Before the recession a decade ago, the manufacturing sector had long been an economic driver in the United States. But, it stumbled in a big way during the economic downfall, as did many other industries. Fortunately, metal fabrication rebounded with the economy, and valuable lessons were learned during those trying times.
Known for its high-quality bandsaw blades, Lenox continually develops new products to meet the needs of manufacturers using every conceivable type of sawing machine. Yet, the needs of the customer aren’t always related to blades, which is why nearly four years ago, the company embarked on a service called the Lenox Advantage.
Marty Gardner, director of channel marketing and development, believes the ways in which companies dealt with the hardships handed out during the recession were part of a “shift” that had manufacturers reevaluating every step in their production processes. Some organizations survived because they stopped outsourcing sawing applications and brought everything in-house to control costs. Yet, without extensive knowledge
of sawing, these companies have room for improvement in this often-underappreciated critical first step.
“We looked at the sawing industry over the last four to six years,” Gardner says. “There has been a shift; the industry is starting to take more account of the overall productivity and performance in the different departments
within their facilities. This has been happening across many industries, which we continue to learn from and find ways to continually improve upon.”
Taking a proactive response, Lenox decided they could “bring more to the conversation” partly because the company has many seasoned veterans (many with 25-plus years in the industry) who can talk about a lot more than just blades. Gardner says these are people who have been on the other side – actually making the cuts, managing shops or steel service centers – and they’ve seen the industry from a user’s perspective. These are the people executing and heading up the Lenox Advantage program.
2019 marks the fourth year the Lenox Advantage has been available, which Gardner refers to as a holistic approach based on Six Sigma and Lean Process Management principles. Lenox application specialists begin the process with a conversation about needs and goals unique to the customer. What does the manufacturer want to achieve? Do they need to increase their bottom line? Do they need to get more parts off the saw faster? Is operator training lacking? What about material handling – are there bottlenecks that could be avoided with better handling solutions?
“We really shift that sales approach to a process improvement approach,” Gardner says. “Our purpose out of these introductory conversations is to find that common ground. What goals and expectations and opportunities do they as a facility want to improve upon? We can partner with them on ways to improve those processes.”
Gardner adds that sawing applications are often the most overlooked in the facility. For example, the person operating the saw is oftentimes someone who has just been hired and is untrained. “They just throw them on the bandsaw machine, show them a couple of buttons to push and they go from there,” he says.
The Lenox Advantage has a training component, where the application specialists take someone who is green and brings them up to speed on how to efficiently operate a sawing machine.
Poorly trained operators present a frequent issue, but Gardner says one of the most common problems they find is that their customer might have the right saw for an application, but they’re using the wrong blade.
“Case in point,” Gardner says, “we see a lot of facilities cutting titanium materials that buy the lowest priced blade while expecting the highest output.”
Gardner says as they go into these facilities, they find that many are using a bi-metal blade for cutting titanium, which is a suitable blade, but isn’t always the best choice for many titanium cutting applications.
“We recommend a carbide-tip blade,” he says. “If they’re looking to get parts off the saw, extend their blade life but truly improve their overall productivity, they will pay three to five times more per blade, but their actual cost per cut is reduced dramatically because of carbide being able to run faster, cut more accurately and last longer in those environments. That is one of the more representative scenarios we run into – not using the best blade spec/type for the materials being cut or meeting their desired objectives.”
Site visits are a major component of the holistic approach in the Lenox Advantage. The application specialists can spend anywhere from an hour to a week in a facility simply observing and assessing every aspect of the manufacturing process. From unloading raw materials off the flatbed truck to analyzing how overhead cranes are used, the way inventory is processed in and out, and how material is fed to the saw – the assessment is extremely thorough.
“We become consultants that are experienced in this space and willing to spend the necessary time and successfully implement the improvements identified,” Gardner says of site visits.
For example, one area the Lenox application specialists carefully monitor is speed and feed rates on the sawing machines, which is a crucial aspect in making quality cuts and meeting production goals while prolonging the life of the blade.
The application specialists also evaluate how parts are packaged and labeled – is it paint, ink markers or an electronic stamper — and determine which process will work most efficiently? How are the parts boxed, labeled and shipped to the end user? The application specialists can find areas where downtime can be reduced and uptime is maximized.
“What goals are you looking to achieve?” Gardner says of how the application specialists approach customers. “How are you training your operators? How well do you know the machine you’re running? How well do you know the material you’re cutting? Once we get that information, that’s when we can sit down and describe in detail those hard numbers on where we can improve their processes.”
Gardner says Lenox has great relationships with OEMs that build great saws and material handling equipment. In fact, every couple of years, application specialists visit these OEMs to educate themselves on the latest iterations of equipment that can benefit Lenox customers.
Lenox is a neutral party in that they are open to ideas and avoid steering the conversation, but when they see a situation where a customer can benefit from a specific technology, the application specialists will have a handful of manufacturers that provide that technology to suggest.
“Our loyalty is to what the end user is looking for,” he says.
Material handling upgrades are gaining more attention in recent years with sawing heavyweights such as Kasto and HE&M bringing in new solutions for effective material handling. For example, Gardner says in some situations where forklifts are being used to move material, these new material-handling solutions, some of which are fully automated, can take a forklift operator off the floor and into a more productive position in the shop.
“It’s how the end user interprets material handling,” Gardner says of each customer’s unique needs. “That is ultimately where they need to wrap their head around what will be the most beneficial in their process.”