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Monday, December 5, 2016

New Technologies to Address Die-Shop Challenges

Guest Blogger: Pat Saul
General Manager, RPS Quality Solutions Inc

Today the Die Industry faces multiple challenges. Die shops encounter high demands in both cost and time and must deal with continuously shifting technologies.  

New Materials, Drastic Designs and Late Form Changes, combined with Aggressive Prototype and Quotation Timelines -- all of these create significant issues for Sheet Metal Die Design and Development which are always on the critical path of automotive vehicle programs. Die Suppliers often contend with pressure to deliver Die Designs and Builds to very tightly compressed timelines. 

There are frequently delays in receiving quote packages and product data from the customer, while required delivery dates do not change, which results in reduced turnaround times. Die Suppliers have had to find creative and effective ways to adjust and be successful delivering on time quality dies that produce quality parts. 

Pat Saul, General Manager of RPS Quality Solutions, will illustrate some of the latest technologies that help overcome these challenges at PMA’s Metal Stamping Technology and Tool & Die Conference on December 6 -7, 2016 in Chicago, IL. 

Pat’s presentation will highlight the benefits and savings to be found with the use of cutting edge Morphing Software Solutions and Blue-Light Scanning Technologies -- and the further benefits and synergies realized by Combining and Integrating these two technologies

Their presentation will showcase utilization and applications revolving around the experience and expertise of two leading technology & process developers:

1. Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence 
and 
2. Rise-ES.

Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence (HMI) is a leading metrology and manufacturing solution specialist.  HMI’s expertise in Sensing, Thinking and Acting – the Collection, Analysis and Active Use of measurement data – enables customers to increase production speed and accelerate productivity while enhancing product quality.  In our presentation, Hexagon will describe the best known scanning techniques in order to optimize the die try out process and reduce the number of quality loops during the die tryout phase. 

Rise-ES was founded with the vision to develop Engineering Applications that are practical, effective, and easy to integrate into existing processes -- while at the same time improving those processes and the quality and speedy delivery of the process outputs. 

For the Die Industry, Rise-ES provides Omni Transformer -- software based on the Omnicad system for morphing product or manufacturing geometry based on inputs of analysis software tools or scans of actual physical properties. 

As Die Design Shops have successfully adopted simulation tools (such as Autoform, Dynaform, Pamstamp, etc.)  to predict springback, areas of cracking/thinning etc., and also to provide customer feedback for product concessions, these shops have been able to realize improved die and stamped part outputs. 

During the upfront design phase Tool & Die shops can use these simulation/analysis tools in conjunction with OmniTransformer Morphing Software to generate tight simulation loops and to run various “what-if” scenarios, to determine the optimum die face that will produce a stamped part that should mostly closely match the dimensional characteristics of the product design -- and thereby reduce the physical die tryout and tune-in time. 
In this scenario, the outputs of the simulation tools are the inputs for OmniTransformer. 

In addition to creating compensated surfaces based on Simulations, die shops also Combine OmniTransformer with Blue Light Scanning during the physical die tryout phase to rapidly generate CAM cutter paths to modify the die face to address any remaining dimensional deviations. In this scenario, the outputs of the Blue Light Scans are the inputs to the OmniTransformer Morphing Software. 

Pat’s presentation will emphasize these three different areas for the successful implementation of the latest set of technologies:

1) Morphing during Die Design Phase
2) Blue Light Scanning of physical properties once produced
3) Morphing and final refinement of dies based on scans of physical parts produced during tryout 


Monday, November 28, 2016

Quantifying Lubricant Thickness Accurately

Guest Blog: Mike Justice
President, UPA Technology

Forming good parts is a demanding and difficult task, mainly because of the many variables that can interrupt the process. Stamping problems can be due to several areas including problems with dies, substrates, press issues as well as incorrect amounts of lubricant. Quickly evaluating and eliminating the possible causes of stamping problems speeds up correction at the press where downtime often is measured by minutes/month.

Quantifying lubricant thickness quickly and accurately can determine or eliminate whether lubricant issues are the cause of forming issues. But, measuring lubricant thickness has not been easy and has been the cause of much discussion and dissension.  

Stampers, processors and mills are routinely tasked with accurately measuring oil-films ranging between 7-120 Milligrams per square foot (mg/ft2) in order to meet specification for making good parts.  As a thickness instead of a weight, this equates to only 2 - 40 millionths of an inch! Making things even more challenging is that measurements have to be made instantly, portably, on a number of different substrates, and the inspection equipment must be easy to operate with virtually no training. In reality, this is but one of the many difficult challenges facing the stamping industry, metals mills and coil processors.    
 
Lubricant thickness has been determined for many years from weighing a sample, cleaning off the lubricant and then re-weighing (weigh/strip /weigh). The average thickness of lubricant can then be calculated from those numbers. Mills and automotive plants have used this method because of the availability of extremely accurate scales/balances, but the weigh/strip/weigh method is not without issues. The weight difference between coated and uncoated samples can be less than .008 grams. Adding all of the uncertainties resulting from imperfect sample size, scale error, uneven lube distribution and improper handling normally reduces the accuracy to below acceptable limits. Plus, the weigh/strip/weigh method is destructive, slow and untraceable to any national standard.

Fortunately, advancements in electronics technology are occurring rapidly and many promising new technologies have been introduced. This is good news and just in time for measuring at the tightened lubricant-thickness specification requirements that have increasingly become difficult to confirm and control.

New measurement devices are primarily using infra-red, beta backscatter or ultra-violet principles for oil-film measurement. Each of these new technologies have their strengths and weaknesses, so choosing the best one will depend on any number of factors, depending on the specific conditions.  Choosing the wrong method can be an expensive mistake, so doing some homework beforehand is worth the effort. Gone are the days when companies can say “I will use this method—because my customer uses it.”  Having both companies using an incorrect method

doesn’t help anyone, so the best choice of instrumentation should be based on facts and careful evaluation.

Hear more from Mike at PMA's Metal Stamping Technology and Tool & Die Conference, December 6-7, 2016 in Chicago, IL.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Automotive Tooling Industry: Where To From Here?

Guest Blog: Laurie Harbour
President and CEO, Harbour Results, Inc. 

In 2016 the U.S. manufacturing industry was relatively stable with overall production slightly up from previous years. Specifically, the automotive tool and die industry was predicted to be busy with forecasted tooling spend on the rise. However, taking a closer look, the year proved to be a bit more challenging. Data collected through the Harbour Results’ Harbour IQ pulse survey (a business intelligence tool for performance, financial, operational, trend and market data), which was completed by more than 100 tool shops globally in the second quarter of 2016, has shown that capacity reached a low of 81 percent among die shops in late 2015 and early 2016, but was expected to rebound to 78 and 86 percent respectively by year end.

So what caused the slow down?
  1. Program delays—on average, just over 20 percent of vehicle launches were delayed in 2015 and 2016. 
  2. Work on hold—in early 2016, 18 percent of all work that had been awarded was on hold for reasons outside the tooling shops.
Looking forward, the U.S. automotive industry is predicted to maintain vehicle sales at or near 17.4 million units in 2017. However, for the tool and die industry it is important to note the industry is expected to source tooling to support 70 new vehicle launches, which is more than any other year between 2014-2022. Tooling spend for 2017 is expected to be $13.7 billion while 2018 is expected to be $10.7 billion.

