Putting Metal Finishing First
Aesthetic Appeal Plays a Central Role at R & B Wagner
If you think about fabricating steps in order, you will most likely think about metal finishing last. Short of a final inspection and packaging, it is last.
In many shops, finishing is an entry-level position. While not an afterthought, a nice appearance is often not considered to be a critical step in the manufacturing process. Research, design, prototyping, and testing are perceived as much more important. But, Kane Behling, R & B Wagner’s Manufacturing Operations Manager, would not agree with that logic. If you ask him, you’re thinking it through backward.
Kane Behling is a dyed-in-the-wool metal finisher. His first manufacturing job was metal finishing. While that first job was an unexpected opportunity, it turned out to be a great fit.
At the time, Kane had a full-time job that could have led to a stable, respectable career. But, he hadn’t picked a career path and kept his options open. He took short-term jobs on occasion until he got a call about an opening for a metal finisher.
Kane showed up equipped with little more than youthful enthusiasm. As it turned out, he had a good feel for the work. He took to finishing like a duck to water. “I made rate my first day,” Behling said.
Before long he was doing all manner of finishing. He worked on manufactured components by day and farmed out his services by night. He worked on auto restorations, antiques, museum pieces, and more. He rarely turned down a request, which gave him a depth and breadth of experience few could rival. He soon found himself working 12-hour days, seven days a week.
When he was on the clock, his relentless pursuit of a superior finish often got in the way.
On a scale of 1 (Below Expectations) to 3 (Exceeding Expectations) Kane was a consistent 4. His supervisor would have to explain concepts like backlog, profit margin, shipping schedule, and you’re spending way too much time on that. He soon caught on. In the meantime, he was gratified to learn that the great care he took in his work was appreciated. He was developing a solid reputation.
“At that time, if you did an internet search for ‘metal finishing expert,’ my name often came up in the top search results,” Kane said.
He found his way to R & B Wagner. While Behling doesn’t do much finishing work these days, his position as manufacturing operations manager provides endless opportunities for him to keep up with the latest techniques and equipment. He strives to keep Wagner at the leading edge of finishing technology.
Recruitment and Retention in the Finishing Department
Like most manufacturers, Wagner struggles to fill job vacancies from time-to-time. The pool of experience and knowledge simply isn’t as deep as it once was.
“I learned a lot from World War II vets when I was new to this industry,” Behling said. “These days many of the skilled craftsmen are simply gone. The young guys who came into this industry in the last few years don’t have mentors with decades of experience to learn from. Quite a bit of manufacturing work left this country over the last few years. But now that some of it is coming back, we don’t have the skilled workforce to handle it.”
This doesn’t stop Wagner from recruiting people, but it has had to adapt to the changing workforce. While many manufacturing jobs require a strong mechanical aptitude, finishing is different.
“Most people who are really good at finishing are artistic,” Behling said. “Many of them have hobbies like photography or pottery or sculpture. They have a keen eye for appearance and details.”
Once they’re hired, keeping employees is a matter of keeping them happy. Wagner places quite a bit of importance on variety in the finishing department.
Mixing It Up
First, mixing up the work mixes up the physical stresses and reduces repetitive motions. Behling himself is no stranger to repetitive stresses. He transitioned from finisher to former finisher after having trouble with simple tasks like buttoning clothes.
Second, variety often comes in the form of a challenging one-off project. An old copper kettle, antiquated farm implements, or parts for a hot rod. Wagner rarely turns down a request, no matter how unusual. In fact, the more unusual, the better.
This type of work does not result in large profits. They often disrupt the department’s day-to-day work flow. But, it’s all part of the company’s intention to have the best finishing department.
“Every craftsman, every artisan, every skilled worker in a field like this needs variety to keep their skills sharp,” Behling said. Need polishing tips?
The variety at Wagner ensures that employees’ skills will stay sharp for a long time to come.
Have a need for polishing? Contact Wagner.
Don’t forget to share this post!