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Transforming Energy Into Profit

Energy might not be a tangible thing, but it can be felt throughout a person’s life. It certainly can be felt in a business, and sometimes it needs to be turned around.

Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core by Bruce D. Schneider, a life coach, tells the story of when he is brought in to help a failing company turn around. Bruce quickly notices that Richard, the company’s owner, is setting a downcast and negative tone for his employees.

The company, once thriving, is beset by office politics, a losing trajectory and looks headed for the end unless drastic action is taken.

Schneider writes about recognizing seven different energy levels and how some leaders create positive energy and how some create negative energy. Both permeate through a business and can have major impacts.

I won’t spoil what those seven different energy levels are or how they can be improved or changed, but this is a story that should resonate for anybody who’s worked in an office. The characters are well-sketched and each one presents different challenges for Richard as he tries, with Bruce’s prodding, to get them in line and save the business.

The story itself is well-written. Though the ending is telegraphed early in the book, it’s an enjoyable journey to see how the company reached its destination. Not to sound cliche but there are twists and turns and the characters get more and more interesting as the story unfolds. You begin to understand how the characters became what they are and, even though they exhibit some onerous behavior, you begin to cheer for them as they move back into being team players and productive parts of a cohesive unit.

As you might have guessed by now, this book is not about a metalcasting facility and does not have many obvious ties to the industry.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t relevant to metalcasting.

The principles of a healthy business and healthy energy are universal. It’s hard to be successful and profitable if nobody’s working together, and if they have to try it becomes a challenge. Leaders, whether in the boardroom, the office or on the floor set the tone for their employees. That’s true in any industry.

Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core is not a necessary read, but if you feel like something’s off with your corporate culture, it will help you find solutions and keep you entertained.


Thank You, Goodbye & Good Luck

It is with a heavy heart that I pen this last editorial for Metal Casting Design & Purchasing. By the time you read this column, I will have left the magazine to pursue a new career.  After 19 years in metalcasting, a new challenge awaits me.

So let me start by thanking you, our loyal readers of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.  I was lucky enough to be part of the team that started this magazine in 1999 (it was titled Engineered Casting Solutions back then). Our focus was serving a niche—buyers and designers of metal castings—that needed information on how to better source and design engineered metal components.

Through the years, we have grown our qualified circulation tremendously and built a name for ourselves by being a resource to you. You have attended our summits and trade shows, you have participated in our casting competition, and you have submitted articles and ideas to help educate your peers. You have helped to build a community of buyers and designers looking to support a casting supply chain. That was our dream when we started the magazine and you are helping us fulfill that dream.

Goodbyes are always difficult.  We all invest sweat equity in our professions. But I can leave knowing the casting supply chain in North America is better than when we started this magazine.  There is greater communication, an increase in education and knowledge exchange, and a stronger appreciation for local sourcing.  The basic foundation of a magazine is the strength of the information it shares, and Metal Casting Design & Purchasing shines in that exchange.

But the advancement of the supply chain is not done.  Everyone is always looking to do things better, faster and stronger.  Additive manufacturing is changing the way all manufacturing conducts business.  Metalcasting has been one of the early and significant adopters of this technology from its first appearances in the 1990s to its full development today. New technologies and processes await to steal the headlines as the wave of the future.

To those of you battling in the trenches every day, I truly wish you good luck. Manufacturing is the backbone of our economy and our society. The next generation is beginning to understand that fact. And metal castings serve as the foundation of most manufacturing.

Be proud of who you are and what you accomplish every day. Creating and building incredible machinery is an awesome accomplishment.

Thank you, goodbye and good luck.

Click Here to see this article as it appears in Metal Casting Design & Purchasing


Enhancing My Perspective

Standing on the CastExpo exhibition floor last month, I made a 360-degree turn to see all the sights before my eyes. The shiny equipment.  The bright lights. The networking. The potential for the future.

The best of metalcasting was on display at the once-every-three-year showcase, and I was in awe. To understand where this industry was in 2009-10, to see where it is today and to think where it is going is amazing. Many had expected North American metalcasting to go the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, it is now a beacon of success the rest of the world points to.

Yes, we have significant challenges:
•    Critical markets like agriculture, energy and mining are significantly down.
•    Finding skilled labor (or any labor at all)
is difficult.
•    You, as casting buyers, continue to demand more and want to pay less.
•    Today’s regulatory environment is stifling to manufacturing.

