Manufacturing Executives – What is Your Most Complex Process?

October 29, 2012

If your manufacturing production process includes welding assemblies together, here’s a valuable challenge. If you think it’s exaggeration to claim that arc welding is the most complex process in your plant, humor me for just one paragraph.  I bet you can’t name one other non-welding industrial process in your operations that is as complex as the most common arc-welding process: GMAW (Gas Metal Arc Welding, or MIG/MAG). GMAW (“MIG”) includes at least 13 variables, of which most are interactive with multiple other variables, and it joins metal via an open electric arc that creates simultaneous multi-phase high-speed transitions between solid, liquid, gaseous and plastic states to form 3-dimensional weld penetration profiles with various chemistries and conflicting/competing grain structures which have widely varying impacts on physical and chemical properties.

Think about it. Ask your engineering manager about it. Is there any process more complex?  Stamping? No. Extrusion molding? Nope. Machining? No again.

Are you convinced yet?  If so, here’s a question that’s likely worth a decade of your career:  how is your company doing in hiring, empowering and leveraging expertise in welding sciences to create a formidable level of competitive advantage and profitability?

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The Welding Eye in Team

April 25, 2010

How Sharp are Your Team's Eyes?

How do you get welding excellence in new-product-launch in manufacturing?  Skilled contributors working with great teamwork. But what does that mean, and how does it work? Everyone has heard “there is no “I” in TEAM”. Still, every team member is an Individual. The “I” that counts most is the “eye” that team members have for real teamwork. They need a good “eye” for how they view themselves, their team, and their roles.

The critical part of the “eye” in team leadership is what John Maxwell calls the single most important factor in high-performance teams: The Law of the Niche, third of the 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork. The Law of the Niche says that every player on a team has a place where they add the most value. Their niche position takes advantage of a blend of their greatest skills.

I love producing exceptionally profitable high-quality results in manufacturing, and am keenly aware that it takes a great team. Exceptional welding automation is NEVER produced by a jack-of-all-trades engineer, nor by a micro-manager who dictates everything, nor by a talented robotic programmer whose ego ignores the input of a degreed welding engineer. Exceptional welding automation is produced by individuals with respect for each other’s niche skills in tooling, controls, and welding expertise, who are focused on exceptional results.

Legends of Welding Excellence and Teamwork

This welding engineering team developed and conducted several waves of a fantastic 4-week training program for robotic welding techs, covering process theory, troubleshooting, manual welding skills, PM’s, procedures, “crash” recovery, programming and “ninja” robot optimization secrets. Results were world-class because every W.E. played niche roles in different training segments, or covered for others. (Left to right above: Nick Perry, Mike Walther, Bill Stevens, Nick & Mrs. Erchak, Gerald Dunnigan, Jared Wilson, Brian Dobben, plus  Travis Sands and a couple of “top gun” robot integration programmers you don’t see)

Exceptional teams cultivate the “eyes” of the individual team members. Each member needs a realistic awareness of their niche skills, and a respect for the niche skills of their teammates. There’s room for pride and excellence in skills, because members know the excellent contributions of their unique skills are wanted and needed by the team. There is also freedom to learn from each other, to ask for help in weak areas, and to rely on others strengths.

A major team pitfall is not recognizing and valuing skills and weaknesses. Which expertise niches do team members bring, and not bring, to the team?

Drop pretense, and play to strengths. By consistently passing the ball to the person who is best able in that moment’s situation to move toward scoring, a team will consistently get high-performance results. By neglecting to help egotistical ball-hogs use the team’s skills, even teams with good athletes will consistently struggle and score low.

Just as you buy a drill to make holes, you buy welding automation to make welded products. It is crucial to realize that welding: is the core process;  is typically the most complex process in the plant; only welds like an expert when it is taught by highly trained experts.

To excel, every essential portion of a welding automation project must faithfully serve both the physics of the core process, and the end-goal of profitable stability and quality in production. Elegant simplicity and robustly profitable quality are hallmarks of automation excellence.  As leader of the core process, the Smart Welding Engineer is responsible to convey those process needs to the controls and tooling, and call the process shots as the welding quarterback.

And yet, every team-member is like the turtle on the fencepost, who didn’t get there on his own.

Brian Dobben


Turnkey Illusions – How to Avoid Pitfalls When Outsourcing Welding Automation

April 6, 2010

“You can easily purchase high-performance welding automation “turnkey” without needing in-house welding expertise, because the integrator is “the expert”.” Really? That’s a familiar idea. But is it true, or… is it just a manufacturing management myth?
It’s a MYTH.

Chances of success? Probably less than 10%. That’s how you purchase poor to mediocre welding automation performance, like most of your competition has, which usually produces small profit margins. Is that the solution that will REALLY help you survive and get stronger? If it’s seemed like every launch is a new Vegas gambling junket, you may not be far from the truth: 10% odds on bringing home a profit doesn’t sound very appealing. Still want to try it again?

Instead, why not try the rare “high-profit expertise” approach?  Let’s compare. In this valuable article I’ll cover:

  • Three Foundational Welding Automation Principles.
  • The Two Successful Paths to achieving high-performance welding automation.
  • Three classic reasons that welding integration suppliers can rarely deliver world-class “turnkey” welding automation results.
  • Five suggestions on how to pick an excellent welding automation designer/integrator and achieve great results.

You buy or create automation for two basic reasons:  to improve profit & quality, or because a customer demands it of you for those very reasons.  So why not be hugely successful at it?  Why not say goodbye to painful, lame launch results? Why not aspire to be so successful in manufacturing automation, that you trounce your competitors? Why shouldn’t one of your biggest challenges be developing strategies to hide how profitable your welding operations are from your nosy customers and envious competitors?Robot in welding integration

To be most successful in welding automation, the first two questions to ask are “what is our path to the best long-term profits, and what will it take to get us there?”  Because I have repeatedly achieved that in complex welding automation, and created cultures of effective Continuous Improvement, I have some solid answers for those questions. But to explain, I need to build the foundational principles – because they are invisible on the radar screen of most company management.

