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Metal Cutting Experts Discuss What it Takes to Stay Competitive

August 28, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


With this year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) just wrapping up, investment decisions about production equipment and technology are at the forefront of just about every manager’s mind. While unstable market conditions make it tempting for companies to keep their dollars close, demands for faster delivery and a shortage of skilled workers are making it hard for most metal-cutting companies to keep up without some capital investments.

For many companies, those investments will be in equipment and tooling. According to the 2014 Metalworking Capital Spending Survey by Gardner Research, U.S. metalworking facilities will spend $7.442 billion, an increase of almost 19%, on new metal-cutting equipment in 2015. The same report forecasts that tool sales will be at their highest level in more than a decade.

Another report from market researcher IBIS states that “private investment in metalworking machinery has been improving and demand has been steady.” IBIS also predicts continued growth over the next few years due to renewed demand from machine shops and an upturn in automobile sales.

Meanwhile, experts are saying that managers need to start spending more time and money on their human capital. As this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) discusses, today’s metalworking executives need to optimize every aspect of their operation. While it is easy to rely heavily on equipment and tooling to improve efficiency, more and more companies are finding that it is just as important to account for—and correct—the human variables that can contribute to productivity. This could include everything from working with colleges to secure new talent to instituting ongoing training and incentive programs.

To help companies get a bigger picture perspective on where they should put their money, LIT asked two industry experts to share their thoughts on industry trends, the benefits of technology, and what they think it will take for metal-cutting companies to stay competitive. Read as Don Armstrong, national accounts manager at Marvel Manufacturing Company, Inc., and Rick Arcaro, vice president of Sales & Marketing at Hydmech, weigh in.

What technology advancements have helped metal-cutting companies address the challenges they face in today’s marketplace?

Armstrong: I think the problem of how to increase productivity without adding personnel has been greatly helped by the amount of automation that is available in today’s machine tools. In addition, the advances in cutting tools have given our customers the ability to process more product with fewer machines. The concern over the availability of skilled workers has been offset to some extent by user-friendly controls, preprogrammed settings, and the ability to network machines.

Arcaro: New machines and blades have improved productivity and lowered cost per cut, and simple controllers have allowed companies to hire a lower skill level of operator to run them. Machines that are simple to maintain with the availability of parts off-the-shelf when needed have also helped customers get parts out the door faster with lower processing costs.

How have these advancements contributed to the bottom line?

Armstrong: The highest cost for any business is generally people, i.e. salaries and benefits, so whenever you can increase productivity without increasing your workforce, the bottom line will benefit.

Arcaro: Companies that have adopted continuous improvement management have reduced processing bottlenecks, kept their operations and workers as efficient as possible, while lowering operation costs and increasing the bottom line.

What is one up-and-coming advancement that industrial metal-cutting companies should know about or should consider as today’s market evolves?

Armstrong: I think a trend that metal-cutting companies should keep an eye on is the increasing use of composites and other materials in areas where metal was once used.  This trend has been most noticeable in the automotive and aerospace industries.

Arcaro: Service centers need to continue to invest in value-added processing. Several factors are fueling investment in new equipment today: automation and computerized controls that make the latest machinery much more efficient, productive, easy to service, and user friendly. Companies should also look for machines and technologies that will extend tool life and reduce tool-change downtime.

What practical tip would you give an industrial metal-cutting company trying to compete in today’s marketplace?

Armstrong: I would advise them to build on their most valuable asset, their employees, by emphasizing training and ongoing education. I would encourage employees at all levels to get to know their customers in order to better understand their needs and help provide solutions for them. And, finally, I would remind them to look beyond traditional manufacturing processes for new ways to apply the knowledge that they have gained in metal cutting.

Arcaro: Knowing your place and position in the market is key. Trying to be good at everything is impossible—be great and profitable at something.

How Forges Can Fill the Skills Gap

August 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,


Forges, just like every other segment of the manufacturing industry, are facing a huge challenge that is only going to intensify in the years to come. That challenge is the skills gap, and if you aren’t facing this issue head on just yet, you will be soon.

As stated in a previous blog post, most manufacturers are trying to address two key gaps. First, skilled production workers are one of the largest workforce segments facing retirement in the near future, which will have an impact on the number of experienced workers on the shop floor. Meanwhile, the current talent pool isn’t what is should be. Streamlined production lines and more process automation have changed the nature of manufacturing work, and the incoming generation of workers lacks the skills and technical knowledge required.

As far as the forging industry is concerned, this issue is already affecting most of your peers, according to Forging magazine’s 2014 Business Outlook. When the magazine asked its readers what would have the greatest impact on the future of the forging industry, a little more than half said the “availability of qualified workers.”

