Understanding Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing in Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

September 28, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Lean Manufacturing
According to, 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:

Six Sigma
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:

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.

Innovations that are Advancing Forged Automotive Parts

September 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,

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, 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.

How to Bring Innovation into Your Machine Shop

September 20, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,

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:”

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?

Choosing the Right Coolant for your Industrial Metal Cutting Operation

September 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,

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:

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:

Scheduling Strategies for Fabricators

September 10, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,

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:

How Blade Care Affects Your Metal Service Center’s Bottom Line

September 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,

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: