A fundamental strategy

Dec. 12, 2005
Playing the waiting game is a no-win situation.
Companies can not survive by waiting for economies to improve, says Brian Papke, president of Mazak Corp.'s North American operations. They have to adjust their fundamental manufacturing strategies and invest in new technologies that increase productivity, Papke says. He also warns that chasing low labor rates in underdeveloped countries is a flawed game plan, but adds that companies can not ignore those markets. Instead, he says, companies have to focus on regionalizing operations within them. As part of Mazak's fundamental global strategy, the machine tool builder established a plant in China to serve that market and deepened its commitment to U.S. manufacturing while other companies were reining back efforts because of downturns in the North American market. That commitment resulted in Mazak's Florence, Ky., plant producing 20 new models of the Nexus line of modular machines, initiating a lean manufacturing plan called Production on Demand, adding innovative machining systems to incorporate the company's Done in One concept, and automating several production processes. Through its Production on Demand program, Mazak is building its machines based on market demand rather than on forecasts. To implement the strategy, Mazak adopted modular assembly systems and shortened its lead times to weeks instead of months while it worked to boost machine quality. The company's Kentucky plant now houses innovative machining systems, including horizontal machining centers that feature load/unload palletization and 5-axis machining cells with robotic automation. These systems use the company's Done in One concept to manufacture parts in one operation. Papke says they have helped to improve productivity so much that the Florence facility is bringing work back that it previously outsourced to the company's Asian facility. Has Mazak's strategy worked? Papke says it has. The Kentucky plant produces 130 machines each month, and continues to have capacity for growth. In 2004, Mazak machine orders jumped 60 percent over the previous year, and this year the company is realizing a 30 percent increase in orders over 2004. Mazak isn't keeping its manufacturing strategies a secret; it is trying to pass them on to customers. The company held an event in early November at its recently expanded tech center. The event grew from a series of manufacturing survival seminars Mazak designed to help its customers to improve their productivity. The tech center expansion more than doubled the size of Mazak's previous tech center and houses several multitasking machines and Mazak's Center for Multitasking and Manufacturing Excellence. Under one roof, Mazak has brought together what it has identified as the necessary resources to support and to teach customers how to benefit from multitasking equipment. Training support comes from suppliers, universities, consultants and Mazak's own professionals. In addition, Mazak is building new tech centers in Hartford, Conn., and Toronto, to further extend customer support. The company also is enhancing its customer services program to streamline repair-parts ordering and shipping for same-day deliveries. (www.mazak.com)