Deborah Keegan on IndustryWeek Manufacturing Network on LinkedIn asked  “What is the one thing you need young workers who are joining your workforce this summer to know in order to be safe?”

See the discussion here.

How many of you would answer-

  • “Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?”
  • “Safety Rules”
  • “Machine Guarding?”
  • “Safety Training?”
  • “OSHA?”
  • “My boss?”

What is your answer?

What really keeps you safe?
What really keeps you safe?

Time’s up!

I am passionate about safety, so of course I had to put my two cents in…

What keeps you safe is the knowledge that ” ‘you are nothing more than a plastic bag filled with water and everything around you is harder, stronger and more powerful. Your safety depends on your understanding that you are the most vulnerable of everything in our shop environment.’ I started in the steel mill blast furnace department in high school surrounded by rail trains,  mobile equipment, hot metal,  noxious fumes, overhead cranes, and high powered equipment. My buddies who thought they were strong and powerful all had injuries at one time or another. My attitude of being the most vulnerable kept me in one piece.”

What keeps YOU safe?

If “Knowledge of how vulnerable you are” and an “Attitude of being vulnerable to all the hazards in your area” aren’t your answers, Maybe you should take a moment to think about what is really keeping you safe. Or not.

Thanks to Deborah Keegan for starting a great discussion. Check it out on Industry Week Manufacturing Network on LinkedIn

Photocredit: Somalian Body Armor

The time to catch an obsolete specification is during contract review, before there are commitmemnts to material and or sunk costs of material, production and inspection.

Not to mention the cost of scrapping out the production and starting a “Do Over.”

If you get iot right the first time, you don't need a "Do Over."
If you get it right the first time, you don’t need a “Do Over.”

There were over 19,116 cancelled or superceded specifications, commercial item descriptions and standards when I first prepared my list of Obsolete Federal Specifications for cold finished steel in 2004.

These specifications, standards and descriptions often specify mandatory product attributes. Sometimes the replacement standard or specification contain different product requirements.

If you placed your order to the obsolete specification, and the material is in fact delivered to the applicable requirements of the superceding specification, the failure to achieve certain attributes or properties may require a “do over” with new material ordered and a second production campaign. Or a painful engineering change/ waiver from your customer.

It is essential that someone on your team be the standard and specification expert, so you can avoid the waste and stress and expens of a needless “do over.”
Here is my list of obsolete specs that I continue to encounter in the steel bar business :

  • QQ-S-624 Steel Bar Alloy Hot Rolled and Cold Finished General Purpose
  • QQ-S-630A Steel Bar Carbon Hot Rolled Merchant Quality
  • QQ-S-631A Steel Bar Carbon Hot Rolled Special Quality
  • QQ-S-633 Steel Bars Carbon Cold Finish and Hot Rolled General Purpose
  • QQ-S-634 Steel Bars Carbon Cold Finish Standard Quality
  • QQ-S-637 Steel Bar Carbon Cold Finish Standard Quality
  • QQ-S-764 Steel Bar Corrosion Resisting Free Machining

See details for obsolescence dates and replacement specifactions for these in the chart below.

ASTM A 331-95 was cancelled on June 1, 2004. Its requirements were rolled into ASTM A 108. ASTM A331 had been the replacement for QQ-S-624.

obsolete specs copy

To read my original Production Machining  Magazine Article on Obsolete Federal Specifications click here. It contains a couple of links to some helpful sites that may help you determine a specification’s status.

Of course PMPA members have access to their own standard and specification experts through PMPA listserves and staff. A request for an assist always results in a prompt response from the appropriate supplier expert or an answer from PMPA Staff. Where do you go for an assist when wierd, strange, and unusual specifications appear in a quote package?

Do over

As shop owners, we tend to think of OSHA as meaning “Enforcement.”
At PMPA’s Management Update Meeting in Arizona last week, Director Michaels reminded us that OSHA also provides Free On-site Safety and Health  Consultation Services for Small Business.

"OSHA provides free and confidential safety and health advice to small and medium sized businesses committed to improving workplace safety and health."
“OSHA provides free and confidential safety and health advice to small and medium sized businesses committed to improving workplace safety and health.”

A consultation visit is a voluntary activity conducted at the request of an employer.

The employer’s only obligation is to correct any “serious,” unsafe or unhealthful working conditions discovered by the consultant within a reasonable timeframe.

Consultants will NOT issue citations or propose penalties for violations of OSHA standards. 

6 Reasons for you to consider a voluntary consultation

  • Reduce worker injury and illness rates;
  • Decrease workmen’s compensation costs;
  • Improve employee morale;
  • Increase productivity;
  • Recognize and remove workplace hazards;
  • Improve safety and health management systems.

