September 28, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, Output, performance metrics, productivity, quality, strategic planning
At this point, most metals executives have heard the message of continuous improvement loud and clear. As a benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) confirms, a large number of industrial metal-cutting organizations are embracing smarter, more proactive operations management to stay competitive in today’s uncertain market.
However, knowing where to start can often be both intimidating and frustrating. Active change takes time and costs money, so managers need to be sure they are strategically choosing the right methods to achieve their operational goals.
Two improvement methodologies that are widely used in industrial metal cutting are lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. While both are used to improve productivity and profitability, their approaches are not the same. Understanding the difference between both methods is important not only for managers trying to choose the right organizational improvement program, but also for managers who may want to consider using them together.
According to leanproduction.com, lean manufacturing is “a collection of tips, tools, and techniques that have been proven effective for driving waste out of the manufacturing process.” Toyota is credited for developing it the 1980s, and over the years it has been used by manufacturers worldwide to improve all facets of the manufacturing business, from quality assurance to human resources.
Below are some key attributes of lean manufacturing, as defined by The Process Excellence Network:
- Focuses on Eliminating Waste. The main goal of lean manufacturing is to eliminate waste and superfluous processes in order to reduce production time and costs. Toyota defined seven types of waste, including transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, and defects.
- Uses Simple Tools. Lean tools are relatively easy to understand and can be used by anyone in the organization. Examples include 5S, value stream mapping, kanban, and poka-yoke (error proofing).
- Culture-Oriented. For Lean to be successful, experts agree it has to permeate the business silos and receive universal backing amongst senior management and employees. It typically only used in manufacturing applications.
- Fast implementation. Lean’s strength is its quick turnaround. Immediate benefits relate to productivity, error reduction, and customer lead times. Long-term benefits include improvements to financial performance, customer satisfaction, and staff morale.
iSixSigma defines Six Sigma as “a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects in any process, from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service.” It was developed in the mid-1980s by Motorola engineers who were unhappy with traditional quality metrics. In response, they developed a new standard, as well as the methodology and needed cultural change associated with it. Six Sigma gained popularity in the 1990s after General Electric adopted it as part of its business strategy.
Below are some key attributes of Six Sigma, as defined by The Process Excellence Network:
- Focuses on Quality. The main purpose of Six Sigma is to limit defects and variability in business processes to achieve overall process improvement. Using statistical methods, teams identify errors and then work to eliminate them as much as possible. Perfect performance is the goal.
- Uses a Sophisticated Toolset. Six Sigma tools typically require more extensive training, including formal engineering skills and use of sophisticated software. It uses two project methodologies: DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) and DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design, verify).
- Built Around Process Improvement Teams. Six Sigma’s implementation is based on a dedicated improvement team. This team is divided into hierarchies based on a “belt” accreditation system that ranges from “black belts,” who lead teams, down to “white belts,” who are still learning the basics and can’t yet participate in project teams.
- Multifaceted Methodology. Six Sigma can be used in a manufacturing environment, but it also can be used for error reduction in non-manufacturing fields. Broadly speaking, it provides companies with a framework to train its employees in key performance areas, shape strategy, align its services with customer needs, and measure and improve the effectiveness of business processes.
The above is just a brief overview of two of the industry’s improvement methodologies and only touches on some of the main characteristics. For a more in depth, side-by-side comparison of lean manufacturing and Six Sigma, check out this article from Chron.
In an upcoming blog, LIT will explore how managers can strategically utilize both methodologies to achieve what some experts believe are longer lasting business results.
September 25, 2014 / best practices, blade selection, Cost Management, LIT, material costs, productivity, resource allocation, Safety, strategic planning
As part of the automotive supply chain, forges that cut and process metal have a prime opportunity for growth over the next few years. The latest data shows that automotive sales continue to climb, and manufacturers are investing in new plants and equipment. In fact, Edmunds.com predicted earlier this year that new car sales would reach 16.4 million in 2014—the highest total since 2006.
And while this is certainly good news for forges that serve this particular market, the not-so-good news is that competition is stronger than ever, both domestically and globally. In an annual survey conducted by Forging magazine, 38% of forges listed foreign competition as a top concern in 2014. Domestically, forges not only have to compete with each other, but find ways to compete with companies offering alternatives to forged components as well.
Forges that want to stand out among their competitors need to prove that they are achieving operational excellence. Part of this requires internal improvements such as reducing scrap, properly allocating resources, and even making safety a top priority. However, it is just as important for managers to take a look outside their doors and invest in technologies and equipment that can make them more innovative and, in turn, more competitive.
To help readers keep a pulse on how to better serve their automotive customers, below are just a few of the innovations that are advancing forged automotive parts, as well as the processes used to create them.
