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Strategies for Ensuring Metal Cutting Quality in Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing

January 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The key to customer satisfaction has always been finding a balance between fast turnaround and high quality. Growing demand has made this even more of a challenge for many of today’s ball and roller bearing manufacturers. With the economy poised for recovery thanks to stronger demand from the transportation and industrial manufacturing industries, industry analysts are anticipating increased demand for ball bearings. According to a report from Freedonia Group, global demand for bearings is projected to rise 7.3 percent annually through 2018, with ball and roller bearings registering the fastest gains.

This increase in demand is certainly good news for manufacturers, but it also means that companies need to make sure they remain focused on quality. Speed and agility will always be key attributes of any leading high-production operation, but they cannot come at the expense of accuracy.

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers ensure quality in their metal-cutting operations, below are a few highlights from the paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal Cutting, written by the LENOX Institute of Technology:

How Forges Can Attract Millennial Operators

January 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,


As more and more Baby Boomers near retirement, many forges are faced with the challenge of replacing the lion’s share of their workforce, including senior management. Unfortunately, a lot of workers that should be the natural replacement—Generation X—never really took an interest in manufacturing, so many companies are now looking to Millennials to fill the gap.

But how do you make a career in manufacturing attractive to an entirely new generation? The literal generational gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials means that today’s manufacturing companies need to get creative and even more so, be flexible, when seeking out new talent.

As this guest editorial from Forward magazine explains, Millennial attitudes and behaviors are vastly different from those of the previous two generations. The author, Neil Howe of LifeCourse Associates, provides a few attitudes and behaviors that define Millennials:

The good news is manufacturers can leverage some of these traits to their advantage. For example, being “team-oriented” is ideal for any operation looking to implement (or has already implemented) lean manufacturing principles. In fact, many of these characteristics point to one overarching theme: Millennials want to be engaged. They want to be acknowledged, active participants in their jobs.

Here’s the bad news: Even with the lean movement, this isn’t the manufacturing industry’s strong point. According to this article from IndustryWeek, a Gallup poll showed that when looking at engagement among different occupations, “manufacturing came dead last, with just 24% of production workers rated as engaged.” That is below both clerical workers and government workers. Why the low rating? Gallup said the problem might be that “the management culture in these companies tends to focus on process ahead of people.”

Back to some good news: The talent gap presents the perfect opportunity for managers to start creating an engaged work environment, both for Millennials and current employees. Using suggestions from the IndustryWeek article, here are a few ways managers can do just that:

Perhaps the best news is that the Forging Foundation (FIERF) and the Forging Industry Association (FIA) are already working on multiple fronts to help reach out to the next generation’s workforce. According to this article from Forge magazine, the two organizations are teaming up with both academia and industry to tell the forging story and to provide resources to assist in their recruiting and retention efforts. For example, FIA is currently offering members “Forge Your Future Toolkits,” which include an array of ideas and resources for forges trying to develop relationships with teachers and students with the goal of becoming an “employer of choice” in the local community. (Click here for more information.)

Clearly, gearing up for a new generation of workers will take time, combined efforts, and in most cases, some change. But like any area of your operation, hiring and maintaining talent requires continuous improvement—or at least it should. The future of your operation may just depend on it.

Identifying Waste in Your Machine Shop

January 20, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , ,


The idea of eliminating waste to increase profitability is nothing new. It is the cornerstone of the lean manufacturing movement, and even if you don’t consider your shop a “lean” operation, odds are you have spent the last decade or so trying to find ways to reduce downtime and other wastes from your operation.

However, just because you have made attempts to reduce waste doesn’t mean you are doing it effectively. In fact, despite a trend toward internal process improvements, machine downtime remains the top source of frustration for industrial metal-cutting operations on the shop floor, according to a recent benchmark study.

The reality is that many machine shops aren’t successfully tackling waste because either they don’t know where to start or they are looking in the wrong places. A recent editorial appearing in IndustryWeek confirms this theory, stating that the hardest part of gaining efficiency is correctly identifying the waste. As the article states, waste often “hides in plain site.” Using examples from light brick laying and fast food to light bulbs, the IndustryWeek author argues that the greatest stumbling block for eliminating waste is “not the absence of an off the shelf technical solution, but rather failure to recognize the waste in the first place.”

To successfully reduce waste, you need to identify and quantify the different types of waste that exist within your operation. According to leanproduction.com, 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, you can then begin to record and monitor what you find within your operation. This article from oee.com gives several tips for addressing each loss category and includes helpful links to help you accurately measure your losses.

As a machine shop that cuts and processes metal, the reality is that 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.

How Will Reshoring Affect Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Operation?

