Highway Construction Season Is Here- Take Safety Along For The Ride

May 9, 2013

Getting back and forth to work may involve greater hazards than those we face on the job now that Orange Barrel Season has arrived.

Safety Awareness is just as important on the drive in to work and on the way home these days.

Safety Awareness is just as important on the drive in to work and on the way home these days.

While many of us take comfort in the fact that we can drive on autopilot- as long as we have had the first cup of coffee before inserting the ignition keys– the fact is that we need to be on the alert for changes that just might put us at greater risk than anything that we might face on the job.

Excavations, construction workers, construction equipment, and high horsepower vehicles are all hazards that might ‘ambush us’ now that Orange Barrel Season is upon us and in full swing.

I have a half mile of orange barrels after turning out of my neighborhood onto the state road- not even a quarter mile from my driveway.

“Safety First”  in Orange Barrel Season means being on the lookout for driving hazards  “Before getting to work!”

Four of every five victims in a work zone crash are motorists, not highway workers, which is why it is particularly important for drivers to remain alert while driving through work zones. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has taken steps in the past several years to improve work zone design, strengthen enforcement near work zones, and heighten awareness among drivers for bringing the number of work zone fatalities to record lows.

Orange Barrel season is the opposite of Hunting Season.

No points for this!

No points for this!

“It’s a bad outcome if you “bag one!”

FHWA Statistic

Orange Barrel Season

Damaged Orange Barrel


Manufacturing Jobs – What You Need (And Want) To Know

January 7, 2013

Four of the top five manufacturing sectors by added employment  in 2012 were key markets served by precision machining; Transportation Equipment, Motor Vehicles and Parts, Fabricated Metal Products, Machinery.

(The fifth market was Food Manufacturing, and yes, some of our companies make parts for food service too- think blender parts, nozzles and components for food dispensing, preparation and packaging equipment.)

Graph courtesy Chad Moutray, National Association of Manufacturers, NAM.

Graph courtesy Chad Moutray, National Association of Manufacturers, NAM.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of Jobs in Manufacturing increased by 180,000 in 2012.

“In December, manufacturing employment rose by 25,000, with small gains  in a number of component industries. In 2012, factory employment increased by 180,000; most of the growth occurred during the first quarter.”

“In December, the average workweek for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls edged up by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours. The manufacturing workweek edged up by 0.1 hour to 40.7 hours, and factory overtime was unchanged at 3.3 hours.”

While there are signs that manufacturing employment gains have slowed down in the second half, those were connected to the economic uncertainties tied to the Presidential Election, Fiscal Cliff, and Global Economic Slowdown. Two of these three special causes are now behind us.

As the graph above shows, Manufacturing is the place to look for employment gains.

The softness in manufacturing employment in the last half of 2012 belies the demand that our industry will have for talented workers going forward. As the BLS workweek hours indicate, Manufacturing currently is using overtime to meet its needs. Given demographic trends, current lean staffing, and the push to reshore production, any economic upturn at all will be strongly bullish for employment prospects in Manufacturing in 2013.

Improvements in Housing Markets are already visible and  a 15+ million auto sales forecast are two indicators that suggest if you want to find a well paying job in 2013, Precision Machining (Advanced Manufacturing) is a great place to apply.

For information about careers in Precision Machining, check out our Career Resources Page on the PMPA Website.

Find a training program near you using PMPA’s Comprehensive Jobs Training Database.

I continue to speak with instructors, counselors, and officials at local community colleges across the country. They are unanimous in saying that their machining students “have multiple job offers before they graduate.”


December ISM Manufacturing Report- Mixed Message

January 2, 2013

The December ISM Manufacturing Report is out, and the headline story is good news.

But the full report is a bit of a mixed bag for our industry.

Manufacturing is back in expansion mode as the Purchasing Manager’s Index, “‘The PMI™,’ registered 50.7 percent, an increase of 1.2 percentage points from November’s reading of 49.5 percent, indicating expansion in manufacturing for only the third time in the last seven months. This month’s PMI™ reading moved manufacturing off its low point for 2012 in November.” – ISM Report Dec 2012

ISMDec2012

A closer reading however notes that “The nine industries reporting contraction in December — listed in order — are: Nonmetallic Mineral Products; Chemical Products; Miscellaneous Manufacturing; Plastics & Rubber Products; Fabricated Metal Products; Transportation Equipment; Machinery; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components; and Apparel, Leather & Allied Products.”ISM Report Dec 2012

Precision machining is an industry of Fabricated Metal Products.  Four of our most important market segments were also in decline in December:  Transportation Equipment; Machinery; Electrical Equipment, Appliances & Components. The market we see is not as rosy as the headline.

In addition, the New Orders component of the survey, at 50.3, went unchanged.  This suggests that new orders, the source of our business’s future production, was virtually unchanged in December. The backlog of orders component,  at 48.5,indicates a small contraction of the orders book.

Graph courtesy of Calculated Risk Blog


FAA Begins Reconsideration of Electronic Device Policy Comment Now

August 29, 2012

But I’d still be careful about what I was doing…

The FAA wants your comments regarding  in flight Portable Electronic Device policy.

The FAA seeks comments on current policy, guidance, and procedures that aircraft operators (ranging from pilots of general aviation aircraft up to and including air carrier certificate holders at the major airlines) use when determining if passenger use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) may be allowed during any phase of flight on their aircraft. “

Read their announcement here PED NOTICE

Why do they have the policy? Here is the current FAA Fact Sheet.

No they don’t want your seat mate to be gabbing on their cell phone the entire flight.

