Bill Moore is senior vice president, Sales Development and Channel Management, Regional Sales and Service, SKF USA Inc
With apologies to the great Jane Austen, “It is well to have as many holds upon plant productivity as possible.” That’s a message U.S.-based manufacturing would be wise to heed in the face of increasingly efficient, low-wage offshore production options.
Instead, it appears just the opposite is happening.
U.S. manufacturing sectors almost across the board are often snubbing productivity-enhancing tools and services as part of cost reduction efforts and bypassing more reliable quality components in favor of cheaper machine parts.
In the short run, such savings might drop impressively to a manufacturer’s bottom line. But while the cost-cutters take a bow at quarterly management meetings, the real cost of doing business is growing in terms of added maintenance needs, component replacement expenses and, worse, lower productivity.
A fixation on lowest possible price is evident in manufacturers’ relationships with professional distribution businesses. Here, demands are being made on distributors for ever-diminishing component prices in ways that reduce high-value supply sources to order takers and damage a process that has delivered vital services to manufacturers for the better part of a century.
It is time for U.S.-based manufacturing to reverse course. The most secure road to productivity goes through established distributors. Consider authorized distributors, for example: those that have met a quality technology supplier’s requirements for product knowledge, training and service offerings. They can deliver a potent combination of their own logistics expertise with quality components and specialized engineering support from their suppliers.
A case in point: A biotech facility recently increased plant reliability from 86% to 92% largely through a machine health and reporting program offered by its distributor’s supplier of rotating equipment technology. The increase was calculated with figures from both plant availability and equipment reliability—two keys to increased productivity.
The program, in this case one designed primarily for small- to mid size companies with 500 or fewer critical machines, provided the biotech with equipment, training and data analysis services at a set monthly fee. The package was available to the biotech only through the technology supplier’s authorized distributor.
The program required no capital investment. It included the supply of advanced data logging instrumentation and live data logger training on a predefined collection route schedule. Collected data was then uploaded for analysis and reporting by the rotating equipment firm, which generated monthly machine health reports. Quarterly reliability reports and plant visits by engineers rounded out the agenda.
The comprehensive program helped the plant to avoid unexpected machine breakdowns, identify opportunities for continued reliability improvement and establish a schedule for critical equipment upgrades in areas such as balancing, alignment and lubrication. The bottom line was a 6% increase in plant reliability and a corresponding increase in productivity.