. Jett Cutting Service, for example, hit a record-setting 1.1 million cut parts last year and attributes the milestone to smart investments. “I would like to believe that our increase in sales is due to investing in the latest cutting technology, which increases our capacity and production capabilities,” Vice President Mike Baron said. “The newer technology also allows us to offer competitive pricing, which has led to many new customers.”

However, Jett Cutting also understands that it needs to be just as committed to its employees and its customers. The metal-cutting organization also has a strong training program for new employees, an ISO certification program to maintain high quality standards, and additional training for existing employees every time new equipment or software is purchased.

For many metal-cutting companies, 2016 certainly hasn’t been the best of years, but it also hasn’t been the worst. As PwC’s survey confirms, no one is confident about what next year will bring; however, industrial manufacturing leaders aren’t standing idle. Jett Cutting and many others are investing in new technology and training now to prepare for growth in the future.

How is your industrial metal-cutting company investing in the future?

strategic planning

Training Strategies for Today’s Advanced Metal Fabrication Shops

December 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


With all the buzz around connectivity and “smart” factories, it appears as if the manufacturing industry is on the brink of a major shift. Some experts, as we reported here, are calling this Industry 4.0. Even companies in more mature industries like metal fabrication are starting to realize that the demands of today’s customers are not only changing the scope of their work, but the way in which they actually need to do their work.

“Investments in fabricating technology, information systems, and employees will be necessary to stay on top of the growing complexity in the metal fabricating business,” Dan Davis, editor of The Fabricator, says here in a recent editorial. “There’s no other way around it in this world of massive customization in manufacturing.”

While most industry leaders understand the capital and technology investments that may be necessary in the near future, many fail to realize the growing importance of investing in employees and, more specifically, in their training. In today’s lean manufacturing world, metal fabricators and other industry metal-cutting organizations have been conditioned to think in terms of efficiency. This means that secondary activities like employee training are often neglected because they don’t directly contribute to the bottom line.

However, as stated in the brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” research shows that investing in areas like training can provide a host of benefits, including better quality, faster on-time customer delivery, higher revenue per operator, and lower rework costs. “Put simply, companies can’t afford to neglect one of its greatest assets,” the brief states. “By investing resources into the workforce, industrial metal-cutting leaders can better equip themselves for today, as well as the future.”

For shops that want (or need) to beef up their training programs, an article from Foundry magazine provides some insight on what it takes to create an effective training program. According to the article, training programs should include a strong combination of education, engagement, and use: “Training must educate by teaching skills, transferring knowledge, cultivating attitudes and hitting other specific targets. But training that is purely educational doesn’t get results. That is why training must present information in ways that are engaging, interactive and require the learner to think and use the information learned.”

The article goes on to describe a method often used in training known as VAK Attack. VAK is an acronym describing the three ways people learn, as spelled out below:

According to the Foundry article, effective training should include all three of the VAK principles so that employees can better learn and absorb the information presented. The author also suggests hiring an outside trainer to ensure long, impactful results. (You can read the full article here.)

It would be hard for anyone to ignore the advancements of the manufacturing industry; however, too many companies are ignoring the role employees play in today’s increasingly complex production environments. By investing in employees and their training, today’s metal fabricators can prepare for the future and, more importantly, stay competitive today.

How is your fabrication shop investing in employee training?

strategic planning

Should Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies Still Think Long-Term?

December 1, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Over the last few years, uncertainty has plagued the manufacturing industry. Currency fluctuations, material costs, customer demands, labor shortages, and political issues are just a few of the factors feeding into an overwhelming feeling of doubt and apprehension among manufacturers.

Instead of fearing change, most companies have come to expect it. This has led many industry leaders to focus their efforts on becoming more “agile” so they can quickly respond to changing customer demands. As explained here in a blog post,  “agile organizations operate on a ‘sense and respond’ mode rather than the ‘predict and control’ mode.”

An agile company is able to take advantage of short windows of opportunity and adapt to fast changes in customer demand. According to a previously published blog, this tactic can be especially attractive for industrial metal-cutting companies that are trying to gain an advantage over offshore competitors.

