3 Legs of a stool
Good equipment has become the “ticket of entry” to compete in metal fabrication, but most owners know that equipment alone can’t make a fabricator successful. If you give the best people in the world an old, poorly maintained laser, punch, press brake, or welding system, you’ll have a shop full of talented, frustrated employees and, ultimately, frustrated customers. If you have the best machines in the world but don’t have talented people who can operate them and (just as important) communicate and sell the services those machines make possible, you still get frustrated employees and customers. It really boils down to three legs of a stool: people, processes, and technology. And you need all three.
What good is a great design idea or an eye-popping laser cutting system if a shop can’t deliver parts reliably on-time because of faulty processes? And the “process leg” is a key differentiator. At Keltech we challenge the typical departmental arrangement (cutting department, bending department, welding department). It is no surprise to see a welding cell located beside a pressbrake, it allows smooth part flow in particular on parts of medium to high volume. In our powder coating line it is no surprise to see mechanical assembly happening as the line moves at 1.8m/min because again it improves flow, we see flow as the key and in the example of the powder line we saw quality checks as a bottle neck and we introduced a vision system that removed the need for the manual and improved the quality metrics.
Products now flow from any laser/punch cutting machine to any press brake to any welding cell, as dictated by capacity levels and creates part flow. In this arrangement jobs are completed in hours instead of days and less WIP eating up valuable cashflow. These changes take time and there is a leap of faith as you move away from the old way of thinking but companies need to believe in Lean and the improvements flow will bring. The hardest part can be seeing the value of parts taking longer to make to the stopwatch but this is better than large WIP sitting between processes.
Like technology, these process techniques aren’t proprietary. They’re not secret. Both technology and process innovations are published regularly in magazines. What perhaps sets a fabricator apart is how it uses the three legs of the stool—people, processes, and technology—to grow with customers. This changes continually with customer demand. And because it’s ever-changing, it’s probably tougher for competitors to copy.
Enjoyed reading this post or want to find out more? Contact me on Declan.Walsh@keltech.ie
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