August 15, 2017 / best practices, blade failure, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, human capital, LIT, operator training, productivity, quality, Safety, workflow process
A top goal of every operations manager is to reduce error on the shop floor, whether it be mechanical error or human error. While 0% error rates are pretty hard to achieve, the reality is that even a small percentage of error can quickly add up.
An article from Competitive Production puts this into perspective:
“If things are done correctly 99 percent of the time, that equates to two unsafe landings at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport each day; 16,000 pieces of lost mail each hour; 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions each year; or 500 incorrect surgical procedures completed each week. In manufacturing, the slightest of errors, for example one-tenth of a percent, can have a significant impact on a company’s financial performance and profitability.”
When it comes to band sawing, error remains a top concern for managers. As Matthew Lacroix of LENOX explains here, fabricators and other metal-cutting shops have three main areas of concern regarding their band saw processes. “The top frustrations that we repeatedly hear from fabricators are machine downtime, blade failure, and operator error,” he tells Canadian Metalworking. “In each case, there are steps they can take within their own organizations to manage the problems.”
The white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, provides a few steps managers can take to reduce error in their band saw department:
- Optimize workflow. Reducing error and increasing productivity often go hand-in-hand, and taking steps to optimize workflow often accomplishes both. This typically includes analyzing equipment placement, material flow, and ergonomics. Even something as simple as adjusting the height of staging tables can make a difference. By reducing the amount of times an operator handles the material, managers can improve operator efficiency, reduce the chance for error, and improve safety.
- Implement accountability procedures. Without a paper trail, there is no way to account for errors when they happen. One-over-one verification procedures can be used to ensure that operators are following the correct procedures and running saws at the proper settings. Band saw operators, for example, could be required to sign-off on paperwork once they have set up equipment and performed the initial cuts. Another operator or supervisor can then sign off to verify that proper procedures have been followed.
- Make operator training an ongoing procedure. Most shops have multiple shifts, which means that inexperienced night-shift operators may be running the same machinery as seasoned day-shift operators. This often causes inconsistencies in quality and productivity. By instituting regular operator training, managers can level the shop floor talent and add consistency to production procedures. Managers can discuss topics such as proper blade selection and use, scrap rates, and material requirements. What other strategies has your machine shop implemented to reduce error?
July 15, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, resource allocation, strategic planning
As we reported in last month’s blog, “Machine Outlook for 2017 and Beyond,” market conditions continue to look good for machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting operations. Even in a good market, however, industry leaders know it is important to continue to watch costs. Any edge you can carve out against the competition is beneficial.
According to the brief, “Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” this may require companies to think a little outside the box. “In the spirit of continuous improvement, best-in-class managers need to explore all of the ways they can save their operation time and money,” the brief states.
One way shops are reducing costs is adopting more sustainable manufacturing practices. Whether implementing strategic energy plans or adopting a few environmentally friendly practices, today’s industrial manufacturers are finding that “going green” can provide bottom-line savings.
As reported here by Modern Machine Shop, manufacturing consumes the equivalent of 3.6 billion barrels of crude oil every year—1/5 of all energy consumed in the U.S. Additionally, depending on the manufacturing process, energy can encompass as much as 50 percent of the cost of production. Based on these numbers, it seems reasonable to argue that not only do manufacturers have a social responsibility to reduce their energy usage, but they could save some money by doing so.
London-based sheet metal company Harlow Group, for example, was able to reduce electrical costs by approximately $38,000 per year after installing a new heating system, low-energy lighting, and implementing a formal shut-down policy for heavy equipment.
To help your machine shop begin the move toward sustainability, an article from ThomasNet.com describes three key steps:
- Analyze Your Current Organization’s Environmental Impact. Start by analyzing your energy usage. Determine how energy sources are used in your production processes and how they might influence the environment. It is also important to look at your operation’s water usage and the types of materials you are using on the shop floor. Are they recyclable or hazardous? How necessary are they to the production process?
