I was recently addressing some community college students during a class on estimating for the construction industry. I was teaching the aspects of estimating for the steel industry when I was asked by a student how I liked the new approach to “going green” in steel. I admit it did make me laugh. So many people today think that recycling in the steel business is new. The truth is steel fabricators have been recycling before recycling was the “in thing” to do.
Like most people in steel fabrication I have been recycling long before it was popular. What drives me crazy is when the “LEED specialist” demands that we fabricators fill out forms to attest to how the steel is made. I think it comes down to their lack of knowledge on their part of how steel is made.
The AISC says “To produce steel, facilities use one of two processes: the basic oxygen furnace (BOF) or the electric arc furnace (EAF). The BOF process uses 25-35 percent old steel (scrap) to make new steel. BOFs make up approximately 40 percent of today’s steelmaking in the U.S. The EAF process uses virtually 100 percent old steel to make new steel. EAFs make up about 60 percent of today’s steelmaking in the U.S.”
So with either production furnace type steel uses far more of the required “recycled” requirements than any LEED regulation requires. That is why many fabricators are trying to get steel fabrication exempted from the LEED paperwork requirements. Not only is it time consuming for the fabricator it is totally unnecessary.
Every steel fabricator recycles their scrap metals as well and has for years. Scrap dealers have always brought in their own recycle bins for the fabricator to utilize. I don’t ever think that scrap prices has ever gotten so high as to make recycling profitable for the fabricator but it does dispose of the waste that would be a problem if they didn’t recycle.
Maybe it is time for the AICS or other organizations that represent steel fabricators to start the process to have the entire steel industry declared a “green” industry. Eliminate the requirements for fabricators to have to file LEED papers every time they start a new project and recognize the industry for its many years of practical recycling.
Have you every wondered how you can streamline your daily operations and provide better customer service at the same time?
Do you wonder how other fabricators and service centers manage their inventory and prevent costly errors from occurring when multiple salespeople are selling material?
Do you ever have fabrication production managers at odds with walk-in local sales taking material from their inventory?
So did Puma Steel in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with the guys at Puma Steel to learn how they are using FabSuite’s new Order Entry module to tackle these issues. They began using Order Entry a couple of months ago to keep better track of inventory, reduce errors, improve customer satisfaction and increase their bottom line. Now they no longer have these problems when managing their day-to-day steel service center operation High Plains Steel Supply.
Take a few moments to view the following video to learn about Puma Steel and see how they are using FabSuite to streamline their company and provide better customer service to their customers.
After you view it, please take time to post any questions or comments you may have. We would love to hear from you.
I hope you enjoy!
Well I guess by now everyone knows that FabSuite prides itself on our service to our clients. I just had this fact hit home to me again the other night. I was asked to give a lecture at a local college to students in a Project Management class. I spoke on the necessity of a well organized, well planned approach to any construction project. I guess it went over well since nobody walked out, fell asleep, or acted bored, LOL! And their questions, as the end of the lecture showed me that they did catch a lot of what I was talking about. This left me with a positive outlook on the time I spent.
Since it was late and I had not had a chance to get dinner I went by a favorite seafood restaurant. They are not typical “fast food” but they are not a fancy restaurant either. No names now, I don’t want to offend anyone. You may have stock in that chain LOL! I have eaten there many times in the past and never had a problem until recently. The last few times I have been there I noticed that the service seemed to be less than in the past. Once I had ordered my favorite of 3 piece fish dinner, Coleslaw, French fries, and hush puppies and they brought me the shrimp platter instead.
The server who brought me the food was very apologetic and took it back right away. I had to wait a few extra minutes but not long, so it was fine. Having had all five of my children work in the food service industry, at some point in their teenage years, gave me added patience’s.
This evening was going to turn out a whole lot different than before. I was going to get to give another lecture on “customer service” that I did not expect to give! I placed my order at the counter and paid for the meal. Then I got my drink and I sat down to wait for my dinner. I waited, and waited and waited! Finally after twenty minutes, I follow the Sandra Bullock rule here. (What is the Sandra Bullock rule? Well, it is how long I would wait for Sandra Bullock to call me and ask for a date. That ain’t ever going to happen but out of the slimiest of chances I would wait 20 minutes for her to call.)
Everyone who had come in after me had been served at that point so I got up and went to the counter to ask where my order was. After several minutes the gentleman that took my order said “Gee, seems we missed it! Sorry, it will be out in a minute!” I held back what I wanted to say, which was more in the lines of the level of morons working in the back and I just said “Okay, thanks.” I then went back and sat down, after getting more ice tea to drink.
