Manufacturing Welding Companies can Grasp Rare Opportunities in Economic Upheaval

These are days in American and world history of unprecedented business pressures and explosive economic upheaval.  There are so many unknowns and variables that even the best “crystal balls” look cloudy.  Yet there remains some general agreement from those who analyze international manufacturing trends and competition, that in the end, companies who are best able to harness flexible high-performance automation will come out the winners and leaders in 21st century manufacturing.

Many companies manufacture welded assemblies, but precious few realize that even in product design, quoting and launch, their entire business is wrapped up in selling their expertise at manufacturing welded assemblies:  having never realized this, they have never sought and developed true expertise in high-profit welding – yet it’s their most complex core process.  Instead, over 90% of companies (and too many welding engineers) are content to merely enable the welding processes, oblivious to the potential to achieve 40-95% improvements in them.  The few competitors who grasp this potential can leverage an advantage that’s as great or greater than union vs union-free manufacturing.

For a moment, consider one picture of an ideal profitable company of the future:  working as a team who is sharply focused on applying formidable expertise in the mechanisms, controls, and processes of flexible welding automation, supporting a structure that enables Continuous Improvement and “closes the loop” of design, launch and manufacturing.

To do this well will require assembling a team of technical expertise that is fully capable of effective CI, DFM, and DFSS thinking in every core discipline.  The critical essentials that are perhaps most often overlooked are a smart controls engineer and a smart welding engineer (SWE).  And “closing the loop” requires leadership with the experience to shape a team and craft mechanisms that can move past the traditional hurdles that are so commonplace in industry.  Accomplishing this, bridging this chasm between design and production, has been my passion.  So I believe that it could be worth millions to your company to consider some of my perspectives.

While I have a degree in Mechanical and Welding Engineering, I have spent most of my career focused on the welding processes because that is where the greatest needs and complexities exist, and where so much unseen profit potential languishes, untapped.

I bring invaluable levels of experience and expertise to these goals in welding processes, in welding automation, and in the design and launch of welding automation machines, tooling, systems integration, process optimization, process control, and continuous improvement.  In every opportunity to assemble and train and develop high performance teams, I have excelled.  In every opportunity to exceed industry standards, I have leapt far beyond what the world-leading companies and consultants have said is possible, by establishing astonishing gains in new benchmark performance levels which continued years after I was gone.  In every opportunity to reduce downtime I have been able to establish effective procedures and to train and develop high skill levels in process troubleshooting and continuous improvement.  In every opportunity to manage critical new-launch content in welding automation, I have dramatically exceeded performance targets.

Further, I have brought these talents to bear in multiple high-volume manufacturing industries.  I have improved operations and trained their technicians and engineers.  I have contributed extensively to 80%+ improvements, and have assessed many of their weaknesses.

And yet, despite huge improvements that established new world benchmarks, none of those companies have achieved the levels of welding automation performance that are possible, and some are surprisingly far away.  While I certainly set new world-class performance standards in different companies, and while they “franchised” some of the most critical content worldwide, much potential remained when I left.  In fact, it appears that they’ve never adequately valued welding automation expertise to secure continued progress.

I have always marveled at the huge size of the “welding blind spot” that is rampant throughout manufacturing.  I could give many examples, but let’s take two.

In compressor manufacturing the most common, pervasive, profit-sapping challenges hinge on achieving consistent near-perfect welds (essentially making leak-free pressure vessels), and on keeping welding spatter and expulsion out of the compressors, and on making these welds in very short cycle times. Yet despite the fact that these are all elements which ONLY welding engineers are trained to accomplish, and despite that in a plant tour I can see unclaimed millions of dollars in annual profits that are hanging in the welding processes, smart welding engineering (SWE) is still treated as if it’s a luxury that can’t be justified.

Another example: Last year I interviewed at one very successful “household name” company who designs, makes and sells welded assemblies.  They work hard, they have a lot going for them, and they are throwing away tens of millions of dollars every year because they don’t have strong welding engineering expertise.  During the interview, in about 5 minutes, I explained how they could reduce their #1 welding defect by 90-98%.  But they couldn’t get top-level approval to add me to their corporate design/launch group – where I was most needed.

This is a time of unparalleled opportunities for companies to not merely survive, but leap ahead.  To do that requires focus on maximizing profits, not maximizing cuts, and any focus on cutting technical expertise may very well be the blood-letting of slow-motion suicide.

I’m not naïve enough to think that these are exclusively welding engineering problems.  They’re not.  I think the real issue is that most manufacturing executives don’t understand the power of three important manufacturing elements:

  1. the proper roles of engineering in becoming strongly profitable,
  2. the true value of Technical Expertise, and
  3. the speed of technical advancement which enables technical experts to leverage immense competitive advantages (when their company will listen).

