Dowling Flexible Metals

The situation

Before we can go into details of the case study, we need to as who are Dowling flexible metals and what do they do?


Dowling Flexible Metals are a tool and dye shop that has mushroomed from a handful of workers to around thirty machinists with the ensuing issues that happen from rapid expansion.

Dowling make small parts for the Automobile industry and a major part of their success has come about because of the unique means they used in designing the parts they made, most other shops had engineers to design them and machinists to make the parts but Dowling, because it was a small outfit allowed the machinists to do the design work thus giving service that the clients wanted.

The growth has meant that they have stepped away from that way of doing things and as a result many of the customers and workers feel that they have “lost their way”. The purpose of this case study is to analyse what is going on there and suggest a means for getting back to.

Streamlining solutions

One of the main things that this has resulted in is too many people involved in the process and a distinct “lack of ownership” of the projects. Previously the machinists were used to seeing the project through to completion and took pride in the work they did, but now that has been removed, here are two possible alternatives

Have the Engineers spend time on the shop floor.  This may sound simplistic but part of the problem could simply be that the engineers are simply designing products that while theoretically workable are just not practical! This created frustration for the machinists as they feel that their input is not being heard. By having the engineers work alongside the machinists they will gain valuable experience of what will and will not work on a project.

Create teams of Engineers and Machinists to see each project through. This may sound labour intense, but many of the projects they are involved with possibly have large runs of thousands of units (if not more) and to have engineers working alongside the machinists will create a much more cohesive workforce.

With this setup you could even have a small staff of machinists kept solely to deal with the small orders who could access an engineer’s expertise if and when required.

Bill’s role in this. Without doubt Bill will need to be the one to drive this change, part of it will mean appointing team leaders and making sure that it happens. If the boss isn’t for the changes then they simply won’t happen. Many bosses of small companies find it hard not to micro manage even when their businesses grow, but part of the creation of the teams and leaders is freeing Bill up to do what he’s meant to!

The key communication problems

  • Lack of ownership.
  • Departments not talking to each other, not acting on recommendations from the shop floor
  • No clear structure to report things back to the management.

Should Dowling use teams? Absolutely, by taking up the recommendations they will cure 95% of the issues that have arisen, but it needs to be taken up by all!

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