January 30, 2015 / agility, ball and roller bearings, best practices, blade failure, bottlenecks, circular sawing, Cost Management, customer service, LIT, productivity, quality, ROI, strategic planning, workflow process
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:
- Think of the long-term cost impact of short-term production gains. Ball and roller bearing production requires high-speed, precision cutting, and pushing machinery too hard can directly impact the quality of a cut and long-term costs. In circular sawing, for example, if an operator increases the speed of the saw to get more cuts per minute without considering the feed setting or the demands of the material, the end result will be premature blade failure. These actions are costly in terms of process flow and equipment. When blades cost several hundred dollars, going through twice as many blades just to get 50 more cuts just isn’t cost effective. In addition, shorter blade life creates more unplanned downtime for blade changes.
- Many industry leaders are also finding that becoming ISO 9001 certified can help them maintain quality standards. The ISO standard is based on a number of quality management principles, including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and continuous improvement. The basic goal of the standard is to help companies provide customers with consistent, good quality products and services, which, in turn, often brings business benefits like improved financial performance. It most cases, it is used to strengthen an existing quality program by making it a formal, documented procedure.
- Close supplier relationships can also help ball and roller bearing manufacturers improve quality. Many supply chain partners are willing to lend their expertise to help optimize processes and ensure that manufacturers are getting the best possible results out of their equipment and industrial metal-cutting tools. By utilizing value-added services from trusted suppliers and making them more of a partner, managers have another means of improving both quality and productivity. In fact, this is one of the eight key principles on which the quality management system standards of the ISO 9000 series are based.
January 25, 2015 / best practices, continuous improvement, Employee Morale, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, skills gap, strategic planning
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:
- They feel special and have been sheltered.
- They want to be mentored.
- They are team-oriented.
- They want a “mainstream” job.
- They feel pressured.
- They are achievement-oriented.
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:
- Communicate the value of the work being performed in the plant.
- Stress the necessity both for high achievement and for an environment that respects people.
- Pay a fair wage and benefits.
- Employ generous amounts of listening and praise.
- Offer employees growth through training and participation in meaningful activities on the shop floor, in meeting rooms and in the community. According to the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, it is critical for industrial metal-cutting companies to have formal ongoing training programs for both new and seasoned employees.
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.
January 20, 2015 / benchmarking, best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, LIT, Output, preventative maintenance, productivity, strategic planning, workflow process
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:
- Breakdowns. These are considered a downtime loss and could include tooling failure, unplanned maintenance, and motor failure.
- Setup and Adjustments. This is also a downtime loss and could include changeover, material shortage, operator shortage, and warm-up time.
- 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.
- 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.
- Startup Defects. This quality loss covers any scarp or rework that occurs during setup or very early in the production phase.
- 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.
January 15, 2015 / best practices, Cost Management, human capital, industry news, LIT, resource allocation, strategic planning, value-added services
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
January 10, 2015 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer satisfaction metrics, KPIs, LIT, operations metrics, performance metrics, predictive management, quality, strategic planning
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:
- Know the key categories. While metrics will vary depending on the size and type of manufacturing operation, there are few key categories that are a good starting point. According to a research project conducted by LNS Research and MESA International, there are four key operational metrics most manufacturers should consider. Based on results from a survey, the project found that Inventory, Efficiency, Quality and Responsiveness have biggest impact on average annual improvements in financial/business performance. The project also found that successful new product introductions (NPIs) and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) were among the top individual metrics that contributed to positive financial/business performance. The detailed numbers behind all of these can be found in the eBook report, which can be downloaded here. A summary report of the project findings can be downloaded here.
- Size doesn’t matter. Don’t think that metrics are only for high-volume, low-mix shops. Jett Cutting Service, Inc., a metal-cutting service center featured in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, knows this is certainly not the case. Orders are constantly changing at the Bedford Park, IL-based company, which runs 10 precision circular saws and 8 band saws and averages about 700,000 cuts a month. Because of this, Mike Baron, vice president, says he can’t rely on accurate forecasting to provide a buffer when bottlenecks occur. To combat this, Baron relies on daily measurement to not only monitor production, but to keep tabs on his operators and costs. Operators are required to track how many pieces they cut on their shifts, and if their totals are lower or higher than the goal set by Baron, it is addressed immediately.
- Don’t fool yourself. The old adage that “numbers don’t lie” is typically true, but as this article from Forging magazine points out, people can manipulate them. Decision makers need to be sure they are not allowing themselves to be persuaded by selective use of data. “I often wonder if we have arrived at a moment in time when there is so much information available, and available so easily, and so cheaply, that we succumb to the temptation to select the most congenial facts, and ignore the rest that might make our immediate task more difficult,” the author asks. Optimization requires managers to closely choose and analyze their metrics, even if it means opening up a can of worms. Be selective, be fair, and when in doubt, re-check those numbers.
- Benchmark. Knowing what your peers are doing is critical to staying competitive. One way to do this is to benchmark. According to management consultancy McGladery, the use of benchmarking is on the rise as companies look to offset the effects of the uncertain economy by reducing costs and improving effectiveness. “Benchmarking provides an objective analysis of existing business processes and insight into improving those practices, identifying gaps or inefficiencies,” the consultant firm says in a white paper. “It presents a measurement to make informed business decisions against, as well as develop strategies and create initiatives to provide a road map for growth, if not survival.” Interested to know how you measure up to your peers? Check out our exclusive study, Benchmark Survey of Industrial Metal Cutting Organizations, or the Financial Ratios and Operational Benchmarking Survey from Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl.
January 5, 2015 / best practices, blade failure, Cost Management, cost per cut, Employee Morale, LIT, productivity, quality, resource allocation, ROI, Safety, strategic planning
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:
- Some coolants are easier to recycle than others. “The tighter the emulsion, the easier it is to filter out the impurities without affecting the coolant,” Tripepi states in the article.
- Consider getting a coolant recycling system with an automatic proportionating system. This feature will tell you when coolant levels drop and if it is the correct concentration. “That process itself can probably save 10 to 20 percent in new coolant purchases, just because it’s giving you control over how you’re mixing your coolant,” Tripepi says.
- Smaller shops can benefit from coolant recycling, too. “We’ve got shops where we’ve sold recycling stations that have as few as four machines,” Tripepi tells Canadian Metalworking. “A typical machine shop that is looking at recycling their coolant will probably have somewhere between 15 and 20 machines, and from there on up to the larger shops with 80 to 100 machines or more.”
- There are benefits to coolant recycling that go beyond cost. These include health benefits such as improved air quality and a common skin condition called dermatitis. “Not all operators wear gloves, and they will be pulling parts in and out of a machine,” Tripepi notes. “By eliminating the bacteria, you can eliminate the dermatitis.”
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.