The current economic downturn offers the opportunities of a century to change the market-leaders in nearly every manufacturing industry… opportunities to permanently shift the marketshare landscape.  Yet most companies seem unable to recognize the full gravity of this opportunity. And most companies are finding it difficult to properly value or fully assemble high-performance teams that are capable of leaping beyond their competition.

Any company can hire to fill a spot, but that doesn’t make them more profitable than their competitors. Most companies can’t identify AND hire technical expertise, even when it hits them over the head.

I believe only 3-10% of manufacturing companies offer the potential for a great welding engineer to lead or contribute in their team, to establish a new level of profitability and quality that will be very difficult for competitors to match or surpass, and to take a firm step toward establishing strong future growth.  But where are they, and how does a good welding engineer find them?  Is your company ready to excel, ready to step beyond fear into success and leave your competitors in the dust?  Let me know.  I’m not in the recruiting field, but I’ll try to help you find the welding expertise that you need, and to position them properly in your company for maximum benefit.

Brian Dobben

11 Responses to Manufacturing Welding Companies can Grasp Rare Opportunities in Economic Upheaval

  1. Ray G. Huey says:

    Very good article. Consider that many other nations have a different appreciation for engineers. Regardless, American Engineering colleges do not emphasize cost savings, LeTourneau perhaps being the exception in their WE program. I have recently achieve LSSBB certification but have yet to find very many companies who apply these tools to welding processes. It truely is a blind spot. Perhaps this is because Welding continues to be part art and science, with many unqualified welding engineers still in the workforce. And, because most mechanical engineers have limited training or appreciation for metals joining, yourself being an exception, e.g., structures and components won’t function without adequate welding, yet much design work goes into the structure, but little design into the means of holding it together.

  2. weldsparks says:

    Ray, thank you for your thoughtful comments. You hit so many things dead on target that it’s hard to know where to begin. And a lot of those areas are things that I would like to address on my blog. Maybe that’s what I’ll do. If you’d like to author some guest articles, I’ll figure out how to post them.

  3. Donald Weaver says:

    I agree with nearly everything written, but I have a slightly different take on the solution. While Welding Engineering is indeed a very specialized area of concern, education, and application, welding engineers will lack credibility until something is done at the state level to license and recognize Professional Welding Engineers. I recieved my PE in Texas in 2003, and was classified as “Other”. After nearly a year of discussions, petitions, and phone calls to the Texas Board of Professional Engineers, I was finally able to convince this fine organization to add “Welding” as a recognized field for professional engineers. And yet, nearly 9 nine years later only 2 or 3 welding engineering PE’s are registered in Texas. I am not sure how this works in other states, but in Texas one must have a PE to even use the term “engineer” on business cards, letterhead, etc. Welding enginners need to show a little more pride in what they do, stand up for welding engineering as a bona fide engineering field, and get their professional engineering license. Only then we can begin the process of weeding out all of the other “welding engineer by experience” individuals, who claim to be welding engineers and dilute the profession we all have worked so hard to achieve and advance.

  4. EASTeam says:

    Concur and well done – both the blog layout and the content… Kudo’s!

    Here’s an excerpt from a recent letter I’d sent to several hundred hiring managers, as follows:

    Title: ‘Perfect timing! Looking for an edge on your competition?’

    Let’s face it: the economy is on everyone’s mind. It’s been a real challenge, at best, even for companies that feel they remain at status quo. However, while adapting to these rapidly changing market conditions, many organizations have inadvertently caused great concern among their employees.

    Combined aforementioned with the typical results of RIF’s, M & A, outsourcing, consolidation, etc, has caused some of your best and brightest performers to consider making a change.

    That’s right; many have decided in their heart that just as soon as an opportunity comes up to leave their current employer, they will jump on it. How do I know? They’re calling me, everyday… What does this mean to you? Now is a perfect time to attract top talent.

    So, unless you’re planning on going out of business, this is a great time to attract and engage some top talent. These folks won’t be interested and/or available if you wait until the market is going the right direction… It’s a paradox and dilemma for some, an opportunity for others.

    Which category are you currently in? Is this your preference? Wouldn’t it be nice to have the edge on the competition when the next cycle begins? If so, who can we find for you?