- Reduce Waste Where You Can. Once you understand where your organization stands, you can take steps towards a more environmentally friendly facility. Fortunately, these steps don’t have to be giant strides; you can start small and make incremental, strategic improvements.
- Find Ways To Leverage Renewable Energy. Leveraging renewable energy is one of the best ways to create a more sustainable facility. Renewable energy options are plentiful, and they include sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. In addition to saving on raw energy costs, you may also be able to take advantage of tax incentives, depending on the state you live in.
For some more specific actions your shop can take, check out this list of energy-saving tips from Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, which includes ideas such as avoiding peak energy rate periods and checking for compressed air system leaks. You may also want to read this article from Canadian Metalworking that discusses eco-friendly coolants and coolant recycling.
Does your shop consider sustainability as a bottom-line operating principle? If so, what new practices can you adopt to keep your industrial metal-cutting company at the leading edge?
May 20, 2017 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, industry news, LIT, operator training, predictive management, resource allocation, strategic planning
The year started out on a high note for machine shops, and current reports suggest the upward trend will continue throughout 2017. How should machine shops respond?
A Bright Picture
The new year meant good things for machine shops and other industrial metalworking companies. According to the Gardner Business Index, the metalworking industry grew in January for the first time since March 2015, reaching its highest point since May 2014.
That momentum has continued throughout the year. Both February and March registered growth, with the Index hitting its highest points since March 2012. Growth continued in April as well, although at a slightly slower rate. However, as Steven Kline, director of market Intelligence at Gardner Business Media, states here, “Expansion is still the greatest it has been in three years.”
Customer segments are also experiencing growth. According to Kline’s report, power generation was the fastest growing industry in April, growing for the second time in three months. Twelve other industries recorded strong growth as well. Industrial motors/hydraulics/mechanical components grew at an accelerated rate for the fourth month in a row; aerospace continued its streak of growth at six months; and job shops and oil/gas-field/mining machinery also grew in April.
Other economic indicators point to good news. As reported here by Cliff Waldman, chief economist at the MAPI Foundation, manufacturing employment has now increased for five consecutive months, with an average of 14,200 new jobs gained per month. “Overall, this is the most convincing evidence that the broad manufacturing picture is starting to show some real improvement from years of weakness,” Waldman states.
Getting Smart for the Future
Yes, the near-term picture looks bright for machine shops. However, industry leaders can’t rest on their laurels and need to be sure they are prepared for where the market is heading. Perhaps the biggest trend happening within manufacturing is what many call the “fourth industrial revolution.” As explained in a previously published blog, the fourth industrial revolution (also called “Industry 4.0”) is the advent of the long-awaited “smart factory,” in which connectivity and advanced technologies are being used to streamline decisions, optimize processes, eliminate waste, and reduce errors.
Companies like EVS Metal, a precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ, have already started thinking about what this means for their operation and how they can adapt. From a practical standpoint, shops can start by equipping components and machines with necessary Industry 4.0 features, such as sensors, actuators, machine-level software, and network access to measure productivity of metal-cutting equipment.
However, according to an article from Production Machining, companies need to more than just invest in technology. Matthew Kirchner, managing Director, Profit 360, explains here that manufacturers that wish to capitalize on the coming revolution will require a new level of knowledge, aptitude, and disciplines in the following four areas:
- Understanding throughput: The ability to understand a basic throughput equation, and how throughput is affected by machine speed, setup time, white time between operations, first pass yield and the like is fundamental to succeeding in a cyber-physical plant.
- Jacks of all trades: The lines between departments become increasingly grey as information and manufacturing technology connect and integrate them. The manufacturing operation of the future requires team members that can work fluidly across myriad industrial equipment and technology.
- Networking and control systems: Manufacturing technology will evolve relatively quickly to where every device has its own IP address. This will create what has been called a “hyper-connected Smart System of Systems” where endless streams of data are collected. A working understanding of this interconnectivity will be necessary.