Delivering Operational Excellence
Today, tool and die making is no longer an art, but a manufacturing process. Yes, it is true that each die is unique, but the process to build it should be standard and repeatable. A shop owner’s goal should be to reduce all unnecessary activity and the key to that is collecting and analyzing the right data. Easier said than done, we know.

The best die shops are investing in technology to help them better understand what is happening on the shop floor. Tools such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and machine monitoring systems can assist in gathering data points and tracking key trends over time (utilization and efficiency) to help better make informed decisions impacting the shop.

Harbour Results has coined the phrase—Operational Holy Grail—which has three key functions that are critical for effectively aligning a business:
  1. Resource Monitoring
  2. Capacity and Demand Planning
  3. Production Scheduling
Staying focused on these three areas, and collecting and analyzing the data and information throughout the shop, owners will be better equipped to make decisions and constantly adjust to drive improved efficiency and reduce lead time.

2017 and Beyond
To be successful in the automotive industry, tool and die shops must look for opportunities to create a competitive advantage. With that in mind, the following are three key areas of focus (beyond operational excellence) that should be a priority for shop owners.
  1. Understand your customer—Who are they? What’s going on in their industry? What is their product plan? What is available to my shop in the market? Gathering customer and market data gives you a leg up on the competition. It will help you develop a solid sales strategy and pursue profitable business for your company. 
  2. Focus on your niche—What is your why? If you can focus in on why customers should do business with you and what makes you unique, it will create a barrier so that other shops can’t infringe on your business. 
  3. Invest smartly—Invest with a purpose; to improve your agility, grow in other regions, create a sales process or strengthen your aging workforce. Understand what your company’s pain points are and look to invest to make improvements. 
Hear more from Laurie at PMA’s Metal Stamping Technology and Tool & Die Conference, December 6-7, 2016 in Chicago, IL. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Quick Look at Dry-Film Lubricant

A Metal Processor's Best Friend

Guest Blogger: Mike Tieri
Director of Sales & Marketing, Chemcoaters

Scrap…What a problem! Are you having trouble with higher scrap loss than you can understand or more importantly tolerate? It could be the metal but perhaps it’s a problem in the processing itself. Have you looked at dry-film lubricants (DFLs)? If it’s been a while, you should look again. Largely used by the automotive and appliance industries, you surely know that if it didn’t provide a tremendous benefit, they would never add that cost into the process. When I asked why, I was shown all of the benefits it provided.

CASE: One company monitored costs of using oil against DFL. One item evaluated was worker gloves. They said that bringing material in with oil showed that workers wore 5.6 pairs of gloves per week. By going to DFL, the workers’ gloves didn’t get saturated and usage was dropped to 2.4 pairs of gloves per week. It might not seem to matter much but on 1800 workers the cost savings paid for the DFL! WOW!

It provides much better coefficient-of-friction numbers usually between 0.04 and 0.09, much better than any wet lube or oil. So, regardless of how the metal is drawn or shaped, there is a barrier between the metal and the tooling. This reduces the metal shavings mixing with tool shavings and oil. In the end, there is less sludge build-up in the die. This creates a greater amount of time and parts between die cleanings, less scrap due to galling and/or cracking and less down-time on the machine.

CASE: One company used so much oil, they applied it with a mop so much in fact that the robots used to move the sheets were unable to pick up the metal. Production dropped off drastically because they had to use four men instead of two robots. Oil was being splashed all over the area and then tracked through the plant by foot or forklift traffic. Build-up in the die was so quick that they could not meet the demand for the parts. By going to DFL, the robots were put back in place, production time greatly increased and they had a much cleaner, safer work environment.

Dry-film lubricants provide more warehouse protection against corrosion and will not oxidize on the surface of the metal. If you were welding, the DFL reduces the spatter from sticking to the metal. It’s a non-hazardous product that can be left on or removed with an alkaline cleaner; it can even be tinted for visual detection.

CASE: One company used so much oil to make its parts that they had to use a very hot wash system to clean the parts. The time it took created a bottleneck in the production process that created tremendous delivery issues. The other problem was that the water solvent was so hot that it burned the oil and created a sort of tar on some of the parts. By going to DFL, they could process easier and faster, increased throughput, eliminated the bottleneck and reduced scrap. They are now moving to convert all jobs in the plant to DFL and remove the wash system.

In closing, if you were going to open a hamburger restaurant, you might want to open right next to McDonalds. They have done all the work to evaluate whether they should be there or not. No one will eat at the same place every day. Take advantage of the R&D that they have done, the same way you can be assured that the process-improvement teams at auto and appliance companies have done their homework. You can benefit from that. Give it a look and see where dry-film lubricants can work for you. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

IIoT’s Cloud Computing in Manufacturing

With all the talk in the last year of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how to best prepare your company for these new innovative technologies, the major question on most manufacturers’ minds is, “But does it work and will it work for me?”

Plex’s 2016 State of Manufacturing Technology Report aimed to explain just that, with a focus on cloud computing and its effectiveness on the shopfloor.  Here are some of the most significant results from their survey of nearly 200 manufacturers who are using IIoT in some capacity.

Cloud computing increases the ability to manage fluctuating business needs.  With cloud computing, manufacturers are able to connect the plant floor with the C-Suite, giving everyone access to either identical versions or tailored versions of real-time data.

Of the respondents who use cloud technology,

  • 98% reported that connectivity of machines, systems, suppliers, and clients delivers value to their business today
  • 64% found they were better equipped to handle changing customer needs
  • 55% reported overall increase in the strength of global supply chain management
When a whopping 98% of a survey pool of manufacturers report that their business has improved on several levels since incorporating cloud technology, you can’t deny that these new systems are truly revolutionizing our industry.

For more information on how you can get started with or expand your journey into the world of smart manufacturing, check out our blog’s series from earlier in the year titled The Future of Manufacturing and How to Be Ready (I, II, III).

Thursday, November 3, 2016

2016 Elections: Congress Counts

Election Day 2016 is not just about the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. There are also races are happening across the country for seats in the House and Senate.  So what is at stake for the 115th Congress?

Control of the House and Senate is particularly valuable in this election year.  The next Congress may tackle tax reform, and many other issues critical to the manufacturing industry.

Here is the breakdown of our current Congress.  Going into Election Day 2016, Republicans have a majority in both the Senate and the House.
















Here is the latest data on how races are faring for these seats:























Current data seem to suggest that it is unlikely that the Democratic party will take back the House.  Still, there are about forty races that remain incredibly close. For the Senate, who takes control is still too close to call, but Democrats are within four or five seats of retaking control. In any event, a newfound Democratic majority would by no means be commanding since Democrats would under no plausible circumstance reach the 60 votes needed for a supermajority.

Before you vote, you can learn more about Congressional races in your state.  One Voice for Manufacturing – the combined advocacy effort of PMA and the National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA) – has a Members of Congress Scorecard which can help you track how your Member of Congress small and medium-sized manufacturers.  To enhance accuracy, the scorecard includes not only relevant votes but co-sponsorships on bills which many not have received a full vote.  To view the U.S. Senate Scorecard click here.  To view the U.S. House of Representatives Scorecard click here.


Monday, October 24, 2016

The Evolution of B2B Marketing and How it has Changed Sales

Guest Blogger: Jason Plavic
Digital Marketing Strategist, Advance Ohio
In the past ten years or so, we have seen a shift in how B2B buying decisions happen, who the decision makers are in the process, and where these decision makers are getting their information.