However, the question is whether this renewed focus on agility should come at the cost of long-term planning. While short-term goals and gains are important, is it really wise for today’s manufacturers to ditch long-term strategic planning because the future looks uncertain? Does it really pay to be shortsighted?

An article from Forbes suggests that the answer to that question is no. According to the article, one of the top-five questions managers should ask during a strategic planning session is where they want to be in the next three years. “While some might balk at long term plans, they help people to frame a future vision,” the article states. “When teams don’t articulate long-range goals, they get trapped into incrementalism. Each year a little more growth is expected, a few changes are made and revenue and profit targets are increased. The result is a business that probably inches forward.”

According to an editorial from IndustryWeek, there are also risks associated with companies that are fixated on the short term. In fact, the article asserts that short-term goals can often lead to long-term problems. “I am a firm believer in capitalism but capitalism cannot thrive if we remain focused on short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability,” the article author states.

From an operational standpoint, this theory holds some weight, as short-term decisions can have long-term consequences. The white paper, Tackling the Top Five Operating Challenges of Industrial Metal Cutting, gives two examples:

While there is no question that today’s companies need to be able to adapt to change, long-term thinking and planning are still an important part of business success. An article from Harvard Business Review puts it this way:

“Don’t just say that the future is uncertain, and that you will act when it gets here. It is the responsibility of a forward-looking leader to share a point of view about the role the company might play in specific scenarios. Communicate how customers are changing, and how your organization can address those needs in the future.”

What is your company’s long-term point of view?

strategic planning

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Focus on Sustainability as Strategy

November 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


In today’s challenging market, any edge you can carve out against the competition is beneficial. While traditional improvement strategies such as lean manufacturing, ongoing training, and preventative maintenance can help improve your operational success, top performers are looking beyond long-established methods to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

According to the brief, “Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” industry leaders understand the importance of thinking outside the box. “In the spirit of continuous improvement, best-in-class managers need to explore all of the ways they can save their operation time and money,” the brief states.

Enter sustainability—the latest initiative manufacturers are using to reduce costs and gain a competitive advantage. Whether implementing strategic energy plans or adopting more environmentally friendly processes, today’s industrial manufacturers are finding that “going green” can provide bottom-line savings.

For example, according to The U.S. Green Building Council report, LEED in Motion: Industrial Facilities, more than 1,755 industrial facilities have received a voluntary green building certification system called LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. As stated here in a blog from Frost & Sullivan, experts believe that the operational efficiencies gained by following LEED building principles are real and measurable.

Take Fiat Chrysler’s Trenton South Engine plant as an example. The Michigan-based facility was the world’s first engine plant to achieve a Gold LEED rating, which has helped cut the plant’s annual CO2 emissions by 12,000 metric tons, reduced energy consumption by 39%, and saved about $1.6 million a year.

Ball and roller bearing manufacturers are following suit. For the last 17 years, industry leader SKF has been listed as one of the most sustainable companies by the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI). “Our long-running inclusion in the DJSI is something that we are all very proud of within SKF,” stated Rob Jenkinson, director of corporate sustainability at SKF. “Sustainability issues for businesses have evolved during this period, with an ever increasing focus on reducing negative environmental impacts and doing more for society as a whole. We maintain our focus on understanding these issues and the role we can play to help address them—now, and in the future.”

New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Inc. (NHBB) is also focused on sustainability as a strategy and has a formal Energy Management Plan in place. “Energy management is at the core of our strategy to achieve sustainability because it is so vital to our long term health,” the company says on its website. “Rapid economic growth, especially in the developing world, is expected to increase global energy consumption 40% by 2035. The expected increase in energy costs and the potential for supply disruptions compels us to identify and implement aggressive energy efficiency improvements.”

Instead of embracing sustainability as something that’s just “good to do,” more and more manufacturers are realizing that there are practical short-term and long-term financial benefits to implementing environmentally conscious improvements, according to a blog from the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). The industry group lists five key business advantages to adopting sustainable practices. The following are the top three: (You can read the full list here.)