- Inform-Actionable Data: The challenge of the manufacturer will not be a lack of data, but too much of it. Collecting, scrubbing, discerning, and analyzing this information will be fundamental to our ability to improve performance and process. Thus, industrial maintenance, factory automation, IT, and accounting will no longer be individual members of different departments or teams. Instead, they will become members of the same team whose charter is to drive enterprise-wide performance improvements using the tools now afforded them by the advent of cyber-physical systems.
Equipped for Success
As machine shops move into the second half of the year, the key will be to not only make the most of current market conditions, but to also strategically prepare for the future. Like any trend, it will take a while for the fourth industrial revolution to fully materialize. However, many experts are saying that industry leaders are embracing this next generation of manufacturing and, more importantly, are starting to make investments. Is your shop in a position to do the same?
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?
February 20, 2017 / agility, best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, customer delivery, industry news, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, quality, resource allocation, skills gap, strategic planning
Thanks to an unstable marketplace, capital spending among machine shops and other metalworking companies has been down for the last several years. However, new reports suggest a rebound in the near future.
According to data from Gardner Business Intelligence (GBI), machine tool consumption peaked at $7.5 billion in 2014, and then contracted 3 percent in 2015 and 7 percent in 2016. Based on GBI’s Capital Spending Survey, projected total machine tool consumption in 2017 will be down an additional 1 percent. However, as reported here by Modern Machine Shop, the survey also shows that demand for core machine tools will increase in 2017 by 9 percent. In addition, GBI’s new econometric model for machine tool unit orders indicates that the rate of contraction in overall machine tool demand bottomed in July 2016 and will improve through the end of 2017.
Steven Cline, Jr., director of Market Intelligence at GBI, says the driving force behind the projected rebound is the need for increased productivity. “Shops need to increase productivity in order to remain competitive in a global manufacturing marketplace and to counteract the much-talked-about skills gap,” Cline writes in Modern Machine Shop. “More and more shops are turning to lights-out and/or unattended machining to achieve this increase in productivity, but new equipment, including machine tools, workholding and automation, is needed to run lights-out.”
As reported in the news brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” industrial metal-cutting companies have spent the last few years investing a lot of time and resources into their workforce. This has helped boost productivity and address some of the skills gaps, but the GBI survey suggests that shops are seeking a balance that requires investments in both human capital and equipment.
For example, Speedy Metals, an online industrial metal supply company and processor, recently upgraded its band saws to improve efficiency. “We had been searching for a reasonably priced, high-production band saw to add to our saw department and boost our production,” Bob Bensen, operations manager, tells Modern Metals. “We needed a reliable band saw that was going to stand up to the rigors of our fast-paced environment.”
Bensen went on to say that the new band saw, which has nesting capabilities and allows his operators to cut a variety of metals, has improved productivity. This, he adds, has given Speedy Metals a competitive edge and allows his company to continuously offer same-day shipping on quality parts and customized saw cuts that meet the closest tolerances.
Similarly, metal-cutting companies like Aerodyne Alloys are investing in new metal-cutting tools to further improve efficiency. Working with hard-to-cut metals like Inconel 718 and Hastelloy X, the metal service center decided to upgrade from bi-metal blades to carbide-tipped blades to get higher performance out of its band saws. After upgrading to a carbide blade, Aerodyne was able to tackle hard, nickel-based alloys, while also improving cutting time on easier to cut materials like stainless steel. According to a case study, this helped improve operational efficiencies at Aerodyne by up to 20 percent.
Of course, not all capital investments offer a good return. If your shop is considering investing in new equipment or tools this year, be sure to measure cost against productivity. According to the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job, managers need to weigh the following:
- upfront costs against overall operating and maintenance costs
- long-term productivity of a machine and its intended use
- equipment and blade life, as well as cost per cut
There is no question: Staying competitive in today’s market is tough. Demands for high quality and quick turnaround continue to increase, while cost pressures and issues like the skills gap remain. How will your shop respond? As the GBI survey suggests, it may be time to consider making some capital investments to ensure that your team is fully equipped to meet demands.
