Metalforming Electronics



Dont Lose Sensor Expertise

By: George Keremedjiev

Sunday, March 1, 2009
These are, and I am sure that I do not need to dwell on it, incredibly difficult financial times for most in the metalforming community. It is a time of cutbacks, layoffs, shutdowns, buyouts, furloughs, nervousness, uncertainty, panic and fear.

As one of America’ founding fathers, Thomas Paine, said of his era, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Both men and women in today’s metalforming environment are searching for guidance as to the future of their personal lives and their companies. There is no crystal ball to peer into to receive the appropriate guidance. However, glimmers of hope exist within certain companies that plan for their return to profitability and growth while being realistic about the near-term economy.

It is my opinion that any downsizing of a company—whether on a grand or small scale—must be conducted within a clear mandate to preserve the technical core of that company. If the firm has a professional fulltime sensor specialist and has invested in state-of-the-art die-protection controls, then it is paramount that such investments in mistake-proofing technologies and personnel be preserved. When the economy turns around it will be most advantageous for a company to have a solid die-protection program and shop-floor-wide mistake-proofing technologies with a viable arsenal of manufacturing-enhancing tools. Thus, engineering, electronic-sensing and controls experts must be preserved as core competencies and as valuable employee assets.

The same holds for technical sales personnel. Whether inside or external, sales personnel that excel in their understanding of the advantages of mistake-proof manufacturing will have a much easier time re-entering the turned-around economy as they will be in a position to offer not only lean, but mistake-proofed, advantages as they make their sales calls. The company must be prepared to enter the rehabilitated economy with a full complement of technical advantages over its competition.

But what if your company does not currently have a serious program blending lean principles with solid mistake-proofing technologies? Well, as hard as it will be for some to hear this, now is the time to pursue this manufacturing excellence. When times were good many companies ignored better manufacturing methods under the umbrella phrase, “We’re too busy.” In these challenging times, it would be equally easy to simply walk a from new thinking with the phrase, “We’re not busy enough.” I disagree.

Now, when the shop floor is slow and the craziness of tight schedules and near-impossible delivery expectations are muted, is the best time to explore and implement a serious sensor-based die-protection program, an automated part-quality measurement system, a mistake-proofed assembly process and an automated in-process monitoring agenda. To wait until better times arrive is to fall into the previous trap of having no time to devote to new thinking.

You do not need to spend lots of money to launch or maintain a healthy mistake-proofing and automation program. Shop-floor personnel are well aware of the current economic troubles and are willing to accept scaled-down projects. Do not eliminate them, just scale them down. Keep the creative juices of your sensor applications specialists and their teams challenged, even at minimal costs. Instead of tackling scores of dies for sensing this year, perhaps it will be dozens instead. This will keep your technical personnel intellectually alive, challenged and engaged.

Please do not, unless financial circumstances make it unavoidable, return the personnel responsible for the sensor and mistake-proofing program back to their prior positions. It is my firm belief that the maintenance of your company’s technical strengths will be its major sales advantage when the economy turns around. If you strip a the layers of technical excellence and become just like other shops whose toolrooms are littered with crashed dies and whose quality programs consist of fulltime firefighting, then your edge, your sales advantage, your ability to capture more customers, will be no different than that of your competitors.

Preservation of technical advantage is the single most effective mechanism for your company’s re-entry into the positive economy of the future. Likewise, if you currently do not have technical advantages over your competition, consider these slow times with a silver lining—as an opportunity to develop modern sensor-based die protection and company-wide mistake-proof manufacturing. MF


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