Metalcasting Execs Need to Know Management and Technology

Metalcasting Execs Need to Know Management and Technology

Phil LaneyI have always liked the title of this publication, Foundry Management & Technology. It covers both management topics as well as the latest technology available to the metalcasting industry. I believe that the executive team at any company must understand, support, and outright embrace technology implementation in all areas of the business. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that North American metalcasters won’t beat our off-shore competition by being the low-cost provider. So that leaves only a few options for creating a competitive advantage, such as becoming a partner that offers advanced engineering services, responsive customer service (e.g. fast, flexible deliveries), finished product solutions, etc. You can probably name a couple more options. Nearly all competitive advantages of North American metalcasters are supported by technology. Technology is the backbone of what makes us different.

Metalcasting executives have a responsibility to support the implementation of technology at their firms, both on the plant floor and in the office. According to the Project Management Institute (www.pmi.org), a leading cause of technology project implementation failure is lack of management commitment. Metalcasters that have successfully implemented high-tech systems have active participation from the top management team.

In fact the top single-person (i.e. CEO, president, general manager) must wholly commit to a technology implementation project. This applies to all technology projects, such as new molding/ casting machines, robotics, shop floor data collection systems, modeling/solidification software, new lab equipment and ERP software systems.

I believe there is a tendency for an executive to over-delegate and thereby under-commit to certain technology projects, particularly if it’s in an area the executive did not focus on in his/her career. The metalcasting industry is engineering-centric, with complex molding/casting processes, tooling, cores and secondary operations. Many top executives naturally have an engineering background. That is fine. Except if they become top executives and avoid non-engineering areas of the business.

For example, a CEO with an engineering/manufacturing background might avoid actively supporting a business software (ERP) software implementation project. They might dismiss it by saying “… talk to our CFO; he handles all our business software.” Conversely, a CEO that has sales or finance background might avoid active participation in a wireless shop floor data collection project.

Committing to and supporting a technology project from an executive level doesn’t mean you have to know all the details. Hopefully, you have qualified people that will execute the implementation plan and the day-to-day operation of the technology.

But, you do need to know the fundamental advantage of the technology, how it will affect the business once it’s operational and who’s responsible for the project. Hold regular project-status briefing meetings. Talk with the people on the front lines of production who will be using the technology. This sends the message that the project at hand is important to the success of the company.

Again, you don’t need to know the bits and bytes of the technology, but you do need to know what’s going on. The head coach of a football team doesn’t do the blocking and tackling, but he knows how it should be performed and holds his players accountable. If you know the cost of a project, the payback, the responsible parties, and the deliverables, then you know who to support during the implementation and congratulate upon successful completion. You’ll also know whose butt to kick if things get sidetracked.

Management and technology. Don’t just write the check for new technology projects. Get involved. Get invested. Be a coach. Be a cheerleader. Be a therapist. Be a leader.

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