Working with your people

July 11, 2002
By: Andreas Rueter

If people are your most precious resource, why aren't you spending more money to train them properly?

In this column we've examined roll forming systems and machinery, the importance of using the right material, and tooling and lubrication.

Last, but definitely not least, is your most underestimated resource: your people.

Your employees people represent one of the most overlooked opportunities you have. In modern business improvement philosophy, they are the key to success. The operator is close to the machine daily and learns to deal with its little idiosyncrasies and shortcomings better than anyone else. Many operators are able to identify a machine's performance just by its sound.

Investing in Your People

Ask yourself how the thousands of dollars you've invested in machinery compares to the amount your company has spent on training. Reading about it doesn't cut it — even if people are interested in reading about roll forming, how much material is available? Sure, there are some trade magazines out there, but the trick is to find appropriate material to help you train your employees and eliminate routine problems.

Most training is hands-on only. Success depends wholly on the experience level of the mentor and the mechanical aptitude of the pupil. This is like being thrown into the water to learn how to swim.

In most cases, the most experienced operator or setup person trains the newcomer. The hope is that the new operator will learn enough to operate the machine efficiently and that the experienced operator is generous enough to reveal all of his or her tricks and secrets that help the machine run more smoothly.

Typical training lasts only one to two shifts. That's not enough. The future of these inadequately trained operators and the performance of the roll form lines under their watch are fairly easy to predict.

If you want to increase the value of your work force and provide a solid foundation for your operators, additional training is the only answer. This entails instruction in basic mathematics and reading and writing skills, up to and including blueprint reading.

Taking a look around the roll forming industry can seem like being in the Dark Ages, when the master blacksmith either passed his knowledge on to his apprentices or took it with him to the grave, where it was lost forever.

Speaking of apprenticeship, do you know of any accredited apprenticeship programs in the roll forming field? If you do, please let me know.

There just isn't enough supplementary training available, even for operators who are just interested in bettering their own knowledge. Remember, these people keep mills running. Whatever you can do to enhance their knowledge will directly benefit machine performance and, consequently, your company's well-being.

Mechanical Aptitude

Another overlooked angle in the whole training picture is mechanical aptitude.

In the past an operator was assigned only one job — for example, unloading a machine. The machine's performance did not matter to him or her — as long as parts came to the end of the line, everything was OK. If the machine no longer worked, it was shut down, and the setup person was called.

Today most operators must perform small-scale troubleshooting and minor adjustments to their machinery. Further, they usually assist in changing over the roll form line. Is it not obvious that these people should possess general mechanical aptitude at minimum? The benefits to putting operators people with a modicum of mechanical know-how on the line are a better-running line and faster setup; hence, improved overall line performance.

It's common sense: A dedicated, capable, and well-trained operator will have a direct and drastic impact on your roll form line's performance.

In short, take the time to set up a thorough and well-planned training program for your operators. More experienced operators should be tapped for as much knowledge as possible, even though they like to hold onto it for themselves. The effort you invest in training will come back to you in spades.

Need more roll forming information? Catch what's happening with the FMA Roll Forming Council.

Andreas Rueter

Contributing Writer
Knoll Inc.
4300 36th St.
P.O. Box 8829
Grand Rapids, MI 49518-8829
Phone: 616-957-7398
Fax: 616-957-7678
Knoll is a worldwide designer and manufacturer of furnishings for office and residential use. The company operates four manufacturing sites in North America East Greenville, Pa.; Grand Rapids and Muskegon, MI; and Toronto, Ont. The company also has plants in Foligno and Graffignana, Italy. All Knoll plants are registered under ISO 9000, an internationally developed set of quality criteria for manufacturing operations. Knoll headquarters are in East Greenville, Pa.