  1. Reduce Energy-Related Costs. Energy and water costs are a prime concern for manufacturers. Focusing on improvements can reduce these expenses, typically on an annual basis. In addition, switching to energy-efficient lighting and adjusting lighting levels in accordance with your production schedule will reduce your long-term electrical costs. Regular equipment inspections can also prove beneficial.
  2. Attract New Customers and Increase Sales. Green and sustainable practices can make your company more marketable. Consumers are more conscious of the environment, and making improvements will strengthen your reputation. Whether you’re an OEM or a supplier, highlighting your initiatives to the public will help you attract a whole new base of customers, resulting in increased sales.
  3. Tax Incentives. There are a variety of tax credits and rebates on both the federal and state level for manufacturers who proactively implement more sustainable improvements. There may be incentives available to your business. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s website and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

Of course, the bigger picture benefit of sustainability is its positive impact on the environment. However, as Fiat, SKF, NHBB, and many other industrial manufacturers are discovering, developing and integrating a detailed sustainability vision into your long-term strategic plan can have real, measurable business advantages that contribute to the bottom line.

strategic planning

Enhancing Customer Service In Your Metal Forge

November 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


There is no question that customer expectations are changing. Companies like Amazon have raised the bar on what customers should expect from a service provider, whether that means Sunday deliveries or using the latest technology to improve the purchasing experience.

Not surprisingly, the so-called “Amazon effect” has found its way into industrial manufacturing. Supply chain consultant Lisa Anderson says she has seen this first hand with all of her manufacturing and distribution clients. On-time deliveries, she says, are no longer enough. Today’s customers are looking for suppliers that can offer faster lead times and value-added services that will benefit their bottom line.

While same-day delivery may not yet be feasible, industry leaders are finding several ways to enhance customer service. According to the brief, “Strategies for Improving Customer Service and On-Time Delivery in Industrial Metal Cutting,” the following are just a few of the strategies industrial metal-cutting organizations are using to better meet the demands of their customers:

Many forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies are also diversifying their services to better serve new and existing customers. In fact, Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation has built diversification into its corporate strategy. Earlier this month, the Carnegie, PA-based forging operation announced the acquisition of ASW Steel, Inc., a steel producer based in Welland, Ontario, Canada.Commenting on the acquisition, John Stanik, Ampco-Pittsburgh’s CEO, said:

“This acquisition is a very important element in Ampco-Pittsburgh’s strategic diversification plan. ASW’s proven broad expertise in flexible steel refining methods will provide us with the capabilities to manufacture the additional chemistries needed to expand our reach in the open-die forging market. The transaction also enhances our ability to grow in markets in which we currently participate and to add new markets for customers in the oil and gas, power generation, aerospace, transportation, and construction industries.”

What does it take to keep your customers satisfied and, more importantly, gain their loyalty? 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. How you “amp up” your customer service game will largely depend on what you already have in place, but the above strategies are just a few ideas to get you started.

What is one thing you could do to improve customer service in your forging operation?

strategic planning

Keep Your Machine Shop Competitive with Value Steam Mapping

November 20, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Research continues to show that leading industrial metal-cutting companies are focused on continuous improvement. For example, according to the latest Top Shop benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop magazine, “top shops” (defined as the top 20 percent of the 350 shops that were surveyed) are more likely to apply lean-manufacturing methodologies than other shops. They are also more likely to have cultures of continuous improvement. Specifically, the survey revealed that 62 percent of top shops have adopted formal continuous improvement programs compared to only 46 percent of other shops.

The survey also found that shops are implementing a variety of improvement tools to stay competitive. One tool in particular that is widely used is value-stream mapping (VSM). In fact, the survey found that almost 40 percent of top shops are using this lean methodology compared to only 20 percent of other shops.

As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, VSM is a “paper and pencil” tool that helps managers visualize and understand the flow of material and information as a product makes its way through the value stream. The map is a representation of the flow of materials from supplier to customer through your organization, as well as the flow of information that support processes as well. According to iSixSigma, this can be especially helpful when working to reduce cycle time because managers gain insight into both the decision-making and the process flows.