Ten minutes pasted when the server finally came over with my food. She tried to put on a nice smile, but at that point I was not smiling back. “What went wrong” I asked “it’s never taken this long to get served?” She laughed while showing the world that she likes to chew gum and said “Oh, it’s the new manager working in the kitchen, he is really slow and sometimes he messes up the orders. Do you want a pie or something? No charge or nothing!” Well, English was not her strong point and customer relations were not in their training manual or she missed that class. I said “No thank you” as I looked down at the platter and noticed that their famous hush puppies were not present. Now I am a country boy in that regard and I do love good hush puppies and so I said “Hey, where are my hush puppies?” “Well, damn you want the hush puppies too” she asked as if completely surprised that someone would want all the food they ordered and paid for.
“Well, yes I would if you don’t mind” I said. She walked off shaking her head. Five minutes later she returned with the hush puppies and without a word she dropped them on my table in their own little basket. Not a word was said by either of us until she turned to leave and I called out “Thank you!” She just waived her hand and kept walking. I guess that night was not my night for being silent and since I was alone I could not embarrass anyone, as my daughter’s often complain about me embarrassing them. I ate my dinner since I remember my younger days of eat first then fight so you at least get a meal out of the deal!
When I was done, I cleaned up my mess and dumped my trash into the trash can. All the while I could see the young lady we served me watching from behind the counter. Fight or flight is the general rule but this was the opportunity to have a teaching moment and I was going to take a shot. One way or the other I was going to teach them a valuable lesson so I headed for the counter. The closer I got to the counter to paler she became. When I was up there she could not avoid my stare so I whispered “May I see your manager please?” She nodded and yelled “Jason a guy wants to talk to you!” A class act, if ever I saw one! This younger man came from behind the swinging door of the kitchen and with half a smile he said “Yeah, can I help you?”
Here is how our conversation went from there. “Are you the manager” I asked. “Yeah” he said. “Okay first, do you know me” I asked. “No, why” he replied. Then my cop face, as my daughters call it came on and I said “Because when you speak to any customer you should say ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘No, sir’ you should never say ‘yeah’ to anyone and especially if they are older than you! Understand?” He cleared his throat and said “Yes, sir!”
Now I began to teach him Business 101. I asked him how many restaurants there were in the area around him, and he replied ‘many’. I then asked him how many served seafood and he again replied ‘many’. Then I asked him what made his restaurant different from the others, he said ‘nothin I guess’. “WRONG ANSWER” I said very loudly. “Service” as I pointed down at the counter ‘that is what makes the difference.” Then I asked him how long would he wait for food, and he said “Ten or fifteen minutes I guess?” I explained how long I had waited and the response I had gotten. I guess by now he realized that I was not going to shut up until I was done.
I then went on to explain how they should have handled the situation. How the server should not be chewing gum when she is talking to someone and how manners work to profit a company. By the time I had finished I had two graduates of Business 101, the manager and the server. The young lady finally said “Yes sir my mom always told me to be polite but I just figured it was kind of a waste of time really.” The manager then looked at me and said “Okay, what should have we done differently?” I smiled and said “First, admit you made a mistake. Nothing wrong with that and everyone makes them once in awhile. Then be sincere when you tell someone you’re ‘sorry’ you don’t have to off-handedly offer them extra food although the gesture is nice if it is sincere. Finally, say ‘please’ and ‘thank-you’ when dealing with people. This economy is hard on everyone and now the real key to keeping business returning is ‘service’.
When I had finished I offered the young man my hand and as I did applause erupted from behind me. It seems all the patrons were listening to what I said. I admit I turned a little red as I got ready to leave. Several people nodded to me and smiled as I headed for the door.
We, in the construction business, have long since realized that “Service” is the key to keeping business returning. However, in this economy some people have lost sight of that fact. Just look around you and ask yourself “How many other companies do what I do?” Now if your answer to that question is “none” than you are one of a very lucky few. I have bid on jobs and not been the lowest bidder yet I got the job anyway. And when I would ask the GC why, they would say every time “When you do the job we know it is going to be right, on time, and without any problems. If a problem develops we know you are going to work with us to solve it fast. That makes a world of difference to us.”
In any business that is what we all should strive for “customer service” it can make a real difference!
During the course of my career as an estimator, a project manager, and many years selling management software as an Account Manager to steel fabricators, I often run across the question of “when is it the right time to put an effort into a serious evaluation of a software package?” Obviously, there is no perfect way to answer this for everyone reading this material, but I can tell you that for most, there are some fairly simple factors to consider if you’re trying to come up with a solution to this question.
