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IMTS is really people.

The world's machine tool makers and metalworking industry suppliers--including some 1,200 companies stretched over a million square feet of booth space--will be showing off their latest and best technology and equipment at IMTS in Chicago. The International Manufacturing Technology Show starts its eight-day stand in the three halls of McCormick Place on September 6. More than 100,000 buyers from around the world have attended the biennial event in the past.

The spotlight will be on new technology that'll help metalworkers be more productive and lower cost. Again there will be a Technology Center, where companies and universities will be talking about what to expect in tomorrow's metalworking operations.

But there is more to IMTS than technology and selling machines. It's also about people. It's an education. Its Student Summit in the past has attracted thousands of students and educators, exposing them to careers in metalworking. Daily conferences on various subjects attract many.

The human factor

I've been attending "The Show" since the 1960s. I think of it as the arena where tech nology is put to work by human ingenuity, often times one person at a time. Even though the machine tool industry is relatively small, it is the most important. It creates the machines necessary to build the equipment that makes most everything else--from miniscule jewelry to rocket ships. I have found it takes some pretty special people to run those companies: people with vision, technical acumen, and leadership qualities.

One of those people is Brian Papke. He's president of Mazak USA Corp. in Florence, KY, the North American manufacturing and marketing arm of Yamazaki Mazak headquartered in Oguchi, Japan. He joined Mazak in 1988 as vice president of sales and marketing after spending 15 years with Sundstrand, Bullard, and White Consolidated, working for "companies that had been challenged to battle against Japanese companies." He admits to being a "bit apprehensive" at the time; some in the industry accused him of "joining the enemy camp." Back then, machine tool imports from Japan were a very controversial subject. Imports were barred from exhibiting at IMTS until the 1972 show.

Brian Papke proved he was his own man. He went through an intense interview process. "I found a lot of misconceptions and, frankly, had a lot of misconceptions myself about Japanese companies," he admits. Why did he join a Japanese company? He tells me he looked around and felt that when it came to developing product and high quality, the direction was clearly moving toward the Japanese. "I found a deep commitment to the customer on the part of management in that family-owned company," Papke says. He says Terry Yamazaki told him early on that he considered machines were "like little children, and when they left home they were not to be forgotten. It's a simple statement but it implies a deep commitment to the customer."

And "it's good business," Papke says, adding that "sometimes managements in our industry have been a little shortsighted in terms of looking for the least costly way to get out of a situation with a customer. At Mazak we consider problems as opportunities." It was clear to Papke that Mazak had a growth strategy and was looking for someone to grow with.

Terry Yamazaki, chairman, hired him and named him president of the U.S. operation a year later. He still hasn't learned to speak Japanese. But since then, he has helped guide Mazak through 12 expansions, including the establishment of a National Technology Center, Customer Service and Support Centers around the country, and most recently the Center for Multitasking and Manufacturing Excellence because, as he puts it, "we have to build product more efficiently to compete in the marketplace but we also have to build relationships with our customers." Mazak has used the Technology Center idea in its markets around the world.

To cut manufacturing costs and improve efficiency, Mazak invested heavily in new, more productive machines and systems, redesigned parts to improve manufacturability, and adopted lean manufacturing techniques. Through its Technology Centers, Mazak can get involved with customers from an engineering applications standpoint. "We are now at a point where we are making value-added relationships with customers," Papke tells me. He feels he is not selling machines but rather "solutions."

Hurricane relief

One of the more dramatic of those value-added relationships was born from the Hurricane Katrina disaster on the Gulf Coast. The storm that destroyed much of that area wiped out MECO, a manufacturer headquartered in New Orleans. MECO, which stood on the flood canal in New Orleans for 60 years, was essentially destroyed and everything was flooded. Nine MECO employees completely lost their homes, Papke says.

"The devastation still there today is unbelievable," Papke says. "We just decided we were going to help," he adds. Mazak employees raised "a considerable amount of money" for the Red Cross relief effort there and for employees of MECO's New Orleans distributor, Dixie Mill Machine Tool Co.

MECO took advantage of the federal program to encourage capital investment in the area after the hurricane hit. It ordered six machine tools from Mazak. MECO's president, George Gsell, tells me Mazak and Dixie Mill were "very supportive." Delivery of the machines was expedited. "When we were ready to resume production in a new location about 30 miles north of New Orleans in Covington, LA, the machines were there, Gsell says. Mazak also helped with training and other services. "It's not often you get the president of the world's largest machine tool company focusing his eyes on our little business," Gsell says. He and Richard Cahn, president of Dixie Mill, were even part of a 40-person team that visited the Yamazaki operation in Japan.

