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Fabricators Stay Competitive By Proactively Addressing Downtime

January 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


It’s no secret that downtime is the enemy of any fabrication shop and, really, any manufacturer. Huge volumes, continuous sawing, and extremely tight tolerances are characteristic of many fabrication environments, so any process or workflow bottlenecks that slow production can cause quality issues, slow delivery schedules, increased maintenance costs, and hurt overall business performance.

In the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Fabricators’ Metal-Cutting Operations, Jim Davis, corporate operations services manager at O’Neal Steel, explains why today’s shops can’t afford any unplanned downtime. “Downtime affects us heavily,” Davis states. “When you’re cutting five- to six-thousand pieces for a customer or you’re doing ‘just-in-time’ production where you’re taking orders on the previous day and guaranteeing delivery the next day, downtime will affect us heavily.”

However, instead of finding new ways to react to unplanned downtime events, several leading manufacturers are attacking the issue head on by using proactive strategies. In fact, according to a recent blog published by ARC Advisory Group, Inc., four industrial manufacturing leaders are aiming for “zero downtime”—a goal that may seem a bit lofty and unrealistic. However, with the help of technology, these big name companies seem to believe it is within reach.

For example, late last year, Cisco and Fanuc America announced a 12-month Zero Downtime (ZDT) pilot project with a major automotive manufacturer. The goal was to achieve zero downtime by proactively detecting equipment issues that could cause downtime.

According to a press release, the pilot was a success. Using cloud-based technology, Fanuc and Cisco’s solution detected and informed the automotive manufacturer of potential equipment or process problems before unexpected downtime occurred, allowing the maintenance issue to be addressed in a planned outage window. The end result was a significant decrease in related production downtime and increased overall equipment effectiveness. (To learn more about Fanuc’s technology solution, check out this video).

There are other types of proactive strategies metal-cutting leaders are using to turn “interruptive downtime,” which can hurt performance and impact on-time customer delivery, into “predictive downtime,” which can actually improve cutting performance and extend equipment life. Research shows that simple strategies such as breaking in band saw blades and other preventative maintenance are helping fabricators and other metal-cutting companies predict blade failure and, as a result, better plan for downtime.

In a benchmark survey of industrial metal-cutting organizations, 67 percent of operations that claimed to follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also reported that their job completion rate is trending upward year over year – a meaningful correlation. “The implication is that less disruptive, unplanned downtime and more anticipated, planned downtime translates into more jobs being completed on time,” the study states. “Slightly more than half (51 percent) of organizations that ‘always’ follow scheduled and preventative maintenance plans say that blade failure is predicted ‘always’ or ‘mostly.’”

What could be the business impact of near-zero unplanned downtime? According to the ARC blog, there are at least four key benefits, including:

Even if the concept of zero downtime still seems impossible, the above examples show that proactive—not reactive—strategies can help eliminate unplanned downtime. Whether using high-tech solutions like Cisco and Fanuc’s cloud-based application or simple preventative strategies like breaking in blades, today’s fabrication shops have the opportunity to reduce unplanned downtime and achieve real, bottom-line benefits.

What strategies does your fabrication shop use to reduce or predict downtime?