Traditionally, marketing was always a linear path - people saw an ad, they were interested in the product, so they went to the store and bought it. What’s changed, is now customers are finding the information on their own. It is now the marketer’s job to pull that audience in by creating a personalized experience that resonates with the potential customers. The path to purchase is no longer linear - it is a collection of moments that influence a customer to purchase your product.

There’s no question that everyone is online these days, including B2B audiences. Buyers are more empowered than ever before: B2B buyers review an average of 10.4 sources on average for any buying situation. More costly or complex purchases require more research and content review. Customers are educated and informed, and are looking for vendors who understand their pain points and are knowledgeable in the industry.

Cold calling and traditional marketing strategies are not as effective in our digital world. Here’s a scary statistic for traditional marketing: 90% of B2B decision makers don't respond to cold sales outreach and only 1% of cold calls convert into appointments. These days, customers are much more comfortable doing research on their own and coming to a conclusion on who they want to do business with based on their research.

These changes in the B2B path to purchase have drastically affected the sales process. Instead of sales people approaching potential customers, buyers are now coming straight to sales people with all the information they need in hand to make a purchase. Customers are being influenced from many different touchpoints, including websites, social media, and mobile, and are becoming more educated in the process. In fact, most customers are already 57% of the way down the path to a decision before performing an action on a website.

This highlights the importance for manufacturing marketers to find ways to reach their audiences through a variety of methods and to be in every place that the audience is searching for a solution.

Below are four of the most important tactics that every B2B marketer needs to add to their strategy:

Content Marketing: Content can be used to nurture customers in every step of their path to purchase - from building awareness of the brand, to improving visibility, to creating loyalty. In fact, content marketing generates three times more leads and is 62% cheaper than traditional marketing.

Great content is more than just good writing. The content on websites, blogs, social media, and emails need to be relevant and engaging to both potential clients, as well as the search engines to capture all prospects. Content encompasses everything from written, to visual, to video, and the type of content companies should produce will depend on audiences. The fact of the matter is that 88% of B2B marketers are using content marketing, and those who aren’t using it to its full advantage will fall short to the competition.

Search Engine Optimization: Internet searches bring more people to company websites than all other digital channels combined. In fact, 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine. To understand SEO, there needs to be an understanding of how search engines work. Search engines like Google and Bing use complex, proprietary algorithms to determine which websites are most relevant to the words that users type into a search box.

Social Media: While social media has long been a platform for B2C, there are many benefits for B2B businesses to utilize social media as well. In fact, cultivating business relationships on social media could be a key to success in the manufacturing industry.  Social media should be used to fuel the marketing fire by delivering all the created content to the masses. Out of all the networks, LinkedIn should be a priority for manufacturing marketers – 80% of social media B2B leads are generated through LinkedIn.

Data: Manufacturers know the importance of data - they’ve  been collecting and analyzing machine data for decades, long before marketing turned to data. In manufacturing, data is used to improve process, production, and distribution - so why wouldn’t it make sense to use and analyze data on the marketing side of manufacturing as well? Data is important to marketing because numbers tell the truth. Good data allows marketers to identify accounts with similar needs and tailor a specific strategy to follow, which makes reaching customer that much easier. Here’s some numbers not to ignore: two-thirds of engaged data-driven marketers are seeing new customers as a result of data-driven initiatives. Not convinced? When data-driven marketing is done correctly, it can have an average ROI of 224%.

As buyer trends shift more towards digital, it’s time for manufacturers to not just dip their toes into the digital world, but to dive in and embrace a digitally-driven marketing strategy that will distinguish them from the competition. Ready to dive in? If you are interested in learning more about how to develop a personalized strategy to fit your company needs, contact Jason Plavic, Advance Ohio’s B2B Marketing Strategist.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Most Unpredictable Election Ever: Results, Reactions and Next Steps



As the dust begins to settle from the 2016 elections, PMA will host an exclusive members-only webinar on Thursday, November 10 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern to help make sense of it all, allowing you to hear "what's next?" directly from Washington insiders right after the election.

Your advocacy team in Washington, D.C. will review the election results, which races mattered most in Congress, which communications messaging worked the best and how the results affect manufacturing in America. Congress and the new Administration may tackle EPA, OSHA and NLRB regulations, take on tax reform and provide health care relief.

Don't miss your chance to hear it first, directly from Washington, on how the elections will impact your business and the year ahead.

To register for this webinar, visit http://bit.ly/2eKViHd

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why metalforming? Why not!


If you are under 40 and have chosen a career in manufacturing, I am sure you have been asked the question – “Why?”  We know that manufacturing is an exciting industry full of opportunities for creativity, continually changing technology and a place where you can make a real impact.  However, it is not viewed as a glamourous job.  Everyone values high-tech jobs and thinks that Google and Apple are the only place to be.

Every gen-xer and millennial loves technology. What would we do without all of our gadgets.  You stamp, form and roll the parts and pieces for all of the creature comforts we take for granted.  When someone asks why you work in manufacturing, have them take out their cell phone.  In their hand they hold the connection to everything they find important.  It connects them to family and friends and serves as a diary, a scrapbook and a personal assistant.  Explain that you made that!  Or maybe you made or assembled parts to the truck that delivered it.  You may not be personally involved in making an iPhone, but you or someone just like you helped make it happen.

The first time I visited a metalforming company, I saw a small part being bent and shaped.  It seemed insignificant.  My tour guide explained that the part is the small clip that holds my dishwasher closed.  I went home that evening and examined all of my appliances looking for parts that metalforming companies can make.  Amazing!  They are everywhere.  I realized then, that I appreciated metalformers more than I realized.  I don’t want to wash dishes, I want to close that door and push a button.  That small clip is not insignificant at all; it means a lot to me and everyone else who doesn’t enjoy washing dishes.

Why manufacturing?  Why metalforming?  I say, “why not?”  The next time someone asks you “why,” invite them on a tour.  By the time they leave your facility, they will say “why not” and maybe even go home and examine their appliances.


Are you tired of explaining manufacturing?  Join PMA and the next generation of manufacturing leaders at FABTECH on November 16 for a discussion and presentation on Manufacturing Rebranded: How You Can Change the Conversation and Change The World.  For more information, see the event page

Monday, September 5, 2016

Bringing Training Local

Everyone is talking about a skilled workforce.  But why invest in training? Let me count the reasons!  Here are the top three:

Safety
– Ensuring that your staff is fully trained on the most up-to-date safety procedures is vital to reducing injuries.  When your staff operates safely, it protects both the employees and your company.
Productivity
– Training keeps your business ahead of the curve.  When you invest in training your staff on the current trends in your industry, it keeps your business on the forefront of technology and keeps you competitive.
Retention
– Study after study has proven that investing in your employees keeps them engaged and happy.  This will reduce turnover and make sure that you maintain a high-quality and highly skilled workforce. 

PMA districts are excellent, cost-effective resources for training.  They bring in local industry professionals and leading national experts to lead half- and full-day training seminars for everyone from the plant-floor operator to the C-suite executive.  By leveraging your local PMA district for training, you also can connect with other professionals in your industry, learn best practices and help solve your most pressing issues.

Multi-day, out-of-town seminars have their place, but be sure to supplement traditional training opportunities with local, lower-cost options offered by your local PMA district.  You may be surprised what you learn.  Check out the options in your area by visiting www.pma.org/districts.


Sources: Indigo HR, The Hawk Group, Business Insider

Monday, August 8, 2016

What Do We Mean By Bench Strength?


