In order to keep ahead of its rivals, companies must regularly innovate amidst fierce competition to become the first to bring new products to market. For Justin Atkins, Purchasing Manager at Cincinnati Incorporated (CI), he believes it’s his company’s willingness to launch new innovations and react to the latest trends that acts as the catalyst for its success.
CI, a global leader in 3D printing, has created one of the world’s largest 3D printing technology which develops large-scale 3D product by extruding materials at a rate up to 80 pounds per hour. The system, Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM), leverages proven design and technology from CI’s laser platform. The innovation was designed to enable 3D printing to be utilized for production manufacturing, where its size and speed allows for large parts to be created more efficiently. The system provides more options due to its open architecture system for material vendors. “The new system has enabled our customers to print parts at a very large scale that was not possible in the past and has allowed some of them to do things that are new to the world. Customers’ reactions have been overwhelming and we’ve won numerous innovation awards based on it,” explains Atkins.
Over the past few years, CI has transitioned to become a company that can focus more on customer-centric product innovation, having solely operated with an engineering department in previous years. The introduction of dedicated product teams has enabled CI to improve the range of products, such as laser and plasma cutting systems, press brakes and shears, additive manufacturing, as well as powder metal presses. “We now have three product teams: CNC table products, vertical motion products, and aftersales. Each one of these product teams has dedicated functional support including: service, technical support, marketing, training, and engineering resources. It means they can jointly focus on their specific products and the customers that use them in an open team environment.”
The company is also in the process of transitioning from its ERP system that has been in operation since 1992 and is set to switch to a state-of-the-art MRP ERP system called IFS which in the middle of a five-year implementation schedule. “It is going to give us the ability to have things like supplier portals and digital order acknowledgements and digital order systems. Technology is playing more of a role in our operations and we're constantly looking at how we do things and how we can do better,” says Atkins.
In a bid to reduce costs and lead times in its supply chain, CI has fully changed the way it operates. Atkins examines how CI’s supply chain has adapted over the years. “As a custom manufacturer of products, the design of our machine tools is fixed and the supply chain has never really had a say in the design, which puts us into a corner at some points. We have certain components within our supply chain and that we do not have full control of,” he says. “Over the past five years, we have looked at the supply chain more holistically and have seen where the pain points are. By adjusting our lead times and associated planning, it has allowed the supply chain to have more of an influence on what products we design into our products, which ultimately gives us a better chance of providing a lower-cost, on-time machine.”
“25 years ago, the engineering team would make designs and we would have to try to source it. Now, everyone on all teams works very closely together to ensure that whatever products we're designing is manufacturable and that there is a good supply chain pool.”
Forming key partnerships
In order to diversify its business model, solely buying steel directly from the mill, CI decided to partner with leading steel supplier, O’Neal Steel, in a bid to reduce its lead times. However, with close to 50% of steel produced being wasted in the form of scrap, the company moved away from the O’Neal Steel model and explored other partner models. Ultimately after further consideration, CI reverted back to O’Neal Steel as it was emerging as the better option. “We had steel service centers competitively quote on every single piece of plate that we needed to buy and have them burn our parts out for us,” says Atkins. “However, we decided to move back to the O'Neal Steel model once again because they took a decent-sized hit on the business that we had with them when we started going to other companies. They assembled a supply chain team together to see how they could fix our problem and work with us to make our supply chain even more efficient.”
The collaboration with O’Neal Steel has allowed CI to closely monitor the inventory at hand and ensure less wastage. Atkins affirms how important it is for the two companies to enjoy a strong working relationship.
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“We work very closely with them, and do forecasts twice a month, depending on how strong business is, which allows us to better predict exactly what inventory we require,” explains Atkins. “We are effectively able to have four or five times more efficient yield on our plate at a lower cost which is important given the current US administration imposing tariffs on foreign steel.”
Looking to the future, Atkins points to the positive workforce at CI as a key factor in its success and believes it remains vital to continue to grow and enable innovation. “Our people are what makes Cincinnati Incorporated so successful. We are right here in southwest Ohio and we have some of the best people in the world. Every day, every member of staff comes in and they have such an immense feeling of pride in the products that we build. I would give the credit to the people that we have at the company,” Atkins states proudly.
Ultimately, Atkins would like to see the company continue to grow and innovate more and more every day. “We have long-term plans and I want to see us continue in the same direction that we've been pursuing for the past three or four years while continuing to bring bigger and better products to market.”