BY STEPHANIE JOHNSON
In early April, I listened in on a MESA International virtual roundtable on how members of this smart manufacturing community were navigating COVID-19. Employee health was, of course, a main concern, with executives sharing tips for preventive measures such as spacing out workstations and adding shifts. So was retooling to meet the sudden increase in demand for ventilators and other coronavirus-driven protective equipment and medical supplies.
It was also a time for reflection that’s prompted a wave of reinvention nationwide. An executive from a global manufacturer of pollution-control equipment summed up that moment in time perfectly: “We’re reviewing the strength of our systems day by day, working with our suppliers, our teams at our plants, and our customers. We’ve relied on the systems we have in place, but continue to document areas for improvement as we go through this quite unusual time.”
We’re More Connected Than Ever, And That’s Good
All across the country, metal fabrication and machining companies began and are continuing the same exercise. Reconfiguring in these rapidly changing times is a day-to-day process involving not only customers and suppliers, but IT employees, whose participation from the very beginning instead of after the fact is producing more robust solutions.
Think of it as lean manufacturing and/or agile management to the tenth power. Manufacturing introduced the business world to lean management decades ago, a philosophy for increasing efficiency and eliminating waste via a never-ending process of identifying, implementing, and evaluating production-improvement projects conducted by small crossfunctional teams. Agile management is a similar and newer concept for creative endeavors, such as software development, that require fast reiterations.
The readers of this magazine could teach a master class on either concept. Consciously or unconsciously, you’re successfully deploying tactics for making the best possible – not the perfect – decision with the information at hand. And, you’re simultaneously visualizing multiple scenarios for what your company may look like in the future and how it will get there.
One excellent example of this is Optimas Solutions, our cover story subject. The global fastener manufacturer and distributor brought in a new president for the Americas in December 2019. Marc Strandquist probably had no idea what was in store for him. Yes, he had the strategic plans that had been developed by his predecessors. However, as the pandemic evolved from rumor into global supply chain crisis, he and his team had to simultaneously finish rolling out existing projects while redefining their company’s reason for being.
They began by asking customers what they want and need. Not surprisingly, customers want assurance that they’ll be able to get as many parts as they need when they need them. While this has always been Optimas’ mission, the company is reconfiguring to strengthen its relationship with its own suppliers so it can confidently help its customers serve their customers. Good partnerships prove their worth in times of crisis, and Optimas isn’t letting this opportunity to prove its worth go to waste.
Change can be invigorating. While this year has been and will continue to be unique and no one has a crystal ball, there are positive trends that bode well for the future.
AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology reports that June machine tools orders increased 56% over May, and were down only 6% from June 2019. Orders by manufacturers serving the automotive industry doubled, tripled by manufacturers of HVAC and commercial refrigeration equipment, and quadrupled by agricultural equipment manufacturers.
Members of the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA) and National Tooling and Machining Association (NTMA) have reinstated furloughed employees, and some are hiring. As predicted, companies that had formerly relied on one or two major vendors are now seeking to defray supply chain vulnerabilities. This is bringing PMA and NTMA members new business from countries like China and Mexico.
Personally and professionally, we’re more interconnected. We have the digital tools to collaborate more effectively, both internally and externally, than ever before. If we maintain the momentum, we will come out ahead – in whatever configuration the market needs.
Star Cutter Expands Tool Offering with 3D-Printing Capability
Star Cutter Co., in alliance with its strategic partner Neher Group, has announced the availability of 3D-printed PCD monoblock tool bodies and chip deflectors in which the 3D-printed bodies are integrated with the holder interface to create a single robust tool.
Fabtech Announces Plans to Return to Chicago’s McCormick Place in September 2021
After in-person events came to a halt due to the pandemic, the large-scale manufacturing trade show Fabtech will return to McCormick Place in Chicago, September 13-16.