Cutting Tool Engineering
January 2009 / Volume 61 / Issue 1

Making the best of a slowdown

By Keith Jennings

It’s a new year and if the pundits are correct, many of us are in the midst of a downturn, if not a recession. If this is your situation, the stress factor is probably high. Even under these circumstances, however, there are ways to effectively use the extra time to add value to your business.

While most everyone prefers a full and busy workload, that’s not always the reality. Identifying some valuable activities and making time to complete them can have a positive impact when your business rebounds. Under the present conditions, one of the best uses of time is employee training.

“Training” has broad meaning and can include education in plant safety, forklift operations, cardiopulmonary resuscitation skills, quality and inspection methods, equipment functions and many others. During a busy period, most of these functions are usually low priorities and may even be forgotten, but a slow cycle can be an easier time to focus on improving employee skills through training.

Because many small shops aren’t in a position to pay for expensive training programs, consider using more experienced employees to facilitate. Or perhaps a cost-effective program through a trade organization or a local college would be worthwhile. Your payroll company may have training resources, or if you use an outside company for safety supplies and site inspections, it may have a good program with materials readily available.

At our shop, we’ve recently focused on equipment training as one area of need, including cross-training some employees on different machines. Increasing operators’ knowledge of your machines and their many idiosyncrasies helps not only the operators, but even related functions like job estimating, where operators and programmers can assist in the estimation process to ensure quotes are accurate and realistic.

A slowdown may also be a good time to implement a more organized procedure for quote reviews, ISO adherence or shop data collection. Many of these tasks require reevaluation from time to time, which is never convenient. The effort can reap rewards later, though.

Software training can also be important. With manufacturing technology becoming more essential, exploiting it can provide a significant return on investment. Even though sitting in front of a training computer all day sounds dull, a slowdown could be the best time to get it done. This could include training with a focus on better utilization of CAD packages, manufacturing ERP applications or even Microsoft Office. We all need this on occasion. Can your employees read and understand their productivity reports? Can employees effectively use e-mail distribution lists and prepare invoices, purchase orders and quality documents? Many probably can, and some probably have no clue. These tools can make shop management easier, especially when employees are trained to maintain them.

How about management and supervisory training? After our company participated in this kind of training a few years ago, our key employees handled situations more professionally and defused potential problems.

While employee training is one of the most important activities that can be accomplished during a slowdown, it isn’t the only one. Machine maintenance could be a priority. Or maybe some plant cleanup and rearranging is in order.

However you determine the appropriate task to tackle, make use of the time and put your shop in a better position to compete more effectively when the economy turns around. And it will.

Happy 2009! CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, laser cutting, metal fabrication and metal stamping. He can be e-mailed at

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