January 20, 2017 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, LIT, productivity, ROI, strategic planning
In any manufacturing operation, having the right tool for the job is critical. The challenge is that there will always be instances when the “right tool” won’t be a clear-cut decision.
For example, in metal-cutting, bi-metal band saw blades have been traditionally used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon and structural steels, and some alloy steels. However, blade technology is evolving, and there are now carbide-tipped band saw blades on the market that have been designed specifically to cut aluminum and non-ferrous alloys. This begs the question: Is the new technology worth the investment, or would it be smarter to stick with a tool operators already know?
Answering those types of questions is never easy and takes careful consideration, especially when there is some investment necessary. In today’s competitive market, even a simple tooling decision is strategic.
To assist managers with the task of selecting the best machine tools for their operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following tips:
- Form an internal team. Good strategic decisions are very rarely made alone. As a recent article from Modern Machine Shop explains, even a decision like buying a new machine tool should include input from every department it may impact (i.e., engineering, production, maintenance, etc.). This, the article states, is why forming an internal machine-tool buying committee is a good idea. “During the machine-buying process, some companies will form committees, especially when numerous departments will be involved in and responsible for the daily operation of the machine,” the article states. “Buying committees allow each department to have input, conveying their requirements and concerns prior to machine selection.” You can read more about this best practice here on Modern Machine Shop’s blog.
- Work closely with suppliers. More and more managers are finding that collaborative supplier relationships are critical to business success. In fact, according to the book, Strategic Supply Chain Management by Shoshanah Cohen and Joseph Roussel, companies that strategically utilize their supply chains realize better business results than their competitors. This can include your tooling suppliers. When looking at a new machine tool, a trusted supply partner should be willing to provide informational and educational materials about new tools and technologies, as well as additional services such as short-term trial runs and training support. Some may even be willing to help you measure and analyze the success of a new tool. No one knows your equipment and tooling better than the people who designed it, and a good supplier should be willing to share their expertise with you—no questions asked.
- Look at the total cost. Like any good purchasing decision, tooling selection needs to take into account the total operational costs of running the tool, including maintenance costs and equipment requirements. Case in point: While carbide-tipped band-saw blades are more advanced in the right application, they do not perform well with a lot of vibration. Therefore, they can only be used with certain types of saws—a critical purchasing consideration. As explained in the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job, making the “right” blade choice requires managers to weigh three key factors:
- upfront costs against overall operating and maintenance costs
- long-term productivity of a machine and its intended use
- equipment and blade life, as well as cost per cut
What best practices does your team follow when choosing a new machine tool?
December 20, 2016 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, LIT, operator training, productivity, quality, workflow process
With a slew of improvement strategies, tools, and technologies available, many managers have lost sight of one of the simplest ways they can optimize the performance of their operations—standardized processes.
In fact, according to the Lean Enterprise Institute, standardized work is one of the most powerful, but least used lean manufacturing tools. “By documenting the current best practice, standardized work forms the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement,” the organization explains here. “As the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements and so on. Improving standardized work is a never-ending process.”
As defined by iSixSigma, standardized work is the most efficient method to produce a product (or perform a service) at a balanced flow to achieve a desired output rate. It breaks down the work into elements, which are sequenced, organized, and repeatedly followed.
There are several benefits shops can gain from standardizing processes. The following are just a few:
- Reduced re-work due to errors in the production process or between operators
- Reduced wasted time looking for tools, documents, or required inputs to complete tasks
- Better, more comprehensive, training procedures for new staff and retraining of existing operators
- Improved quality, if implemented throughout the production process and focus on quality at the source
Many shops are experiencing these and other benefits of standardized processes. Hard Milling Solutions (HMS), a shop featured here in Modern Machine Shop, standardized its parameters for specific material and cutting tool combinations to manage a highly varied workload with minimal labor. “Our primary goal with this system is to ensure every programmer cuts the same way, and gets the same results,” Corey Greenwald, owner of HMS, tells Modern Machine Shop. “We want customer needs to dictate what comes out of this company, not the experience and ability of any one individual.”