- Materials. One of the growing areas for innovation within the forging industry is in materials. A presentation at this year’s International Forging Congress discussed the production benefits of using microalloyed steels in several forging applications, including automotive spindles. Another article from Forging highlights the cost savings forges can gain by using new materials for structural, case-hardened, and induction-hardened parts. There have also been some new approaches to aluminum forging that are said to produce forgings with enhanced metallurgical and mechanical properties while also saving energy.
- Automation. Automation and computerized controls are making all aspects of the forging process more efficient. Simple controllers on metal-cutting equipment, for example, have allowed companies to assign operators to run more than one machine at a time. Higher level advancements in areas like robotics are also improving production at higher volume forges. According to Forging magazine, better programming features, range of movement, and motion control are creating new efficiencies and cost savings at companies like Parsan Steel Forging and Machining Co., a Turkish manufacturer of automotive parts.
- Tooling. Continued advancements in the area of tooling are also creating efficiences in processes such as band saw cutting. Carbide-tipped band saw blades, for example, are widely used among forges that are cutting tougher metals like stainless steel. Designed with a high performance backing steel and optimized carbide grades, these blades offer high cutting performance and longer blade life. A forge mentioned in this white paper, for example, was able to reduce its cut times by one half and double its blade life by switching from a bi-metal band saw blade to a carbide-tipped blade.
September 20, 2014 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, customer satisfaction metrics, customer service, productivity, strategic planning, value-added services
In today’s world, most manufacturing executives wouldn’t exactly consider metal cutting to be the most innovative industry. Important? Yes. Evolving? Yes. But innovative? Probably not.
However, experts are saying that too many people underestimate the value that innovation can bring to any industry—or to any company for that matter. A recent article from Jeffrey Chidester, director of Policy Programs at University of Virginia, believes that innovation is the key to saving American manufacturing. And he’s not just talking about efforts from big names like Google and Apple.
“For over a century, America has produced individuals and ideas that have transformed how we interact with the world around us, and it remains the global leader today,” Chidester says in the article published by IndustryWeek. “Yet, while America continues to lead the way in disruptive innovations, its insatiable drive to open new frontiers sometimes overlooks the importance of innovating within current industries.”
Chidester goes on to argue that it would serve our country (and its industries) better to stop thinking “outside the box” and start thinking “inside the box” so that we can enlarge what we already have. This concept, widely used throughout Germany, focuses less on radical innovation and more on incremental improvement.
And while Chidester’s argument is focused more on smaller firms creating technology for the manufacturing industry—not necessarily the manufacturers themselves being innovators—the case for innovation holds. If innovation is the key to leadership, the question becomes: How can your machine shop innovate? If given the opportunity, what new ideas could your staff come up with to improve productivity, save costs, or expand your business? How can you “enlarge your box” to become an industry leader?
If we use Germany’s theory of incremental improvement as a basis for innovation, the concept seems less daunting. Instead of trying to revolutionize your operation, start with trying to find a new approach within the ordinary processes you follow every day. Not sure where to start? The Harvard Business Review offers four steps for “finding something original in the ordinary:”
- Question. Don’t just ask the obvious questions. Look deeper and don’t be afraid to rethink basic fundamentals about your business and products.
- Care. Caring doesn’t just mean giving great customer service. Get to know your customers as intimately as possible.
- Connect. Find ways to bring together concepts, people, and products. Many great breakthroughs are “mash-ups” of existing ideas.
- Commit. Give form to your idea as quickly as possible. This is the only way to know if you’ve touched on something truly promising.
What could this look like in a machine shop? D&J Technologies, a machine shop featured this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, was able to expand its “box” by simply re-evaluating its outsourced services. After taking a close look at its operation, the shop discovered that sending out parts for nickel-plating was causing a bottleneck and making it difficult to guarantee on-time delivery of finished parts. By bringing plating in-house, D&J was able to provide its customers with an additional service, remove a production bottleneck, and speed up the delivery process.
A recent article from Modern Machine Shop goes even further by suggesting that shops should consider forming their own insurance companies to save money on taxes. “Section 831(b) of the Internal Revenue Code specifically creates a tax incentive for businesses to form their own small insurance companies that can provide them with a broad range of risk management capabilities,” the article states. “Basically, the captive insures those risks that a typical property and casualty insurance company does not, such as the loss of a large customer or a key employee.” (You can read the full article here.)
The point is that innovation doesn’t have to be about iPhones and analytical software, and it shouldn’t only be expected from tech firms. In fact, many people consider Disney to be an innovative company because of how it runs its business, not because of what it makes. Can your customers say the same thing about you?
