How to Choose Between Circular Saws and Band Saws for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Operation

October 30, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,

As any operations manager can attest, the first step in sustaining a successful metal-cutting operation is having the right tools for the job. However, as technology advances and companies have more metal-cutting options, the choice isn’t as clear-cut as it used to be.

Perhaps the greatest example of this is the choice between a circular saw and band saw blade. Selecting between these two metal-cutting technologies used to be fairly straightforward. In most cases, precision circular saws were used in high production applications, while lower cost band saws were used for higher mix applications. But advancements in blade technologies and saw capabilities have made this decision more complicated. According to an archived article from The Fabricator, “a high-quality band saw may be able to meet or exceed performance expectations that previously were achievable only with a circular cold saw.” And that article was printed more than 5 years ago.

Sensors, carbide-tipped blades, advanced tooth geometries, and bundling capabilities are just some of the features blurring the lines between band saws and circular saws. As a developer of both circular saw blades and band saw blades, LENOX has a unique perspective on the advantages and drawbacks of both technologies. To help managers make the right cutting tool choice for their operation, the LENOX Institute of Technology offers a few guidelines to consider.

Employ Strategy. Selecting the right saws and tooling for an industrial metal cutting environment is both a functional and operational choice. In other words, you should approach it strategically. Functionally speaking, the decision depends on the specific application and type of cutting; operationally, shop floor operators and plant managers need to assess overall business goals by balancing upfront investment and overall costs with cutting efficiency and long-term productivity. The goal is to select a saw and saw blade that match both your cutting needs and business parameters.

Know the Benefits. Both band saws and circular saws offer a wide range of operational benefits. Knowing the main features of each is critical to choosing the best option for your application:

Know the Drawbacks. Of course, no product is full proof, and there are always some drawbacks. The key is to determine whether or not the benefits out weigh the drawbacks.

Work the Numbers. The only way to make a solid choice is to do a little work. This requires measurement and probably some number crunching. For example, while circular saws are expensive, they can often be worth the investment in the long run. In some applications, they can outpace the production of band saws 3 to 1. Similarly, any potential quality issues associated with a band saw can be addressed by investing in strong training and preventative maintenance (PM) programs. Ultimately, to make the best metal-cutting choices, managers need to weigh the following:

Talk to Suppliers. Don’t be afraid to lean on your suppliers during the decision process. Trusted suppliers should be willing to have an honest discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of their products. Leverage their expertise by asking questions about recent advancements and industry trends. Also, some suppliers may willing to help you run the numbers and measure cost per cut.

For more guidelines, including the pros and cons of different blade technologies, download the white paper, “Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job.

Proper Use of Metal Cutting Fluids in Forging Operations

October 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,

As discussed in a previous blog post, too many metalworking companies fail to understand the importance of metal-cutting fluids. While they are an added cost and an added step in the forging process, the long-term cost benefits of coolants are worth every dime and every minute spent.

For example, a common misstep among operations managers is to “cheat” on the proper concentration levels of metal-cutting fluids in order to save money. This may reduce coolant costs in the short term, but the high costs of machine wear and tooling replacement make this a poor management choice. As this white paper explains, low coolant levels on a band saw can lead to premature and uneven wear of band wheels, which typically cost a whopping $1,000 each. In addition, early tooling replacement turns productive cutting time into maintenance downtime. This quickly snowballs into lost output, slow delivery, and potential quality issues.

Of course, knowing the importance of using metal-cutting fluids and actually knowing how to properly use them are two different things. Below are some tips to ensure you are properly using metal-cutting fluids in your forging operation:


Blueprint for Hiring the Next Generation of Machine Shop Operators

October 20, 2014 / , , , , , ,

Machine shops, 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, 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 next generation of workers just isn’t interested in pursuing manufacturing careers. Large corporations like GE are trying to change that, but shifting cultural perception isn’t something that happens overnight. This is leaving manufacturers with a small pool of talent from which to choose.

Actively attacking the skills gap may require machine shops to adjust the ways they both hire and maintain talent. In other words, perhaps part of the solution is for managers to change their perception of what makes a good operator or, better yet, what it takes to develop a good operator.

Taking into account the current talent pool, below are some tips on finding and maintaining the next generation of operators:

Can Metals Companies Use Both Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing?

