As I write this, FABTECH 2011 is about to close. For four days the floor has been full of some serious buyers. In the near-term, capital spending in metal fabrication is heading upward, with no sign of abating.
The first three days alone had more than 31,000 visitors. Dozens of attendees have told me that business continues to be brisk. Some are busier than others, but all are survivors of a serious downturn—and they've gotten smart. Companies such as M A Metal Co., in Edinburgh, Ind., have diversified strategically. M A Metal had focused mainly on stamping, but now the metal manufacturer offers significant fabrication capability, including laser cutting, bending, and even advanced rolling, including cone rolling.
Effective manufacturing has been a mantra. Machine tools at this year's FABTECH don't just cut or bend faster, the move faster between those bends and cuts, and between jobs. For today's flexible manufacturers, a high-powered machine that takes forever and a day to set up doesn't have as much value as a slower machine that can quickly change over between jobs.
But for all the talk of technology, one presentation sticks in my mind. During a safety seminar yesterday morning, Erick Ajax, vice president of E.J. Ajax & Sons, told some heartfelt stories. Thirty years ago, the Minneapolis metal stamper had problems. People wore shorts and sandals to work. Drug use was rampant, as were some serious accidents, including amputations. Things just had to change.
And they did. Ajax described how he helped build a new safety culture. Today the company has gone more than two decades without a single reported safety incident. They have made safety an integral part of the company's continuous-improvement culture, one that has received significant employee buy-in. Safety now is as important as productivity.
During its annual Christmas party, spouses and children of E.J. Ajax employees approach Erick. “They thank me for helping their mom and dad come home safe at the end of the day,” he said.
On the job, people need knowledge and skill, as well as the work ethic to produce effectively. But all that gets trivial if lives are at risk. When you get right down to it, the most vital part of our jobs is to come home at the end of the day.
And that's exactly what I'm about to do.