March 25, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, human capital, industry news, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, optimization, productivity, Safety, strategic planning
For years, manufacturers have relied on lean processes to improve productivity and to reduce waste. This is certainly a good thing from an operations standpoint. However, from a safety and health perspective, lean manufacturing can have a few drawbacks.
For example, lean practices make jobs highly repetitive. As pointed out in this article from Industrial Engineer, repetitive jobs often eliminate critical rest time for employees. “The repetitive jobs take their toll on employees as stressful postures and high forces are repeated over and over throughout the day,” the article says. “In the long run, the financial savings from the productivity gains and quality improvements are used to pay for the higher cost of workers’ compensation claims.”
This is why many forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations have incorporated ergonomics into their production processes. According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), ergonomics is defined as fitting a person to a job to help lessen muscle fatigue, increase productivity, and reduce the number and severity of work-related injuries. Strategic equipment placement and improved ergonomics not only keep employees safe and healthy, but they are key aspects of high productivity and optimized workflow. The fewer times an operator touches a material, the fewer chances for injury and human error, both of which contribute to productivity.
Not sure where to start? An article from IAC Industries describes possible workplace risk factors and suggested solutions. For example, there are at least six different types of musculoskeletal risk factors operators may face:
- Forceful exertions and motions.
- Extreme or repetitive exertions, postures and motions.
- Duration of exertions, postures, motions, vibration and cold.
- Insufficient rest or pauses.
- Work factors (for instance, close performance monitoring, wage incentives, machine-paced work).
- Environmental factors.
The article then goes on to describe an example of an ergonomic workstation design. According to IAC, incorrect working height is often responsible for extreme postures and motions at the workstation. Recommendations for the appropriate working height are as follows:
- Six inches above elbow height for fine work such as proofing documents or inspecting small parts.
- Four inches above elbow height for precision work such as mechanical assembly.
- Same height as elbow for writing or light assembly,
- Four inches below elbow for coarse or medium work such as packaging.
Of course, this is just one of the many ways a manufacturer can improve ergonomics within their operation. Another article from Ergonomics Plus, an Indianapolis, IN-based company, offers a 10-point checklist to help managers create a framework for building a successful ergonomics process. According to the company, a solid ergonomics process doesn’t have to be complicated to be successful, but it can be challenging to get all the right pieces in place and achieve sustainable results. You can review the entire checklist here.
If these suggestions feel overwhelming or you don’t quite know where to start, you may want to consider bringing in some professional help. Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ), a metal service center featured here in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, decided to perform an in-depth ergonomic study at one of its metalworking facilities. With the help of a third-party resource and input from its shop floor employees, the company made several changes to the shop floor to eliminate unnecessary handling and transportation of material. Ergonomic improvements ranged from repositioning band irons to adjusting the height of staging tables. By optimizing the workflow, EMJ has seen a reduction in employee injuries, improvements in operator efficiency, and increased output. The service center has also seen an increase in shop floor morale, as operators feel they are playing a critical role in helping the facility succeed.
In what ways could you incorporate ergonomics into your forging operations?
March 20, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, human capital, industry news, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, optimization, performance metrics, preventative maintenance, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
As we reported in a previous blog, capital spending among machine shops and other metalworking companies has been down for the last several years. This has been largely due to an unstable marketplace and low business confidence among shop owners. The good news is that industry reports suggest a rebound in the near future.
However, this dip in spending has caused many shops to take a closer look at the value of their existing equipment. When new equipment isn’t in the cards—and even if it is—it is important for today’s managers to understand the total cost of running their metal-cutting equipment and, even more so, what their total worth is from an operations standpoint.
Below are just a few ways shops can be sure they are looking at the value—not just the cost—of their existing equipment:
- Look at profitability, not just productivity. As explained here, overall equipment efficiency (OEE) is a critical metric that measures the percentage of production time that is truly productive. It takes into account all six types of loss, resulting in a measure of productive manufacturing time. According to a recent article from Modern Machine Shop, OEE is helpful, but it may not be enough on its own. “Managers have to balance decisions about maximizing the part-making capability of their equipment with decisions about the money-making potential of this equipment,” the article states. “OEE ratings alone provide an incomplete picture.” The article goes on to describe a measurement called Financial OEE (FOEE), a trademarked name for a new feature of a communications platform from Memex, which accounts for profitability. As stated in the article, “FOEE helps a shop understand how machine performance is helping (or hurting) profitability. This insight provides guidance—and incentive-to focus on the most appropriate productivity improvement efforts.” More specifically, FOEE is the current-state hourly profit divided by a value representing a world-class level of profit. This ratio compares what profit a company made with what profit could have been made at world-class levels. This information can help shops see the financial value of improving the machine’s performance. To read more about this metric, check out the full article here in Modern Machine Shop.
