Reducing Labor Costs Per Part to Compete Globally

April 13, 2020

MetalForming Magazine

Bruce Kuvin
Bruce Kuvin
Editorial Director

Last year’s MFGWatch 2019 Manufacturing Report, issued by MFG.com, revealed—no surprise here—that greater numbers of small to midsized manufacturing companies are turning to automation to solve labor shortages. It also found that nearly half (44 percent) planned to invest in their workforce in the coming months, while one-third planned to shift focus away from workforce development and instead focus more on their technology infrastructures. And, nearly a third planned, at the time of the survey, to focus in both of these areas—workforce development and automation.

Finding the Path to Optimizing Sales/Employee

“Training and automation are the focal points,” says Steve Peplin, CEO of Cleveland OH-based Talan Products, a supplier of high-volume extruded and stamped components and assemblies primarily to the building industry. “It comes down to metrics when you measure your company’s performance,” he says, noting that the company’s sales per employee is $700,000, significantly higher than the industry average.

Talan Products Automation Equipment
This automated cell at Talan Products finish-machines a stamped construction bracket that previously had been manufactured overseas. Talan stamps the brackets to tap, coin and emboss the parts, then moves them to this cell for precision machining.

This automated cell at Talan Products finish-machines a stamped construction bracket that previously had been manufactured overseas. Talan stamps the brackets to tap, coin and emboss the parts, then moves them to this cell for precision machining.

“Training and automation are the focal points,” says Steve Peplin, CEO of Cleveland OH-based Talan Products, a supplier of high-volume extruded and stamped components and assemblies primarily to the building industry. “It comes down to metrics when you measure your company’s performance,” he says, noting that the company’s sales per employee is $700,000, significantly higher than the industry average.

Talan Products also has focused for a long time on workforce development. Its training dollars invested per employee is three times the industry median, says Peplin, and its training hours per employee are four times the median, according to benchmarking studies conducted by the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA).

“Finding people willing to work second shift, and then training them, has always been a challenge for us.   Our alternatives are to increase “The need for zero PPM and 100-percent verified quality has driven us to automate much of our visual inspection processes to detect or find any type of bad product.”

On the automation front, Peplin describes a current project to perform value-added machining operations on a high-volume stamped extrusion. An inhouse-designed and built turntable setup replaced the work being performed by 12 people, and now turns out thousands of completed parts/hr., up by a factor of 10 compared to the manual process.

“That automated setup,” Peplin says, “performs drilling, tapping, deburring and machining operations, and even packages finished parts, allowing our workers to focus less on repetitious manual labor and more on higher-value operations.”

Peplin views automation as driving his company’s future success, but notes that along with automation comes a responsibility to train people to program and—most importantly—service and maintain the automated equipment. “We don’t even bid on jobs that require a lot of manual work,” he says, “such as hand-fed press work or manual assembly operations. But, with increased use of automation comes a commitment to develop a strong maintenance department. Even best-in-class automation and robotic operations, we feel, will experience a 95-percent operational efficiency, and we certainly don’t count on that. But we strive to get there, and include with every pro-forma for new automated projects the hiring or training of a new automation-maintenance technician.

“Further, the need for highly skilled maintenance techs,” Peplin adds, “is not just for keeping the equipment running. It’s for continuously tweaking the equipment to decrease cycle times. It takes a long time for an automated process to settle into its optimum run rate, and we’re always looking to improve.”