The Top Two Welding Excellence Obstacles in US Manufacturing

April 4, 2012

Does your company want the profitability and competitive advantage of welding excellence?  What’s standing in the way?  Two years ago I started a survey poll asking manufacturing welding engineers “what do you think are the Top 2 biggest obstacles to welding excellence in American manufacturing, in the facilities you are personally familiar with?”

Many welding engineers responded, and here were the top answers as of April 4, 2012:

 20%     Staff don’t support weld requirements, and force upstream problems on welding.

20%     Poor welding process knowledge in the design team.

15%     Unqualified people dictate process without honoring Welding Engineering expertise.

14%     Manufacturing welded assemblies with NO degreed welding engineer.

7%       Welding Engineers lack time/support to find and justify the best solutions.

5%       The Manufacturer is too intently managing the economic death of the plant to invest and save it.

 (In general, most WE’s picked at least one of the top two answers, then their second pick ranged among the other choices. The other answers received only one or two votes. You can see them in the poll.)

It follows logically from this survey that if you want to remove obstacles and create welding excellence in your company, that those issues must be addressed.

Additional “gold” came in the comments responding to the poll, which I’ve added below. A key point for me is that because welding is the most complex process, it requires core expertise that can reach to the upper echelons of the company: the need is just as valid as for Tool and Die, or Quality, or OP Ex, or for Information Technology.  Even Six Sigma Blackbelts fall flat on their DMAIC’s when it’s a welding process project, yet when a Smart Welding Engineer is unleashed… the problem is quickly resolved.

The Title and corresponding role of “Welding Engineer” is far too limited in most company structures to enable excellence in welding processes. How many companies have a Director of Welding Technologies, or a Manufacturing Welding Engineering Manager? Very few. They are just as rare as the highly profitable welding operations they could produce.

Poll Comments: Read the rest of this entry »

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Most Disruptive New Paradigm Technologies

February 27, 2010

What are the most powerful, the most disruptive new paradigm-shifting technologies for manufacturing?

TIP-TIG 2009 North American welding package introduction

That’s a harder question to answer than what people realize, and many people would answer it differently. I’m going to answer it myself in this article, slanted toward welding. But the biggest power of the question lies in the searching and the analysis, because ultimately that’s not the question that needs answered. The question that any leading company executive or engineering manager really needs to answer is this one:

“Which new paradigm-shifting technologies can I take full “disruptive” advantage of in my marketplace segment or new segments?”

Answering that question effectively requires research and analysis, as well as a keen visionary eye.  Because in evaluating a new technology for feasibility and disruptive profit potential, you must accurately envision what can realistically be, not what already is. Essentially, you must think innovatively.

Take for example, this recent article in Fabricating & Metalworking on Hybrid Laser Arc Welding (HLAW) as “the future of welding”, which leads off with this statement:
“This innovative technology is the most disruptive in a generation, leading some to believe hybrid laser arc welding will be a core welding process in the next five to ten years.” Read the rest of this entry »


Cutting Costs or Slow-Motion Suicide

January 28, 2010

What factors cause business failure? Certainly there are many external burdens such as our draconian corporate taxes and regulation that depresses American companies against foreign competitors who pay little or no taxes.  But beyond that, America has a wildly popular and successful internal business management recipe for putting our own companies out of business: shift focus from getting more profitable, to “cutting costs”.

It’s a subtle yet critical difference.  “Cutting costs” seems harmless and sounds sooo responsible.  But it tends to ignore the value and necessity of essential core technical expertise and instead mislabels them as financial liabilities that could be trimmed.  Is it a matter of ignoring, or of ignorance?  Instead of pressing groups for ideas and project execution to improve profits, they press for input on which essential business functions to cut. The mantra is usually “we all hate to do this, but we don’t have any choice.”  The result of this lose-lose is a painful decision to eliminate the very expertise that drives the effectiveness of Continuous Improvement, visionary process quoting, training, process stability, IT systems, and much more.  In short, it creates a top-down management culture of plant-closing through “slow-motion-suicide”.

In a superb article, noted industry expert and author  Bob Sproull summarized it like this: “It was also evident that operating expense had a functional lower limit, and once you hit it, you could actually do more harm than good to the organization by reducing it further.”

