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Practice Makes Perfect When It Comes to Continuous Improvement

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Walking the aisles of the FABTECH tradeshow in Chicago this November promises to offer truly enlightening experiences for anyone and everyone working in the metalforming and fabricating industry. New technology on display there, much of it presented in this issue of Fabricating Product News, should come under very close scrutiny—always the case, but perhaps more so this year.

Why? According to a recent survey from the National Center for the Middle Market (NCMM), average revenue growth amongst mid-market manufacturing companies throughout this year is a healthy 7.1 percent. And, to top it off, 80 percent say they are ready to invest in capital equipment.

The NCMM survey mirrors data from the National Association of Manufacturers, whose most recent survey finds that officials at small and medium-sized manufacturers expect to increase their capex spending by an average of 3.2 percent during the next 12 months.

This is welcome news as we all prepare to attend FABTECH, which, according to show PR, features more than 1700 exhibitors across 750,000 sq. ft. of floor space, and expects to attract more than 50,000 attendees. Those attendees, according to a recent survey of the readers of MetalForming magazine, also plan to up their capex spending. Specifically, our survey finds that 91 percent plan to invest in capital equipment during the coming year, setting the stage for a healthy buzz at FABTECH.

From the numerous visits made by our editors in recent years to metalforming and fabricating companies, we’ve learned that productivity and continuous-improvement efforts are at all-time highs. And yet, it’s not good enough. The mission to improve lives on and in fact will live on forever. Ours is a learning industry, one where if you’re not learning, gaining knowledge and using that knowledge to continuously improve, you will be left behind.

I was unmistakably reminded of this during a recent presentation by world-renowned metalforming expert George Keremedjiev, who speaks on the topic of zero-PPM stamping. Really, the theme of his talk is applying technology (not necessarily new technology, George reminds us) to gauge and measure part dimensions in real time to drive in-process adjustments and maintain quality-part production.

The technology has been around for decades, George notes, but sadly still is not used by many U.S. manufacturers. One big reason: Shop personnel lack the time and resources needed to learn and then apply the technology.

As rebuttal, George offers this quote, from Wernher von Braun, emphasizing the need to make the time and dedicate the resources in order to continually investigate and apply new technology:

“Research is what I do when I don't know what I'm doing.”

This simple insight from the famous German rocket scientist and aeronautics engineer still applies. The quote, from a 1957 New York Times interview, recognizes the importance of investigation and experimentation, and the willingness to, after collecting information about a particular subject, question and perhaps revise accepted practices.

We must continuously improve our continuous-improvement programs. Encourage your employees to tinker, and to ask “why” and “why not.” And, use the FABTECH stage to uncover opportunities to discover better, more efficient ways to do what you do. Walk the show, make frequent stops and talk to booth representatives about their products and technologies. Share with them your pain points. You’ll find willing and able partners in your quest to be more like von Braun, and investigate, experiment and improve.