August 20, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, preventative maintenance, workflow process
Improving productivity is a constant goal for any manufacturer. In today’s increasingly competitive and uncertain market, machine shops are no different.
To boost efficiency, manufacturers have long implemented lean manufacturing practices as part of their overall operational strategy. As cited in this eBook, 5 Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, there are a host of lean manufacturing tools to consider, including:
While lean manufacturing practices are anything but new, machine shop managers can take a more simplified approach to improve efficiency at even the most customized shop set-up. According to LeanProduction.com, manufacturers can experience great improvements in productivity through small daily increments. The idea is to identify and fix one problem each day using three questions (one each for Information, Focus, and Action) to identify problems from plant floor information, decide which issue to fix, and then take action to correct it. (Click here for some examples of the three questions.)
A Modern Machine Shop blog, however, notes that while improving productivity is essential to maintaining competitiveness, productivity on the shop floor comprises much more. “Productivity on the manufacturing floor depends on a combination of efficient employees, equipment, and processes,” the blog states. “Before you can adopt any method for productivity improvement, you’ll need to measure your existing output levels, create a baseline, and implement solutions for measuring change.”
The blog article goes on to list eight steps to help manufacturers design a more productive and successful manufacturing floor. Read on for a summary of five of the eight steps (Read all eight steps here.):
- Examine the workflow. Analyze the people, technology, and processes required for production, as well as the procedures, communication tools, and resources available. Identify the pain points and note how changes would impact the overall system.
- Update business processes. Share workflow problems with project managers to make improvement plans. Evaluate performance and interpret any appropriate changes.
- Invest in continued employee education. Be sure to keep your workforce up-to-date on the latest machining and manufacturing technologies. New advancements often require new skills for certain tasks and regular training will keep your machine shop running efficiently.
- Get smarter machining tools. Even if your workforce is trained, they can only work as fast as their tools. While advanced machinery can be costly, the investment pays off in the long run by helping companies stay competitive.
- Invest in maintenance. While new equipment can boost productivity, it also requires maintenance to ensure that it continues working efficiently. Employees should know how to troubleshoot in instances of system downtime, quickly find root causes of errors, and then correct them. Remember to consider the process, the blueprint, and the material when making adjustments.
Whether you run a high-mix or a small-scale shop, increasing productivity is essential to remaining competitive in today’s industrial metal-cutting industry. While there’s no sure-fire formula when it comes to boosting productivity, taking the time to drive improvements across the shop and making small adjustments from a baseline assessment can make a big impact.
What strategies has your machine shop used to increase productivity on the floor?
July 20, 2016 / best practices, LIT, operator training, strategic planning, supplier relationships, value-added services
Most manufacturing organizations agree that supplier relationships are one of the key building blocks of success. While there are still some companies that base their supply chain on price, many industry leaders believe that a strong supply chain can (and should) be about more than the most affordable product or service.
In an interview with Modern Metals, Aviva Leebow Wolmer, CEO of Pacesetter, stresses that cultivating strong ties with suppliers is critical to achieving the metal service center’s goals—goals that go far beyond price. “Pacesetter believes in the power of teamwork, where the entire supply chain comes together to focus on reaching goals,” Wolmer tells MM. “It’s easy to provide a low-price model to try to buy business away from the competition, but not every company is built to offer the level of service, partnership and trust that Pacesetter’s customers and suppliers are accustomed to. We want our suppliers and customers to feel they are a part of the Pacesetter family.
“Facilitating long-term partnerships helps to create value and offer advantages that may not be available if we focused only on price,” Wolmer continues. “We promote collaborative efforts up and down the supply chain and find long-term solutions to satisfy everyone’s needs.”
Other companies are taking a similar approach when building supplier relationships. For example, American Axle & Manufacturing (AMM), an automotive parts supplier featured here in Supply Chain World, works closely with suppliers long before price is even discussed.
“Our goal is to source several years in advance by working on new technologies and bringing suppliers in before we talk about price,” explains Jake Stiteler, AMM’s chief procurement officer. “We look at them to find the best technology and delivery, and we look at advanced cost modeling to agree on what prices should be. We’ve flipped the spectrum by having technology and capabilities drive the process, and by working with prequalified suppliers on finding ways to take cost out upfront instead of negotiating pricing at the end.”