Gsell says his plant today, with the new location and upgraded equipment, including the six Mazak machines, is producing work in one-half to one-tenth of the time it took in his old operation destroyed by the hurricane. He describes the former operation as a "World War II vintage" shop. His equipment was mostly vintage 1940s.

He employs 166 between his Covington machining and fabrication plant and an assembly plant he had to relocate to Houston because of the labor shortage in the New Orleans area. "I was fortunate to be able to keep my skilled people in the machining area," Gsell tells me, adding "Mazak has been first-class in working with us to help us get up and running, very supportive in the highest level of their organization."

Obviously, getting involved in what Papke terms "value-added relationships" is also good business. Last month, Gsell took his executive team to Florence to study the feasibility of moving to the next level of productive efficiency, including moving up the technology scale to Mazak's Integrex line of machines with an eye to expanding his markets. "We hope to double or triple the size of our business in the next few years," Gsell tells me. MECO ordered the six Mazak machines because "that's what the foreman wanted and we will probably continue to buy Mazaks," he adds.

Global strategy early

From the beginning, Brian Papke was involved in talking to Terry Yamazaki about the Japanese company's global strategy based on the idea of manufacturing close to its markets. He liked the idea then and was impressed with the organization and the people running it. The strategy is the same today, Papke says, explaining that Mazak, in addition to manufacturing in Japan, has plants in the United Kingdom serving the European market, China for that market, and Singapore for the Asian market.

With his Florence plant, he has made Mazak as acceptable a household word in manufacturing circles as Sony, Toyota, and Honda are in the consumer world. He has helped Terry Yamazaki take his U.S. operation from 29 Japanese and a secretary doing limited machine tool manufacturing in Long Island, NY, to about 30 Japanese and some 800 Americans building several models of machines in Florence, including about 10 percent for export.

"Terry made it clear to me to run this place as an American company and that's what we are doing," Papke says.

Not quite! At least not the way he handles his work force in a downturn. "We try to run the plant profitably even when business goes down dramatically," he says. After 9/11 he admits he was tested to the limit. Mazak did not respond by laying off workers. "We didn't do it in the traditional way American companies usually do it," Papke says. His goal was to do whatever it took to maintain the work force. Mazak cut overtime, offered early retirement, cut unattended weekend machining, and didn't rehire part-timers. "For a short time everyone--and I mean everyone-took a reduction in pay, but we held the people. When business got better we were in a position to respond faster," Papke says.

Mazak could have pulled back on its strategy of manufacturing in the United States, but instead felt it was another way that it could differentiate itself. "We retained the work force, came through the slow period together, and made the company much stronger. We developed some teamwork, and over time it gives you a more loyal and productive work force," Papke says.

Leadership is key

Over the years, Brian Papke has learned that "everything I have ever given to anyone in terms of working with trade organizations or distributors, we end up being the beneficiaries, we have learned from it." As such, as busy as he is, he takes time to get involved and to care. He is on the board of AMT--The Association for Manufacturing Technology and active in the American Machine Tool Distributors Association. Closer to home, he is on the board of advisors of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and has served on the advisory board of Northern Kentucky University, where he takes the time to teach a graduate class.

Papke feels there comes a time when you have to give something back. He accepted an opportunity, as busy as he is, to teach a graduate class in business leadership and ethics. Frankly, he says, "it is an area that could be better in our industry. I felt it was an area where we could be a little closer to the university and one where I could make a contribution, having traveled extensively and worked in a multicultural environment. It has been very fulfilling." Papke adds: "Students write me with little case histories and keep in touch. It's very rewarding."

He uses Rudy Giuliani's book Leadership (Miramax Books, 2002) in his class and apparently knows its contents pretty well. Giuliani writes that leadership is a privilege but it also carries responsibilities. Papke accepts that thesis. For instance, "everybody is talking about the need to train more people. We just decided to get involved in a university project establishing an Advanced Center for Manufacturing to train students. We had to help make that happen," Papke says.

Giuliani writes "a leader must develop strong beliefs, articulate and act on those beliefs." The success of Mazak in the United States indicates strong leadership. "After all, Mazak has grown from a small booth in the corner at IMTS to being the first booth when you come in the door," Papke says.

Giuliani's definition of a leader: "The job of a business leader is to sort out all those alternatives and to make ethical decisions that are as right as they can be considering all the information you have at hand. You might like to have something more pure in terms of an ethical model but perhaps you can't exist as a business at that level. On the other hand, don't rationalize."

He contends that by following those guidelines "you can rise up pretty far on the ethical scale in terms of the leadership you provide your company." Plus, as Brian Papke has proven, it is all good business.
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Title Annotation:straight talk
Author:Modic, Stan
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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