Quality Industries (QI), a metal fabricator based in La Vergne, TN, have seen the benefits of standardized work processes across several business areas. “For QI, the move to standardized work created positive scenarios and brought both obvious and underlying benefits to the business,” the fabricator says here on its website. Below are just a few of the ways QI has made standardization work in its operations:
- Process Documentation for All Shifts. Historically, many of QI’s productive processes were understood only inside the heads of experienced team members. Creating precise documentation to supplement and replace this “tribal knowledge” helps the fabricator to critically evaluate each manufacturing process to ensure that the most productive sequences and work practices were being documented. In addition, the documentation ensured that a given process could be duplicated on all shifts, and in all work cells and departments.
- Reductions in Variability. Once production processes were standardized, variability in product characteristics and quality was greatly reduced. While slight variations still existed due to different machine types, makes or models or tooling types, QI says most of these variations were eliminated because of the achieved consistency of steps and sequences in both material work and downstream activities. This aspect of Standardized Work also delivered tremendous value to the customer, who could rely on consistent finished goods.
- Easier Training for New Operators. In any manufacturing environment, bringing new personnel up to speed quickly is a challenge. For QI, standardized work and well-crafted documentation simplified the process. The best process documents not only spelled out steps in clear language, but were also highly visual—with images, charts, drawings and any other helpful illustrations. This training resource provided a continuous reference for the operators and enabled a new communication system for the team. In the QI shop floor environment, team leaders and others from outside the department were able to determine the level at which each operator is qualified on machines, work cells, and specific operations.
In today’s fast-paced market, process control is essential for shops that want to stay competitive and maintain the high quality customers demand. As stated in the industry brief, “Strategies for Improving Workflow and Eliminating Bottlenecks in Industrial Metal-Cutting,” today’s industrial metal-cutting companies can’t afford costly mistakes that can slow down or stop production. By implementing standardized work processes, many shops are finding they can not only increase productivity, but reduce variable(s?) variable overhead? and improve several other business areas that contribute to the bottom line.
Are your shop’s metal-cutting work processes standardized?
November 20, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, customer service, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, ROI, strategic planning, workflow process
Research continues to show that leading industrial metal-cutting companies are focused on continuous improvement. For example, according to the latest Top Shop benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop magazine, “top shops” (defined as the top 20 percent of the 350 shops that were surveyed) are more likely to apply lean-manufacturing methodologies than other shops. They are also more likely to have cultures of continuous improvement. Specifically, the survey revealed that 62 percent of top shops have adopted formal continuous improvement programs compared to only 46 percent of other shops.
The survey also found that shops are implementing a variety of improvement tools to stay competitive. One tool in particular that is widely used is value-stream mapping (VSM). In fact, the survey found that almost 40 percent of top shops are using this lean methodology compared to only 20 percent of other shops.
As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, VSM 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 is a representation of the flow of materials from supplier to customer through your organization, as well as the flow of information that support processes as well. According to iSixSigma, this can be especially helpful when working to reduce cycle time because managers gain insight into both the decision-making and the process flows.
Although it is easy to become overwhelmed by the terminology, an archived article from Ryder outlines VSM in five simple steps:
- Identify product. Determine what product or product groups you will follow. Focus on one product at a time and start with the highest volumes.
- Identify Current Flow. Once you’ve defined the scope, the next step is to create a “current state map,” or a visual representation of how the process (or processes) in the warehouse is operating at the present moment. Key data points such as units per month, shipping frequency/schedules, hours of operations (available time), number of shifts worked, or any pertinent information around customer demand should be gathered before beginning the current state.
- Observe. Get on the floor and walk the entire process through step-by-step. Take notes and compile data such as inventory, cycle times, and number of operators.