Although it is easy to become overwhelmed by the terminology, an archived article from Ryder outlines VSM in five simple steps:

  1. Identify product. Determine what product or product groups you will follow. Focus on one product at a time and start with the highest volumes.
  2. Identify Current Flow. Once you’ve defined the scope, the next step is to create a “current state map,” or a visual representation of how the process (or processes) in the warehouse is operating at the present moment. Key data points such as units per month, shipping frequency/schedules, hours of operations (available time), number of shifts worked, or any pertinent information around customer demand should be gathered before beginning the current state.
  3. Observe. Get on the floor and walk the entire process through step-by-step. Take notes and compile data such as inventory, cycle times, and number of operators.
  4. Make the map. Literally map out the process you just witnessed by drawing it out on a board. Include the data you collected and place inventory numbers under each step in the process. This will identify your bottlenecks.
  5. Create (and implement) a plan. Now that you know what and where your process improvements are, choose one or two to focus and improve on in a set amount of time. Once those are complete, you can prioritize the other bottlenecks to improve lead times.

One of the biggest misconceptions about VSM is that it is only applicable to high-volume shops. Like many other lean tools, VSM can usually be adapted to fit high-mix, low-volume machine shops. In an interview with Fabtech, Mike Osterling, a senior consultant with Osterling Consulting, Inc., explains:

“Let’s begin by pointing out that the front office processes (order taking and management) for low-volume, high-mix production processes are much more complex than the front office processes for high-volume low-mix environments – thereby meaning those value streams are in much greater need of VSM alignment!  So we need to start those VSMs at the receipt of order (or at receipt of a request for quote), and we need to include leaders from those areas in the actual VSM activity.  In some cases we can identify VS product families if there are products that are different, but they go through common production processes. In those situations, there may be opportunities to create areas of flow (or mini-flow).” (You can read the rest of the interview here.)

In an industry driven on speed and schedules, taking a few days to complete VSM or other improvement exercises may seem like wasted time. However, managers need to consider the price of not taking the time to focus on continuous improvement. Investing in tools like VSM can help your shop operate more efficiently, reduce lead time, improve customer service, and as research suggests, help you keep up with your competitors.

If you want to learn more about value stream mapping, iSixSigma provides a wealth of information available here, and the Lean Manufacturing institute offers educational classes and webinars here.

strategic planning

Implement an Obeya for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization

November 15, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


The metals industry is constantly facing challenges—high inventory levels, fluctuating raw material costs, and declining shipments to name a few. To help offset the challenges and meet customer demands, industrial metal-cutting companies have long turned to continuous improvement practices to reduce downtime and boost productivity.

In fact, continuous improvement is an essential practice for today’s metal-cutting organizations. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, the difference between a metal-cutting company that survives versus one that thrives is continuous improvement.

One continuous improvement tool executives are incorporating into their operations is “obeya.” As defined here in a blog from visual solutions provider Graphics Products, obeya (also spelled oobeya) is a Japanese term for “big room” or “great room.” In lean manufacturing, it is a dedicated room that is reserved for employees to meet and make decisions about any production challenges.

According to the blog, the idea behind obeya is for employees to collaborate easier and solve problems faster by having a central location to meet, share, and discuss key information. Benefits of using obeya include:

Like other lean practices, obeya is part of the Toyota Production System (TPS), which also includes 5S, Kaizen, and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). According an article from IndustryWeek, obeya is also referred to as the “brain” of TPS and is often called the “Adrenaline Room” at Toyota.

“We call it the Adrenaline Room because we are trying to encourage our manager to address the day, every day, urgently, to improve the output to our customers, internal and external,” Scott Redelman, senior manager, production control and logistics at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, told IndustryWeek. “So if we think about each process or each person—even within our four walls—as the customer, how do we aggressively have the adrenaline and the energy, the sense of urgency to quickly react and grow together to make that improvement for the customer? We have to have the adrenaline to do it.”