October 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,

In a blog posted earlier this month, we discussed the differences between lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. These are important distinctions for managers to understand as they choose the improvement methodology that aligns best with their resources, staff, and long-term goals.

However, more and more manufacturers are finding that they can gain the best efficiency by incorporating both Six Sigma and lean principles.  While lean manufacturing and Six Sigma are different in many ways, they are also synergistic. An article from Industry Week states that companies should consider lean tools and Six Sigma tools as “two drawers in the same toolbox.” In fact, some experts believe that companies that use a combination of lean and Six Sigma will see better, longer term results.

How managers incorporate the two methods is a strategy in itself, and industry leaders have varying opinions on what works best. This roundup article from the American Society of Quality (ASQ) provides insight from several leading managers, each with their own unique spin on how manufacturers can combine lean and Six Sigma tools. Below is input from one ASQ contributor, Randy Kesterson, Senior Vice President of Operations at Curtiss-Wright Flight Systems. According to Kesterson, companies need the following “recipe” in order to successfully use both methodologies together:

Of course, this is just one manager’s advice. As the differing opinions of the ASQ roundup article demonstrate, there are a lot of ways companies can attack continuous improvement, whether they choose to use lean manufacturing and Six Sigma tools together, separately, or perhaps not at all. A series of case studies from LIT, for example, shows that there are a host of strategies companies can use to optimize workflows, reduce costs, manage talent, and drive bottom-line ROI.

At the end of the day, a fool-proof recipe for success in today’s market is to embrace change, make a plan, execute, and repeat.

Three Low Cost Ways Fabricators Can Improve Output

October 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Reports continue to show that U.S. manufacturing is on the upswing. According to the latest data from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), manufacturing continued to expand in October, and new orders posted growth for the 17th consecutive month. The Fabricated Metal Products sector in particular reported growth in October, with one ISM survey respondent stating that “weakness in commodity prices has been very positive”  for business.

All of this good news means that fabricators have a prime opportunity for growth and increased profitability. However, because many companies are already running lean, managers will need to get creative with how they meet increased demand, especially if they can’t afford huge capital expenditures.

Looking for ways to do more with less? Below are three key ways fabricators can increase manufacturing output without breaking the bank:

  1. Identify Trouble Spots. Take an assessment of the factory floor to find machinery that’s either close to failure or not producing as expected.
  2. Estimate your savings. Once you fully understand the impact of the old equipment on your floor, run some calculations.
  3. Find your MacGyvers. Seek out specialists who’ve been handling specific types of equipment for years and see what creative ideas they have to boost efficiency.
  4. Set bounties for difficult challenges. Track each efficiency experiment to get a sense of what may be possible. Then, set bigger targets and attach a bounty to encourage friendly competition among experts.
  5. Raise the stakes. Engage everyone by creating factory-wide incentives for when targets are met.

Enhancing Customer Service in Your Metal Service Center

October 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,

In today’s competitive landscape, many industries are finding that enhanced customer service is becoming more important than ever. Companies like Amazon are raising the bar on what customers should expect from a service provider, whether that means Sunday deliveries or using the latest technology to improve the purchasing experience.

Not surprisingly, the so-called “Amazon effect” has found its way into the manufacturing world. Supply chain consultant Lisa Anderson says she has seen this first hand with all of her manufacturing and distribution clients. On-time deliveries, she says, are no longer enough. Today’s customers are looking for suppliers that can offer faster lead times and value-added services that will benefit their bottom line. Sound familiar?

In this blog post, Anderson suggests several ways manufacturers can provide Amazon-type service in their own operations. From same-day delivery to collaborative programs, she challenges manufacturers to think outside their service “comfort zone” and consider new ways they can add value to their customer relationships.

This trend has already started to take root among leading service centers. As stated in this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, more and more service centers are relying on value-added processing services like sawing, laser cutting, and parts fabrication for a more predictable stream of revenue. These additional services offerings are also helping these companies gain an edge over the competition.

What could this mean for your service center? What services could you add? The answer to those questions will vary based on the needs of your customers, your budget, and simply put, your willingness to change.

To help get your wheels turning, below are examples of three metal service centers that decided to enhance their current services in some way. While each company took a different approach, all three have found that value-added service has been beneficial to both their customers and their business.