January 15, 2015 / , , , , , , ,


Industry reports continue to paint a positive picture for the future of U.S. manufacturing industry. As we reported in a previous blog, one trend that continues to gain traction is “reshoring” or “near-shoring”—the process of moving a business operation from overseas back to the local country. While China has been a common landing spot for outsourced manufacturing, rising labor and energy costs are quickly taking away the region’s cost advantage and many companies are bringing manufacturing back to their local countries.

According to an article from Forbes, the greatest reshoring will likely occur in industries that benefit most from cheap natural gas and have access to global markets, as well as industries with products that change rapidly but whose product value/weight ratios do not justify air freight. This includes the apparel and technology industries, chemicals, and metal manufacturing and fabrication.

That’s great news for the U.S. metals industry, but how can companies make the most of this opportunity?  In an editorial for IndustryWeek, Jim Moffatt, CEO of Deloitte Consulting LLP, says the key will be for companies “to think beyond costs and consider the ways that manufacturing in the U.S. can unlock value, unleash innovation, and create opportunities for growth.”

As a key player in the U.S. metals supply chain, you too can create opportunities for growth. Below are a few questions to consider:

  1. Are there previous customers that could now benefit from the convenience and cost benefits of your U.S. manufacturing base?  This article from thefabricator.com gives a great example of how one supplier of fabricated metal assemblies was able to win back old business.
  2. Could a little investment attract some new customers or industries that are starting to reshore? Appliance makers, automotive, and aerospace are just a few of the industries starting to reinvest in U.S. manufacturing. Check out A.T. Kearney’s 2014 Reshoring Index for a list of the top reshoring industries.
  3. How can you better serve existing customers? Are there value-added processes you can add to your operation to stay competitive? According to this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, more and more service centers are relying on adding services like sawing, laser cutting, and parts fabrication for a more predictable stream of revenue and to gain an edge over the competition.
  4. Does your company have access to talent that could accommodate possible growth? A recent editorial published by Forward says that reshoring is heightening the need for recruitment. Are you prepared?

Of course, there is no guarantee that reshoring will take off as much as everyone expects. In fact, there are several reports, including these from Manufacturing.net  and The Guardian, that say reshoring trends are overstated. There are also some very real challenges that American metals companies are up against when competing with the global market, most notably high U.S. steel prices.

No one really knows the future, but right now, growth is happening—whether it is simply part of a cyclical recovery or the start of a manufacturing boom. Either way, it boils down to this: There has been a shift, and how you respond will dictate the impact it will have on your industrial metal-cutting operation.

Choosing Metrics that Matter for Your Fabrication Shop

January 10, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


As most manufacturing experts will attest, measurement is the only way fabricators can truly optimize their operations. By choosing the right metrics, today’s managers are able to quantify their successes, identify areas for improvement, and anticipate possible failures.

Unfortunately, knowing what to measure is the hardest part. When it comes to metrics, more is not always better. In fact, the goal should always be quality, not quantity. As this blog post from MESA International says, if you find your shop measuring things like parking space vacancy and food trucks, it’s probably time to re-evaluate.

Choosing the right metrics for your shop needs to be a strategic decision, which means there isn’t a sure-fire formula. However, there are some basic guidelines that can help you gauge if you are at least headed in the right direction. Below are a few tips that may help:

Why Your Metal Service Center May Want to Consider Coolant Recycling

January 5, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


If your metal service center is doing its part to ensure proper coolant management, then you are fully aware that it is not as simple as it seems. From choosing the right coolant to proper fluid prep and monitoring, getting the most out of your metal-cutting fluids takes time and effort, but it is well worth the investment.

Cut quality, productivity, and cost savings are all major reasons your service center should continue to make coolant management a priority. Case in point: As this white paper explains, low coolant levels on a band saw can lead to premature and uneven wear of band wheels, which can cost $1,000 each. Poor fluid management can have negative effects on circular saws as well, causing blade problems such as excessive edge chipping and tooth damage. (You can read more about that here.)

Really, any informed manager can typically accept the ROI argument for most areas of coolant management, except maybe when it comes to disposal. In today’s environmentally conscious world, coolant waste disposal can get expensive (up to $0.50 a gallon), and if you are a larger service center, this adds up fast.

For this reason alone, more and more manufacturers are investing in in-house coolant recycling. Some experts claim that coolant recycling can cut coolant waste disposal costs by up to 90 percent, and according to an archived article from Manufacturing Engineering magazine, tool life can also be significantly extended—from 25 percent up to 209 percent—with effective coolant recycling equipment.

In a recent article from Canadian Metalworking, Tom Tripepi, technical director for the fluid filtration division of PRAB, discusses some of the advantages of in-house coolant recycling. Below are a few highlights from the article:

To read about some metal-cutting companies that have reaped the benefits of coolant recycling, check out these case studies. SME also offers technical papers that discuss more recycling best practices as well as a review of the different types of recycling technologies.