If Ken Gettelman, the long-time editor of this magazine, ever had a favorite expression, it was this: "Nothing ever happens until the tool hits the metal." Ken was fond of saying that just about any time he thought a discussion on any given technology needed a sense of context, and certainly when he felt the conversation was straying too far from the essential "truths" of the trade.
In fact, Ken said it so many times that some of us younger members of the staff grew a bit tired of hearing it. And maybe occasionally, when we could see that an unsuspecting visitor was being set up for these knockout words of wisdom, we might have indulged ourselves in a private chuckle or two. The message, it seemed back then, had grown less interesting to us than the style of delivery.
Index, now, to a casual conversation this summer with Bruce Belden, president of Carboloy, the Detroit-based manufacturer of cutting tools. "Do you know how many inserts are consumed in the manufacture of a car?" he asks. This seems like something I should know, but don't, so I blurt out, "Fifty."
Not even close: "Less than two," he says. Belden explains that's not a terribly precise number, rather, a rough figure of the cars produced divided by an estimate of the inserts sold to the automotive sector. But the fact remains that cutting tools account for an infinitesimally small portion of the total cost of building a car.
Then Belden goes on to make his real point that many corporations today are missing huge opportunities to improve productivity by paying too much attention to procurement costs and not enough to the benefits of more efficient machining processes. Cost cutting initiatives these days seek and destroy superfluous administrative functions, and people who spend a lot of time buying ten-dollar disposables sure seem a likely target. "But what is it worth to them if they can boost production by ten percent?" he asks. Presumably, a whole lot more than the additional cost -- or shall we say investment? -- of seeking out the most productive tools possible.
It's a no-brainer, if you think about cost with the total picture in mind. But, alas, many companies don't. Too bad they never had the chance to experience the wisdom of Gettelman. Sorry for the chuckles, Ken. Once again, you were right all along.