We have all heard the adage, “WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LEMONS, MAKE LEMONADE.” This phrase may sound cliché, but there is a lot of truth in this. If nothing else, 2020 reminded us we have very little control over our lives and even less over the market(s) we serve. Life has handed all of us lemons, but how we choose to use those lemons is up to us. Every time there is a large-scale market disruption, the rebound allows us to evaluate process and procedure and gain efficiency; this is the lemonade. The changes may not be enjoyable now, but the gains from these changes can be monumental.

This forced re-set to operations allows us the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate how we do things. Processes that “have always been done THAT way” must be examined. We will likely find there are ways to improve or do away with steps and processes that previously were just accepted.

Looking at the arena of pipe and vessel fabrication, for example, many shops utilize the same processes used decades ago. These old antiquated processes are the lemons, and they have gotten used to them. The manual layout of pipe and vessels using hard copy, 2-dimensional drawings, manual cutting of pipe to length, and relying on grinding to “make it fit,” along with welding processes that rely heavily on very skilled welders, are all prime examples.

The above lists out the lemons, but in any good lemonade, you need more than just lemons. There are more ingredients needed.

A key ingredient, in our lemonade, is having partners that work with you and are not merely looking to sell another piece of equipment. Key relationships with vendors that clearly express a desire to hear you out and listen to your challenges are the first step. Many fabricators have experienced poorly delivered solutions that, in all actuality, did not fully address their problems. The provider SOLD them something but was not working WITH them to find the answer. Take inventory of your relationship with your supplier(s) of equipment. Do they bring a willingness to work WITH you and act as an advisor, especially when there is not a PO on the line? Are they willing to walk your shop with you? Are they ready to run sample parts and perform trials in their shop on their equipment to validate the solutions they propose? Can they fully support any solution offered from design to implementation to installation to training to ongoing support? If not, you might evaluate if you have only a provider and not a true partner. If the only thing your current supplier brings to the table is a low cost, it may be that they are not the lowest cost after all.

Another ingredient is flexibility. How will this new technology be brought into the facility? With COVID 19 issues and the impact they are having on the market, it is crucial to stretch capital budgets. Having flexible solutions that can be rented, leased, purchased over time, or purchased in a structure that modified to meet cash flow, the stress of having to attain immediate success reduces. With rental options, there is no pressure of being the one that decided to purchase a new piece of technology with limited capital. By renting, shops can evaluate the solution and the ability of the solution provider to support and stand behind the product.

During this time, there is a rare opportunity to identify the problem (lemons), decide to make something out of the situation, and use it as a launching pad (make lemonade). Collaborate with all pertinent parts of the organization as well as trusted partners on solutions (recipes for the lemonade), and then implement the selected solution. By having defined goals, success is measurable and verifiable (this is your taste test.)

If your organization has had a dramatic slowdown or work stoppage due to recent events, had to modify workspaces to allow for “social distancing,” or had to reduce your workforce through layoffs or furloughs, and this has impacted your production, you have been given a bowl of lemons. We don’t get to control whether life or the market hands us lemons. We only get to control how we choose to use those lemons.

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