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value-added services

New Trends Affecting Industrial Metal Cutting

July 28, 2014 / , , , , , , ,


There is no question: Lean manufacturing has forever changed the way the world makes products. However, as the market changes and demands shift, the manufacturing industry is starting to embrace strategies that either challenge or go beyond traditional “lean” principles.

And, really, that is what leaders should be doing. The world is much different than it was 25+ years ago, when manufacturers first starting implementing Toyota’s lean strategies. In industrial metal cutting, for example, the ultimate goal will always be to move more metal, but as this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology suggests, global competition, talent shortages, and an unstable market have created a whole new set of challenges that a simple lean tool won’t be able to fix.

Today’s market requires leaders to keep a pulse on “what’s next” so they can create innovative, strategic solutions that balance internal efficiency with external demands. Below are just a few leading-edge trends we found that are stretching the traditional notions of best-in-class manufacturing. Not all of these strategies will be directly applicable to every metal-cutting organization, but they certainly provide new perspectives and alternative approaches that could just change manufacturing as we currently know it.

value-added services

Metal Cutting Tips and Tricks for Fabricators

July 10, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,


At first glance, achieving the perfect cut may feel like a minor detail to a high-production fabricator. With a host of other operations taking place, a simple process like band-saw cutting may seem like a small fish in a sea of looming operational challenges.

However, as the industry continues to adopt the principles of lean manufacturing more and more managers are realizing that even the smallest details can have a huge impact on an operation. From shop organization to preventative maintenance checks, every improvement—and managing every bottleneck—has a bottom-line implication.

This requires today’s fabricators to focus on improving individual processes like metal-cutting, not only for the small productivity gains they can achieve, but also for the benefits it could offer down the line. Case in point: Straight cuts are necessary for a proper weld. When cuts aren’t straight, welders have to fill gaps with filler or welding wire, both of which can affect the overall quality of the part. Or, in a worse-case scenario, the metal might have to be completely scrapped—a huge waste of time, material, and, of course, money.

On the other hand, if the right equipment and metal-cutting procedures were used, the cutting and welding aspects of the operation would be optimized, costs would be controlled, and time would be saved. In other words, it pays to get it right.

The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) knows what it takes to get the best cut out of your operators and the best “cost per cut” out of your blades. The following are few tips and tricks fabricators can use to optimize their band-saw cutting operations:

For more metal-cutting tips and tricks, you can download the complete white paper, Understanding the Cut: Factors that Affect the Cost of Cutting, here.

value-added services

Taking Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization from On Time to Agile

June 28, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


As customers continue to redefine delivery expectations, manufacturers need to have strategies in place to not only meet those changing requirements but, even more so, anticipate them. Getting ahead of customer needs is the key to both retaining and gaining customers in today’s metals industry. As many leading manufacturers are discovering, agility is what sets you apart.

What does it mean to be an agile manufacturer? According to this overview from leanproduction.com, agile manufacturing “places an extremely strong focus on rapid response to the customer—turning speed and agility into a key competitive advantage.” An agile company is able to take advantage of short windows of opportunity and adapt to fast changes in customer demand. This tactic can be especially attractive for industrial metal-cutting companies that are trying to gain an advantage over offshore competitors.

Whether you are a high-production machine shop or a low-mix metal service center, below are a few best practices we gathered to help your industrial metal-cutting organization move from an “on-time” service provider to an agile, customer-focused partner:

 

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Building Strategic Supplier Relationships that Benefit Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

June 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


Most manufacturers understand that they are only as good as their supply chain. Quality starts well before a product enters the doors of a production facility.

Industry leaders, however, are finding that with a little strategy, the supply chain can add a lot more than a quality service or product. When positioned correctly, they can add value.

A recent report from Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium confirms this philosophy. After polling 172 supply chain professionals, a strong 80% of respondents reported that they felt that the supply chain is an enabler of business strategy. A majority of companies also felt that supply chain is a source of business value and a competitive advantage. This, along with the report’s other findings, led the Consortium to conclude that the importance of an integrated supply chain and overall business strategy cannot be ignored. “The better the level of alignment is, the more likely it is that companies are achieving their objectives for cost reduction, customer service, and other metrics,” the report stated.