- Make the map. Literally map out the process you just witnessed by drawing it out on a board. Include the data you collected and place inventory numbers under each step in the process. This will identify your bottlenecks.
- Create (and implement) a plan. Now that you know what and where your process improvements are, choose one or two to focus and improve on in a set amount of time. Once those are complete, you can prioritize the other bottlenecks to improve lead times.
One of the biggest misconceptions about VSM is that it is only applicable to high-volume shops. Like many other lean tools, VSM can usually be adapted to fit high-mix, low-volume machine shops. In an interview with Fabtech, Mike Osterling, a senior consultant with Osterling Consulting, Inc., explains:
“Let’s begin by pointing out that the front office processes (order taking and management) for low-volume, high-mix production processes are much more complex than the front office processes for high-volume low-mix environments – thereby meaning those value streams are in much greater need of VSM alignment! So we need to start those VSMs at the receipt of order (or at receipt of a request for quote), and we need to include leaders from those areas in the actual VSM activity. In some cases we can identify VS product families if there are products that are different, but they go through common production processes. In those situations, there may be opportunities to create areas of flow (or mini-flow).” (You can read the rest of the interview here.)
In an industry driven on speed and schedules, taking a few days to complete VSM or other improvement exercises may seem like wasted time. However, managers need to consider the price of not taking the time to focus on continuous improvement. Investing in tools like VSM can help your shop operate more efficiently, reduce lead time, improve customer service, and as research suggests, help you keep up with your competitors.
October 20, 2016 / best practices, blade life, blade selection, continuous improvement, customer service, industry news, LIT, Output, productivity, quality
As end markets like aerospace and medical look for ways to improve the strength and reliability of their products, many machine shops are seeing increased use of harder materials like titanium alloys.
However, there are a few characteristics that make titanium alloys more challenging to work with than many other metal materials. To help machine shops tackle this often tough-to-cut metal, the following is a brief overview on titanium alloys and the most effective cutting tools and methods for working with this material.
Taking on Titanium
Titanium alloys are praised for their strong, yet lightweight properties. The material also has outstanding corrosion resistance. As explained here by Modern Machine Shop, these properties make the material an ideal choice for aircraft designs,medical devices, and implants.
However, titanium can be tricky to work with due to its reactivity at higher temperatures and its tough composition. “Since titanium’s heat conductivity is low, it will flex and return to its original shape a lot more easily than steel or high-nickel alloys,” explains an article from American Machinist. “The downside of this is experienced during machining: the heat from the operation does not transfer into the part itself or dissipate from the tool edge, which can shorten tool life.”
The article goes on to say that this issue is compounded by the tight tolerances demanded by most customers. “For aerospace, the tolerances are to within a thousandth of an inch, and if violated, the part must be scrapped,” the article states. “Achieving such tolerances while using such a malleable material is difficult, and wear on the cutters increases significantly compared to similar efforts with nickel and chromium alloys.”
The technical article, “Machining Titanium and Its Alloys,” published by jobshop.com provides key insights into the chemistry behind titanium alloys and lends the following tips for its successful manufacturing (You can read the full article here):
- Use low cutting speeds
- Maintain high feed rates
- Use generous amounts of cutting fluid
- Use sharp tools and replace them at the first sign of wear, or as determined by production/cost considerations
- Never stop feeding while a tool and a work piece are in moving contact
Choosing the Right Blade
Like any material, one crucial aspect of cutting titanium alloys is choosing the right tool. As industry experts, The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) offers critical advice concerning blade selection in its white paper, Characteristics of a Carbide-Friendly Bandsaw Machine. Since titanium alloys are a stronger and harder material, they pose a unique cutting challenge best solved by carbide blades. Using a carbide-tipped band saw blade not only allows for the successful cutting of titanium alloys, but it simultaneously offers longer blade life and faster cutting as well.
