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Expectations for Growth

As the American Foundry Society rolled out its annual economic forecast in January, the numbers were more encouraging than in recent years. AFS is projecting sales growth of 4.7% in 2018, followed by another 1.8% growth in 2019, for the overall market. Coming on the heels of an estimated 2.7 percent growth in 2017, the industry is looking at its strongest three-year period of rising sales in quite some time.

Auto sales are generally projected to back off slightly from recent high-water marks, which has implications for metalcasters whose business is primarily auto-related. But many other end-markets for complex castings are in upward trends. The AFS-backed tax reform law should drive more business investment. If Congress increases infrastructure investment, that too could be a welcome shot in the arm.

Concurrent with sales growth, it’s a good time to grow the skills base on your foundry floor. Recent AFS surveys show the skills shortage remains a major challenge. Vacancies can be difficult to fill. Some applicants fail drug tests, or quickly lose interest in the job. Therefore, each employee who shows up on time and demonstrates an ability to do the vital work of the foundry is increasingly valuable.

If an employee understands there is potential for career stability and growth, and that the employer is willing to invest in training, the employee is much more likely to make your company a long-term place of employment. With improved training, casting defects go down, and productivity goes up.

Training from the AFS Institute is no longer hours and hours of lecture. All Institute courses are now highly interactive and skills based, meaning your workers return more skilled and more confident. Moreover, the same skills-based principles are at work with e-Learning from the Institute—in English and Spanish.

In addition to investing in your company’s human capital, take some time to invest in your own growth. Metalcasting Congress 2018 in Fort Worth, from April 3-5, offers just such an opportunity.

Keynote speaker Stephen Moore of the Heritage Foundation was a senior economic advisor to the Trump campaign in 2016, and was deeply involved in policy discussions that shaped the new tax-reform law. He is in a unique position to deliver insight on the economic opportunities and risks that lie ahead. Jean Bye of Dotson Iron Castings is poised to become the first female president of AFS in April. She has guided her company through the recovery following a serious fire, and thanks to AFS and its Iron Division, she will share what she and her company learned through this experience. Dan Oman of Haley Aldrich, who has spent most of his career equipping clients to navigate environmental, health and safety (EHS) risks, will deliver the Hoyt Memorial Lecture.

Metalcasting Congress will also feature exhibits from premier suppliers, and dozens of technical sessions that are certain to capture your imagination and enhance your success. Two marketing experts who have never before addressed Metalcasting Congress will be speaking, and there will be compelling programs from Future Leaders in Metalcasting, Women in Metalcasting, and the HR Committee. The AFS Institute will be offering courses, as well. We look forward to seeing you in Fort Worth!

Click here to see this story as it appears in the February 2018 issue of Modern Casting

Encouraging Employee Innovation

Successful foundries rely on innovation from every member of the company, which is no different from many other manufacturing businesses. After all, each employee typically has more constant contact and intimate knowledge of their tasks than employees “above” them on the company organizational chart. This intimate knowledge often sows the seeds of innovation whether through necessity or simply mentally visualizing process improvement.

For example, a molding machine operator might see the need for new safety equipment or develop an optimized coring design. Perhaps maintenance personnel find a new way to quickly replace a hydraulic cylinder. This type of innovation frequently happens, and foundries need to capture these innovations to help the foundry maintain its quality mission and sustain a competitive advantage. Foundries can put systems and programs into place to help capture these ideas and make the most of them. Moreover, management teams certainly do not want to see these innovations leave the business to benefit other companies.

Many innovations come from employees during the regular course of their work. Most employees are generally paid only for their work, and they might not be motivated to be involved in extra efforts that could derive from innovations in their work equipment and methods. As a result, there can be an expensive gap between the innovation taking place in the company, and the status of the gathering of innovative ideas to improve the foundry as a whole.

One helpful tool for some organizations is easing the process for ideas and innovation to come to light. Some employees are shy about suggesting new things, and we have to find ways around that obstacle. It is often helpful to invite ideas and reward successful innovations to transform the operation and develop the competitive advantage that your company has developed. Acceptance of new ideas from every level can gain buy-in from greater numbers of employees, which then helps to boost morale and dedication to foundry work. Think, too, about whether your foundry makes it easy for an employee to develop good ideas and process improvements. You certainly do not want employees to scrap valuable ideas because the process is too difficult.

Additionally, make sure good ideas are valued in your foundry. That does not require bonuses or cash rewards, but could take the form of celebrating and internally publicizing teams and individuals who develop innovations. This, in turn, helps make sure employees understand what benefits their improvements mean for the company and the employees on an individual level.

Many of these ideas can remain protected within the foundry, but some innovations may be significant enough to seek patent or trademark protection. Most employees appreciate the notion that the company values their innovations enough to pursue that type of protection when it is warranted. Along those lines, it is often valuable for many employees to understand the basics of intellectual property protection.