However, don’t be discouraged. An article from the Economic Policy Institute argues that most of the skills required of your operators are well within the reach of most people. In other words, the talent is out there; you just need to find, train, and maintain them. The following are a few tips for doing just that:

Five Tips for Achieving the Perfect Cut in Machine Shops

August 20, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


In the busy production environment of a machine shop, achieving the perfect cut is key to maintaining quality and productivity. Premature blade failure and excess scrap caused by operator error or equipment misuse can create quality issues, bottlenecks, and increased costs. In other words, it pays to get it right.

The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) knows what it takes to get the best cut out of your operators and the best “cost per cut” out of your blades. The following are few tips and tricks machine shops can use to optimize their band-saw cutting operations:

 

 

 

 

 

 

For more metal-cutting tips and tricks, you can download the complete white paper, Understanding the Cut: Factors that Affect the Cost of Cutting, here.

What Connectivity Could Mean for Industrial Metal Cutting Companies

August 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


If the words the “Internet of Things” and “real-time data” mean nothing to you or your metal-cutting operation, you may want to lean in. A growing number of industry experts believe these buzzwords may just transform the manufacturing industry.

“Today’s more powerful sensors and devices, connected to back-end systems, analytics software, and the cloud, are transforming industries, right now,” says Sanjay Ravi, Worldwide Managing Director, Discrete Manufacturing Industry at Microsoft in this blog post. “With the rise of these connected operations, manufacturing executives are not only finding new ways to automate and create efficiency, they are also focusing on a big new opportunity for revenue growth—services.”

In other words, forward-thinking manufacturers are finding that connecting their production equipment to the Internet and/or to other devices is providing insight into their internal operations they may not have been able to get otherwise. By gathering production data and then using software to make it understandable, they are improving efficiency and uncovering new service opportunities.

And according to Ravi, this is no passing trend. Quoting research from IDC (commissioned by Microsoft), Ravi says “manufacturers stand to gain $371 billion in value from data over the next four years.”

A recent article from Forbes echoes this sentiment, stating that factories that are connected to the Internet are more efficient, productive, and smarter than their non-connected counterparts. However, the article also says that only 10 percent of industrial operations are currently using the connected enterprise, which means 90 percent are missing out.

The way in which manufacturers can use connectivity will vary by industry and application, but as this article from O’Reilly Radar describes, the Internet of Things (IoT) and connectivity are revolutionizing manufacturing policies and procedures in two key ways:

  1. For the first time, managers can actually know what’s happening on the assembly line to both products and machinery in real time.
  2. That information can be shared, also in real time, with anyone inside or outside the enterprise who could improve their operating efficiency and decision-making with that real-time data.

As the Forbes article describes, companies like manufacturing giant GE, bread maker King’s Hawaiian, and Sine-Wave, a provider of technology solutions, are already taking full advantage of what many are calling the “information revolution.” At GE’s Durathon battery factory in Schenectady, NY,  for example, 10,000 sensors on the assembly line, along with sensors located in every single battery it produces, allow managers to instantly find out the status of production.

This is happening in the metal-cutting world as well. According to this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), one metal service center developed an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by each band saw and each blade. At any point, the operations manager can go to a computer screen, click on a saw, and see how many square inches that saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This has allowed the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.

Tim Heston, senior editor at The Fabricator, also sees the opportunities sensors, data, and connectivity offer the metal fabrication industry and its supply chain. “Imagine a future in which you have trillions of sensors able to predict customer demand throughout the supply chain, monitor machine conditions to prevent unplanned downtime; and a future with machine tool technology and manufacturing methodologies allowing shops to change over between jobs within seconds (some of this technology is already here), all synced with customer demands,”  he says in a recent editorial. “In short, imagine a future in which the majority of activities in the supply chain add value.”

Does connectivity have a place in your metal-cutting operation? Could it? At the very least, these are the questions leading companies should be asking. Unless, of course, they are part of the 10 percent that is already connected.

How Fabricators Can Use Overall Equipment Effectiveness for Continuous Improvement

August 10, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,


Over the last several years, a growing number of fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies have started measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). This is definitely a good trend, as measurement is a critical part of continuous improvement. However, many companies are jumping on the OEE bandwagon without being fully informed, which is causing a lot of misunderstanding and misuse of this important metric.

Knowing what OEE is—and what it isn’t—is the only way to make sure you are using it effectively. Here’s a quick primer.

What OEE Is
According to leanproduction.com, OEE is a best practices metric that measures the percentage of production time that is truly productive. It takes into account all six types of loss, resulting in a measure of productive manufacturing time.

In simple terms, OEE can be described as the ratio of fully productive time to planned production time. According to leanproduction.com, it can be measured in one of two ways:

(Good Pieces x Ideal Cycle Time) / Planned Production Time

or

Availability x Performance x Quality

(You can  find a more detailed description of the calculation here, as well as a sample calculation.)