- See existing equipment as an asset. A common struggle among many shops is finding enough working capital to invest in new equipment. To help fight this battle, a recent article from Canadian Metalworking discusses how shops can use the value of existing equipment on the floor. “An asset-based lender, one who has experience in the manufacturing industry, will recognize that a good, brand-named machine tool that has been paid for in full, is an asset that can be leveraged,” the article states. “The equipment is used to provide collateral for financing new machinery, or as a resource to raise working capital to cover the additional costs of product development using existing equipment.” This does require the shop to have a full understanding of how existing equipment is evaluated and how it can be leveraged. To read some tips on properly evaluating and grading your machinery, click here for the complete article.
- Consider the value of maintenance. It’s a pretty simple fact: Equipment that isn’t running is pretty much worthless. This seems obvious, but many shops still put preventative maintenance (PM) and other housekeeping tasks on the back burner in an effort to stay productive. The irony is that this usually ends up hurting productivity in the long run. As stated in the brief, Cost Management Strategies for Industrial Metal-cutting Organizations, there are several aspects of equipment maintenance that contribute to overall costs. “From an operations standpoint, managers can keep costs under control by making sure metal-cutting equipment is operating as optimally as possible,” the brief states. This includes ensuring that equipment is running at the proper settings and that fluids are adequate. Closely monitoring blade life and maintenance reports are also critical. Perhaps the most important consideration is a strong preventative maintenance program. Programs can be as detailed as a shop feels is necessary, but a few checkpoints are outlined here in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology. If limited personnel is the issue, check out this blog about getting equipment operators involved in daily PM tasks.
What other factors contribute to the value of your metal-cutting equipment?
March 10, 2017 /
The idea of moving your fabrication shop over from traditional manufacturing to lean manufacturing can seem a bit daunting, but in today’s competitive market, it’s almost necessary. Even high-mix shops are finding ways to get lean and, in turn, are reaping the rewards of efficiency and reduced waste.
Knowing where to start is often a stumbling block for many fabricators, especially since smaller shops don’t always have all the resources required for a complete transformation. Which tools are the most effective? Which ones are the fastest to implement? How do I go about “mapping” out my company’s lean journey?
To help address some of these questions and more, the LENOX Institute of Technology has compiled the following useful tools and best practices to help educate shops that want to “get lean.”
Adopt Some Lean Practices
There are a host of lean practices manufacturers can use to reduce waste and improve productivity. According to the eBook, Five Performance Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, the following tools are just a few to consider:
- 5S. Known by many as the “housekeeping tool,” 5S is used to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. The five pillars of 5S include Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain the cycle. The potential benefits of 5S can go far beyond having a cleaner workspace. For example, regular cleaning, as part of the Shine pillar, decreases the accumulation of cuttings, shavings, dirt, and other substances that can contaminate production processes and result in defects.
- Root Cause Analysis. This is a problem-solving exercise that focuses on finding and solving the underlying cause of a manufacturing issue instead of applying “quick fixes” to?the symptoms. There are several techniques used when conducting a root cause analysis, including “The Five Whys.” This strategy suggests that you ask the question “why” five times with the notion that each time you ask the question, you move a step closer to discovering the root of the problem.
- Value stream mapping. This is a paper and pencil tool that helps managers visualize and understand the flow of material and information as a product makes its way through the value stream. The “map” takes into account not only the activity of the product, but the management and information systems that support the basic process as well. This can be especially helpful when working to reduce cycle time because managers gain insight into both the decision-making and the process flows.
Buy Some Practical Tools
Just like a line needs the right equipment to perform an operation, your shop needs the right tools to implement and communicate any lean manufacturing efforts. American Machinist offers five practical tools that companies should invest in as they begin incorporating lean principles into their operations. Below are three of the tools suggested: (Click here to read all five tools.)
- Whiteboard. The first step in transforming your existing processes to Lean Manufacturing processes is to map them out. You’ll want to imagine that your existing processes are the starting point, and a finely tuned, smooth-running, lean facility is your destination; then, draw it all out—literally. There’s no better tool for this kind of process mapping than a nice, big whiteboard. Not only will you use your whiteboard in the initial mapping, but you’ll continue to use it to map out various other processes for problem solving, analysis, and training along the way.
- Laminator. Once you’ve mapped out the ideal Lean processes for your shop floor, you’ll want to make the processes visually available to everyone who’ll engage in them. Signs are by far the best tools to accomplish this. As you move further in your Lean journey, you’ll begin to see the constantly changing nature of your processes as you re-evaluate and fine-tune them. Because the processes change in response to these re-evaluations, so do the signs. That’s why investing in a top-notch laminator is a great idea. The laminator will save a surprisingly large amount of time and money in the long run.
