Demand For Metalformed Products Is Up. How Will Ajax Respond?
Despite a harsh winter and scarcity of qualified CNC metalforming professionals, US manufacturing expanded in February for the ninth consecutive month. Supplier and customer inventories within the fabricated metal sector were lower. This news signals an uptick in demand for companies who provide precision metalforming.
Upward demand cycles are both encouraging and challenging for Ajax Metal Forming Solutions of Minneapolis. Don Wellman, Vice President of Sales and Purchasing, expects continued growth in several areas, including fiber optic laser cutting, stamping, sheet metal forming, press brake forming, and turret press punching.
“The new orders are great, but customers expect you to be faster, smarter, and more innovative than last year,” Don said. “If you stand still, even for a month or two, you’ll find yourself playing catch-up. We intend to bend the growth curve in our favor.”
Item one on the checklist is room to grow. Ajax is expanding the production floor space by 30% in 2014. However, adding space is not enough. “Growing the business means more than buying the latest technology and recruiting top employees,” Don said. “We’ve also leaned out our processes, rearranged production flow, and found new ways to reduce time and materials waste. We’ve got six sigma accredited employees in the mix. We even had to create a temporary break room because we needed that space for production” he said with a grin.
Don said that logistics will become another immediate area of focus for Ajax. “Products stuck in a warehouse don’t do our customers any good,” he said. “So we are constantly improving packaging and shipping times. We want to move something once instead of three times. We apply Kanban principles everywhere we can.”
Yet another ongoing change is the increased size and weight of products the company produces. “New technology has given us the capability to form metals in ways that were not possible just a few years ago,” Don said. “The work is getting bigger. That means we’re shipping larger containers and pallets. With our expansion and improved methods, we now have the space to do that.”
The incorporation of quality management software has made a significant difference in the way the company manages its processes, Don said. “We use uniPoint software for tooling and equipment, document control, safety and health, and customer service,” he said. “If we can find a new way to improve workflow, chances are we’ll make that investment.”
Overall, the company remains very upbeat about the future of metal forming. Erick Ajax, company co-owner, stresses the importance of training and recruitment as a means to keep pace with growth. “Our employee-colleagues will play a huge role in determining the long term success of the company,” Erick said. “Our continued investment in vocational training and education, and our affiliation with top vocational schools is paying off for everyone involved.”
* Industry data provided by the February 2014 Manufacturing Report On Business, distributed by the Institute for Supply Management