The first, and simplest thing you’ve got to figure out, is whether your company actually needs a new software package or not. Is your company’s “Information Superhighway” more like a single lane dirt road these days? Are you expecting more data from the software that you currently have than it’s giving you? Do you find that utilizing your current software package is almost more trouble than it’s worth? If you can answer yes to any one of these questions, it might be time for you to seriously take a look at some fabrication management solutions on the market. You see, without pain, there is really no reason to go through the process of change, but remember the adage, “if you’re not changing, you’re not growing”, does this apply to you?
If in fact there is a need to dig deeper into a new software solution, we then have to figure out if your company can bear the expense in today’s current market conditions. While things seem to be getting slowly, and ever so cautiously, better then they have been in a few years; we still have to be careful with how we spend our money to make sure every dollar is doing as much as it can for us once we send it out into the world. I honestly believe that there are few better investments than a software package that can provide effective process changes to your organization across all departments. To insure expedient, accurate bids from the estimating office, to reduce the amount of material cost / waste on a job, to effectively move information in real-time from drafting to production, and to put all this information at the fingertips of your decision makers exactly when they need it is an invaluable service and one that is very difficult to put a price tag on. As an example, think of it this way, in our country’s current economic condition, how much would a software package be worth to you if it could save you one mistake on a project per month? That could turn out to be quite a large number.
The other major factor to consider is whether or not your staff has time to implement and learn new software. To be fair, we very rarely have time to take on a project such as this but it’s best to consider what the future might be like if we don’t take the time to do it. Many of us believe that we are still just barely moving towards the market “upswing”. Given that thought, how busy will your staff be in 6 or 12 months? Doesn’t it make more sense to get a new process under their belts now before things get really crazy, so that when the jobs start rolling back in, everyone is duly trained and ready? Ask any company that’s tried to bring on a software product in the midst of a crisis and I think they’d tell you, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure”.
Take these factors into account and see if it makes sense for you and your organization to begin looking at the software package you’ve been putting off. At the very least, take some time to evaluate now for educational purposes so that when the time comes to seriously take a look, you’ll have much of the hard work behind you. Get yourself a trial version of your favorite so that you can look into how well that particular package works for you on your own time and plan from there. I promise you, you’ll be better off for it.
I have been kicking around this old rock for a long time now and I came to realize a long time ago that not everything we do is fun. I know like some of you I love to work, I love staying busy. I enjoy seeing projects progress from paper to fabrication to the erection of the building. I can touch it, see it and hear the sounds of steel fabrication and erection.
One thing I don’t like to do is accept my own mortality, or the fact that although I don’t feel my age my body does! A few months ago, while working out I noticed a bump on my abdomen. It was not big but it was noticeable. So I decided to keep an eye on it. After a few weeks I noticed that it seemed to be getting bigger. Not being a fan of doctors or hospitals I finally broke down and called my family doctor. He had me come right in so he could check it.
I was in his office the next day and he checked me over like a used car for sale! He did everything but kick my tires LOL! Then he sat down on his rolling chair and said “Duke, I see a couple of things that I don’t like. You have that bump that you noticed and it could be an incisional hernia. I also think that this sudden weight gain of yours is a problem. But first, I want to get a CT Scan of your chest and stomach so we can figure out this bump. Then we will worry about the weight.”
I was not worried about the weight that much. I had just started taking insulin to supplement the pills I take for diabetes. They diagnosed that a few years ago and when they added the insulin they warned me that I may gain some weight. It was the bump that I was concerned with. I had skin cancer years ago, like many who work outside a lot in their younger days. However, I have been concerned about it coming back again.
Well the CT Scan was done within days and I was back in the doctor’s office. Yes, I am like everyone else I guess I worried the whole time that it would be the worse news…cancer. Instead the doctor said “Well Duke looks like you have an incisional hernia that has to be fixed before it gets worse. We are not sure about that bump” which I had noticed had gotten slightly larger still. Next thing I knew I was scheduled to see a surgeon. Now everything seemed to be on a fast track. I was in the surgeon’s office one day and surgery was scheduled. I demanded that the surgery be put off until I could schedule things here at FabSuite. I wanted to be sure that everything was covered here before I went out of service for a while.
Well the surgery was fast tracked and I was in and out in about two hours. The “bump” turned out to be a muscle. It seems that my sudden weight gain had caused a muscle to bulge as the surgeon said “Not uncommon in older men who experience a sudden change in weight.” Did I hear a hidden “fat boy” in that remark? Then it turned out that I had two incisional hernias. One was right at my rib cage and the other a few inches down from there. The surgeon corrected both of them with laparoscopic surgery.
