One of the biggest challenges manufacturers face today is keeping the workforce trained and capable of using the latest technology. As many can attest to, technology is advancing faster than the workforce is growing. To help fight the problem, Joe Morgan, owner and CEO of Square Deal Machining Inc. in Marathon, N.Y., heavily invests in technology at his shop, but he is also investing in his workers.
When Morgan acquired his business 25 years ago, Square Deal was an 11-man shop consisting mostly of pneumatic machinery, a few pieces of CNC machinery and manual presses in no more than 10,000 sq. ft. of production space. Morgan grew the company by continually reinvesting in it, and today he employs hundreds of people in more than 300,000 sq. ft. in multiple facilities.
Today, Square Deal provides full-service metal fabrication, machining, welding and assembly services. Part of the company’s success is its use of quick-response manufacturing (QRM), a strategy that cuts lead times in every phase of the manufacturing process. QRM was developed by a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1980s. Organizations that adopt QRM understand that long lead times lead to lost revenue; they also make QRM an enterprise-wide application, taking it beyond the shop floor. Morgan believes that as technology becomes more advanced, industry needs to take advantage of the opportunities to entice new workers to replace the outgoing retiring demographic.
“Manufacturers need to continue to promote themselves as offering career opportunities that will allow people to advance at the workplace as well as socially, economically and personally,” he says. “Educating people about the opportunities in the trades and getting people excited about work in the trades is paramount.”
Morgan continuously brings in equipment suppliers to help educate his workers, and some of his employees attend trade school. Morgan also offers internship programs for area trade school students, some of whom take on full-time positions after completing an internship.
Unfortunately, Morgan has found that many schools are “behind the times,” which means they’re teaching students in ways that are “not conducive with today’s manufacturing technologies. They are coming out of school behind where the market currently stands.
“We’re interested in helping the trade schools and teachers work with today’s technology,” he continues. “The struggle we have is that some schools are teaching yesterday’s technology, which means their students aren’t skilled up for modern operations.”
As one solution, Square Deal is interested in pursuing a giveaway program in which the company will gift one of the trade schools near their production facility with a CNC machine. This would give students crucial, hands-on experience with state-of-the-art machinery.
Leading by example
One of the reasons Square Deal has experienced such exponential growth is that Morgan continually reinvests in the company. For example, the company invested in top-of-the-line punching capabilities, including an Amada EM 2510 NT turret punch press as well as an LVD M-series punch press. Morgan also recently installed a Hydmech cold saw, which has dramatically increased sawing capacity and speed. He also brought in a 5-axis machining center and four Okuma lathes. To round out its fleet of equipment, Square Deal added its first tube laser, a Trumpf TruLaser Tube 7000, which was a substantial investment that continues to help streamline operations and bring more design possibilities to light.
“I have constantly reinvested back into the company since I bought it,” Morgan says. “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”
Investing in technology helps to meet customer needs, which Morgan says includes looking for their parts to be “delivered on time with perfect quality.” Furthermore, customers want their manufacturers to rapidly adjust to demand and schedule changes, which can be an issue as fluctuations in labor costs, increasing automation and a greater focus on renewable energy all present challenges.
“Manufacturers need to understand their cost structures and continue to invest in technologies to help them lower or combat the increasing costs that are occurring in other aspects of their business,” he says. “Technology needs to offset increasing labor costs and needs to have more output to pay for both the technology and that person. For employees, technology should also enable them to make more money. When companies can produce more, they can afford to pay more – if they are utilizing the technology appropriately.”
Morgan says advancements in lasers and robotics and increased machine tool speeds are the biggest revolutions currently transforming the industry. He also says better utilization of floor space lowers overhead and labor costs, giving manufacturers the ability to be more competitive. While a quality product is always expected, being on time with the completion of a project hasn’t always been the highest priority – but that’s changing.
“In the last two or three years, production has ramped up,” Morgan says. “However, manufacturers around the world struggled with on-time delivery. Those of us that regained our on-time delivery stability and can now support our end customers have and will continue to thrive. The competitors that can’t do that won’t be rewarded like those that can.”
Morgan reiterates that as new technology presents itself, manufacturers that embrace it and train their workforce will be poised to rise above the others who don’t.
“We are positioning ourselves for success through workforce development, continuous education for our team members and through the acquisition of the latest technology and equipment,” Morgan says. “Technologies that allow us to be more productive with the same man hours give us the ability to better reward our team members and be ready for the next challenge as it presents itself.”