Steel pricesAs many of you may be aware, steel prices are rising. U.S. domestic steel mills have been implementing price increases since the end of 2017 for the steel D&M Metal Products uses to produce parts. Up until now these increases have been within a somewhat reasonable range, but the price increases that have been implemented for March are now so high that we are unable to hold our current pricing.

 

Why Are Steel Prices So High Now?

 

There are a number of reasons for the price increases. As is so often the case with economics, they can be explained by lowered supply and increased demand.

U.S. steel output has been lower in recent years. Domestic steel producers have struggled to compete with foreign steel mills - especially Chinese mills - that have ramped up production and sold steel at lower prices. Foreign steel makes up about 25 percent of U.S. consumption.

A strong U.S. economy and a rebounding oil and gas industry have meant there is a greater demand for steel overall. This is why steel prices are already higher than they have been in recent years. Currently supply is tight and there is low warehouse inventory of steel. With less steel available but more demand for it, U.S. mills are in a stronger position to force material increase onto industrial manufacturers.

 

An Unpredictable Future

 

Additionally, President Trump’s recent announcement of his intention to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum has caused further uncertainty about the price of steel going forward. Tariffs of 25 percent on foreign steel will, of course, drive prices upward, but it’s unclear which countries will be subject to the tariff. Mexico and Canada will be temporarily exempt, but no one knows for how long.

Already some U.S. steel mills have begun the process of firing up their blast furnaces in order to restart production. Greater production will have a dampening effect on price, but that process can take a long time. In the interim, there may be considerable fluctuation in the price of steel. In the near term we at D&M Metal do not see any stabilization in the pricing of steel.  

How does this affect you, our customers? For purchase orders which we have open and have material purchased, D&M Metal will honor the pricing that is in place. We will need to review pricing as new orders or releases come in and may need to make adjustments based on our inventories for your specific products. It will be more challenging to provide you the information you will need to adjust your product cost when the market is constantly adjusting. We will do our best to be as fair as possible.

This is not the type of news that anyone wants to hear, but be assured that we appreciate your business and will work to be as competitive and responsive as we can.  If you have any immediate questions, please call D&M Metal Products’ president, Bob Buist. He will be happy to talk to you about your concerns.

Every year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cites companies in the metal fabrication industry for violations, costing them millions of dollars in fines. The reality is that unsafe working conditions cost both workplaces and workers far more money indirectly as well. Onsite accidents are expensive in terms of workers’ compensation, medical treatment, damage to equipment and buildings, and lost work time. Working in the metal fabrication industry can be physically challenging, but in a shop that respects federal regulations and implements the proper safety procedures and equipment, it should not be dangerous.

workplace injuries

What Types of Workplace Injuries Are Most Common?

 

Workers in the metal fabrication industry are at risk for a number of injuries, including:

  • Injuries from repetitive movements, poor posture, or lifting
  • Injuries from exposure to harmful materials
  • Injuries from improper operation of equipment
  • Injuries from unguarded areas or improper workplace layout

The good news is that, since the implementation of OSHA in 1971, workplaces have been getting safer as employers have invested in purchasing safety equipment. Without the proper safety tools like masks, respirators, eye and ear guards, gloves, adjustable workstations, barriers, loading dock equipment, and trolleys, workers are physically vulnerable. If workers are not trained to use that equipment and required to use it all of the time, however, it will be ineffective.

How Do We Prevent Workplace Injuries from Occurring?

 

Shop managers must first make sure that all safety equipment is installed and working correctly. Employees should have tools that are proper sized and easy to use. The facilities in which they work should be well lit and free of clutter. Safety rules and protocols should be posted in communal areas.

The staff must be trained continuously on how to use the equipment. This will require shop managers to keep regular records to ensure that new hires are made aware of shop’s safety protocols and that the staff as a whole has periodic refresher courses on safety, weekly if possible. There should be clear communication from management on its expectations from employees and what the consequences are for workers who do not follow safety protocols.