September 15, 2014 / Cost Management, cost per cut, customer delivery, LIT, operator training, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, ROI
For many managers, metalworking fluids are just another line item on a long list of tooling expenses. Similarly, operators often see them as just one more box on their daily PM checklist. This type of mentality often leads manufacturers to question whether or not they really need coolants at all. Do they really offer a true ROI, or are coolants just another necessary evil?
As any metal-cutting expert can attest, metalworking fluids are a critical part of the metal-cutting process. This is especially true if your goal is optimization. As an article from Production Machining states, manufacturers should view coolants as an asset or, better yet, a “liquid tool.”
Here are just a few benefits metalworking fluids bring to the cutting process:
- Provide cooling for the work piece and tool by minimizing thermal stressing and brittle hardening of the tool bit
- Remove chips from the cutting zone
- Provide better surface integrity
- Provide lubrication between tool and work piece
- Prolong the life of the tool
- Prevent corrosion of the work piece and tool
- Prevent built-up edge (BUE)
All of these bullet points boil down to two bottom-line implications—quality and cost. As this white paper explains, failure to maintain proper coolant levels can lead to decreased blade life and premature and uneven wear of band wheels. Both of these issues can lead to increased maintenance and tooling costs, unplanned downtime, poor quality, increased scrap and rework, missed delivery dates, unhappy customers, and so on.
In the metal-cutting world, there are several different methods for applying coolants, as well as different coolant types. Flood coolants are the most widely used because, in most cases, they provide the best lubrication and cooling for work pieces. There are also spray, wax stick, and drip applications, but for the purposes of this article, the focus will be on flood coolants.
There are four different types of flood coolants, each have their own unique set of uses, advantages, and disadvantages. Like any other metal-cutting tool, choosing the right coolant plays a key role in achieving efficiency. To help industrial metal-cutting organizations make the right choice for their cutting operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) provides the following overview:
- Straight Oils. This type of lubricant is 100% oil and does not contain any water. It is mostly used to cut high alloys and other difficult-to-cut materials. Benefits include excellent lubricity, good rust protection and sump life, and easy maintenance. Drawbacks include poor heat dissipation, increased risk of fire, and hard-to-clean work pieces.
- Soluble Oils. This is the most popular type of coolant and is used in light- to heavy-duty operations working with both non-ferrous and ferrous metals. It contains a mixture of water and oil, combining the lubricity of cutting oils with the cooling ability and economy of water. Benefits include good lubrication, improved cooling capability, and good rust protection. It also resists emulsification of greases and sideways oil. Disadvantages may include increased maintenance costs and susceptibility to rust problems, bacterial growth, oil contamination, and evaporation losses.
- Semi-Synthetics. This coolant is synthetic-based but also contains oil (5 to 30%) and water. A “hybrid” of both soluble and synthetic fluids, it can be used in a wide variety of applications and is suitable for large cross-sections and cast-iron applications. Benefits include versatility, good microbial control, corrosion control, cooling, and lubrication. Other benefits include resistance to rancidity, easy maintenance, and long service life. On the downside, water hardness can affect stability and may cause misting, foaming, and dermatitis. This type of coolant may also emulsify oils and form residues.
- Synthetics. These fluids are transparent, detergent-like compounds that contain no oil content. Considered to be the “cleanest” coolant type, synthetics are said to offer the best heat reduction, good corrosion control, and a longer sump life than all other coolant types. They can be used on a wide range of machining operations and are suitable for large cross sections. On the downside, they can lead to rust on the machine interior and may cause misting, foaming, and dermatitis. Because they lack oil, they also have reduced lubrication compared to other coolant types.
September 10, 2014 / agility, benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, lean manufacturing, predictive management, productivity, resource allocation, strategic planning
As customer demands for faster delivery increase, one of the biggest challenges fabricators face is scheduling. No matter how big or small an order, it is not uncommon for today’s customer to expect next-day or two-day turnaround. And, of course, there is almost always an expedited request thrown into the mix.
When it comes to scheduling, today’s managers need to be able to adapt on the fly, keep production moving, and still get everything out the door on time. As any manager will attest, this is no small feat. While 99 percent on-time delivery is always the goal, the reality is that a host of variables makes it almost impossible to achieve.
This is especially challenging for high-mix fabrication operations, where there are even more variables to consider. According to the annual Financial Ratios & Operational Benchmarking Survey from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, many custom fabricators are achieving on-time delivery (OTD) rates between 85 and 88 percent. In other words, there is room for improvement.