Director Michaels assured our members that “On-site consultation services are separate from our enforcement activities. Last year we did about 30,000 on-site consultations at the request of small businesses looking to improve their company’s safety and health performance. These on-site consultations are paid for out of the OSHA budget, and are one of the tools in our mix to improve the safety and health of all workers in the U.S.”

We personally know of several PMPA members who have used this service and they are leaders in both safety and operational performance.

Link to brochure on the OSHA On-site Consultation Service

Have you used this OSHA consultation service? What was your experience? What advice would you give to other shop owners?

This technology could be the embodiment of our industry’s real vision of a “Paperless Shop.”


No mention of what you’ll have to pay to stop the annoying pop-up adds that are likely to be  delivered via this device.

But more to the point, we could see this as being a great way to access part details from prints while looking at the part on the machine during production or in the shop.

The glasses could recognize part features and then call up the appropriate details and inspection criteria wirelessly and in real time.

These glasses could help facilitate and assure quality checks and compliance to specifications.

And be used to document procedures and work instructions.

How could you see these glasses being used to make a difference in your operations? 

Link from Gizmodo

Right out the of the gate the PMPA Business Trends Index shows a 46% gain over December shipments, the highest percentage increase for a January to December.

PMPA’s Business Trends Index of Shipments for January 2013 streaked to 127, the highest January ever, and up 46% over December 2012’s 87.

This bodes well ffor a strong year for precision machining in 2013.

Best January over December Increase in shipments...
Best January over December increase in shipments…

My biggest fear is that shops in our industry will continue to manage as if it were 2009 and not be ready to take advantage of the upside opportunities that we are already seeing in 2013.

PMPA invited Assistant Secretary of Labor, OSHA Director David Michaels, PhD, MPH to speak to attendees at our Management Update Conference held last week in Glendale, Arizona.

"OSHA levels the playing field for responsible employers competing with those who cut corners on safety."
“OSHA levels the playing field for responsible employers competing with those who cut corners on safety.”

PMPA member companies, and OSHA, share a committment to worker safety, reducing hazards, and operating safe workplaces.

So we thought that it would be good to hear from OSHA first hand about their programs and approach to their job, since the view from  us in the regulated community  seems to be one quite focused on adversarial enforcement.

Here are a half a dozen thoughts shared by Director Michaels on OSHA and its role.

  • “Given (very) limited resources, OSHA’s challenge is to apply the most efficient mix in order to maximize the abatement of hazards and therefore the prevention of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.”
  • “OSHA provides training resources in multiple languages to aid employers in training employees in all occupations  so that they can safely perform their jobs.”
  • “It always makes us laugh when we are asked ‘How many OSHA standards have you issued this month?’ We issue about one standard a year, and have for the last four years. Last year we issued one on the Globally Harmonized System. However, our standards have an impact. Our standards save lives.”
  • “We just issued our new GHS- Globally Harmonized Standard- for communicating hazards in materials you get. This will assure that the cmmunications and information that you get on the possible hazards that these materials may present  is much better than what you have been getting. They use pictograms so workers can see immediately the type of hazard without reading.”
  • “OSHA is not just an enforcement agency. We provide many resources for compliance assistance. In 2011, we had 200 million visitors to our website, over 200,000 responses to OSHA 1-800 for help, replied to over 33,000 emails for assistance, conducted 5,300 outreach activities regionally and in our area offices. We performed about 27,000 small business consultations in 2012. Our  budget for consultation  assistance programs increased $3.2 million over 2011 budget.”
  • “In the last full year of the previous administration, OSHA did 39,324 inspections; in 2012, we did 40,961. We get about 40,000 inspections per year. What we try to do is to get our inspections targeted, to do everything that we can to make those 40,000 inspections useful. We try to assure the effectiveness of our enforcement efforts.”

Having the regulated community (that’s us) see the fines and press releases and press coverage of OSHA enforcement is one way that OSHA can leverage its limited staff and resources to promote safety in all industries and shops, not just the ones they visit. OSHA has certainly been successful on that account!

Dr. Michaels’ visit to the PMPA Management update meeting helped me, and our attendees, get a bit of understanding, a bit of empathy, of what the challenge must look like for OSHA. I recall a line from To Kill A Mockingbird:

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

PMPA thanks Dr. Michaels for taking the time to address us and our concerns about  the perceived enforcement focus.

ITR Economist Brian Beaulieu gave a very informative economic outlook for the attendees at PMPA’s Manaement Update Conference in Glendale Arizona last week.
We saw lots of charts and correlations that helped our members make sense of all the conflicting ‘news’ and economic indicators that are our constant distraction.