Later I did get a few laughs listening to my daughters telling me the things I said as I recovered from the surgery. I seem to be a lot funnier when I am coming out of anesthesia than I realized.
Now what is the real point of me telling you this story? It is to make you aware of a few things. One is of course cancer. I fought the battle once and won and I was concerned that I was faced with it again. I could have passed it off longer and if it was cancer I would be writing a much different blog. The other is being concerned about the health care of us older people. We have to be aware that we are not twenty years old anymore. Sure we may still feel that way, at least I do, but we aren’t. You notice something, a lump, a mole that looks different, a sore that won’t heal. Go to the doctor and get it checked out.
We may work in steel but we are not made of it. You have to take care of yourself so you can pass along the knowledge of our industry to those coming after us. Besides who is going to spoil the grandkids if ole grandpa is not around?
Well here we go wrapping up another year, pun intended! We have seen the steel fabrication industry through a tough time this year. Tougher than most of the one’s I remember. Oh, we have had tough times before…sure, but not nationwide like this year. Some of our old friends are gone now, out of business. Some are just holding on and praying for a better time next year. A lucky few have had a relatively good year so that is a blessing!
I had the pleasure last night of having dinner with some old steel fabrication friends of mine. We go back a lot of years together and we have seen the ups and downs of our business. During the course of dinner I made a reference to them about my “FabSuite clients” and that started a whole new discussion. Why do I refer to the users of FabSuite as “clients” and not “customers”? It took more than a few minutes to explain it but I think it is worth repeating here.
I cannot speak for FabSuite management or my associates. We have never had a directive come down telling us to refer to them as clients or customers. So why did I choose to use the term “client” to describe our business relationship?
Well, as many of you know my past background leads me to build on a solid foundation. So I went back to the old dictionary and I checked it out. Now the dictionary describes a “customer” as:
cus•tom•er – noun
1. a person who purchases goods or services from another; buyer; patron.
2. Informal . a person one has to deal with: a tough customer; a cool customer.
Okay, I can deal with that really. However, to me that describes someone buying a lawn mower at the hardware store or breakfast at Denny’s. You know the situation where you deal with them once and they are gone. They may come back to that store again, but chances are you will not be the one to wait on them. That describes that kind of a relationship to me.
For me that does not work. I deal with the same people all the time. We talk about the problems they are having with the program sure but we also talk about steel fabrication; how they approach different problems; ideas for better ways to approach a problem. Heck, we have talked about family problems they have, car problems, and even home repair issues. So calling the “customer’s” just isn’t adequate to me.
Then comes the term that I like to use….”client”. Here is how the dictionary describes it:
cli•ent – noun
1. a person or group that uses the professional advice or services of a lawyer, accountant, advertising agency, architect, etc.
2. a person who is receiving the benefits, services, etc., of a social welfare agency, a government bureau, etc.
3. a customer.
4. anyone under the patronage of another; a dependent.
So let’s dissect this further. I try to give professional advice on the aspect of steel fabrication, inventory, purchasing, the programs function. That is true enough! The people I deal with are receiving benefits and services from our exchange although not like a social welfare agency or some government bureau I hope. I would like to think that I am far more responsive than either one of those agencies. I am dealing with a “customer” since they did buy the program and our technical support. Finally, I am dependent on our users to call for assistance and that makes me under their patronage. In turn they are dependent on me as well so they are under my patronage too!
I guess the best way I can say it is simply this, I care about the companies, the people that use FabSuite. I never intend to get the mindset that I want the user to conform to the program. As a steel fabricator I want the program to conform to the way I do business. If I can be shown a better way to do it, great! That is an added benefit to the effort. I never want a client to feel that their problem is so minor that I cannot be bothered with it. I don’t want them to wait, like I have had to do when I used another program, for three weeks for a solution to a problem!
Yeah, “client” suits me just fine so I will keep using it. Others can join me, if they wish and I have no problem with that either. I just never want a FabSuite client to think of themselves as just a “customer” because you are far more to us than that, I assure you!
Oh, my granddaughter just reminded me to tell “all my friends” Happy New Year!
I have had many support calls from our users about why this feature did not work, or why that feature did not work. Then when I got into the situation I find that the features work just fine. The problem is that the user does not follow the process. Let me give you just one example: the Take From Stock/Return to Stock (TFS/RTS) feature. Works great if used correctly. I had a client contact me that they could not get the RTS to work. They were extremely upset that they had done a TFS earlier and found that they had made a mistake. So they wanted to correct the problem. When they tried the program would not let them. So they called me, mad that the program did not work like they wanted.