But look at just a few of the headlines we have run in the magazine in the last year:
•    Waupaca Unveils New Growth Strategy
•    Linamar, GF Automotive Choose North Carolina for New Operations
•    Fritz Winter to Build Casting Facility in Kentucky
•    Sahkti Breaks Ground on Aluminum Casting Facility in Detroit
•    Kamtek to Invest in New Diecasting Facility in Alabama
•    Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Purchases Precision Castparts

Hopefully, these headlines and the other regularly occurring positive news can finally put to rest the misnomer that new casting facilities and expansion aren’t happening in the U.S. Couple this investment with the tremendous expansion and adoption of additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping that is occurring, and you have an industry poised to handle the future. When the down markets return to some normalcy, watch out for North American metalcasting.

While my messages in this editorial space tend to cheerlead the positive, I am calling it like I see it. In your production-driven world, you must focus on finding the proper supplier for a family of parts or improving the performance of a single aluminum component. My responsibility is to scream from the mountaintops a 10,000-ft-view that examines the trends in the industry.

I gained some additional perspective on the state of metalcasting while on the CastExpo show floor. Hopefully, you have as well.

(Click Here to see this story as it appears in the May/June issue of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.)


In Search of Lightning Bolt

(Click here to see the story as it appears in the March/April edition of Metal Casting Design & Purchasing.)

Lights. Camera. Action.

The spotlights will be on the metalcasting supply chain during the upcoming CastExpo extravaganza in Minneapolis in April. With thousands of attendees and hundreds of exhibitors, I will feel like a kid in a candy store throughout the four-day event.

Castings…ooohhh…Advanced Technology…aaahhh…Industry Experts.

Every way you turn on the show floor or in the education arenas, something will capture your eye. This once-every-three year happening is the one and only time the entire supply chain comes together to discuss the present and future of metalcasting

Yes, I am a little excited. My hope is that you are as well.

Even in today’s mobile-device driven world, the value of face-to-face communication is priceless. Whether you engage a casting supplier on the show floor, an expert in an interactive education session or a colleague in the hotel bar, the opportunity to have that verbal and nonverbal exchange of ideas is what can help lead to the breakthroughs that propel you into the future.

The development of these lightning bolt ideas is discussed in a blog post at www.metalcastingdesign.com and in our Blog Roll column on p. 1. In his work titled, “Originals,” author Adam Grant tries to combat the misconception that ground-breaking advances are somehow the result of fate. Rather, they are the result of hard work, character and, more often than not, previous failures.

“When you remember that rules and systems were created by people, it becomes clear that they’re not set in stone—and you begin to consider how they can be improved,” wrote Grant.

This proposition underlines the importance of a trade show with the expansive exhibit floor and education opportunities of CastExpo. This is the chance to discuss successes and failures without the pressure of the day-to-day staring you in the face. This is the chance to examine and dream about additive manufacturing, self-healing alloys and optimized supply chains that might revolutionize your business.

As you walk around the convention center in Minneapolis, keep your eyes open for the lightning bolts as they strike. My guess is that it will be an electrifying four days.


Novel Solutions: Color Outside the Lines

If cartoons have taught me anythi… Wait a minute. Of the many lessons I’ve learned from cartoons, one concept that’s clear is inspiration strikes quickly. The light bulb goes on above your head and the great idea seems so simple.

In “Originals,” Adam Grant argues, while such lightning strikes may happen, they aren’t as common as people think. His take on “how non-conformists move the world,” as the book’s subtitle reads, examines in depth what goes into these memorable innovations. Using social science studies combined with telling anecdotes, Grant tries to combat the common misconception that ground-breaking advances are somehow a result of fate. Rather, achievement is the result of hard work, character and, more often than not, previous failures.

The most resonant message of “Originals” focuses on how organizations can excel by fostering creativity and nonconformity in its individuals. These lessons are also the most applicable for managers and executives. Grant’s critical examination of platitudes like “thinking outside the box” is enlightening in distinguishing between lip-service and real strategy. Commitment to the cause is important; groupthink is destructive.

Attention is paid to improving one’s own ability to foster and harness originality. In this, “Originals” can be an interesting work that forces the reader to examine thought processes and actions. Grant dives into what goes into becoming an effective risk-taker, which includes less glamorous things like research and hedging. It also takes work, which is evidenced by describing how many failures were left in Thomas Edison’s wake, for example. We remember his successes, but the hundred of patents that fill filing cabinets show it’s not only about quality. The best idea cannot be the only idea.

Grant’s stories about Jackie Robinson and Steve Jobs are delivered in novel fashion, even if the cliffhanger delivery relies a bit too much on a final reveal. But for those in the business, specifically metalcasting, this book does more to improve performance at the office than elsewhere.

A professor at the Wharton School of Business, Grant writes with an ease and authority that makes “Originals” readable. The book hopes to foster creativity in the name of advancement. To that end, it delivers a few lessons worth learning—at least as many as you’ll glean from Tom & Jerry reruns.


