American Machinist

No longer product pushers: distributors discuss the delicacy of changing their industry's perception and practice. (Distributor Profile).

Today's shops aren't looking to increase capacity so much as to improve manufacturing operations to work in a "lean" environment. Often, these shops don't have process or service departments to do their legwork, so they rely on their distributors to recommend ideas for better manufacturing, plus provide training and service. This shift in the needs of the manufacturer has completely changed the distribution industry.

To get a read on how distributors are changing with their field, AMERICAN MACHINIST gathered with seven top distributors at the American Machine Tool Distributor's Association (AMTDA) annual meeting to discuss the changing needs of customers, the challenges involved with meeting those needs, and the effects of a redefined machine-tool-builder role.

New customer demands

Lean manufacturing is a necessary strategy for all plants in the U.S., and while most shops realize the importance of just-in-time operations, many no longer have in-house resources for research, development, and process planning. So, more manufacturers are asking their distributors for guidance on how to best use machines within their plants.

This makes sense to Ron Mager, senior vice president and CFO at Machinery Systems Inc., who attributes the demand for more value-added distributor services to a shift from "buying to fill capacity" to "buying to improve productivity."

"For us to sell equipment, we've got to improve customer productivity as opposed to meeting capacity need. This goes beyond looking at a discrete application and saying, 'This is the best solution to make this particular part.' It's understanding their entire manufacturing process so we can help U.S. manufacturing work smarter to survive globally and not lose work to plants overseas."

James Kreager, CEO at Kreager Machine Tool Corp., believes customers want the same things they always have, but adds that there is now a sense of urgency.

"Teaching customers, solving problems, and reducing their costs has always been a focus for us, but now it's much more intense. …

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