I’m not talking about whether you can trim your controls engineers from four to three positions.  I’m talking about trimming from two to one, or even eliminating the position completely – without any analysis of the ROI of value-added cost-reduction projects, or of the critical production support roles that could double or triple downtime and late shipments because of the six dozen automated systems out there on the plant floor. Sounds crazy because it is, but some company executives are crazy enough to do it.

Unfortunately, if you embrace a path that cuts the costs of the assets that produce income, you are essentially downsizing the future profitability of the company.  Cutting profit-generators will make it impossible to remain competitive: the company will  go out of business.  I hope my thoughts can spark a good discussion and some effective ways to recognize and resist these suicidal business practices in your company.

One example of this is the trend I’ve noticed toward trying to hire “jack-of-all-trades” engineers.  They want a trained engineer who works like a tech (“hands on”, “bias toward action”) and yet can do CAD drafting, IE functions, Six Sigma, Lean, PLC programming, robot programming, welding systems, program launch management, capital appropriations requests, and executive powerpoint presentations.  Apparently they want to hire a messiah like this (for the pay of a mediocre one-discipline engineer) to handle their 80-robot process automation and launches, because they don’t have quality or control or welding or maintenance engineers to do the work and can’t get approval to hire them. They might as well post for an engineer who walks on water and has a standard 12/6 work-week. What will it take for them to realize that while they can hire someone who lies about having all those skillsets, the extremely rare one who actually might is either being paid $85k+ (USD) as an engineering manager, or has started his own systems design and integration company?

Ken Payne of The Columbus Group recently pointed out to me that while classic Industrial Engineering (IE) breaks everything into the Man, Machine, and Material categories, most companies have lost sight of a simple overarching fact: everything in a company – including Machine and Material – is driven by the Man factor. Payne and Demming both point out that manpower is the source of all value streams.  So the value streams are ultimately driven by the human energy in the form of work, passion, expertise, inventiveness, entrepreneurial drive, and cohesive teamwork of the company’s manpower.  That manpower is a combination of individual expertise and passion, and company culture.

Read the rest of this entry »


Beyond Welding Divas to World-Class Success – Why 15 years of welding doesn’t make a Welding Engineer

April 9, 2009
So you’re partial to your UWE (Unqualified Welding Engineer) because he has 15 years in welding and he’s brought your welding automation where it is today? 
  
I love these two, but welding engineers they're not.

I love these two, but welding engineers they're not.

I understand.  I’m partial to these couple of girls because I’ve known them for several years, they give heartwarming hugs, and they look great in sunglasses.  They also do great on 2 and 3 wheel scooters, and in less than 15 years they’ll drive a car.  They’ll always have a place in my heart.  But they’re going to need some training before I let them do a brake job on my truck.  So let’s face it: wearing a welding hood to weld won’t make them welding engineers any more than putting on sunglasses and dancing in a department store makes them the next Hanna Montana. 

 

If you manufacture welded assemblies, it’s no longer optional to be excellent in the welding processes.  You’ll have to move quickly toward welding excellence to survive.
The business reality is that welding is – by far – your most complex process, involving more sciences and physics and variables than anything else you have.  So no matter how good he is, your non-welding-engineer probably cannot enable you to survive.  He certainly can’t enable you to take leadership in your manufacturing segment.   If you’re going to make money in today’s flailing manufacturing economy, you must understand what your UWE is capable of vs what he is not capable of, and limit him to appropriate roles and authority.  How do you do that?  By hiring the real expertise that’s needed to guide him, further develop him, protect you from the self-serving interests of your supplier salesmen, and fill your profit gaps before you drown in red ink and close your doors.

 

But how?  You don’t have 5 years to find your way across the financial desert by trial and error.  How can you quickly make the critical changes you need without splitting your tribal welding culture into factions warring and squealing for authority and recognition?  For 20 years I didn’t have a solid plan to answer that question.  Now I finally do.  Read the rest of this entry »


Manufacturing Welding Companies can Grasp Rare Opportunities in Economic Upheaval

February 27, 2009

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. Read the rest of this entry »