A plant with an OEE score of 100 percent has achieved perfect production—high quality parts as fast as possible, with zero down time. While that’s ideal, it’s not quite possible in the real world. According to oee.com, studies show that the average OEE rate among manufacturing plants is 60 percent, which leaves substantial room for improvement. Most experts agree that an OEE rate of 85 percent or better is considered “world class” and is a good long-term goal for most operations. The good news it that 85 percent is achievable. As this case study from Metalforming magazine describes, Magellan Aerospace in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada  was able to improve its OEE from a mere 36 percent to a world-class 85-percent-plus.

Managers can use OEE as both a benchmark and baseline. Specifically, leanproduction.com says it can be used to “compare the performance of a given production asset to industry standards, to similar in-house assets, or to results for different shifts working on the same asset.” It can also be used as a baseline “to track progress over time in eliminating waste from a given production asset.”

What OEE Isn’t
Even with a basic understanding of OEE, many operations are still misinterpreting it and, therefore, aren’t using it effectively. This blog post, for example, argues that OEE is not a key performance indicator (KPI), and it shouldn’t be measured at a company or plant level. The author goes on to state five reasons why OEE is not a good KPI, including the fact that it is not comparable between different pieces of equipment and/or different locations. Instead, he suggests OEE should be used as a way to help identify and eliminate waste in front of a process, line, or equipment.

Another misconception is that OEE is the same thing as Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). An article from IndustryWeek (IW) says this is definitely not the case. “OEE is the measure most closely associated with TPM, but OEE is not equivalent to TPM,” the IW article states. “At its heart, TPM is not about complex metrics; it’s about developing the capabilities of people.” So while a good understanding of OEE can help with TPM, the two terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

How to Use OEE Effectively
So how do you use OEE correctly? Below are a few pointers we called out from the IW article:

Also, if you are short-run, high-mix fabricator, don’t assume OEE isn’t for you. Check out this article from thefabricator.com, which describes how automated data collection can help you to better measure OEE in more custom manufacturing applications.

As the IW article states, OEE is often misused, but it is not a “bad metric.” In fact, it can be very useful in helping companies quantify improvement opportunities. Just be sure you know the facts before you start using OEE measurements to make strategic decisions.

Tackling the Six Big Losses in Your Metal Service Center

August 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Whether or not you consider yourself a “lean” operation, there are some lean manufacturing principles that are universal to almost every manufacturer. One of those is waste. As a metal service center, your ultimate goal is to turn material into profit as efficiently possible, which means you want to avoid waste and downtime at all costs. And while this isn’t groundbreaking information, many service centers aren’t effectively tackling waste because they don’t know where to start.

Identification of the Six Big Losses is one tool manufacturers can use to understand the most common forms of waste or “loss” within their operations. According to leanproduction.com, the Six Big Losses are key because ”they are nearly universal in application for discrete manufacturing, and they provide a great starting framework for thinking about, identifying, and attacking waste.”

The first step to reducing waste in your organization is to identify your losses. There are six types of loss every manufacturing operation faces, and each fall under three main categories—downtime loss, speed loss, and quality loss.

The following is a brief description of each of the Six Big Losses:

  1. Breakdowns. These are considered a downtime loss and could include tooling failure, unplanned maintenance, and motor failure.
  2. Setup and Adjustments. This is also a downtime loss and could include changeover, material shortage, operator shortage, and warm-up time.
  3. Small Stops. This is considered a speed loss, and it only includes stops that are less than 5 minutes and don’t require maintenance. This might include a blocked sensor or minor cleaning.
  4. Slow Running. This is another speed loss, and it covers anything that prohibits equipment from running at its optimal speed. Incorrect setting of parameters and equipment wear are prime examples.
  5. Startup Defects. This quality loss covers any scarp or rework that occurs during setup or very early in the production phase.
  6. Production Defects. This is the second form of quality loss. This refers to any scrap or rework that happens during the steady-state production process.

Once you have identified the Six Big Losses and the events that contribute to them, the next step is to record and monitor what you find within your operation. The only way to do this effectively is through measurement and documentation. This article from oee.com gives several tips for addressing each loss category and includes helpful links to help you accurately measure your losses.

The final step is attacking your losses and preventing them from happening again. This is where strategy comes into play. In a recent benchmark study of industrial metal-cutting organizations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) identified three key areas where organizations can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor. These include the following:

  1. invest in smarter, more predictive operations management;
  2. embrace proactive care and maintenance of saws and saw blades; and
  3. invest in human capital.

To read more about these recommendations, you can download the full report here.

As a service center that cuts and processes metal, some waste and loss are inevitable. However, the only way to keep those losses from hurting your business is to identify, monitor, and attack them, one by one. Add in a little strategy, and you might just be able to turn those losses into opportunities for improvement and growth.