About Guest Blogger, Matt Roberts: Matt is an Associate at MelCap Partners, LLC, a middle market investment banking firm, where he focuses on M&A transactions. MelCap Partners helps companies in the following three areas: M&A advisory, capital raising (equity or debt), and other advisory work such as valuations or feasibility studies. Prior to MelCap, he spent several years in management consulting and accounting roles.



At MelCap Partners, we are a specialized investment banking firm that advises business owners in mergers and acquisition transactions. Over the next couple months, we would like to dive into some business issues that can have an impact on an M&A transaction. Below we’ll explore management bench strength, how it affects value, and things to consider before selling a business.

What Do We Mean By Bench Strength?

In an M&A transaction, especially in the lower middle market ($10—$250 million in sales), the strength of the management team will influence a buyer’s risk analysis of the company. Analyzing management’s strength and the owner’s importance helps a buyer understand the capabilities (or lack thereof) of the management team, and help the buyer assess if the company is a quality acquisition target. The make-up of the management team can have a significant effect on the outcome of a sale transaction and a managerial succession plan is something that all owners should think about before pursuing a successful transaction.





Three Things to Consider Before Selling Your Business 

1. Timeline 

How much longer do you want to run your company? Planning now will allow you to successfully transition and either build a management team or find a buyer that can assist with the growth of the business.







2. Bandwidth

What does your current management team look like? Are there capabilities that you want to add or replace before selling? Are there competencies or duties that you have and your management team lacks?



3. Buyers 

It is important to consider what type of buyer would be optimal for your business. If you want to exit the business without a management team, a strategic buyer in your industry or a financial buyer with operational partners might be a great fit.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Machine Learning is Revolutionizing Manufacturing

A common theme we have been discussing over the last few months is that every manufacturer, no matter the size, has the potential to integrate smart manufacturing tech into their shop floor and increase their competitive edge in the evolving market. New data is rapidly being released on just how much smart tech is revolutionizing our industry, and we want to keep you updated. Here are some of the new statistics that are currently exciting us:

Big changes for client management. One of the most significant transitions happening outside the shop floor is in the sales side of manufacturing. No longer will “relationship management” be a common term – instead, we are moving to “relationship intelligence.” The encouragement of this new technological capability is not to eliminate the sales team, however; groups like SalesforceIQ who are spearheading these initiatives simply want to create a way to strategize best tactics and keep customer priorities at the forefront.

Increased production capacity while lowering material consumption rates. Recent data from General Electric shows that IoT on the shop floor can bring production capacity up by 20% and lower consumption rates by 4%. Since smart systems are designed to learn, understand, and predict on all scale sizes from individual machines to entire plants, we could find these rates increasing even further over time.

The Manufacturing-as-a-Service model. The trend of rapidly made, highly customized products is becoming more and more of a reality. When your machines are learning as they work, templates for customized products can be saved and revisited without needing to reinvent the wheel every time a similar order comes through. The idea that small orders of unique products will waste time and money is one that has already lost its footing in our industry.

To read more of the latest developments in the Industrial Internet of Things and see how these technologies could help your company, check out this article from Louis Columbus. Every day, new applications for smart manufacturing are found and used to revolutionize our industry. See what you can do to get involved!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Pros and Cons of Local Sourcing


Guest Blogger
Kelly Barner, Editor, Buyers Meeting Point 
Think globally, act locally. – Paul McCartney
…except when to do so causes more harm than good. – Kelly Barner

As consumers of goods and services, we are constantly bombarded with feel good messages about the companies we buy from. Green production, sustainability, and local sourcing: it is easy to take for granted that these programs are in everyone’s best interests. After all, why wouldn’t we want the companies we patronize to keep the bigger picture in mind and take every opportunity to do a little bit of good in the process of making a profit?

Business to business operations have to take a different kind of approach to such initiatives as their immediate customers are usually more motivated by efficiency and innovation than socially-oriented programs. Procurement and purchasing professionals play a unique role in B2B local sourcing; we have to outline the pros and cons and help the rest of the company decide when these programs are advantageous for all parties involved and when the fit just isn’t right.

Pros of Local Sourcing

  • Convenience: There is no question that having a supplier down the road - as opposed to across the country - opens the door to new kinds of information exchange and collaboration. Meetings can be casual and frequent, and have the opportunity to foster the type of interactions that breed creativity and innovation. 
  • Public relations boost: If your company’s product or service can be consumed by local companies, hiring another firm in the community to join the supply chain will no doubt provide a positive boost to your local reputation. Employees and their family/friends will no doubt return the favor with loyalty of their own.
  • Response time/turnaround: The speed of business is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. When a supplier is down the street rather than across the country, deliveries can be made faster and problems can be resolved in short order. In addition, there are no time zone differences to be navigated and travel fees are reduced to a minimum.

Cons of Local Sourcing

  • Breaking up is hard to do: Nothing is forever – not even contracts entered into with the best of intentions. What if your company makes the decision not to renew a contract with a locally based company? Depending on the relative size of both companies, and how much business is at stake for each party, the negative PR associated with ending the relationship could easily outweigh any positive gains from the original award.
  • What’s the ROI? Many companies invest in local sourcing programs primarily for the sake of supporting the community, but they have the secondary benefit of supporting small to medium sized or diversity businesses. These companies are rarely the most cost effective option, even when the introduce innovative new ideas. Companies looking to be able to document the ROI associated with local sourcing must be prepared to balance quantitative incremental costs with far more subjective benefits. 
  • Dependency: Again, assuming the buy side company is larger than the local supplier, there could be downside for them as well. The contract could create conflict by making it awkward for the local supplier to do business with competitors – something that we all know happens, we’re just not usually brought face to face with it. The imbalance may also cause the supplier to prioritize the feedback and ‘wants’ of their large local customer disproportionately, hurting their overall appeal to the market.

Clearly, any local sourcing program must be approached with careful forethought rather than altruistic assumptions. This is an opportunity for procurement to play a key role – not only as the point of communication between their company and the local supplier, but between the groups in the company that have differing perspectives on the program as a whole.

Buyers Meeting Point is a supporting partner of Sourcing Solutions™. Sourcing Solutions brings together buyers and suppliers of fabricated metal parts, metal stampings, tooling & dies, assemblies and more to make valuable connections, face-to-face. The 2016 program will take place on September 29 in Indianapolis, Indiana. To learn more, visit www.pma.org/sourcingsolutions

Friday, June 17, 2016

Millennials Need Manufacturing


Blogger: Allison Grealis
Vice President, Precision Metalforming Association
President, Women in Manufacturing  

We know that manufacturing needs millennials, but recent research proves that millennials need manufacturing as well. 

This is not going to be another article about the skills gap in manufacturing.  We all know about the millions of open jobs and how the number is only going up with daily retirements.  But replaying these same dire predictions and hoping they will attract new workers is like putting an unpopular song on repeat and hoping people start to dance.

I have been working with the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) and Women in Manufacturing (WiM) for more than a decade.  Over the years, I’ve seen many workforce development initiatives come and go.  Too often, they fail because the focus is on the industry and not on the worker.  That’s the wrong strategy.  We need to flip the paradigm and start from scratch.  We need to recruit millennials into manufacturing not just to help manufacturing, but to serve millennials as well.

Not just a cog, but a view of the whole wheel.

Millennials want to feel valued and to see the impact of their work.

Everyone likes to feel that their work is meaningful and important, but data show that millennials need this reinforcement more than other workers.  They want to see the final product, and how their contribution helped achieve the team’s goal.  As Jeremy Kingsley, the author of Inspired People Produce Results, has noted, “Millennials workers are more likely to look for meaning and impact in their work and aren’t satisfied simply punching a clock.”