    Kirk Abraham
    Partner, MR Indianapolis ~ EAS Team
    888-906-0202 x1235 or

  5. Martin Smith says:

    My involvement over 20 years on the fringes of the welding industry has led me to believe unfortunately that some of the spark has gone from a career in welding (excuse the pun). It is not a sexy career, unlike the modern computer programming and software creation jobs, not that I am decrying them, as this blog would not be apparent without them. I think that an exerted effort in showing what a dynamic, involved technical expertise and skill it can be and the undoubted teamwork and friendships that can be generated, need to be applied to encourage youngsters to the industry. In an era where careers are shortlived, showing people that the disciplines and skills of technical welding can lead to a lifetime of work and satisfaction where there is some level of career stability is important. However, it is clear that there is a mountain to climb and without any doubt we all know that skillful people always seem to maintain there position or thankfully are enlightened to start a new business. We are no different to any other industry in that our lifeblood is to encourage younger engineering minded people into our industry. Will making it sexy (so to speak) achieve this, I dont know, but a collective of ideas and informed debate may at least generate some gravitas towards bringing a program of change to a great industry.

  6. Bill Morris says:

    The one thing that holds companies back from any success is the culture and those that drive it.
    The right culture is everything. You could be the greatest at managing your talent and be surrounded super smart people in their respective fields. If the guy who has the most influence wont let the knowledge flow
    and talent rise to the top then your in a losing game .Time to find a new team.
    Working as a unit.
    Remember the weld engineer is only one part of the puzzle
    If you dont have a stellar design and a cutting edge robotic weld cell with the latest in technology
    It wont fly
    Project Managers / Machine fitters/ Mechanical design
    eng . Weld engineers . electrical/robotic /plc specialists all play a role in the end product.

    Throw in a stellar weld eng. and you have somethin
    As a pro custom machine fitter Ive built weld cells
    for BMW X5 and Mercedes Sport coupes and Hummer mig cells and seen some pretty cool stuff.
    Been at it 25 yrs and counting

    • weldsparks says:

      Bill, thank you for a great contribution to the discussion. There’s a wealth in what you said. My view is that the “stellar weld engineer” is the lynchpin, the hub. It’s his job to build the team, to focus all of them on serving the arc physics and equip them to do it, and to sell the team and the team’s assessments to upper management. For it to all work, upper management has to understand, value and support the W.E.’s roadmapped agenda of profitable excellence flowing from an exceptional team. Upper management needs mostly to be teachable and supportive, to remember who their expert is, and to tightly involve him rather than mostly exclude him from the strategic welding technology decisions.

      That’s easy for me to say, but functionally how does upper management do that? I wonder if there’s a structural need for a CTO, or a Welding Technology Officer, or Director of Welding and Manufacturing Technologies? By far I’ve had the most success when reporting directly to the VP and CEO levels, with an open door to the President. Engineering managers are too much of a mixed bag, and seldom have the combination of welding process expertise, savvy and political coinage to carry the information through and sell it into the executive circle above them. In a company manufacturing welded assemblies with automation, I can see it working somewhat if the W.E. is reporting to an Eng Mgr who’s also a good W.E., because they can develop an approach strategy together – but otherwise the risk is high that the Eng Mgr is going to be unable to fairly represent the needs/recommendations/requests to the executive level.

      Historically in my career when I don’t have a direct path to the executive level, what it translates to is an ironic paradox with millions of dollars in unclaimed cost-reductions that I am not empowered to deliver, while it’s perceived that I’ve accomplished “what I was hired to do” and so they now need less welding process support. By implication, I was not hired with strategic C.I. goals or with recognition of my immense value to the company’s long-range performance, but rather hired to relieve some clear pains that are manifest in their business metrics.

      • Bill Morris says:

        You will always have the huge impact on the CEO and the Chief . Cause he sees your value as a weld eng. On most teams your peers dont see your value because they are so busy either giving support or they never stop to consider the impact of weld integrity or the role and responsibility that goes with it. Then you realize that you are on the career bus as a rider or a driver. I like being the driver . Thats why I own my own business. If no one sees the value as a weld eng its time to find a new gig and be the mover and shaker.

  7. […] client would be well advised to change their strategy on this position. Why not wisely select a Smart Welding Engineer and let them do their […]

  8. […] those managers wondering: yes, a SWE (Smart Welding Engineer) really can test and identify superior welding performance, rather than buying a bunch of new equipment from the best sales brochures while you cross your […]

  9. […] If at all possible, start the process to hire a really good, sharp welding engineer. Study How to Hire the Welding Engineer You Really Need and Welding Engineer Salary Compensation Data to get the ball rolling. Why? Because your core business is selling your expertise at manufacturing welded assemblies. Am I right?  Fact: the most complex processes in industry are the welding processes.  How’s your core competency doing in your most central, most critical technologies?  There’s product design engineering, but also process design engineering and continuous process improvement. Do you see how you can blow the doors off your competition if you start engineering your most complex manufactu…? […]

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