Lessons of the ’80s set stage for competing in the ’90s
David P. Kanicki
The Wisconsin Regional Conference of the American Foundrymen’s Society marked its 53rd annual meeting by looking ahead to how foundry business will be conducted during the next decade and beyond. With the theme, “2000… Prepare for It,” more than 770 metalcasters participated in the conference held Feb 8-9 in Milwaukee. The meeting was highlighted by more than 30 technical presentations and 75 tabletop exhibits.
Keynote speaker of the conference was AFS vice president, Jerry Agin, who told those in attendance that “The critical issues our industry faces are largely the critical issues we have been facing in the decade of the 80s.” Among the issues Agin sees as most crucial for competing in the coming decade are quality, cost effectiveness, technology and human resources.
On the subject of improving the quality of our products, he explained, “Many of us dragged our feet and allowed our customers to lead the drive for better quality. I don’t know why we had to learn the hard way that quality and cost are not opposite sides of the coin. Improving quality puts more on the bottom line quicker than most other efforts we can make. The fact is, if we can control our process 90 to 95 percent of the time, we ought to be able to control it all the time.”
To compete in the marketplace of today and the future, cost effectiveness must become “institutionalized, a permanent part of our day-to-day operations,” according to Agin. Critical elements in producing a product at the lowest practical cost include “developing supplier programs to ensure their products are cost effective… properly training and supervising people… looking for innovative ways to utilize capital so that we operate with better efficiency and less scrap… and always keeping an eye out for opportunities to do the job better with fewer people.”
Technology, as always, will continue to be vital to effectively compete in the 90s. “We must embrace new technology quicker than in the past and we must demand, as our customers demand, that our suppliers continue a high degree of R&D spending so that we keep moving.”
Perhaps the most critical element of all, said Agin, is people. “Today we face an increasingly sophisticated work force which demands more from a job. I believe we will get more if we function as a team rather than with the old ways. The challenge we must meet if we are to manage in the coming decade is how to be a leader through teamwork. The key words now are teamwork, open communications and leadership. All of our employees must become part of the decision making process. That’s where we need to be.”
Agin also cited several emerging trends that will guide how we operate our foundries in the future. The first is global competition. “The global issue,” he said, “is as real for our employees as it is for management and stockholders. What happens in Europe today affects us more in the U.S. than ever before. And I don’t have to draw the same parallels between the U.S. and Japan or Korea. Casting competition has become a worldwide issue because we’re competing on worldwide products. The bottom line is that we cannot ignore trends in the Far East or Europe because sooner or later we will see them here.”
Another rapidly emerging need for the foundry industry to effectively compete in the future is that of marketing, which Agin defines as “the function that looks at the whole range of customer needs and wants, not just the selling of your products to a customer. What I’m really talking about is a process rather than a person,” he explained.
“Marketing is an attitude of the whole business,” said Agin. It is the desire to provide a full range of services to the customer. If that means we must provide R&D, engineering, machining and assembly, then we must look at how we set up cooperative groups to provide these services.”
Despite the many challenges and changes confronting the foundry industry, Agin is optimistic about the industry’s future. “It is an exciting time to be part of this dynamic and global industry. I am extremely optimistic because I’ve seen you grow and change during the 80s. The ’90s will be no less challenging and rewarding.”
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COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning