Attracting the positive

February 16, 2009
By: Tim Heston

The sky fell over the weekend. Well, not really. (What would the sky falling look like anyway?) But some stuff did fall from the sky. A Russian and American satellite collided, and in another apparently unrelated incident, a giant fireball streamed over Texas.

The stories read as apt metaphors for the gloomy economic news of late. I talked with business owners last week who heard stories of customers not paying bills; the credit crunch has spiraled into a cash crunch. When a company can"t get credit, it doesn"t pay its bills, and the late payments trickle up the supply chain. To put it mildly, it"s not a fun time to be in the metal fabrication business.

But don"t tell that to Don Begneaud.

You can tell by his voice that the founder of BEGNEAUD Manufacturing has a wide-eyed optimism about metal fabrication. He tinkered with things from boyhood onward. What was once a welding business operated out of the back of a pickup truck is now one of the most progressive metal fabricators in the Southeast, with 70 employees working in 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space in Lafayette, La., on the road between Houston and New Orleans.

That"s oil and gas country, a sector from which BEGNEAUD has certainly benefited. But he hasn"t devoted his entire business to the sector. His company is in myriad industries, including the military sector, food processing, agriculture, aviation, and even research laboratories. His shop has quite an arsenal to serve them all, in skilled employees and automation, including TRUMPF 2-D and 3-D laser cutting and welding systems, automated material handling, and skilled gas tungsten arc welders ready for intricate jobs.

During slow times, the shop is tackling two areas managers feel need improvement: product flow and marketing.

The shop floor has been rearranged for lean, singe-piece part flow to reduce work-in-process (WIP). The change already has paid dividends; in these uncertain times, customers are changing orders midstream, usually requesting lower volumes. Lean part flow means the company cuts only what"s needed for bending and subsequent joining and finishing. The shop has little WIP inventory, so if an order stops midstream, the shop isn"t left with piles of wasted blanks.

From a marketing standpoint, the company is putting sales on the front burner. Like many metal fabricators, BEGNEAUD Manufacturing never really needed to pursue a formal sales effort. Work came through word-of-mouth about the shop"s good reputation. Today the shop works with Dunn & Bradstreet® market research, among other resources, to pursue untapped markets, including the medical industry as well as the repair business. The shop"s laser cladding, for instance, could prove especially marketable in a time when businesses need their durable goods to last longer.

Begneaud doesn"t deny there"s uncertainty, but he has confidence in the fact that once things do pick up, automation will allow him to ramp up volumes quicker than many.

Where do I see the business going? I see it going well, he told me last week, despite the recent slow patch. If you remain optimistic, you attract the positive; if you think negatively, you attract the negative.

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314