The manufacturing is uniquely capable of fulfilling this need for millennials.  The final product is often accessible on a shop floor and, even when it’s not, skilled managers can help millennial workers see the value of their work in producing the products that make our world work.

Not turning over, but turning up.

Millennials are  restless, always looking for new challenges and opportunities.

Research shows that more than 90% of millennial workers will leave a job after less than three years.  Rather than mastering a task and coasting, they are intent on tackling new challenges.  For millennials, boredom is a deal breaker.

This is good news for an industry like manufacturing that thrives on R&D and is being transformed by new technologies.  Automation has made today’s manufacturing unrecognizable to people familiar with the factories of even 20 years ago.  And 3-D printing and other innovations are already changing the game again.  Evolution energizes millennials and offers opportunity for young workers who often bring strong computer skills with them to the workforce.

Not just a 9-5, but a schedule that really works.

The standard 9-5 just doesn’t do it anymore.  Studies show that nearly 80% of millennials believe that flexible work hours are a key to boosting productivity.  It is clear that younger workers want less rigidity in their work environments and the ability to set a schedule that also allows them to manage child or elder care responsibilities, pursue higher education goals, and participate in their communities.

Manufacturing often scores high on industry surveys in the category of flexible work structure.  An industry driven by results – and by finished products – often has the ability to adjust hours as long as the work gets done.

Not just an individual, but part of a team

Millennials thrive with constructive feedback from effective mentors.  Studies consistently show that employees who have mentors have retention rates around 20% higher than employees who do not.

One interesting concept floated by the Kevin Grubb with National Association of Colleges and Employers is “co-mentoring” or having an employee from an older generation to help a younger team member understand work culture and processes while the younger employee helps his partner manage technology and new tools at work.  This concept and others like it have real potential for the manufacturing sector which relies on both experience and creativity.

It is incumbent upon manufacturing leaders to share the ways in which the industry suits millennials with potential and current workers and to regularly solicit their feedback and insight on how to make the work structure and workforce better.  That’s why PMA is launching MFG NXT, a network for millennials and gen Xers who are rapidly rising through the ranks in manufacturing.  MFG NXT members are hard workers who are committed to success in their companies and in the future of the manufacturing industry.  When MFG NXT members get together, they develop creative strategies and innovative solutions.  Learn more about the PMA MFG NXT program by contacting Rosemary David at rdavid@pma.org.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Progressive Stamping Dies – A Brief History

Blogger: Pete Ulintz
Technical Director, Precision Metalforming Association 
Prior to the discovery of metal, people used simple hand tools crafted from bone, rock and wood. After fire was discovered, humans soon learned that adding heat to certain rocks (ores) would free the metal from the rock. Eventually, the art of extracting and smelting metals and forming them into usable objects evolved. This practice is commonly referred to as metalworking.

Metalworkers were considered very valuable members of early societies. As more and more items and tools began to be made out of metals, more people were needed who were skilled in the craft of metalworking. Objects made out of metals were necessary for industry, farming, jewelry making and defense purposes. 

Old coins show that the art of die sinking - a process to create a specific size or shape cavity or opening for casting or forging - was known to the ancient Greeks at least back to 800 B.C. (ref: J.L Lewis, Journal of Commerce, 1897). But these artifacts do not show that the use of punches and dies was equally well known. 

Eventually coins were made using two (2) dies - a lower die depicting the coin in a negative form, and a similar upper die. The coin blank was placed between the two die halves and then the upper die was struck with a heavy hammer rendering a positive image on the blank. Even today people occasionally speak of coins being “struck.” 

The first record of punches and dies used in a machine having guides (or ways) to ensure punch-to-die alignment, is the fifteenth century, when a German locksmith used them to manufacture hinges. In 1796 a patent was granted to a Mr. DeVere of France for “Dies for Punching and Drawing Sheet Metal,” perhaps the first of its kind. 

A significant advancement in metal stamping operations was the emergence of the progressive stamping die. The earliest published record describing a “progressive die” that I could find is in J.L. Lewis’ 1897 book, Dies and Die Making. Oberlin Smith’s treatise, The Press Working of Metals” (Wiley and Sons, 1896) provides a good likeness of the first die maker that we may ever find but it makes no mention of a progressive die. It does, however, mention “follow-on” tooling and “successive gang cutting,” which are described in a manner that suggests they could be early predecessors to the progressive die. 

Progressive die use in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century appears to be limited; primarily to large companies producing products in very high quantity, such as electric motor components. The first edition of Die Design Handbook (American Society of Tool and Manufacturing, 1955) contains an entire chapter on progressive dies with numerous examples and illustrations of progressive die designs and die strips for electrical and electric motor components. 
Following World War II, the U.S. economy grew rapidly. Most contract metal stampers of the time produced metal stamping in single operation dies and presses. Material came to the press in strips and was hand fed into a blanking die. The blanks ended up in containers which were later brought to the next die operation. The parts were then hand loaded into subsequent forming and cutting operations and then hand unloaded into another container. 

As production demand increased, production speed became more important. Operator safety became a problem because operators were often injured while putting their hands into the die when loading and unloading parts. By the 1950s, single operations in single presses made it difficult to keep up with rising production demands.

In 1953, an design engineer named Ed Stouten, along with a partner, started a die design business in Grand Rapids, Michigan called, Capitol Engineering Company. Stouten looked for ways to overcome some of the problems contract manufacturers were having with single hit dies (safety, inefficiency, low productivity) and began to promote the idea of leaving some scrap material between parts to carry them through a single multi-station to some of his customers.

The idea of carrying parts in a strip through a single multi-station die was a foreign concept to many local tool & die job shops and contract stamping companies. Many of Capitol’s customers scoffed at the idea and were unwilling to risk investing their time, money or reputations in the idea. According to Stouten, it took many attempts to find a shop owner who would consider his idea. Stouten made a paper strip layout and showed it to one of the local shop owners. The owner said he would try the idea only if Stouten agreed to pay for the die if it did not work.

Stouten did not have to pay for that die because it worked just as he had planned. What he had not planned was how quickly word would spread among shop owners in the area regarding the success of this idea of retaining the part in a strip. Soon, many stamping companies wanted to run stampings in progressive dies. This created a new problem: Many die designers at that time did not know how to make progressive dies work, so they had to be trained.

 In 1970, the Grand Rapids chapter of the SME asked Stouten to speak about progressive dies at their monthly meeting. One of his die designers, Arnold Miedema, accompanied him to that meeting. Over the next two years Stouten and Miedema were invited to speak at every SME chapter in Michigan and one in Sarnia, Canada. They made drawings to use on an overhead projector to illustrate their concepts and soon attendees asked if they could get copies of the materials. This was the beginning of Capitol Engineering’s 266 page training course, Progressive Dies for Designers, Engineers and Managers.

In 1972, Capitol Engineering was asked to present a three day seminar for SME on progressive dies in Dayton Ohio. For the next 30 years they conducted seminars from the east coast to the west coast in the U.S, from Canada to Mexico and even as far away as Singapore; a total of 133 three-day seminars in all.

