Small Optimization Opportunities for Your Machine Shop

March 20, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,

Although the metalworking industry was hoping 2016 would be a year of growth, recent reports show continued declines in both new orders and production rates in February. While no one is worried that business is going to completely plummet, the sobering reality is that shops need to continue to focus on cost reduction and optimization to survive in today’s unpredictable and competitive market.

The challenge for many shops is figuring out where to optimize. After a few rough years, many shops have already implemented large-scale improvements to increase efficiency and save costs.  According to the results of Modern Machine Shop’s annual Top Shop Survey, 62 percent of leading machine shops (or “top shops”) have developed a formal continuous improvement program, and most use manufacturing tools like 5S workplace organization, cellular manufacturing, and value stream mapping.

What else, then, can possibly be improved? For some shops, the answer may be to “think small.” Take band sawing as an example. When thinking about optimization, the instinct for most operation managers is to focus on the efficiency of the saw, the workflow process, and maybe even the operator. But what about the tools? Could they be optimized?

If we are talking about band saw blades, the answer is yes. As explained in the LENOX Guide to Band Sawing, completing a proper break-in procedure on a new band saw blade will significantly increase its life (see photo). This not only allows the shop to cut more material, it also reduces unnecessary downtime to replace blades and lowers the cost of replacement blades.

When it comes to consumable tools like blades, many machine shops fail to understand the critical role they can play in the overall success of their sawing equipment and, ultimately, their entire operation.  In fact, according to a benchmark study of machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting companies, less than half (45%) of the organizations surveyed reported they “always” break in blades, 30 percent said they do it “most of the time,” and 15 percent said they do it “occasionally.” This means that the majority of industrial metal-cutting shops are missing out on a simple and effective opportunity for optimization.

This can be true of other “small” aspects of your cutting operations. As covered here in an earlier blog post, running blades at the right speed settings and proper lubrication can also directly affect your shop’s productivity, costs, and quality. Other metalworking operations, such as welding and punching, have similar best practices that offer opportunities for optimization, allowing you to get the most out of your manufacturing tools.

Like any change, optimization starts small. What areas of your shop’s operations are you overlooking?

For more bandsawing tips, including how to properly break-in blades, click here to download LENOX’s Guide to Bandsawing.