- Colored Tape. Like signs, tape allows you to create a visual manifestation of your facility’s lean processes. For example, by using colored tape, you can create lined paths with arrows and other symbols, or you might number stations based on where each one falls in a specific workflow. Assigning meaning to the various colors can also be an effective way to communicate steps and stages in your lean systems.
Focus on Building a Culture
Most experts agree the key to a successful lean transformation is cultural acceptance. In other words, everyone in the organization needs to be on board if it’s going to work. An article from Plant Services provides four building blocks to creating a lean culture:
- Visibility and transparency. Employing a lean system that allows for high visibility and complete transparency—where everyone can see what everyone else is doing at any given second of the day—is the first step toward creating that new culture.
- Provide value to the end user. Lean manufacturing systems should be a tool, not a task. These systems must provide value to the end user. In tandem with transparency, a lean system should be designed with that value in mind.
- Easy to use. For any new system rollout to be adopted quickly by hundreds of employees, it must be easy to use. If a new lean manufacturing system requires a PhD in computer science to use and understand, it’s far too difficult. Ease of use must be a priority for functions throughout the entire system, from data entry and report analysis to accessibility and responding to alerts or alarms.
- Provide instant feedback. For a lean system to be completely effective, employees will need to see the immediate effects of their work. Is the company or the production team winning or losing? The best way to capture that sense of immediacy is through real-time analytics.
What lean tools and practices have you implemented in your fabrication shop?
March 5, 2017 / best practices, industry news, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, quality, skills gap, strategic planning
Data from the U.S. Labor Department continues to show that the skills gap is real. As reported here by the Wall Street Journal, the number of open manufacturing jobs has been rising since 2009, and 2016 registered the highest number in the past 15 years.
Why does this continue to be an issue? According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, there are several layers to the current workforce challenge. First, skilled production workers are one of the largest workforce segments facing retirement in the near term, which will have an impact on the number of experienced workers on the shop floor.
Meanwhile, the current talent pool isn’t what it should be. Streamlined production lines and more process automation have changed the nature of manufacturing work, and the incoming generation of workers either isn’t interested in working anywhere near a production line or lacks the necessary skills and technical knowledge.
The question continues to be, then, how can companies fill the gap? While the issue is too complex for one “sure-fire” solution, many believe that training and, more specifically, apprenticeship programs are an effective way for companies to fill their employee pipeline and build their team’s skill set.
An article from IndustryWeek argues that while colleges may turn out students that may know things, manufacturing companies need students that can do things. This is why apprenticeships are key. “Perfectly positioned at the intersection between knowledge and training, apprenticeship programs are ideal talent incubators,” the article states. “The positive outcomes of skills training are many: stronger communities, a skilled and confident workforce and an increase in the number of career opportunities for our young people.”
The U.S. Department of Labor defines apprenticeships as “an employer-driven, ‘learn while you earn’ model that combines on-the-job training, provided by the employer that hires the apprentice, with job-related instruction in curricula tied to the attainment of national skills standards,” according to its web site.
With hands-on jobs like metal-cutting, it’s hard to argue against the benefits of on-the-job training. However, the problem is that many companies don’t want to pay for it. The apprenticeship model typically involves progressive increases in an apprentice’s skills and wages, which can be viewed as costly to organizations, especially if they are afraid employees will take their skills elsewhere.
The good news is that there are several new initiatives out there that are trying to alleviate that cost by joining the industry and government together. Below are two examples:
- One initiative, called Incumbent Worker Training, is funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The program is helping Kentucky companies like metal stamper Tower International cover training and apprenticeship program costs. The program reimburses 50 to 90 percent of training costs, depending on the size of the company, for in-demand sectors and occupations, including manufacturing, technology, healthcare, food and beverage production and transportation, distribution, and logistics. Employers can qualify for as much as $10,000 per year to cover costs such as non-company instructors, tuition, curriculum development, textbooks, supplies and more. Tower has used the money to help cover training costs for three employees in the company’s registered apprenticeship programs. You can read more about the program here.
- Another proposal, called “Toward a New Capitalism” from the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative, is based on the idea of “pay for performance.” According to an article from The Atlantic, the government-backed corporate retraining program is set up to help companies pay for training, but only for curricula that raise a worker’s wage. For example, if a company spends thousands of dollars to train an employee on a specific skill that results in a pay raise, the company gets reimbursed by the government for the training costs, even if the employee decides to leave. “By training workers, businesses are essentially buying a small equity stake in their future wages,” the article explains. “If their wages rise, the company gets money, while the worker gives up nothing, purely benefiting from the training program.” You can read more about the program here and here.
