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Time to show your numbers

Time to show your numbers

If you do something well, and no one sees it, how does that help you? It may sound like a high school ethics question, but it's got plenty of real-world implications, meaning there are financial ramifications for forgers and other manufacturers. The goal of process improvement efforts has to be to demonstrate the scale and impact of those improvements.

In a new research report, "The Business Value of Plant Floor Visibility," the Aberdeen Group ( concludes not only that technologies like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), and various related techniques, can be the basis of better plant performance, but that how manufacturers understand and use these systems is also critical to achieving the best results.

Aberdeen and its backers — Plexus Systems, Rockwell Automation, SAP, and Shoplogix — studied 150 manufacturing operations and classified them for closer analysis. The best performers in this group, about 20% of the total, achieve on-time delivery 96% of the time, with a 14% improvement year-over-year. Also, they have throughput levels of 93%, improving 8% year-over-year, among other impressive achievements.

First, note that these topranking firms are 15% more likely than the others in the study to be using plant-floor data collected automatically, and that data is 40% more likely to have been collected in real time, and 31% more likely to have been integrated with an ERP program.

However, what's important to recognize here is not the numbers alone, but the companies, because what the best companies are doing with the data they're collecting is a critical factor in their successes. Over two-thirds of these companies explain that have dual motivations for collecting this information: they want their performance-improvement programs to be effective, and they want to improve operational performance "visibility."

"Visibility" allows them to use the data in a constructive way, to coordinate plant-floor initiatives at the management level, and to involve executive decision-makers in operational strategies. And, it allows them to prove the validity of their performance claims.

These are important insights for forging operations, because many if not most forgers have yet to sample the capabilities of ERP, MES, etc. While understandable (because, until recently, few such programs have been optimized for forging operations) the fact that forging is growing as a global market is altering past managerial assumptions. Forging is different from other manufacturing operations, but that is no argument against the need for a better understanding of an organization.

Moreover, forgers' recent improvement efforts have tended to focus on "savings": energy-saving, labor-saving, and cost-saving programs are effective, but what progress remains for an organization that has done all the saving it can do?

Successes of all types and sources can and should be evaluated for their applications to forging, but it's also important to appreciate and emulate these companies' approach to collecting and presenting the data. The visibility, the openness, they demonstrate has to be recognized as a singular merit. It's a further testament to the soundness of their efforts, and validates the reliability of their processes and quality of their products.

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