Industrial metal-cutting companies have also benefitted from obeya. As described in IndustryWeek, ball-bearing manufacturer Timken created an obeya at its Shiloh, N.C. plant four years ago to help meet sudden growth at the time. The company also added an obeya at its Honea Path, S.C. plant earlier this year. According to operations manager Robert Porter, the investment is paying off with productivity improvement year over year, even in down years.

Obeya, however, isn’t just placing your managers in a room and hanging charts on the wall. To ensure obeya is an effective tool, the Lean Enterprise Institute suggests managers focus on a few key issues:

While there are many continuous improvement tools available, obeya has proven itself valuable. In fact, Toyota considers it one of its lean pillars. Industrial metal-cutting companies that are looking to stay ahead of the competition in today’s challenging market can experience the benefits of obeya too.

What lean manufacturing tools are you using to improve your metal-cutting operation? Is obeya one of them?

strategic planning

Three Cost Management Strategies for Metal Fabricators

November 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


According to research from Kronos, U.S. manufacturers as a whole are bullish about future growth prospects. As reported by IndustryWeek, the research shows that nine out of 10 company leaders expect revenues to increase every year over the next five years, and well over half anticipate strong annual growth of 5% or more.

That doesn’t, however, mean companies don’t anticipate stumbling blocks. In fact, the report lists five critical challenges today’s manufacturers feel could limit their potential sales and profit growth. Not surprisingly, three of those challenges are cost-related—material costs, labor costs, and transportation/logistics costs.

So while some manufacturers are optimistic right now, there is no question that uncertainty about market conditions remain. The latest data from the Institute for Supply Management, for example, revealed that that Fabricated Metal Products sector contracted in October; however, new orders were up in September. This type of instability means that most fabricators are keeping a close eye on cost.

As stated in the brief, Cost Management Strategies for Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, there are no “one size fits all” answers when it comes to cost management. However, there are some of guiding principals industry leaders are using to keep costs low.

From an operations standpoint, managers can better manage equipment costs by making sure saws and other metal-cutting tools are operating as optimally as possible. According to the brief, this includes ensuring that equipment is running at the proper settings and that fluids are adequate.

“Closely monitoring blade life and maintenance reports are a critical aspect of managing equipment costs,” the brief explains. “If operators are taking too long to cut a specific material or blade costs are up, managers should review equipment settings and monitor the operator in action.” Consistent general and preventative maintenance programs can also help metals executives better manage costs.

From a more strategic standpoint, there are several best practices metal fabricators can follow. Below are three strategies to consider:

  1. Partner up to increase buying power and save money. As suggested in an article from Thomasnet, partnering with other small businesses can yield volume discounts and achieve savings. Consortiums put the benefits of economies of scale into effect for small businesses that would otherwise be left paying premiums. In addition, small firms should seek strategic partnerships with key suppliers. Purchasing from fewer suppliers saves time and resources while building trust. A small business owner can talk openly with a strategic partner and ensure the company is not overspending due to unnecessary costs.
  2. Include financial personnel in improvement initiatives. If your company has decided to embark on a continuous improvement activity to save costs, you may want to check out this article from IndustryWeek. In addition to discussing the dangers of disguising cost cutting as improvement, the article also reminds managers to spend time with the financial community and hold discussions on costs and savings before starting an improvement project. Managers should work closely with the financial team to develop a tracking system for possible problems to prove cost savings in the future. The article also suggests that a person from the financial community be included in each improvement team. This person will be able to validate cost savings and ensure all costs are tracked accurately.
  3. Factor time into the cost equation. While most people believe the old adage “time is money,” traditional accounting practices don’t exactly account for the cost of time—specifically, customer lead times—in metal fabrication. As explained in an article from The Fabricator, traditional cost accounting treats inventory as an asset and does not capture the true costs of long lead times. However, according to the author of the book, The Monetary Value of Time, there is an accounting method that corrects this oversight and complies with generally accepted accounting principles. You can read more about this method here.