What’s interesting, however, is the report revealed that a fairly high 35% consider the supply chain a standalone function. This indicates there still is some work to be done. Positioning and treating your supply chain as trusted partners—not just as independent service providers—can be an effective strategy in helping you achieve company goals. For instance, if your goal is to increase productivity, perhaps your suppliers can offer troubleshooting expertise and even training in specific areas of your operation. Or, as was the case with leading metal service center Aerodyne, they may even be able to provide useful, practical tools like free software to help your operators work smarter.

As this Forbes article states, long-term, worthwhile suppliers should treat manufacturers as more than just clients. They, too, should treat you like a partner, which means they should be willing to offer more than one-dimensional service. If that isn’t the case for your organization, it may be time to reevaluate your supply chain or, even more so, reevaluate how you are utilizing your supply chain.

How do you position your supplier relationships to bring value to your company? A recent white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following strategies:

In the end, today’s competitive marketplace requires manufacturers to focus more on value than on cost if the objective is long-term success. While cost-effective products provide short-term benefits, aligning the right suppliers with your business strategies—and then leveraging their services to achieve company goals—will likely offer a greater ROI than any product ever could.

value-added services

Rethinking Customer Service in Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

May 28, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,


What does it take to keep your customers satisfied? In today’s demanding market, most industrial metal-cutting companies would say high quality, competitive costs, and on-time delivery. However, those have always been the hallmarks of any good manufacturer, and some might argue that the last few years weeded out any companies that even remotely lagged in these key areas.

So, what does it really take to keep your customers satisfied? Or, as this Inc. article points out, perhaps the better question is whether or not customer satisfaction is what you should be trying to achieve. According to the Inc. author, customer satisfaction is “tepid and minimal”, has “no bearing on future buying decisions,” and can be “safely ignored.”

Instead, manufacturers should be spending their efforts building some level of customer loyalty, the article argues, as well as what the Inc. author calls “product evangelism.” In short, the author maintains that companies need to focus less on simply satisfying customers and, instead, focus more on: 1. bringing value that goes above and beyond, and 2. a strong brand message that is unique and relevant. As the article title suggests, that is how you develop a customer relationship that “trumps all the rest.”

The Inc. author isn’t the only one buying into this mentality. In recent years, many leading companies have endeavored to take their customer service to the next level, creating what consultant Lisa Anderson refers to as the “Amazon Effect.” From no-hassle refunds to 24-hour availability, Anderson believes that manufacturers and distributors have something to learn from the exceptional service standards set by Amazon. “It has become apparent that those businesses that leverage the Amazon Effect will thrive while the rest are left in the dust,” Anderson said in a recent article from Industrial Distribution.

How you “amp up” your customer service game will largely depend on what you already have in place, but the following are a few strategies to get you thinking:

value-added services

Should Your Machine Shop Undergo ISO 9001 Certification?

May 20, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As the industrial metal-cutting industry becomes more competitive, a growing number of machine shops are looking for ways to differentiate their operations, whether that means offering value-added services or implementing the latest lean techniques.

One best practice that many of today’s leading shops tout is ISO 9001 certification. The standard, described in detail here, is based on a number of quality management principles, including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and continuous improvement. The basic goal of the standard is to help companies provide customers with consistent, good quality products and services, which, in turn, often brings business benefits like improved financial performance.

Metal Cutting Service, a specialty shop based in City of Industry, CA, has reaped the rewards of ISO certification, including improved productivity and quality. The company, featured in a series of LIT case studies, estimates that quality has improved 20 to 30% since it became ISO certified more than 12 years ago.

However, ISO certification isn’t a quick fix nor should it be taken lightly. Like any company-wide initiative, it requires time, money, and strategic planning. Here are a few points to consider before undergoing ISO certification:

value-added services

Key Trends for Metal Service Centers in 2014

April 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As the industry heads into the second quarter, uncertainty remains. In fact, as we state in our 2014 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, uncertainty may be the only thing that is certain right now.

Like most sectors of the metal-cutting industry, metal service centers have experienced little if any growth in 2014. January started off with a much-needed improvement over December, with small increases in shipments and reduced inventory levels. However, February wasn’t as strong as many had hoped. According to the latest figures from the Metal Service Center Institute, U.S. service center steel shipments in February 2014 increased by 0.4% from February 2013, and 2014 year-to-date steel shipments increased by 0.2% from the same period in 2013. When looking at total volume from January to February, service centers’ shipments of steel and aluminum actually declined, reports IndustryWeek.