Showcase Your Design Prowess

The holiday season continues for our magazine staff as boxes full of surprises still arrive at our doorsteps. The reason? It is the Annual Casting Competition submission season.

Entries are rolling in to our offices. Peanuts and popcorn (at least Styrofoam versions) are flying as we unpack each masterpiece. Our magazine staff is proud of everything we produce through Metal Casting Design & Purchasing, Modern Casting and Global Casting magazines.  But once a year, the excitement peaks when the castings arrive for judging.

It is hard to believe the Annual Casting Competition we sponsor is in its 16th year.  From the first Casting of the Year—the lost foam cast aluminum oil filter/cooler adapter for Mack Trucks—to the V-process cast steel crawler transporter’s tread belt shoe for NASA that won in 2005 to last year’s ablation sand cast aluminum space frame nodes for Honda, our winners have showcased the diversity and ingenuity of metalcasting’s capabilities.

If you haven’t participated in our Casting Competition, I urge you take a chance. The entry form is on p. 49. Every year, we have castings named Casting of the Year, Best-in-Class or Honorable Mention that represent all metals, processes and end-use markets.  We have submissions from casting buyers as well as metalcasters. Our judges examine what the casting achieved in its given material and process combination (for example, iron/green sand or steel/investment) compared to what typically can be achieved in that material and process.

One of the keys to metalcasting’s future is to educate on the capabilities of the process. Take advantage of this opportunity to showcase your firm’s design prowess and enter this year’s competition.


Novel Solutions: Arguments for Free Enterprise

Not that it is a secret, but figuring out Charles Koch’s political leanings doesn’t take long when reading his book, “Good Profit.” Koch, the CEO of one of the largest private companies in the world, is clear on his belief that a free market society is the most beneficial from an economic, health and quality of life standpoint.

Whether you agree with all of Koch’s political and philisophical ideas, his latest book is a good read and interesting exploration of his arguments for free enterprise.

The point of Good Profit is that companies can achieve strong success by striving to make the lives of its customers better. It goes beyond improving a specific product to anticipating what the people really need or want and then working to provide that for them. Sometimes this means creating new technology or application of a resource that makes the original business obsolete. Koch calls this “creative destruction.” According to Koch, successful businesses grow by creating value for the customer through constantly replacing products, methods and skills by superior alternatives. In this way, a business’s success stemming from a product that improves quality of life is a win-win.

“Good profit is earned through principled entrepreneurship...It is not diminishing someone’s well-being but adding to it by mutually beneficial voluntary transactions, based on respecting what the customer values,” Koch writes.
Good Profit’s subhead is “How Creating Value for Others Built One of the World’s Most Succesful Companies,” and the book delivers with numerous explanations and examples of this foundational philosophy at Koch Industries.

Koch explains in detail his company’s Market Based Management system based on the principles of free market and then frames this system within its five dimensions: vision, virtue and talents, knowledge processes, decision rights and incentives. Each dimension has a chapter dedicated to it, followed with case studies taken from various Koch enterprises. It covers not only transaction-based decision-making but also recruiting and training employees, compliance and building knowledge. Regardless of whether you agree with all of Koch’s management views, the book is worth reading, studying and contemplating for any manager.


Are You Reaching An Equilibrium?

At a recent supply chain conference, a speaker posed the following question:  What is the future of the steel supply chain in the U.S.?  Due to a down economy and global supply pressures, this market is facing significant business turmoil and is at a crossroads to determine what and where its future will be.

The next speaker up (me) was expected to provide a similar message to this audience when discussing the current state of the metalcasting industry. But my message wasn’t filled with the gloom and doom of the previous presentation. While I referenced the crossroads metalcasting faced in 2008-10 when the general consensus was that the U.S. market was in a steep decline, my message was to look at U.S. metalcasting today, as it may be the envy of all other metalcasting markets across the globe.

Sure, U.S. production in several non-automotive markets is down significantly right now. Some segments of metalcasting production are operating at 50-60% capacity while others are operating at 85-90%. But the reality is that an equilibrium is beginning to be achieved in the casting supply chain. Everything is not looking to be offshored (as it seemed 10 years ago) nor is everything being sourced domestically—a proper balance is being reached to ensure business success.

Look at some of the recent headlines:

  • Sahkti Breaks Ground on a $31.8 Million Casting Expansion in Michigan
  • Georg Fischer and Linamar Agree to Build a Metalcasting Facility in Southeast U.S.
  • Kamtek to Invest $80 million in New Diecasting Facility in Alabama
  • Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Purchases Precision Castparts for $37 Billion

 

These headlines show investment and renewed global interest in the U.S metalcasting supply chain. Yes, some of your firms still have corporate decrees to source globally. These probably will continue no matter the level of information and education you receive about the merits of regionalized sourcing or the capabilities of North American metalcasters.

