Manufacturing Comes Full Circle

Seeing the root of the supply chain gives me a deeper appreciation for what our industry does and how we meet the needs of our society.

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Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.
— Neil Armstrong

Is it really that time of year again? The warm weather seems to fade so quickly as fall rolls in and winter is soon to follow. My gut reaction to this change of seasons is sadness and anticipation of gloom, but I try to reverse these feelings with appreciation of what is good in my life in preparation for the season of Thanksgiving.

When it gets down to it, a lot of things are going my way right now; no need to point them all out. But one thing that’s easy to reflect on is my job, which has provided me a few recent opportunities to visit parts of the world I’m quite sure I otherwise would have never experienced. A couple of months ago I wrote about my travel to Taiwan. I’ve also visited several very interesting manufacturing facilities around the U.S. recently. And at the end of September, I boarded a plane headed for Sweden.

Now, I’m usually the first to point out that business travel is not the glamorous experience that those who are not involved might perceive. It often involves long days with little (if any) time to take part in tourist activities. But that’s why we’re paid to do it, and it doesn’t mean it can’t create lasting memories. The best trips, whether for business or pleasure, are the ones that stay with me for a long time because they have immersed me in new experiences that I can relate to some bigger picture.

Shortly after arriving in Stockholm, I was transported by car to the countryside town of Hofors. It was here that we would start our tour of the Ovako steel mill complex. We would eventually see three of the company’s 10 production facilities (another in Hällefors and one in Hallstahammar). It was a very informative business trip for me. I saw a side of our industry that I had not been exposed to before, especially on such a large scale. I will provide more information about the processes Ovako runs and the products it offers in an upcoming article, but I took another important piece of information from this trip home with me that goes beyond useful knowledge for the job.

I saw manufacturing at its earliest stage—scrap metal being recycled into the high quality raw material that is used to make the precision parts our industry has become known for. For years, I’ve seen parts being made, I’ve seen machine tools in all stages of their development, and I’ve seen large inventories of barstock on shop floors. But watching how these materials are formed from the beginning gives me a greater perspective and seems to close the loop for me on the production of parts from start to finish. This process is the foundation on which the rest of our work is built.

It’s a massive operation to sort the scrap, melt it into the rough castings, then further size them to billets that can then be finished to barstock or other products that end up on our shop floors for machining. How have I missed out on this process for so long? I knew about it, but the experience of seeing it happen is somewhat mind-blowing.

It’s always cool to see something new in this profession. When what I’m seeing has such a significant impact on everything else we do, it almost feels a bit life-changing. Most of us are not doctors, firefighters, active military; but still what we do has an enormous impact on people every day. When I think about everything that goes into making quality parts, it’s hard to believe how well it all comes together.

Seeing the root of the supply chain gives me a deeper appreciation for what our industry does and how we meet the needs of our society. While my trip to Sweden was not one for typical tourist-related sightseeing, what I saw was perhaps even more memorable. I’m thankful for the opportunity to visit companies such as Ovako and will keep these visits in mind as we move into the holiday season. My recent travels have helped to make this a remarkable year, and I won’t let the threat of a little cold weather bring it to a sad close.