In other words, we aren’t quite there yet. Experts like the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) are hopeful that the rebound is coming, but until then, there are several industry trends that we feel will be key for metal service centers in 2014. Here are a few to keep in mind:

value-added services

2014 Industrial Metal Cutting Outlook

March 30, 2014 / , , , , , ,


Steel has a rich history in America and around the globe. It has often been called both the backbone of manufacturing and the building block of society—and rightly so. We rely on steel in many industry sectors, including automotive, aerospace, infrastructure, and consumer durables. The health of our sector is critical to the economy, as well as the quality of life that many of us enjoy.

As a global company that services the industrial metal-cutting industry, we at LENOX Tools have a unique vantage point of what is happening within the larger metals market. We have watched some companies barely survive these last few years, and we have also seen leaders rise to the occasion. And while there is still a lot of uncertainty within the marketplace, we are confident that with the right tools, 2014 can be a year of opportunity for many of our customers.

Cautiously Optimistic
According to the Steel Manufacturers Association, the short-term prospects for the steel industry are no more certain in 2014 than they were in 2011, 2012, or 2013. While 2012 was a good year for the industry, with significant increases in both crude steel production and consumption, 2013 wasn’t as good as everyone had hoped. According to the World Steel Association, U.S. steel production was down 2% in 2013 compared to 2012, and forecasts estimate that apparent consumption only grew a mere 0.7% in 2013 over 2012. (Final data has not been released.)

But there are some promising signs. The World Steel Association’s October outlook stated that steel demand is expected to increase by 3.0% in 2014, aided by the improving global economy and activities in the automotive, energy, and residential construction sectors. In addition, as reported by Modern Metals, both automotive sales and construction housing starts are expected to increase in 2014.

Even with these positive indicators, most metals companies remain cautiously optimistic about the near-term future. According to an annual survey of metal executives by American Metal Market, the majority of respondents expected business to improve, with only 8% stating they were less optimistic about business as they headed into 2014. However, three in four respondents said political events have heightened uncertainty, and only 30% of executives expected the economy to turn around this year.

Strategic Shifts
As the industry continues to wait for a true economic comeback, we are seeing some major strategic shifts in the businesses that we service. Unfortunately, a few businesses just could not find a way to survive, but many others were able to adapt and found smarter ways to work. They became leaner, more productive, and made investments where they mattered. We have also seen the emergence of several industry trends, such as consolidation and an influx of new services and products, as companies attempt to remain profitable.

One trend that we hear a lot about is “on-shoring” or “near-shoring”—the process of moving a business operation from overseas back to the local country. China, of course, has been the common landing spot for outsourced manufacturing in recent history. However, with rising labor and energy costs, China’s cost advantage is disappearing. That, along with the difficulties in managing a business across the globe in countries with vastly different work and social cultures, is helping drive the “on-shoring” trend. This is great news for the U.S. metal-cutting industry, as we will help rebuild America one business at a time.

When the market does finally rebound, companies need to be ready. Based on our experience, we at LENOX Tools see the following best practices as critical action items for companies that want to be prepared for quick growth:

Another Year of Improvement
The reality is that no one knows what 2014 will bring, which makes agility and strategy critical. In fact, uncertainty is perhaps the only thing that is certain in this market. However, there are two things the last few years have taught us: you can never be too prepared, and there is always room for improvement.

Industrial metal-cutting leaders know they cannot afford to rest on their laurels—not in 2014 or in the future. Continuous improvement is the only way to succeed in today’s market, and best-in-class managers are proactively encouraging change at all levels of their organization. We at LENOX Tools are ready for another year of improvement, and we look forward to helping equip our customers and their employees with the tools they need to make this year one of their best.

value-added services

Enhancing Customer Service in Your Machine Shop

February 20, 2014 / ,


In today’s competitive landscape, many industries are finding that enhanced customer service is becoming more important than ever. Companies like Amazon are raising 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 the manufacturing world. In a recent blog post, 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. Sound familiar?

Anderson goes on to suggest several ways manufacturers can provide Amazon-type service in their own operations. From same-day delivery to collaborative programs, she challenges manufacturers to think outside their service “comfort zone” and consider new ways they can add value to their customer relationships.

What does this look like in a machine shop environment? What services can you add? The answer to that will vary based on the needs of your customers, your budget, and simply put, your willingness to change. Adapting to customer needs is critical in today’s unpredictable market, but as the landscape gets more competitive, anticipating customer needs can give your shop the edge.

Below are examples of three shops that decided to enhance their current services in some way. While each company took a different approach, all three have found that value-added service has been beneficial to both their customers and their business.

 

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