Finally, the entire shop needs to be inspected regularly. Shop managers should make daily rounds to make sure the safety equipment is in place and functional and employees are utilizing it correctly. When small accidents or near misses occur in the shop, managers need to walk their employees through what happened and point out any missteps in protocol or neglect of safety. A record of problems should be updated along with the steps that managers have taken to correct them.

A shop that makes a commitment to creating and maintaining safety protocols will experience fewer workplace injuries, accidents, and losses. We at D+M Metal Products take safety seriously, and our efforts to ensure a safe work environment and avoid injuries have been recognized. Last April we were pleased to be awarded the Safety Award of Honor by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) and CNA. We believe that safety regulations are in place to help everyone - workers, employers, and the industry as a whole. A safer shop is a better, more productive, and more profitable shop.

 

A magical time of the year is just around the corner - maple sugaring time! Very soon it will be time to tap the trees so the sap can flow and we can begin the process of making maple syrup and maple candy.

What do you know about maple sugar production in Michigan? Bob Buist, the owner of D&M Metal Products has been making maple syrup in Michigan for a number of years now, and it’s a fun and fascinating process. Michigan is #5 in the nation for maple syrup, producing an average of 90,000 gallons per year. Not all of this is commercial, although maple syrup is an agricultural commodity that contributes $2.5 million to Michigan’s economy annually. About 2,000 Michiganders produce maple syrup as a hobby or just for home use.

How many maple trees does it take to make syrup? In Michigan, only about one percent of the state’s maple forest is tapped for sugar. Of all species of maples, the sugar maple has the highest sugar content, but a tree must be about 40 years old with a 10-inch diameter before it’s ready to tap. Each tap hole produces about 10 gallons of maple sap per year, but it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. That means every tree tapped will yield about a quart of maple syrup.

tapping trees

Not every winter is a good one for sugar production. A pattern of cold and warm temperatures helps to force the sap from the tree. If the winter is too warm, there will not be much sap to collect. If the temperatures are consistently cold, that’s isn’t good for production either. A rapid rise in temperature of 25 to 45 degrees will produce ideal conditions for collecting maple sap. State wide, the Michigan maple syrup season starts in February for southern counties and runs 6 to 10 weeks until it’s finished in the Upper Peninsula, but the heavy sap may only run for 10 to 20 days in any one area. When the weather gets warm enough for the maples to bud, the sap becomes bitter and collection ends.

After the sap is collected, it’s boiled to 219 degrees Fahrenheit to remove the water and concentrate the sugars. This is called evaporation. Typically an evaporator uses a cord of hardwood to make 25 gallons of syrup. D&M Metal Products designed and made the first evaporator that Bob Buist used at his sugar shack.

evaporator

The end result of this process is one of nature’s most healthy foods. Maple syrup is fat free and has 50 calories a tablespoon. It has no additives or preservatives, plenty of nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, and is shelf stable for years. It’s a great substitute for cane sugar which has no nutrients at all and a better sweetener for diabetics because it’s lower on the glycemic index.

The Boar’s Nest Sugar Shack will be ramping up maple syrup production again soon. If you are looking for tasty and healthy maple sugar products, let us know - we sell them in our main office. Stop by D&M Metal Products to buy maple syrup or ask Bob about his maple sugaring adventures.

Maple syrup

automationIn a previous blog post we discussed why there is such a need for automated guided vehicles in American manufacturing. 2017 was a banner year for the North American automation market, demonstrating that demand. The year set new records in the first three quarters in robotics, machine vision, motion control, and motor technology.  According to wired.com, “2017 was the year that robots really, truly arrived.”

Jeff Burnstein, president of Association for Advancing Automation agrees. “The market for robotics and automation continues at a healthy growth rate. It’s evident that the investment companies are making in these automation technologies is having a positive impact on productivity and competitiveness, while saving and creating new jobs in North America.”