Capturing these innovations can be another issue, but one with plenty of solutions. Many companies have developed formal and informal systems to report innovations. It may be important to enable employees to report any kind of improvement or innovation from a relatively small idea with respect to the workflow on the foundry floor to technical improvements in the foundry equipment. Innovation reporting allows the company to capture any kind of innovation and also helps to lower the psychological hurdle that some employees feel when considering reporting their innovations and ideas. Some companies also conduct regularly scheduled recognition ceremonies for the “best improvement,” where employees can win awards for their ideas and innovation. In other cases, an automatically generated letter or email thanking the innovator can suffice. As you likely already know, the impact of non-financial recognition plans can differ from foundry to foundry and different plans should be applied across the organization as needed to encourage innovation in all areas. Often, if a simple mechanism for the employees to report their bright ideas does not exist, the ideas will never be heard.

Your engineering team is also a great resource, and can be the eyes and ears with regard to the innovations that are developed, particularly in the foundry. For example, if a core machine operator develops an innovation, the operator may approach an engineer to apply their engineering skill to effectively implement a mechanical change to the core machine. In other instances, the engineering staff could be asked to calculate a time savings for a process of the core machine. At times, the engineering team can be the first point of contact for any management team that is seeking new innovations, no matter their source.

In the end, your business likely relies upon the innovations, ideas, and inventions of a wide array of employees. Help keep your competitive edge by encouraging these developments through a notification plan, recognition, and appreciation of these internal developments. If the innovators know that the extra work undertaken to assist the improvement process matters to everyone else, and is noticed, a culture of innovation and improvement can be fostered to benefit the foundry in a multitude of areas. 

Click here to see this story as it appears in the February 2018 edition of Modern Casting

Branding Yourself: Which Social Platforms Work Best for You?

Erik Deckers, a marketing speaker at this year’s Metalcasting Congress, has co-authored a book with Kyle Lacy, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself, third edition.

The book is a guide to the major social media platforms, and how you take charge of your brand on those platforms.

We need to listen to Deckers’ expertise. He knows how you can make these social media platforms work for you, and he can help you decide which ones will be the best for you. 

Branding yourself used to be less complicated. For instance, you do as your parents said. They told you to look people in the eye when you met them. Have a firm handshake. Stand up straight. Use proper grammar. Mind your personal hygiene.

All of which is still good advice. But today everyone has a personal brand online. Check it out on a search engine: 264 million people in the U.S. have social media profiles. If that’s not everyone, it’s close.

From those numbers, we can guess at least a few of your important customers are communicating on social media platforms. That means you should too. That’s where Branding Yourself comes in.

How much more effective could your own marketing and sales teams be if they were building relationships online long before they reached out with a pitch? Branding Yourself will help you learn which platforms are best for the people you want to reach, and therefore best for you and your company. 

Along with what platforms work best for you, Branding Yourself demonstrates how you and your brand can be effective on those platforms.

Your business’ brand is heavily influenced by your personal brand, and vice versa. That starts with your personal brand story. Once you have a handle on your story, you can move on to communicating on platforms.

Deckers’ business, when he’s not writing books, is www.problogservice.com. He ghost-writes blogs, helps others start blogging, and is an all-around blogging expert. He explains why metalcasters, and others, should seriously think about having their own blog and posting regularly:

“Businesses use their blogs to engage directly with their customers and help them make buying decisions about their products or services. This is called content marketing and its all the rage … (Y)ou may not sell anything on your blog, but you can sell things because of it. You can showcase your products and drive people to your website to increase sales. Many businesses have embraced blogging for marketing, which is why we know it isn’t going away anytime soon.”

Blogs are about your passion. If your passion is about supplying the best cutting-edge equipment to foundries, someone in your company should be blogging about that, according to Deckers. If your passion is providing the perfect casting to end-users, you should be writing posts about that. Blogging is a potent way to tell your brand story and connect with your potential customers, and to stay connected with your current audience.

If you are not using a blog to drive traffic to your website or to simply start conversations, Deckers’ chapter on blogging is for you. It is one of the best ways to connect with your audience.

Creating your own blog is one of several platforms metalcasters can better exploit. AFS has engagement with our audience on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and to some extent, Twitter. At this moment, the best engagement occurs on LinkedIn and Facebook. But this could change tomorrow, and we’ll need to adjust.

Social platforms are always changing, as the authors found out in early November after Branding Yourself went to print when Twitter doubled the characters allowed per tweet from 140 to 280. The sections headed “Tips in 140 characters” are very helpful, as the authors’ Twitter followers provided some fascinating answers to key questions posed in the book. You can converse with your audience and even receive helpful feedback. It doesn’t really matter if it’s 140 or 280 characters.   

An especially insightful part of the book is on page 216. There, you get a summary of regular actions you should take on social media for your branding campaign. If branding yourself is what you’re looking for, Branding Yourself is available at fine bookstores everywhere.

Erik Deckers is the owner and President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing agency in Indianapolis. He has been blogging since 1997 and has been a humor columnist for more than 20 years. Erik frequently speaks about blogging and social media, especially as it relates to personal branding, small business marketing, crisis communication, and citizen journalism. He is speaking from 3:15-4:45 p.m. on April 3 at the 2018 AFS Metalcasting Congress in Fort Worth, Texas.

Kyle Lacy, co-author of Branding Yourself, is an experienced marketer and strategist. He is VP of Marketing at Lessonly, a training software company. 

Register here for Metalcasting Congress.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the February 2018 issue of Modern Casting

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