We can never know exactly how large an impact people like Stouten and Miedema made on the metal stamping industry, both as innovators who were willing to take chances and as educators willing to share what they learned with others, but what we do know is that they played a significant role in progressive die history in terms of what many of us know and learned about designing and building progressive dies.  Although both men are no longer with us, their materials continue to be used in industry seminars, die design books, die making texts, professional association handbooks (e.g., ASM, SME), trade magazine columns and university course work. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Outsourcing Metal Stamping Dies

Blogger: Pete Ulintz
Technical Director, Precision Metalforming Association 
Many contract stamping manufacturers have the ability to build their own stamping dies onsite, in their own tool room. On occasion it may become necessary to buy tooling from an outside source. This is commonly referred to as outsourcing.

Outsourcing may be the required due to excessively high workloads in the tool room or short delivery requirements from the customer. For some companies, outsourcing may be part of an emerging or existing business strategy.  Sometimes, it is simply be a better economic choice.

When considering to outsource any tooling, either domestically or internationally, you should first conduct a “make-or-buy” study first. A high-quality make-or-buy study ought to include a thorough evaluation of the following:

Design and Engineering Capability: Does the project require you to have die designers and engineers on staff with varied experiences? Does the project require unique processes engineering skills that your company does not possess? Does your engineering department have the full range of capabilities and design tools (CAD, CAM and CAE) needed for the project being considered? Will the project require extensive communications with internal management, manufacturing, engineering and quality disciplines? Do you have experienced project managers that can effectively communicate with internal and external customers and tool sources?

Cost, Price and Delivery: Are your fully allocated internal fixed and variable costs higher than outside supplier costs? Would your internal marginal costs be lower or higher using an outside supplier? Are the overhead costs associated with your in-house processes higher or lower? Are your internal labor rates lower? Can you purchase raw materials at a lower cost than your supplier due to economies of scale? Is your in-house operation competitive in delivery, service quality and price?

Other Considerations:  Airfare, car rentals, hotel bills and meals can add up quickly, especially if the project develops problems. Depending on your supplier's location, in-bound freight, taxes and duties can offset any perceived savings, not to mention transportation time.

You may have projects that would not be advisable to outsource. Products or processes that are part of a core business activity and those based on intellectual property would be two examples. Customers that require you to have in-house capability and capacity would be another.

A qualified supply base should consist of no more than three or four suppliers. When your suppliers know they only have two or three competitors they can to do a better job for you. Each company has a 25-33% chance of winning your business. If there are five or six other competitors bidding the same job, each has roughly a 15% chance of earning the business. When a supplier’s proposal department becomes very busy, attention will likely be devoted to the piece of business with a 33% opportunity rather than one offering 15% or less.

Don't rely on suppliers to do your estimating: The chances of receiving accurate quotes diminish dramatically for jobs you have not been awarded. It is not uncommon to see pricing vary by 50%, 100% or even 200% between suppliers.

The reason for this disparity is quite simple: If your company is bidding a job against four other competitors, the likelihood of you winning that business is one-in-five, or 20%. Your four tooling suppliers each have a one-in-four chance to win the business from you. But, it is a one-in-four chance at your 20% opportunity. The bottom line for your tool suppliers is a meager 5% chance at the business. Tooling suppliers that realize they are acting as your estimating department may be quick to no-quote your business, or refuse to do business with you at all.

Establishing and Developing a Supply Base: First and foremost, look for companies that have experience in your specific industry. Just because someone has extensive deep drawing experience with automotive inner door panels doesn’t mean they can build deep draw tooling for your double-basin stainless steel kitchen sink or your brass ammunition cartridges.

Reputation and references are very reliable ways find qualified sources, but you have to ask the right people the right questions. Ask for references. Find out what their customers say about their quality, integrity, past performance and workmanship. Ask how well they handle short delivery and crash programs. Do they have strong program managers? What type of products and tooling do they have exceptional strength in?

Visit their facility. Do they have the support services you require, such as: process modeling, surface strain analysis, CMM and inspection capability, laser scanning? What about reverse engineering capabilities? Do you need them? Are their tryout presses high quality and the appropriate size for your work? Do the presses have feed lines in order to tryout progressive dies?

How well staffed is their engineering department? Will you have a dedicated program manager? Is all of the engineering done onsite or do they outsource? If so, where to? Can they design in 3D solids? Do you need them to? How available are services and supplies such as foundries, tools steel suppliers, heat treating, plating and coating? Are these services readily available or is there typically five to seven days lead time?

Look for tooling suppliers that are cooperative and proactive in addressing problems. Insist they be part of a team - your team - that is dedicated to continuously improving design, manufacturing, assembly and serviceability of your process. Do they have resources to support these activities? Are they committed to building good relationships with your organization through continuous and cooperative communication?

 Once you have established your potential supply base, the first obligation to communicate clearly and effectively lies with you. Your suppliers will need clearly stated (written) die design and build specifications. Make sure your technical requirements and acceptance criteria are written in a way that is clearly understood and make sure they agreed upon by the supplier in advance of any quotation.

Outsourcing can be a worthy consideration, but it is not a fail-safe strategy and there are many variables to consider. Regardless of your reasons to outsource, proper planning, sound execution and resolute follow-up are required and all have costs associated with them.

The Skills Gap, Efficiency, and the Industrial Internet of Things

Did you know that 91% of Millennials plan to stay in a job for less than three years before moving on? Imagine your own business’s turnover rate if every new employee you hire will only be there for a maximum of three years. Add that to the baby boomer retirement rate of nearly 10,000 people leaving the workforce each day in the US, and that is a lot of holes to fill. Those are some intimidating stats!

All that considered, let’s think beyond the skills gap for a moment. How does this turnover rate favored by Millennials affect your business as an operation? We asked ourselves this question and the first thing that came to mind was: “inefficiency.”

When you consider the amount of work and time that goes into each new hire, from the hiring process itself to training to probationary periods and more, not only are resources constantly redirected from the shop floor to the training room, but the risk of error rises, too. How can you prevent the same mistakes from being made by each cycle of under-experienced hires over and over again? How can your organization meet its goals if a decent amount of your workforce is always green?

This is where all the new tech taking the manufacturing sector by storm comes in. With the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), real-time data captured across systems provide each other with information about efficiency, variance, and error. This means that mistakes can be caught as they happen, not hours later when those mistakes start affecting someone else’s work. This is a revolutionary update to one’s shop floor and has the potential to radicalize our sector.

Not only this, but consider that Millennials and innovative, ever-changing tech tend to go hand in hand. Young operators interact with new systems much collaboratively than previous generations could, and this natural extension from personal to professional tech leads to higher achievement and confidence in new hires.

Not only does IIoT help eliminate inefficiency that could become more prevalent as Millennial preferences force higher turnover rates, but it also speaks a language Millennials have been fluent in since early childhood. By adapting to the new wave of manufacturing best practices, even the smallest manufacturing companies can be a part of a true revolution.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Collaborative Learning: What Is It and How Do We Use It?

We all know about the skills gap and our industry’s concerns for the future of manufacturing. According to research from Deloitte, nearly 3.5 million skilled jobs will need to be filled in the next decade, and the skills gap is predicted to result in over 2 million of those jobs remaining vacant. One of the many proposed adjustments is the integration of collaborative learning.

What is collaborative learning?

Whenever someone is learning a skill, process, or system outside of the typical instructor/trainee scenario, that is collaborative learning in its broadest sense. Hands-on experience, mentorships, online tutorials, message boards, and any other kind of interactive learning outside of a classroom lecture environment is considered collaborative.

Why is this model so important to manufacturing?