But they are opening up the possibility that real scientific evidence, rather than just all encompassing paralyzing fear that “something,” “could,” “happen.”

In this case I am rooting for the committee that is to be established.

We just might get some “Intelligent Management of Risk” out of this.

How to comment:

  • Send comments identified by docket number FAA-2012-0752 using any of the following methods:
  • Email: Submit your comments via email to PEDcomment@faa.gov
  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for sending your comments electronically.
  • Mail: Send comments to Docket Operations, M-30; U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Room W12-140, West Building Ground Floor, Washington, DC 20590-0001.
  • Hand Delivery or Courier: Take comments to Docket Operations in Room W12-140 of the West Building Ground Floor at 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE, Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
  •  Fax: Fax comments to Docket Operations at 202-493-2251.

If enough people comment, we might just get to the point that it won’t be illegal to take photos out of the window during takeoff and landing.

Photo credit


Industrial Production Index July 2012 Shows Manufacturing in Positive Light

August 16, 2012

Industrial Production (IP) increased 0.6 percent in July after having risen 0.1 percent in both May and June.

This explains manufacturing’s contribution to the U.S. Economy too.

In July, manufacturing output increased 0.5 percent and was 5.0 percent above its year-earlier level. The factory operating rate moved up 0.2 percentage point in July to 77.8 percent, a level 1.0 percentage point below its long-run average.

Capacity utilization for total industry moved up 0.4 percentage point to 79.3 percent, a rate 1.0 percentage point below its long-run (1972–2011) average.

Revisions to the rates of change for recent months left the level of the IP  index in June little changed from its previous estimate. Manufacturing output rose 0.5 percent in July, the same rate of increase as was recorded for June.

At 98.0 percent of its 2007 average, total industrial production in July was 4.4 percent above its year-earlier level.

The production index for durable goods increased 0.8 percent in July.

Gains of more than 1 percent were recorded in

  • Primary metals,
  • Computer and electronic products,
  • Motor vehicles and parts,
  • Aerospace and miscellaneous transportation equipment,
  • Miscellaneous manufacturing.

Manufacturing  is up 5 % from July 2011 to July 2012. 

Manufacturing continues to be a strength of the U.S. Economy. The U.S. manufactures more than Brazil, Russia, India, and China combined. If U.S. Manufacturing was a country, it would be the sixth largest in the world.

Fred Graph

IP release


7 Reasons Why Cycle Time Isn’t The Cost Driver In Your Precision Machined Parts

October 25, 2011

In the old days, everybody knew that it was cycle time that won you the job over the other shops…

Everybody knows it's cycle time...

Cycle time is a major determinant of price per piece, but it may no longer be the main one. (I’m going to ignore the effect of setup time and order quantity in this discussion. These can also be a major influence in price per piece on smaller lot sizes.)

Here are 7 other determinants of piece cost:

Cleanliness– some parts require millipore tests to assure cleanliness on parts for sophisticated systems. Costs to obain this level of cleanliness can exceed the cost to whittle the part out of the barstock.

Surface finish– what the machine can deliver may be acceptable, but when the customer demands to see CPK for surface finish,  now you are talking about a secondary operation for grinding, honing or other surface finishing process- at an additional cost.

Certifications and paperwork– No I’m not talking about mill certs for raw material, I’m talking about customer required documentation that requires outside labwork, analysis, testing or validation.  In specialty areas like aviation, medical, and automotive, the cost to prepare paperwork submissions (especially first piece submissions) easily exceeds the value of the parts provided. Making aircaft parts? Something on the U.S. Munitions List? You know what I’m talking about.

Post process steps– Plating or heat treating costs can exceed the cost of the basic part depending on the process and application. Transportation to outside vendors also adds to this, as would the compliance costs if the shop is capable of doing these processes on site.

Packaging– In a day when supply chains span the globe, multiple time zones, and climate regions- where our metal products may be exposed to salt air on board ship or depressurized air cargo holds at 35,000 feet- packaging to preserve product integrity can be a cost driver. Especially if to Mil-spec and or the requirement mandates the  need to preserve integrity for a period of years.

Tolerances and capability– I have seen parts where a new engineer has decreased the tolerance so much  that the product can no longer be made on the economical machines that exceeded requirements for the past five years. Requiring Cpk that exceed normal manufacturing expectations “just for safety’s sake” can also result in moving a part off a multispindle automatic with short cycle times onto  several CNC machines (to maintain volume) just to get that extra “kick” of Cpk. The risk that was eliminated is now reflected in the new cost of the more expensive process.

Raw Materials– on tiny, high stock removal, highly engineered parts, the cost of machining probably does exceed the cost component of the raw material. Show me a part that looks essentially like the piece it was made from, and I’ll show you a part where raw material cost, not cycle time, is the primary cost driver.

Transportation, including premium freight for parts or paperwork, is another item to consider. The point of this post is not to whine about all of these additional requirements- it is to point out that they can be a frictional cost, a parasitic load that increases part costs, and yet are under the control of the Buyer. These costs, either separately or in combination, may be the main drivers of why that 15 second  part now costs so much.

Sales people and estimators- unless you actively review the real needs with your customer, your blind acceptance/compliance to all of these “Additional Requirements” may be the real reason that the customer comes back saying that “Your price is too high.”

I teach my students that critical thinking is recognizing and challenging assumptions. Critical sales and estimating, if they are to be successful, might share that definition of recognizing and challenging those assumptions that add cost, but not value, to our precision machined products.

Stopwatch2