At the 2006 IMTS show last November, American Machinist announced the results from its 10 Best Machine Shops competition. The contestants were chosen from respondents to the American Machinist Benchmarking Survey done last March. After evaluating the survey responses and conducting in-depth telephone interviews and on-site visits, 10 shops were recognized as having the best operating results in the United States. (See "10 Best machine shops", American Machinist, September, 2006, page 26, also online at http://americanmachinist.com/304/Issue/Article/False/31829/Issue).
In January, American Machinist contacted those shops to see if there had been any significant impact from being named one of America's 10 Best machine shops. The responses were amazing.
Toby Milller, president of Turning Inc. in Jasper, Ga., was not available for comment because he was in China setting up an outsourcing and export operation. That might not seem unusual or special since there are a number of other companies doing that, but Turning Inc. has only five employees and had no plans to go to China before winning a 10 Best award. "The decision to open an operation in China is a direct result of winning that award," said Beth Hostetler, Turning Inc.'s office manager. "It inspired all of us to do a better job."
"We only had two CNC machines when Bruce Vernyi (editor of American Machinist) visited us, and now we have four just to keep up with the increased demand," said Jim Whipple, owner of Phinney Bay Machine Works (www.pbmwgroup.com) another 10 Best shop. "People are mentioning that they saw us in that article."
"The vice-president of a company in Seattle read the article and told his shop supervisor that he needs to give us a call about making some heat exchangers. Now we're doing $20,000 a month with them, and there are others just like that," Whipple added.
"The new customers called us after reading that article about us being one of the 10 Best shops, and one of the new customers is very significant," said Samuel Hopp, president of SPM Corp. (www.spmcorporation.com). "We have two new advanced machining centers from Mazak that were delivered in December. They were in the planning before we won the award, but winning that award made my board of directors a lot more comfortable with their decision to make that investment."
Hopp also has received substantial personal recognition that he attributes to his shop winning that award. "I was elected to the board of directors of the Boston Machining and Tooling Association, and that was due at least in part to winning that award," said Hopp. He has also been asked to speak at several functions. "I gave a presentation at the Society of Manufacturing Engineers of Southern New Hampshire that was supposed to be only 30 minutes long," said Hopp. "After the presentation the audience kept asking questions for almost another hour. They were interested in how we solved some of the common problems with trying to implement lean manufacturing. Stuff like how to deal with missing allen wrenches. You have a missing 15-cent Allen wrench used for setup and you spend half an hour trying to find it. You can by a hundred of those wrenches for $10 but you spend $100 a day looking for the missing one. That is a problem common to a lot of shops that has a simple solution once you think about it," explained Hopp.
Being named one of the 10 Best Shops didn't immediately bring in new customers to all of the shops. "From a business standpoint it is a very positive issue especially when we have people in and show them our facility," said Bob Rubenstahl, president of Command Tooling (www.commandtool.com). "From an employee morale standpoint it has also been very positive. A number of employees have commented that they didn't necessarily think that whenwe embarked on our path of improvement they weren't sure it would be that beneficial, but I think they are now all on board. We have become a nicer place to work. We're even cleaner than when you visited because neat and clean is all part of the process of improvement," Rubenstahl added.
"It might have gotten us a pat on the back from our customers," said Craig Lewandowski, vice-president of manufacturing at E.H. Wachs Co. (www.wachsco.com). "We had a party to celebrate, and we gave everyone in the machine shop a plastic card that looks like a credit card and has their name and the 10 Best Shops logo on it. We put our award plaque right out front so that everyone who visits us can see it, and our marketing people use the logo in their literature. We've gotten a lot of positive feedback, and it's pretty neat. Very positive for company morale."
One company saw the downside to winning the award. "It seems that I have had every cutting tool salesman in the world trying to sell to us, and I'm sure it is a result of winning that award," said Dave Counts, president of PNM Co. "I've even had three or four calls from people asking if I want to sell my company. It (the award) has been a good thing for our employees, and we had a special thing about it at our Christmas party," said Counts.
The most common impacts most of the shops noticed were improved employee morale and positive feedback from their existing customers. Most of the shops are not resting on their laurels. They are continuing their relentless productivity improvement programs and using the boost they got from receiving recognition for what they have already done to make even more improvements. Turning Inc.'s leap into international operations is an extreme example of that, but Phinney Bay and SPM Corp.'s major investments in more new equipment are directly in line with what the best shops are doing to get ahead and stay ahead of the competition.
The 2006 American Machinist Benchmarking Survey gave the machining industry its first clear statistically valid picture of what the best shops were doing and how well they were doing it. Recognition of being one of the 10 Best Shops in the U.S. has brought unexpected tangible and intangible rewards. Next month, the 2007 American Machinist Benchmarking Survey will enhance that picture and help identify the 10 Best Shops of 2007. Filling out the survey takes some time, but even the shops that are not declared one of the 10 Best will benefit from finding out exactly how good the shop compares with the rest of the industry and learn what can be done to improve its productivity and profitability.