There are many reasons why collaborative learning is critical to the future of manufacturing. First, this type of engagement will allow the highly-skilled generation that will soon be retiring to pass on their knowledge long after they have left the shopfloor. Technology and the Internet make it possible for employees with nuggets of wisdom to share to record quick instructional videos, write brief blog posts, or host Q&A forums that can be archived and searched at a later time. Daisy Hernandez wrote this week in MBT Magazine about the importance of offering incentives for this type of knowledge-sharing.

Another reason for collaboration is continuous learning. When message boards, instructional videos, tutorials, etc. are already set up for new hires, the exploration of these platforms by established employees should be encouraged. Real-time collaborative tech like message boards and chats also allow for interaction with peers, instructors, and experts outside of one’s immediate environment on the fly. These practices also streamline critical functions and eliminate inefficiencies, something that a recent IDC survey found could cost companies as much as $30,000 per employee.

How can I use collaborative learning in my workplace?

Many manufacturers already have some of the systems mentioned above in place, so it’s just a matter of encouraging employees to use them for collaborative purposes. A good place to start might be by asking a handful of established employees to dedicate an hour per week to simply be available to answer questions. Another option is to ask those same employees to think of 5 specific things (shortcuts, tools, etc.) they wish they had figured out back when they started their current job, compiling them, and posting it somewhere employees can access and search through  it easily whenever they need.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Relationship Pendulum Swings between Procurement and Sales

Guest Blogger
Kelly Barner, Editor, Buyers Meeting Point
Traditionally speaking, procurement and sales have been ‘uneasy bedfellows.’ We each represent our organization through an important interaction that may or may not result in an ongoing relationship. Even if a deal is struck, there is likely to be a change in the point of contact on one or both sides. Procurement may hand off to budget holders within the business and sales may hand off to technical or account managers.

And yet, for the duration of the sourcing/sales/negotiation processes, procurement and sales bear the majority of the responsibility for exploring the potential benefit of helping their organizations work together on an ongoing basis.

Over time, the nature of these processes, and the relationships that result from them, have changed significantly. One of the most meaningful changes has been the perception of the relationship between procurement and sales. Unlike the curve we typically associate with maturity or evolution, the changes have come in the form of a pendulum swing.

Starting Point: Casual Supplier Relationships
Before formal procurement, each organization had buyers that were responsible for the acquisition of goods and services from suppliers. In the natural course of doing business, buyers formed relationships with their sales representatives. Certainly, some portion of the relationship was due to procurement wanting to get a preferential deal, and some of it was due to sales putting a little extra effort into the deal to win the buyer over, but for the most part, relationships sprang up organically. The supplier would be in the office to demonstrate something new or check inventory, and over time details would be shared on both sides: vacation plans, hobbies, and kids’ sports.

Swing 1: Relationship Deconstruction
Then strategic sourcing hit the scene and all such ‘relationships’ were declared counterproductive and unethical. Procurement was trained to see ‘value selling’ as an effort by suppliers to bypass structured decision making processes. Companies passed formal guidelines that set boundaries for dealing with suppliers. No more lunches or golf outings – even charity ones. No more holiday gifts or easy familiarity. The casual nature of buyer supplier relationships was blamed for preventing the buying organization from objectively making business decisions and establishing supplier performance expectations. While some savings wins were achieved, the downside to all of this ‘objectivity’ was that something intangible – and beneficial – was lost.

Not only was the sourcing process taken out of the hands of the buyers, the people who would be using the product or service, and put in the hands of centralized procurement, the sourcing process itself – known to suppliers as the sales process – was forced through an eSourcing solution. This also confined contact between procurement and suppliers to orchestrated review sessions, allowing some face time but preventing relationships from forming, even by mistake.

Swing 2: Formal Supplier Relationships
In an effort to repair some of the damage, and regain lost value, supplier relationship management (SRM) caught on as a movement, driven by procurement and made the most of by suppliers. While some face time was better than none, many of these sessions were structured in accordance with carefully designed performance scorecards. No selling allowed – just reviews of quantitative performance scores and feedback from internal users, collected in advance and delivered in aggregate form.

While SRM was a move in the right direction for procurement and sales, it was a process change. What was really needed in order to redefine the nature of the relationship between sales and procurement – and the value created by it – was a mindset change, or a philosophy change.

Swing 3: A Return to Equilibrium?
Over the last couple of years, supply base collaboration has become the order of the day. And while procurement got our feet wet by attempting to collaborate with suppliers selected through existing strategic sourcing processes, we quickly learned that a relationship-oriented mindset has to exist from the very beginning: moving the line all the way back to the beginning of the sales process.

Not for all categories of spend or demand, mind you, but for the ones where a collaborative relationship creates a benefit for sales and procurement, value selling is back on the table for suppliers. No longer do their responses have to fit exactly in the boxes we give them – there is room to move and differentiate their company’s solution without threatening the objectivity of the process procurement was established to facilitate. And while sponsored lunches and golf outings may be gone for good, the occasional conversation about vacation or the local Little League team probably wouldn’t do any harm – it might even improve how the category is managed.

The Future of Manufacturing and How to Be Ready, Part III

For the past few weeks, we’ve worked through the definition of smart manufacturing, its potential to radically change our industry, and common traits of manufacturers who are ready to adopt smarter systems. This week, we’ll discuss Larry Korak’s 5 steps for starting your expedition into the world of Industry 4.0.

As we said before, there is no conclusive checklist of tools that must be incorporated in order for one’s company to be considered a smart manufacturer. Some companies will need to deploy many forms of new tech while others will be able to use only two or three disruptive technologies to maintain a strong market position. With  that in mind, here are Korak’s suggested stepping stones to get involved in the world of smart manufacturing, however you choose to jump in:

  1. Develop a basic strategy and set clear goals. Think about your business and what you want to achieve. Not only that, think about why you want to achieve those particular goals. Be specific and realistic so that the next steps do not require further breaking down. Make sure you keep customer satisfaction in the forefront of your mind as you build your strategy.
  2. Utilize the expertise of those around you and build a diverse team. By putting together a group of people whose wealth of knowledge differ, your strategic roadmap will be significantly more sturdy and efficient. However, try to avoid too-many-cooks syndrome by appointing an executive decision maker. Don’t be afraid to include skeptics in your circle; the difference of opinion can often lead to new insight.
  3. Enhance your market prospects. Do research on your target market to better understand each step of the buying process from their perspective. Don’t be afraid to look into other demographics if you find that your original data doesn’t reach your standards. Find ways to make opportunities if they can’t be found.
  4. Set your plan in motion gradually. Korak suggests using a model often utilized by successful companies: “Use a phased approach to deployment of major initiatives… [this] provides you with early wins and chances to refine your strategies over time.” Start with the basics and with tech that can be used across several applications so that you can get a better picture of what the tech is capable of.
  5. Assess and perfect. Understand that implementing new systems will rarely be flawless the first time. Set steps for your progress and make your goal continuous improvement. Celebrate successes and continue to raise the bar as your expertise grows.

Change is daunting and taking risks for the sake of your business can often be an entirely new level of apprehension. By breaking down the process and keeping things simple, orderly, and open-minded, you can ease your way into the world of smart manufacturing faster and more easily than you’d think. Get excited for the future and start exploring!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

For More and More Millennials, an Apprenticeship is a Surer Thing Than a College Degree

If you had to choose between job-prep that costs thousands of dollars and could leave you with no clear career path or job-prep that pays you a wage to learn high-demand skills, which would you pick? When you put it that way, most people would opt for the latter, and data is showing that more and more millennials agree. As Labor Secretary Thomas Perez says, apprenticeships are “the other college, except without the debt.”