Why did automation break out in 2017? Roboticist Sebastian Thrun believes it was a confluence of factors, including hardware becoming cheaper and intelligence better at the same time. Only very recently have computers become smart enough and robot hardware reliable enough to make the kinds of literal leaps robotics has. Atlas, the humanoid robot developed by Boston Dynamics, can do actual backflips

For robots to go beyond working in a specified, flat-floored work envelope, they need to be able to sense the changes in their environment. That requirement depended on the development of much better sensor technology than was available until recently. Cameras and lasers are both more powerful and more affordable now, making advanced robots both possible and affordable for more companies.

What kind of numbers are we looking at? In the first three quarters of 2017, companies in North America ordered 27,294 robots at a cost of approximately $1.473 billion. That number was up 14% from 2016. Automotive orders were up 11% and non-automotive orders 20%. The industries with the largest demand for automated technology were Metals, Automotive Components, and Food and Consumer Goods.

While robots and AGVs have been used for a long time in manufacturing and fabrication, those sectors of the economy seem primed to add even more in the days ahead. With the price of this technology dropping quickly, other sectors, like food service, hospitality, and healthcare, are also looking to add them.

Analysts say that this is only the beginning of the growth spike which will continue in 2018. While companies understand that there are definite advantages to adding automation to the floor, and many of these robots do jobs that workers cannot do and so do not always replace workers, adding them will have an impact on the low- and medium-skilled workforce. This will put employers on the defensive for at least the short term. However, for many companies, the advantages in safety and reliability these robots can deliver will make it worthwhile.  

In 1977 Dale Buist bought the assets of D&M Metal Products, and the company has been in the Buist family the forty years that have passed from that day until today. For this anniversary we thought we would share with you some of the highlights we have experienced in growing D&M from a small, struggling company to the thriving and successful business it is currently.

D&M Metal Products Company was originally founded in 1946. The D and M in the name stood for Davis and Moelker, the original owners. When Dale Buist purchased the company, it had 8 employees. Prior to this Dale had worked at a small sheet metal shop, so he had experience with this type of work. One of the changes he made in the business was the purchase of the company’s first Strippit HD30/40 and a Hurco backgage. The Strippit improved D&M’s hole punching capability away from drilling or a punch-press setup. The backgage enabled a faster setup and accurate repeat gaging for bending on our press brakes.

In 1982 Dale purchased an Amada press, a turret press that was the latest in close tolerance manufacturing for blanking parts. The efficiency and quality output these new pieces of machinery gave the company helped us to expand our customer base. As a result Dale hired Doug Parker, the company’s first designated salesperson.

By 1984 D&M Products had outgrown the 8,000-square-foot space we had in Standale, and the company moved to its current location on West River Drive in Comstock Park. We built on to the existing space before moving in, giving us 18,000 square feet to operate in. At this point in time, the office was in a separate building. In 1988 we added 6,500 square feet of space for a turret department. In 1994 we remodeled, incorporating everything into one large facility with 58,000 square feet of space.

Technology has changed a great deal since 1977. Our earliest investments in computerization were the purchase of Metalsoft programming systems in 1984 and a Microshop system in 1989. We purchased a Cincinnati laser machine in 1992. This machine had a shuttle table system that made it much more efficient to operate and increased our productivity significantly.

Sadly, Dale Buist passed away from cancer in 1997. The ownership of the company passed to his son, Bob Buist, at that time. Shortly afterwards, Bob purchased and implemented the JobBOSS computer system, two OTC Robots and a Romer CMM, as well as a Fryer Machining Center.

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to change and develop, to take risks in expanding our building space, our equipment portfolio, and our employee base. As a result, D&M Metal is a very different company with far more capabilities than it had in our beginning years. We still hold to Dale Buist’s original drive and values, though. He was goal oriented, open to new technology, and willing to do what it took to make the company a success, and we are too.

Here’s to many more years in the metal fabrication business!