I apologized to them and I proceeded to check out the situation. That is when I found out that they did the TFS from Inventory and not Production Control. That in itself is fine if when the window comes up that asks if you want to update the job in Production Control, you click yes. If you do not do that then the RTS feature will not work since that is linked to the material in the job in Production Control. If you do not link them together then you wind up having to do all the work manually, as she did.
When I lecture at the community college near me I speak about looking at steel fabrication as a process. When I talk to FabSuite clients I tell them the same thing. Look at the program as a process. In steel fabrication, as in any construction for that matter, you have to think in terms of the process. You do not dig the footing after you erect the building, right? You do not hang the beams before you set the columns? The point is you follow the process.
In FabSuite you need to follow the process, especially if the module is linked together with other modules like Production Control. When the PDC/PO link is checked on the combining screen the program links the job in Production Control to Purchasing and Inventory. So the user combines the material in Production Control (my preference) or sends it over to the Requisition and then combines it. Then the material is sent over to the Purchase Order, received, and sent to Inventory. It is all the process, all linked together. Now you can do a TFS from Production Control (again, my preference) and the information is updated in Inventory. So if you have to do a RTS on an item it is available to you.
I take this process approach into the shop as well. As a consultant I am called upon to evaluate fabrication shops to see if they can improve fabrication activity. As an industrial engineer I look to the process approach to make these improvements. What is the biggest stumbling block I hear? “We have always done it this way and it works for us!” If this were a valid argument then they should be doing everything with pen and paper instead of computers. Many fabricators have gone under because they did not modernize their approach to steel fabrication. This is both in the shop and in the office.
Let me give you an example from an evaluation that I did. The shop was average as for layout and equipment. They had a lot of older equipment, drill presses, shears, brakes, magnetic drills and two large band saws. They had a pipe rolling machine for handrails as well. The material storage was outside, which is like many shops, so that was not a problem really except for the band saw placement. You had to go outside to get material and that door was thirty feet from the saws. Their band saw operator had to get his own material so he had to walk all the way around to get to the material. That was over seventy-five feet to just get to the first rack of material. The wide flange beams and tubing was even further out in the yard.
I suggested that they put a passenger door in over by the band saws to cut down on time. Then I showed them the dollar savings that they would recoup in a year by doing this. I also showed them that my moving the band saw around 30 degrees they could put an in feed door with rollers and they could move the wide flange beams and tubes directly onto the band saw from outside. No more carrying the material around to the end of the building and feeding it in.
Another suggestion was setting up material racks for handrail pipe right next to the pipe bending machine and setting up the layout table in the same area. They could make the room just by switching the fabrication tables with the where the handrail fitting was currently done. It was moved in a few hours and the client remarked “Damn, I never thought about it until now.” Think “process” and open your eyes to quicker and easier approaches to fabrication.
FabSuite is a great program! I am saying that as a steel fabricator! It is cost effective, inexpensive and easy to use. However, it will not work nearly as effective as it could if you do not follow the process and use the entire program.
I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve received on the Support line that starts out with “So-and-so just left the company. How do I do their job?”. I know that everyone tries to keep employee turn-over to a minimum but, stuff does happen.
A good way to avoid last minute confusion when hiring a new employee or replacing one is to document your own procedures. FabSuite provides a General User Guide** which outlines how the software works but does not show how your company operates.
I have found that having each FabSuite user (or just the department heads) write out a step by step list of what they do in the program gives you two benefits: 1)You will be able to tell from reading the step by step list if the person fully understands how to use the software. 2) You will have a company procedure manual when you put all of the lists together.
Your company has invested a good deal of time and money into buying FabSuite and training users. This is a great way to protect your investment.
** The FabSuite General User Guide is available in the About window. Updates to the v4.4.5 User Guide are found in the background of FabSuite under New Features (each new feature has a User Manual link).
Who We Are
Gives you the accuracy and efficiency your company needs to stay competitive and profitable in today's market. Takes the tedious recapitulation activities out of the estimator's hands and does them automatically.
Provides complete traceability of important job and project information. Create Drawing Logs, Transmittals, RFI’s and organize job specifications for quick and easy reference.
Handle bill of material for jobs and track jobs through the entire fabrication process in your shop easily and effectively. Provides you with unrivaled control over every item in the job.
Efficiently optimizes materials from your existing inventory, or from a personally customizable "Warehouse" or "Mill" database. Mult and nest large material lists to price, quote, or buy.
Keep track of all the items in your inventory by the job number, using the standard steel nomenclature.
Combine requisition items, email your requests for quotes to vendors, and easily create purchase orders that will be automatically linked to your inventory.
Gives the service center or retailers a system for tracking the sale in-house. Work up a quick quote for a client on the phone or over the counter.