First, let’s realize a simple point: whatever the Pepsi machine says in the display window is how much it costs to get a bottle or can out of the machine.  If the goal is high-profitability, high-quality welding automation that gives you a competitive advantage, then there are some coins required to get there.  Don’t dare think you can save money by cutting critical “options” from the purchase order: that’s like watching a manager beating on the $1 Pepsi machine and demanding a drink for their customer when they only put in 75 cents. Don’t create such embarrassment… decide upfront to pay the price for success.

Instead of looking for ways to cheat the cost of success, which creates a high risk of project failure or tiny profits, look for low-cost opportunities to innovate and make the automation even more profitable than the proposal said it would be.

Read the rest of this entry »


Where Pulse Waveforms Meet Excellence

July 7, 2009

I thought that others might benefit from this Q&A on pulse GMAW welding.

Brian:

I have a cell that I am working on that has a pulse capable power supply.  It currently runs .035″ solid lincoln wire.

If I was to experiment with pulse, somewhere in the back of my mind I thought you always taught us to go up to .045″.  Is that correct or am I getting confused with some other application?

Thanks, N.

N –

Thanks for the question. You are correct.  This is the reason why various welding “experts” say that going to pulse causes a reduction in penetration that is often a problem. Going up one wire size is the “trick” that puts you back in the same ballpark on penetration, while gaining the benefits that pulse can bring – such as a longer arc length for lower spatter, spatter that is cooler and much less tenacious in adhering, and a different bead profile that often brings advantages.

Basic Variables of the Pulse Waveform

Basic Variables of the Pulse Waveform

Now, once you’re in pulse, then the window of opportunity opens in terms of waveform selection/alteration to optimize your weld characteristics for most advantage. Some say that “a factory waveform is already optimized and pulse is pulse”. That’s the voice of ignorance.  The Pulse-GMAW process is the waveform, which produces specific results. Repeatability of the results hinges on the consistency of that waveform’s reproduction and stability.  Each and every waveform produces a unique balance in target criteria such as travel speed, deposition rate, resistance to burn-through, spatter production, out of position capability, fit-up gap variations, sidewall penetration, bead width/depth, etc.  Sure, the “factory waveform” was optimized, but probably not for your factory or specific application. Odds are that the “canned” waveform does not have the target balance you need to get highly optimized results like fast cycle times, zero rework, and no quality concerns.    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 »


How to Hire the Welding Engineer You Really Need

March 30, 2009

—  Warning —
If your company makes welded assemblies this information is worth
hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year in profits.

Searching for a welding engineer or welding engineering manager isn’t an easy task for an HR staffer or professional recruiter. For many reasons, there aren’t many of us Welding Engineers out here. And 70% of job-titled “Welding Engineers” have little or no training in the welding physics and sciences and so are largely or completely unqualified – knowing enough to enable the welding processes, but often carrying enough influence and ignorance to drive companies right out of business. But to complicate the picture, all three recognized Welding Engineering programs have very different approaches and very different ideas as to what a Welding Engineer really is and should be doing.

Caution:  Welding Engineering training and experience is mainly process-specific and/or material-specific, not industry-specific. This has broader implications, but it’s critical to understand that their skills and expertise easily transfer across completely unrelated industries. Your search can easily turn up dry if you think your competion for a welding engineer is your competitors, because it’s not.  You’re looking for process expertise, and your search competition is all industries that weld similar materials and thicknesses.

Formal education is just the beginning of the story because once they’re out in the workforce, degreed welding engineers tend to lean into different areas.  A W.E. might lean toward heavy-wall welding, meaning it’s either piping, structural, off-road heavy equipment, or pressure-vessel, and normally includes a lot of manual welding management, welder training and certifications. Or a W.E. might lean toward the thin “gauge-thickness” materials. In terms of experience, those two worlds (thick or thin) are probably the greatest differences.  Beyond that, they might have a strong affinity for manual hand-welding environments, or for welding automation, or for metallurgy, “exotic” materials, testing, training, process optimization/control or R&D work.

As a personal example, over the years I have been compelled to conclude that I have some world-class skills in an environment of welding automation on gauge-thickness materials.  In that arena, I can excel to a level that makes most welding engineers and welding equipment manufacturers seem rather incompetent – I always find myself trying to figure out who is trainable that I can develop as a welding engineer or equipment supplier.  Can I handle an exclusively manual welding environment of heavy-wall code work that can’t or doesn’t want to move any of it into welding automation?  I’ve been trained, I’ve had exposure, but exclusively manual heavy-wall code welding is not my thing.  I could eventually grow into it, but many W.E.’s are better suited and it might be a waste of my individual talents.  Why not hire the right guy and support him?

A recruiter friend of mine, Kirk Abraham, recently said or quoted “Robots are fast, accurate & stupid. Humans are slow, sloppy & brilliant.”  Too many companies either can’t see the value in having brilliant humans teach robots to be fast and accurate, or they sense wisdom in the idea but just don’t know how to get there.

Then there’s the company or client side of the picture, which frankly can be structured to make the task of filling a WE opening… impossible. There are many pitfalls. After years of watching and participating in this sometimes painful dance either personally or by proxy of fellow welding engineers, I hope my perspectives may be a dramatic help to you as you work to fill your welding engineering position. Along the way I’ll discuss experience, job title, job description, responsibilities, compensation, training skills, strategic issues, and much more.  Here we go!
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 »