LIT’s white paper further elaborates on the benefits of the carbide technology by providing a real-life comparison between a bi-metal and a carbide blade. The test produced the following results:
- The bi-metal band saw blade (Contestor GT) ran 120 feet per minute with a feed rate of 0.53 inches per minute.
- The carbide blade (Armor CT Black) ran at 320 feet per minute with a feed rate of 3.11 inches per minute.
Ultimately, the higher speed and feed rate of the carbide blade enabled it to make the cut 13 minutes faster, translating into 160 more parts produced during an 8-hour shift than its bi-metal counterpart.
Meeting Material Demands
Material trends will come and go, but metal-cutting companies that want to successfully serve existing and potential customers need to be prepared to adapt to the industry’s changing material needs. As the use of titanium grows, today’s machine shops need to understand the material’s unique characteristics and machining requirements so they are fully equipped to tackle every one of their customers’ demands.
September 20, 2016 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, continuous improvement, Cost Management, operator training, preventative maintenance, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
Most metal-cutting professionals agree that lubricants are a critical part of any sawing operation. As explained in the reference guide, User Error or Machine Error?, insufficient sawing fluid can cause a host of metal-cutting issues, from premature blade failure to poor cut quality.
Metal-cutting fluids save maintenance time, improve cut quality, and extend tooling life. However, not all lubricating options are created equally. As this blog post describes, managers have a wide range of lubrication options available to them. And while fluid selection may seem like a small detail, it should be treated like any other operational purchase—with both strategy and cost in mind.
One lubricant choice that many machine shops overlook is Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL). This alternative option sprays a very small quantity of lubricant precisely on the cutting surface, eliminating any cutting fluid waste. In fact, many consider it a near-dry process, as less than 2 percent of the fluid adheres to the chips.
MQL is great for smaller saws and for structural applications, but it is also versatile enough to be used in both precision circular sawing and band sawing operations. To help machine shops determine whether or not MQL is a good fit for their operation, below are just a few of its key benefits:
- Lower long-term costs. Although MQL fluids typically cost substantially more per gallon, less than 1/10,000 of the amount of fluid is used. It also eliminates the need to invest in reclamation equipment such as sumps, recyclers, containers, pumps, or filtration devices.
- Less waste. Another major benefit is that MQL is a much more sustainable option. As an article from Fabricating & Metalworking discusses, metal chips produced during MQL machining are much cleaner than conventional approaches. Near-dry chips are easier to recycle and more valuable as a recycled material. Conversely, “wet” processes like flood coolants produce “increased and on-going lifecycle costs in the form of energy consumption, chemical maintenance, water make-up, disposal of used cutting fluids, and then starting the cycle of waste/recovery all over again by replenishing consumed fluids,” the article states.
- Less maintenance. The smaller amount of coolant means that less fluid sticks to the part. This reduces the need to clean parts after cutting. Also, MQL fluids do not have to be diluted with water. Flood coolants, however, have to be mixed with water, and operators need to monitor the concentration as fluid is lost, water evaporates, etc.
Of course, changing over to MQL is not as simple as just plugging in a new lubrication system. Implementation will require some research, training, and upfront investment. In fact, as a recent article from Modern Machine Shop points out, MQL can also present some manufacturing challenges. According to the magazine, operations managers should consider the following before deciding to implement MQL:
- MQL does not have comparable chip evacuation abilities to those of wet machining.
- MQL is still not well suited for deep-hole drilling, energy-intensive processes such as grinding, special operations like honing and small-hole drilling, or for difficult-to-machine materials such as titanium and nickel-based alloys.
- MQL still produces a very fine mist, which can be more difficult to filter.
- MQL implementation may require changes to the machine tool and processing strategy.
Although MQL may not be suitable for every shop, in many cases, it can offer significant advantages to your business, your employees, and the environment—three major reasons to at least consider using it in your metal-cutting operations.
For more information about what is needed to use MQL, including equipment requirements and some “rules of thumb,” you can download a copy of The MQL Handbook here.