The key is for you to just keep considering all potential sources for your engineered metal components and realize that the North American metalcasting market is one of the strongest in the world with the greatest diversity of capabilities.  It is the market most capable of supplying every size, shape and material of casting desired.

The future growth opportunities for engineered metal castings is limitless as new materials and manufacturing technologies are introduced all the time. Search out a partner who can offer you that optimal supply chain relationship.


Novel Solutions: Leadership Wreck

You should expect that a book titled “Leadership BS” isn’t exactly onboard with much of the advice you find in the business management section of the bookstore. One of the fundamental criticisms offered by Jeffrey Pfeffer charges that the so-called “leadership industry” is overrun by self-anointed experts. Without any barriers to entry, what distinguishes a quack from a luminary?

That question should warrant a healthy dose of skepticism. But Pfeffer, being a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, has the qualifications to ask. In “Leadership BS,” he brings evidence and data from social science research and offers practical solutions in questioning many commonly accepted “truths.” Take the lip service paid to the desired traits of modesty, relatability and honesty in leaders. Most businesses emphasize such characteristics, Pfeffer argues, while many people who reach an organization’s upper echelons are anything but. Immodesty and narcissism certainly can be useful traits in certain situations. But a business needs to be honest and not incentivize behavior it claims to discourage.

Besides the problems in much of the advice from other experts, “Leadership BS” has plenty to say about businesses themselves—and how many companies are inept in developing people for leadership roles. Too often failures in leadership, which can pollute the entire workplace, result from one person’s mistakes or imperfections. Pfeffer argues that businesses should be structured so the system is stronger than the individual. Leaders are important, of course, but they shouldn’t be too important.

Another of Pfeffer’s criticisms applied to both the leadership industry and leaders themselves. Frankly, in both instances, individuals are rarely held accountable for their actions. Pfeffer argues that books and seminars can spread advice, but how do you measure positive results? The experts don’t have to face their audience after a certain point. Similarly, “Leadership BS” argues corporate leaders aren’t as accountable as they should be, citing numerous instances of golden paracutes when in the wake of disasterous performance.

“Leadership BS” attacks large concepts, but the critique remains on point and the suggested fixes are practical. You will look at your business and the leaders in it differently after reading this work. It’s also a relatively light read, considering the nuance to its message, so the benefits of “Leadership BS” aren’t buried in bulky footnotes or dry textbook copy.

Delivering the contrarian’s message can be a tricky proposition, but Pfeffer is successful in his critique of popular opinion in the business world. His points merit consideration, whether or not you agree, and the purpose of this book is to make you think.  


Can You See the Ding?

Netflix is addicting. I find myself scrolling through the movies it suggests for me in search of the next great Hollywood Blockbuster (or is it Hollywood Bust?) I can sink my teeth in to.  The truth is I am far from a movie snob.  I am easily entertained by both the latest Transformers saga and the most recent Diane Keaton romantic comedy drama.

Case in point… I found myself intrigued during a recent viewing of Jobs, the biopic of Apple-founder Steve Jobs.  While this movie was not successful by anyone’s standards, I found it entertaining because I knew little about Jobs (or Apple for that matter), even though I have used Apple products religiously the last several years. Also, the way the movie portrayed Jobs as continuously-focused on innovation and revolutionizing people’s lives was uplifting.

“I want to put a ding in the universe,” Jobs said.

This idea leads to several of our features this issue as they are focused on providing customers solutions.

  • •  The article, “Tech Trends for Practical Casting Design” on p. 25, is focused on the role of casting process modeling software in providing more effective casting designs. While the success of the software is well-documented, its use as an integral tool by casting designers is still developing.
  • •  In “Steel Job Shop Proves Value of 3-D Scanning” on p. 30, 3-D scanning technology was the key to be able to produce accurate first-article castings and quality tooling.
  • •  In the article, “Solving Customers’ Problems” on p. 34, the solutions discussed include a weldment to casting conversion, reverse engineering and additive manufacturing.  The growth of additive manufacturing in metalcasting has been covered well in this magazine, the true potential of it for metalcasting and manufacturing as a whole is just beginning to be realized.

Each of these changes, improvements and advancements has the opportunity to change the world to some degree and put at least a small “ding in the universe.” Manufacturers always have this opportunity at their fingertips because they consistently create value.

Every time you help design and manufacture a new product or component, you have the opportunity to reduce weight, improve performance, reduce emissions, increase safety, lower cost and, most importantly, enhance someone’s life. In most instances, the enhancement is valuable, but marginal to the typical consumer. In a select few instances, we actually can see the ding.


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