American Machinist will launch its third annual survey of the U.S. Machine Shop Industry on Feb. 13.

The survey will be available at (www. AMBsurvey.com).

As in previous years, the survey is anonymous, and asks for detailed information on how shops are working to improve their efficiency and competitiveness. We are asking our readers to go to our website and fill it out.

This is the third time we are asking you to participate in this survey, and we are hoping for an improved response over our previous surveys.

As we did in previous years, we intend to give that data right back to the industry, and responses we had from readers throughout the year told us that the information was needed and valuable.

We again have adjusted some of the questions based on feedback we had from readers, and to get more substantial information in some areas but, on the whole, the survey is the same. With this third sampling, we are building a library of information that will make the information tools derived from the survey more useful.

The data we received allows you to compare your shop’s operations to industry benchmarks, and make the changes that you see are necessary to improve.

The idea behind the survey is to establish standardized information that will set you on a path to the well-recognized, four-step process for business improvement: 1. Measure your processes so that you know what's what. 2. Compare yourself to others (benchmark) so you know what's good and what’s not. 3. Plan for improvement, so that you can focus on what it is that you're going to make better. 4. Measure again, so you can see how well you did and how it paid off.

This survey process sets the groundwork for being globally competitive. If you want to compete, you had better know where you are, so that you can figure out where you have to go next.

The survey is detailed, and won’t be easy to take. It probably will require you to calculate some things that you don't have at your fingertips. But, by taking it, you'll be taking the first step to improve your processes and to become more competitive.

We ask some impertinent questions -- the kind you often choose not to answer, and we hope you'll join the shops who answered them last year.

As we did last year, we are guaranteeing that your information is confidential, and that no one will be able to compare directly against you. They'll only be able to compare themselves vs. industry averages.

However, at the end, there is a chance to provide your contact information. That will be used for a related program: American Machinist’s Best Shops program.

We developed the Best Shops program last year, and if you give us your name for consideration, our partner in the survey, MPI Group, will put you in the running for consideration in this year’s Best Shop competition. However, even in our Best Shops program, I can assure you that your information remains confidential.

We have in this issue an article that includes comments from most of our Best Shops, on their experiences with the program. You will find that on Page 26.

You can find our survey on our website: (www. americanmachinist.com), where can fill it out. You also can print it and fax or mail it back to us. The survey will be available for about four weeks, and however you decide to do it, taking the time to fill it out will is going to land you a new tool that you will be able to use again and again.