While apprenticeship programs aren’t by any means a new idea, they could be exactly what manufacturing needs—again. For an industry that has spent a lot of the last few decades focusing on process and efficiency, it’s time to place the focus back on people. By investing time and resources into building a highly skilled workforce, you are ultimately investing in your company’s long-term success.
How is your company building a skilled workforce? Could an apprenticeship program help close the skills gaps in your operation?
March 1, 2017 / agility, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, customer service, industry news, LIT, strategic planning
As we reported in last month’s blog, experts consider aerospace to be one of the strongest industries. In one report from the Metal Service Center Institute, Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group Corporation, said that aerospace was the only industry that saw growth acceleration through the recession and that the civil aviation sector in particular offers “major opportunities for long-term growth.”
This, of course, is good news for industrial metal-cutting companies serving this sector, and prospects continue to look good for the near future.
Set to Soar
According to a report from Defense News, the aerospace and defense industry set a new record for international sales in 2016, delivering $146 billion in exports. The article went on to say that 2017 could be “another banner year” for the defense and aerospace industries thanks to some anticipated government orders.
As reported by Defense News in December, the U.S. State Department approved in the first quarter of this fiscal year foreign military sales worth an estimated $45.2 billion dollars, which is said to be more than the total foreign military sales for all of fiscal 2016. “If approved by Congress and manufactured this year, some of those purchases could help rack up the export total for 2017,” the article states.
Deloitte’s 2017 Global Aerospace and Defense Sector Outlook is also optimistic. According to the Executive Summary, Deloitte expects industry revenues for the global aerospace and defense sector to resume growth, driven by higher defense spending. Following multiple years of positive but subdued rate of growth, Deloitte forecasts that sector revenues will likely grow by about 2.0 percent in 2017.
Forecasts from industry leader Boeing show similar trends. According to a January report from Reuters, Boeing expects to deliver between 760 and 765 commercial aircraft in 2017, topping 748 deliveries in 2016. Honeywell, on the other hand, forecasts a slight decline in 2017; however, the company expects deliveries will begin picking up in 2018 due to the strength of several new aircrafts entering service, AINonline reports.
This could spell opportunity for many industrial metal-cutting companies. As an article from IndustryWeek states, the aerospace industry is a good business in which to be competitive because the underlying drivers of demand are very strong. “Since the end of the Great Recession, new commercial aircraft orders have typically been double, and in some years, triple the number of annual deliveries,” the article states. “This reflects explosive growth of air traffic in the emerging world as rising incomes and declines in ticket fares make air travel affordable for increasing numbers of households.”
Equipped for Growth
As a critical part of the supply chain, there is no question that metal-cutting companies could reap the rewards of aerospace’s success. However, companies serving this sector need to be sure they are doing what it takes to win the business of both existing and potential aerospace customers, even if that means investing in advanced metal-cutting tools designed to meet the unique demands and shifting trends within the industry.
For example, as reported here by The Fabricator, Superior Machining & Fabrication has upgraded its 110,000-sq.-ft. machine shop to better serve the aerospace sector. “Changes include the addition of CAD/CAM software, a larger 5-axis bridge mill for hard metals, and a 5-axis SNK bridge mill,” the article states. “The company also has tripled the size of the quality room, added an assembly room, created a staffed tool/fixture room, introduced lean manufacturing/5S throughout the shop, and segmented the shop into cells with their own leaders/supervisors to help improve product flow.”
Shops should also be sure they are equipped to handle the material demands of customers, including the growing use of titanium in aerospace components. In a recent interview with American Metals Market, Rich Harshman of metals supplier Allegheny Technologies, Inc., says he sees a significant mix shift happening within the aerospace industry. Specifically, he says there is a “growing demand for our differentiated next-generation alloys as well as growing demand for our isothermal and hot-die forging and titanium investment castings.”
For metal-cutting operations, this means having a carbide-tipped band saw blade. Since titanium and other high-performance alloys are stronger and harder, they need more than the average bi-metal blade. Using a carbide-tipped band saw blade not only allows for the successful cutting of hard metals like titanium, it simultaneously offers longer blade life and faster cutting as well, according to the white paper, Characteristics of a Carbide-Friendly Bandsaw Machine.
In today’s unpredictable market, the truth is that no one really knows what the future holds for aerospace. However, industry leaders know that it pays to be prepared. Tailoring your operations and processes to meet the unique demands of the industries you serve will not only position you as a valued supply chain partner, but as an agile, industrial metal-cutting leader that is ready to fly when demand takes off.