Keep the big picture in mind

On my recent visit to Voortman Steel Machinery in the Netherlands, a chance remark by one of the South Africans in the group made me realise that all too often we are happy to operate in our comfort zone and do not consider the bigger picture.

“These days engineers, designers and draughtsmen believe that at the push of a button we can fabricate material to their specification and design. We realise that with all the software and design tools that are available they can expect more from processors like ourselves.”

“This is true in many instances, but only because the OEM process machine builders are keeping up with the trends in the industry and providing fabricators with equipment that will meet the demands of design, while at the same time offering efficiency and productivity with minimum human interference, thus reducing costs.”

“However, it is not always practical. A machine can only do so much and, from an engineering perspective, and despite the structural limitations, the industry standards, building codes and other important guidelines, they still expect us to do the impossible.”

And this is where I swung the conversation. Here we were visiting an internationally recognised OEM that was only too willing to be transparent with the inner workings of their equipment and systems. From the machines to the tooling to the software, all questions were answered. We even had the opportunity to visit fabrication entities where Voortman’s machines were being used, and as a result the wealth of knowledge and ideas that the South African visitors gleaned will certainly enhance their businesses. I must admit that it was in Voortman’s best interest because here were a group of potential buyers of their equipment, and they know that building a relationship between supplier and end user is vitally important for their sales efforts.

But what about the end user and their clients, I asked? When last did they invite the engineer, draughtsman or designer to view their operation and see how it and the machines function, I queried? I could turn it around and say when last did an engineer, draughtsman or designer request a visit to see how they operated.

I know that for any metalworking shop, one of the biggest challenges is knowing what is happening on the shop floor so that activities can be measured, controlled and improved. Automated monitoring systems that are available today make it possible to collect data that gives owners, managers, engineers and operators real-time information about shopfloor activities to help them make quicker and better decisions.

But this must not always be the focus of the processor, whether it is a machine shop, service centre or structural steel fabricator. Invite your clients, the professionals you deal with and your suppliers to come and view your operation.

As they say: “Think like an investor, not a consumer. The consumer mentality pushes filling a current need with a commodity based on price. The investor mentality pursues lasting value and anticipates growth. Prepare for opportunity.”

Keep the big picture in mind. All parties will have much to gain by keeping one another in the loop.