Regardless of whether you are optimistic about the market and making investments or taking a more cautious approach and holding your pennies close, it is always important to closely monitor costs. By taking the time to approach cost strategically, today’s metal fabricators can save money, stay competitive, and, hopefully, see long-term increases to the bottom line.

strategic planning

One Key Investment that May Impact the Future of Industrial Metal-Cutting

November 1, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Although recent reports paint a brighter picture of U.S. industrial manufacturing, many companies are still unsure of what the future will bring—and how to prepare for it.

The first half of 2016 didn’t start off strong for industrial manufacturing. Industrial production was essentially unchanged in the first quarter of 2016 and then fell at a 1% annual rate in the second quarter. However, conditions made a turn in the right direction in third quarter when industrial production rose at an annual rate of 1.8 percent—the first quarterly increase since the third quarter of 2015.

Recent data continue to show good overall conditions. The Institute for Supply Management’s Report On Business, for example, states that activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in October, and the overall economy grew for the 89th consecutive month. Specifically, the October PMI registered 51.9 percent (a reading of 50 or higher indicates growth), an increase from the September reading of 51.5 percent.

Unfortunately, ISM’s report wasn’t all good news, especially for the metals sector. Just like in September, both the Primary Metals and Fabricated Metal Products sectors reported contraction in October, although one survey respondent from the Fabricated Metals Products sector stated, “Business is much better.”

With the year drawing to close, what does all of this mean for industrial metal-cutting companies? As executives evaluate performance and look to strategize for the future, the question of whether or not to invest in information and technology advancements will likely be at the forefront of discussion. With terms like “machine-to-machine communication” and “Internet of Things” flying around, many companies are trying to discern whether or not these ideas are truly worth the investment, or if they are nothing more than “buzz words.”

As stated in the white paper, Tackling the Top 5 Challenges In Today’s Metal-Cutting Industry, today’s uncertain market requires managers to carefully and strategically determine whether or not allocating resources to automation and technology will offer a true return on investment. Based on some recent reports from industry experts, technological investments are not only worth it, but necessary for future success, regardless of economic conditions.

A recent article from PwC put it this way:

“Manufacturing may be facing some headwinds, but it’s undeniably in the midst of a technological renaissance that is transforming the look, systems, and processes of the modern factory. Despite the risks — and despite recent history — industrial manufacturing companies cannot afford to ignore these advances. By embracing them now, they can improve productivity in their own plants, compete against rivals, and maintain an edge with customers who are seeking their own gains from innovation.”

Of course, this type of transition is easier said than done. There is a lot to consider before companies start planning, strategizing, and investing in what many are calling “Manufacturing 4.0.” To help give companies a little perspective, the Manufacturing Leadership Council has identified six critical Issues facing the manufacturing industry as it undertakes the journey toward an information-based future. Described in detail here, these issues include the following:

  1. Factories of the Future. Large and small manufacturers, in both process and discrete manufacturing, must now understand and embrace the potential of new and evolving production models, materials and technologies along the journey towards Manufacturing 4.0 to help them create more autonomous, flexible, connected, automated, intelligent, reconfigurable, and sustainable factories and production models for the future.
  2. The Integrated Manufacturing Enterprise. To maximize the potential of Manufacturing 4.0, manufacturers of all sizes need to actively transform traditional, inhibitive functional silos to create more integrated, cross-functional, collaborative enterprise structures, both within and beyond their organizations. These structures must be supported by new digital thread technologies that stretch across the value chain from ideation, to product end of use.
  3. Innovation in Manufacturing. Manufacturers must now successfully develop and manage rapid, continuous, collaborative, and often disruptive innovation processes across the enterprise to drive growth, new products and services, operational efficiencies, and competitive success in the world of Manufacturing 4.0.
  4. Transformative Technologies. Manufacturers must learn how to identify, adopt, and scale the most promising M4.0-enabling technologies in order to achieve greater agility and competitiveness and to drive innovative new business models and better customer experiences.
  5. Next-Generation Manufacturing Leadership & the Changing Workforce. Manufacturing 4.0 requires manufacturing leaders and their teams to become more collaborative, innovative, and responsive and to make decisions based on a greater understanding of manufacturing’s role in company strategy. That means leaders must embrace new behaviors, structures, and strategies. And they must transition the talent within their organizations by identifying, attracting, developing and retaining the next generation of people and skills.
  6. Cybersecurity. In the face of increasing vulnerability to external cyber threats and potential internal disruption, manufacturing companies must identify the most effective cybersecurity processes and technologies and create a culture that will ensure operational continuity, data security, and IP protection.