But I can share with you the one graph that should give you the confidence to find your career in advanced manufacturing (like our precision machining industry) rather than go headlong into debt for a college degree that may not have a positive return on investment.

US Manufacturing as a percentage of GDP (Value Added) (3 Month Moving Average)

The trend for US manufacturing remains positive and significant.
The trend for US manufacturing remains positive and significant.

This graph documents recent history, going forward we see manufacturing jobs returning to North America as energy prices for the rest of the world increase.

We see energy access and prices improving for U.S. Manufacturers as a result of the shale gas boom.

We know personally, despite the uncertainty in the market, that many shop owners are trying to add talent, so they can continue to sustain their levels of production and customer service.

If going deep into debt for a degree with no return on investment is something that you are determined to do, good luck with that.

If however, you could consider the idea of learning and earning as you go, I can heartily recommend getting a start in precision machining via a local community college.

It has been our experience that you will have a job before you complete a one year operator program, and the balance of your training and education will be sponsored in whole or part by your employer.

54% of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.

Career info on Precision Machining.

PMPA Training and Education Database

When I visit our precision machine shops around the country, I am always impressed at how often the parts being produced look like jewelry.

Well maybe we wouldn't wear this one inside...
Well maybe we wouldn’t wear this one inside…

But sometimes the parts that I see are jewelry- the kind that you wear inside!

PMPA  member Cox Manufacturing Company in San Antonio, Texas is a company that has heart.


This is a valve component in Dr DeBakey's original artificial heart
This is a valve component made for  Dr DeBakey’s original artificial heart

It was made by the precision machinist’s at Cox Manufacturing, who continue to make critically high engineered, high precision parts.

That look like Jewelry.

Cox Manufacturing has Heart. Precision Machinists can make almost anything look like jewelry.

It is our love of the craft. Happy Valentines Day from PMPASpeakingOfPrecision.

For last year’s Heart Shaped Musket Barrel

For How to make jewelery using just a hydraulic press

Heart photocredit.

Training assures our shops will be sustainable and that all are operating at their highest and best use. Scheduling does that for all the resources in our shops in light of market demand.

Last August we ran a post asking what was a company’s most important job?

Ford says Quality is Job 1...
Ford says Quality is Job 1…

It caused quite a stir on the many LinkedIn Forums and attracted a number of thoughtful comments.

The economy and markets for our precision machined products have changed since then, thanks to all the shenanigans in Washington D.C. involving the election and the fiscal cliff. Not to mention whatever is going on with the currencies  and economies  affecting imports and exports all around the world.

Based on comments from recent visits with members I think it is time to reconsider that question  in light of circumstances today.

What is the most important job in our shops- today?

most-important-job-everToday we do not seem to have the flexibility to grow our way out of our limits by adding new technology ( takes new employees ) or adding people ( we can’t find skilled people and with housing still underwater, even we did find them they won’t move). So we have to maximize (not just optimize) what we can produce with what we have. Adding more of either just doesn’t seem to be in the cards.

To me that means two things-

  1.  We need to upgrade cross training for our people, 
  2.  We need our schedulers to do the impossible. 

Cross training increases our teams’ ability to be agile, flexibile, and competent.

To meet challenges after a key team member is lost due to illness, retirement or accident. Cross training upgrades the value of each employee. It makes our shop more sustainable, by increasing the odds that our equipment will be operating. So the trainers and mentors play a key role in keeping our production and talent aligned. How is that going in your shop?

Scheduling is how we assure the greatest return for the resources deployed in our shop.

Scheduling is where all the assets and tools that we have can be applied to meet the market’s needs for our services and products. Assuring that all of our equipment and people are operating at their highest and best use is what the savvy scheduler is doing- to maximize the dollar throughput collected for each hour of shoptime from our customers.

You can rely on software for schedulingif you are, I sure hope that someone has done some reality checking recently on the factors that your program uses for availability, prtoductivity and cost.

You can rely on the inside sales department to schedule your shop. If so I hope that “my inside sales rep” is the loudest and most obnoxious to assure that “my job” gets to the fron t of the line. I hope that is not the system at your company.

Or you can rely on a professional who works as part of a team- to understand the demands of the market, the limits of the equipment, and the abilities of the folks on the floor to assure that every thing is running at its “highest and best use” to assure the flow of product out the door and cash reciepts from the customers is a steady and growing stream.

Once the right folks have been hired, I’m thinking the most important job is having a schedule that assures that they and the equipment resources at their disposal are operating at their highest and best use.

What do you think?

Job 1 Clock