As this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) states, meeting delivery demands starts with having the right equipment and efficient production processes. However, it also means making sure your scheduling processes are helping—not hindering—your operation. Below are a few strategies to help today’s fabricators tackle their scheduling challenges and, hopefully, improve their OTD rates:
- Evaluate your current software system. If your scheduling software creates more headaches than assistance, it may be time to upgrade or make some necessary changes. “Some older systems are so unwieldy and cumbersome that the best description one can give them is just plain cruel,” states consultant Dick Kallage in a recent column on thefabricator.com. “They may have many screens, lots of interconnected pages, and no visual indicators of time buckets in the operations and their loading.” According to Kallage, complex and dated scheduling systems create a steep learning curve and increase the chance of error. Scheduling software should be easy to use, effective, and as this IndustryWeek article stresses, built specifically around your manufacturing needs
- Check your parameters. Kallage also believes that in most cases, the parameters going into the scheduling system are the real problem. Specifically, he feels most managers don’t correctly estimate their capacity and/or the time it takes for one or more operations. As a solution, Kallage suggest that managers focus on making time and capacity estimates more realistic and less optimistic. “You can keep the ‘targets’ the same, but targets should not have any part in actual scheduling,” Kallage states in thefabricator.com article. “Many companies do not update parameters in the system based on actual results. This means that not only is the current order schedule tanked, but so are the future ones.” The end result, he concludes, is a lower OTD rate.
- Follow First-in-First-Out (FIFO) Principles. One of the biggest scheduling challenges for managers is balancing last-minute orders from key customers. As a recent blog from consultant Kien Leong describes, all customers are born equal, but there are always some that are “more equal.” When last-minute orders come in and inventory is low, the question becomes: How do you decide on demand allocation of inventory to customer orders? In times of shortage risk, some manufacturers are tempted to hard allocate inventory (also known as “hard pegging”), which means stock is held against the sales order upon order confirmation. However, Leong says that hard allocation leads to lower performance and that inventory is best managed with first-in-first-out (FIFO) principles. “Hard allocation violates FIFO, because a long lead-time order can consume inventory, even though there may be some demand and supply that comes in between,” he says. In most cases, Leong says your best bet is to follow FIFO and keep the stock flexible. You can read the rest of Leong’s argument here, where he also offers a free, downloadable demand allocation tool.
September 5, 2014 / best practices, blade life, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, LIT, operations, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality
When it comes to selecting the right metal-cutting tools, most managers focus on two main features—performance and cost. In fact, most forward-thinking managers would probably even agree to spending a little more on a blade if it could clearly outperform others on the market.
However, what many managers fail to see is that the value of a blade goes far beyond its cutting time or its price tag. The real value is in the blade life. This is especially true in service centers, where managers are trying to balance tight delivery schedules with high variability. There is just no time to constantly change out blades. As this article from Forward magazine describes, a growing number of service centers are starting to measure overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) to gauge the availability, performance, and yield of their equipment, and blade life can play a key role in optimizing equipment.
Put simply: blade life matters. It affects your productivity, your cost, and your quality.
While advancements in tooth geometries and materials have certainly helped extend blade life, how your operators care for your blades is what really helps you get the most bang for your buck. Below are some tooling tips managers can apply to optimize their blade life:
- Running the blades at the proper speed settings is critical to achieving long blade life. In most cases, faster is not always better. Increasing the cutting speed of a blade may produce more pieces per hour, but it drastically reduces blade life. Band speed is restricted by the machinability of the material and ultimately heat produced by the cutting action. Too high of a band speed or very hard metals produce excessive heat, which has a negative impact on blade life. This not only increases your tooling costs, it creates bottlenecks and decreases cut quality. This could also result in excess scrap and rework—both of which directly impact your bottom line.
- Lubrication is essential for long blade life and economical cutting. Properly applied to the shear zone, lubricant substantially reduces heat and produces good chip flow up the face of the tooth. Without lubrication, excessive friction can produce heat high enough to weld the chip to the tooth. This slows down the cutting action, requires more energy to shear the material and can cause tooth chipping or stripping which can destroy the blade. Unfortunately, many operators fail to perform basic fluid maintenance because they don’t fully understand how lubrication can affect cut quality and costs. For a great resource on metal-cutting fluids, check out this video from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
- It pays to break in blades. A new band saw blade has razor sharp tooth tips, and in order to withstand the cutting pressures used in band sawing, tooth tips should be honed to form a micro-fine radius. Failure to perform this honing will cause microscopic damage to the tips of the teeth, resulting in reduced blade life and poor-quality cuts. Based on the results of our industry benchmark study, breaking in band-saw blades is a best practice among service centers and other industrial metal-cutting companies. According to the study, 45 percent of organizations surveyed reported they “always” break in blades, and 30 percent said they do it “most of the time.” But here’s the real nugget: 70 percent of organizations that report their scrap and rework costs are less than five percent also say they “always” break in their band saw blades. By breaking in blades properly, organizations are able to reduce “soft” failure that leads to waste and scrap, and, in turn, eats into their bottom line. While breaking in a blade may seem tedious, managers and experienced operators know that it pays off in the long run.