While the industry still has a way to go before Manufacturing 4.0 becomes mainstream, there is no question that technology is changing the manufacturing landscape. Today’s economic conditions may be uncertain, but industrial metal-cutting companies need to ask themselves if they’re willing to do what it takes to prepare for whatever the future holds.

strategic planning

Using Predictive Analytics in Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing

October 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


In today’s competitive and quickly changing market, manufacturers are finding that it pays to be proactive—not reactive—in their strategic approaches. That’s why a growing number of industrial manufacturers are starting to take a serious look at advanced technologies like predictive analytics, which allows them to not only measure performance, but to also predict and prevent future challenges.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, more than 500 senior manufacturing executives from around the world ranked predictive analytics as the number one technology vital to their companies’ future competitiveness. As reported here, another report from Aberdeen Group shows that 86 percent of top-performing manufacturers are already using predictive analytics to reduce risk and improve operations, compared to 38 percent of those companies with an average performance and 26 percent of those with less than stellar results.

The trend has found its way into industrial metal cutting as well. According to the LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 industrial metal-cutting organizations, companies can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”

What is Predictive Analytics?
Predictive analytics utilizes a variety of statistical and analytical techniques to develop mathematical models that “predict” future events or behaviors based on past data. As the Deloitte study explains, this allows companies to uncover hidden patterns, relationships, and greater insights by analyzing both structured and unstructured data.

In a manufacturing environment, companies can use predictive analytics to measure the health of production equipment and detect potential failures. However, the possibilities are virtually limitless. According to one analyst’s blog, manufacturers could potentially use software and predictive analytics to forecast potential staffing or supply-chain interruptions, such as a flu outbreak that could cause a temporary personnel shortage or even a blizzard that could disrupt deliveries.

Bearing manufacturing leader Timken has taken a different approach and is using predictive analytics to improve inventory optimization and supply chain performance in the automotive aftermarket sector. As reported by SearchAutoParts.com, Timken is leveraging sales history, registration data, and other information, along with complex analytics, to improve sales and reduce costs.

“Timken’s catalog team matches parts and vehicles, and combines that information with vehicle registration and replacement/failure rates, along with internal sales data,” the article explains. “Crunching that data using proprietary algorithms helps them predict how many parts will be needed in a given geography, and how those parts sales will fall within the premium aftermarket, economy aftermarket and OEMs.”

Common Use Cases
Because predictive analytics is an emerging technology, applications are typically specific to each manufacturer’s products and processes—as in the Timken example. However, an article from Toolbox.com describes four common use cases for predictive analytics that are applicable in most manufacturing environments:

  1. Quality Improvement. Improvements in databases and data storage and easier-to-use analytical software are the big changes for quality improvement. Standard quality improvement analysis is being pushed toward less technical analysts using new software that automates much of the analytical process. Storing more information about products and the manufacturing process also leads to analysis of more factors that influence quality.
  2. Demand Forecast. Predictive analytics takes historical sales data and applies forms of regression to predict future sales based upon past sales. Good predictive analytics modelers find additional factors that influenced sales in the past and apply those factors into forecasted sales models.
  3. Preventative Maintenance. Predictive analytics increases production equipment uptime. Knowing that a machine is likely to break down in the near future means a manufacturer can perform the needed maintenance in non-emergency conditions without shutting down production.
  4. Machine Utilization. Predictive analytics applications for machine scheduling combines forecast for demand with product mix to optimize machine utilization. Using new predictive analytics techniques improves accuracy.

Predicting Success
While there is no question that predictive analytics is still new to many ball and roller bearing manufacturers, industry leaders know that proactive strategies are key in today’s uncertain market. Finding ways to anticipate future events and reduce unplanned downtime can not only help your operation gain efficiency but, more importantly, help you stay competitive.

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