Apprenticeships are typically a combination of classroom instruction at a trade school or community college and hands-on instruction from mentors. Since apprentices earn a wage for their work  and tuition is typically covered by a grant or the employer, many young people are finding that this really is a better alternative to a college degree. Millennials who have finished their apprenticeships are even finding that their new skills are so marketable that the average starting salary is $50,000.

So what does this mean for the skills gap and the future of manufacturing? If there’s ever a time for an apprenticeship boom, it’s now: as Baby Boomers begin to retire, having a mentee to whom they can pass on their knowledge is an excellent way to ensure that the years of experience held by these shop floor veterans are not lost. According to the Labor Department, the number of registered apprentices rose by over 27,000 between September 2014 and September 2015, and estimates show a similar number of unregistered apprentices.

If your company doesn’t have an apprenticeship program already in place but you’re interested in knowing what it takes to start one, check out these great resources.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Future of Manufacturing and How to Be Ready, Part II


Last week, we defined smart manufacturing and discussed its potential to radically change our industry. It got us wondering: what exactly would a company that is ready to take on the 4th Industrial Revolution look like?

Lucky for us (and for you), an excellent article by Larry Korak was published in Industry Week recently that discussed just that. Here some highlights from his list:

Common Traits of “Future-Ready” Manufacturers
  • An innovative mindset. If your company already supports out-of-the-box thinking and    encourages team members to contribute, you are ready to try news systems that are agile and flexible, allowing for easier rearrangements to the status quo when someone spots a better way to meet a goal.
  • A desire for up-to-date stats. With new tech, especially the Internet of Things, real-time data communicated between systems is becoming a reality on the shop floor, in the sales rooms, and more. If you already work with the most current data possible when making decisions, you are ready to take on real-time, highly detailed stats.
  • An automated work space. If your employees are already accustomed to working with automation to some degree, it will be much easier to further modernize your shop floor. This will waste fewer resources and minimize downtime, creating a more efficient environment.
  • The ability and willingness to collaborate. Engaging with partners and customers to allow for participation in product development will help prepare you for the increase in user input that projected consumer trends demand and that smart systems can bring. 
If you feel that you are ready to start making the transition to becoming a smarter manufacturer, consider the advice given in a report from the research firm McKinsey: “The age of experimentation with digital is over. To stay competitive, companies must […] commit to transforming themselves to full digital business.”

The time is now, let’s join the future!

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Future of Manufacturing and How to Be Ready

There are several names for the impending industrial revolution: Smart Manufacturing, Digital Enterprise, and Industry 4.0. No matter what you call it, it’s all about the rapidly-changing disruptive technologies that are already starting to churn up the waters of manufacturing.

The biggest signifier of the changes to come is the convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT), meaning that the world of the virtual is colliding with the world of the physical. This has been predicted to increase efficiency and streamline the production process, but what does the data show?

According to the American Society for Quality’s recent study, the manufacturers surveyed who have begun to implement smart tech reported the following:

82% found increased efficiency
49% found lower product defects
45% found customer satisfaction gains

It makes sense: mobile and social tech streamlined training and shop floor tracking, robotics and automation revolutionized productivity and workflow, cloud computing created a space to store massive amounts of data, 3D printing transformed production and interaction with consumers, and the Internet of Things continues to stagger with its potential to allow machines to collect and share data with each other in real time.

There is no conclusive checklist of tools that must be integrated in order for one’s company to be considered a smart manufacturer. Some companies will need to deploy many forms of new tech while others will be able to use only two or three disruptive technologies and still maintain a strong market position. The important thing is to do your research and learn about these new tools. Figure out what could help your particular shop floor and interact with your teams to see what would really help in the long run. The future is now, let’s get involved in the revolution!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Negotiating Smarter by Focusing on Cost, not Price

Guest Blogger
Kelly Barner, Editor, Buyers Meeting Point
Anyone with procurement or purchasing experience knows that price and cost are not the same thing. Price is what the buyer pays in return for goods and services and costs are the supplier’s direct and overhead costs to produce the good or service. The difference between the two numbers is the primary focus of most negotiations. Some of it is kept by the supplier as profit margin, and some of it is claimed by procurement as savings.

The best thing procurement can do in advance of a negotiation is to research and understand all of the relevant costs. This ensures that negotiations will be fact-based rather than instinct-driven – a focus that should create an advantage for procurement.

There are multiple ways that procurement should allow a detailed understanding of costs to influence their negotiating strategy. Doing so requires procurement to dig into the details of costs, categorizing them by type and determining how much control the suppliers have over each one.

Supplier Cost Advantages
Depending on the category being sourced, some costs will be nearly the same across all qualified suppliers. Unless small players are bidding against very large ones in a product category, materials costs (especially raw materials) are likely to be comparable. These costs are often beyond the control of any one supplier and – unless they are out of line with similar costs elsewhere in the market – trying to negotiate them will not create the scale of value procurement is looking for.

It is the costs specific to each supplier that procurement should position as the focus of a negotiation. Some of these costs (such as rent, headcount, and insurance costs) are straight overhead, and they point to each supplier’s administrative efficiency. Other costs are more ‘direct’ in nature and point to the supplier’s process efficiency. Material waste is an example of a direct cost that can either create an advantage or a liability for a supplier. Another example is the direct internal labor associated with producing the product in question. Perhaps the company has invested in equipment that allows them to produce greater quantities with higher quality rates and less labor time. Looking at each supplier’s process efficiency related costs shows their abilities relative to the competition.

When procurement negotiates for price reductions alone, they are anchored to a top level point that does little to shine a light on the relative efficiency of each supplier. Conversely, when procurement negotiates those prices relative to individual supplier costs, they position their company to take advantage of significant efficiencies that allow both buyer and supplier to walk away from the negotiation satisfied.

Procurement-driven Costs
Although procurement can usually relegate the management of costs to the responsibility of the supplier, some of these costs are due to buy-side requirements or ways of doing business. Opening the door to learning about the costs driven by the buying company does not require procurement to change or sacrifice their specifications, but it does allow them to make a more informed decision about whether those requirements creates sufficient value to offset the associated cost.

Suppliers can be a wealth of information on this topic. They work with many companies across the same product categories and therefore can easily spot the differences in requirements. They also know what it costs them to meet these requirements. If procurement is truly interested in bringing prices down, they must be willing to understand what portion of the suppliers’ costs is driven by their constraints.

Making discussions of cost a two-way street provides strategic suppliers with an opportunity to shine. A good supply partner will find a way to meet requirements at a lower cost while a poor or mediocre supplier will consider it enough that they are able to meet the buyer’s unique requirements.

Prices are driven by what the market is willing to pay. They are usually not buyer-specific and leave a lot of detailed information obscured from view. Procurement may be able to negotiate decent savings by reducing prices, but this only represents the tip of their potential impact. Instead, procurement should take a cost driven approach that allows them to get a solid understanding of what it costs each supplier to provide them with a product or service. This approach ensures that the return for procurement’s effort is maximized and that they select a supplier focused on keeping costs – and not prices – low.


Buyers - Are you interested in fulfilling your procurement needs?
Suppliers - Are you interested in showcasing your capabilities to engineers and procurement professionals who are actively seeking new metalforming suppliers? 
If so...Attend Sourcing Solutions on September 29, 2016 in Indianapolis!

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