Of course, in today’s market, price will still be important for machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting organizations looking to stay competitive. However, there are ways organizations can build more value into their supplier relationships. An eBook from the LENOX Institute of Technology lists three strategies to do just that:
- Schedule on-site visits. Expect your prospective supplier to assume a “partner” role from day one by focusing more on service than on the sale of the product. To facilitate this relationship, start by asking for an on-site needs assessment. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your business goals in person, as well as providing the vendor with a full overview of your operation.
- Include training in your purchase agreement. Most suppliers should be willing to provide some level of value-add training as part of the purchase agreement. This is especially important when it comes to your equipment and tooling providers. No one knows your production equipment better than the people who designed it, and they should be willing to share that expertise with you.
- Expect thought leadership and self-service tools. Industry-leading partners should be able to support your business by providing informational and educational materials, as well as practical tools and services. You can and should rely on your supplier to be an industry thought leader that provides a steady stream of valuable industry trends data, operational strategies, and technical product information.
In addition to the above three strategies, managers should also do their homework on supplier claims. While many companies often promise unmatched service and technical support, the key is to look for companies that provide resource allocation metrics that support their claims. Do they have adequate field coverage? What is the tenure and continuity of their support team? What can they bring to your shop that other suppliers aren’t offering? Therein lies the value.
Ultimately, the goal for any manufacturer should be to turn vendor relationships into strategic partnerships. By looking beyond price and by focusing on value, machine shops can develop a strong supply chain that can have a significant impact on the bottom line.
June 20, 2016 / agility, human capital, industry news, KPIs, lean manufacturing, maintaining talent, operations metrics, performance metrics, skills gap, strategic planning
In today’s lean manufacturing world, managers and executives are encouraged to “stay grounded” and find out first-hand what is happening in their operations. As we stated in a previously published blog, improvement decisions can’t be made in an ivory tower. Instead, lean experts advise manufacturing executives to make the time to visit the shop floor—also known as taking a “gemba walk”—so they can see their operation from the front lines.
At the same time, however, today’s competitive market requires leaders to keep a pulse on “megatrends” so they can create innovative, strategic solutions that balance internal efficiency with external demands. In other words, even small shop managers need to be tracking larger scale trends so they can stay competitive and respond to changing customer expectations and an evolving manufacturing industry.
According to Modern Machine Shop, the recent MFG Meeting in Palm Springs, CA highlighted some bigger picture trends that are shaping manufacturing. Below is a summary of three key trends, as reported by Editor Mark Albert:
- Navigating a sea of information. Albert notes that in three to five years, more than a trillion objects will be networked. “Products and user communities will merge,” he states. “The structure of the factory will evolve into a social network. Designers and manufacturers must be ready to create products that behave like living organisms.”
- Cyber security. “The pervasive interconnection of things (which exists today) exposes every company to a massive threat from cyber criminals and malicious hackers,” Albert states. “Companies must adopt defensive strategies that build in, not bolt on, protection at every level.”
- Stay optimistic. Albert says that despite what seems to be persistently negative influences and nagging uncertainties, the economic outlook for U.S. manufacturing is positive. As one leading economist asserted at the MFG meeting, a calm and rational analysis sees better times ahead—as indicated by the numbers, not the emotions.
A contributed article appearing in IndustryWeek echoed similar trends, but zeroed in on the effect “Big Data” will have on manufacturing. “The ability to collect and analyze large volumes of data in economic transactions has revolutionized customer care in the retail and finance sectors,” the article states. “In manufacturing, Big Data will accelerate the integration of IT, manufacturing, and operational systems on the shop floor and lead to better forecasting and understanding of plant performance.”
The IW article also noted the changing demographics of the workforce—a trend of which most machine shops and industrial metal-cutting companies are well aware. According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization, by the year 2020, most companies will have five generations in the workplace. This may certainly create some challenges, but as the eBook explains, managers can also use this demographic mix to their benefit by leveraging the different strengths found within their multigenerational workforce.
“While younger, less experienced workers may lack industry knowledge, they are typically more technology savvy and more willing to embrace new techniques,” the eBook explains. “Seasoned workers, on the other hand, may be resistant to both change and technological improvements; however, they typically have a vast amount of experience and loyalty, and may be able to mentor new employees.”
Of course, these are just some of the big-picture trends affecting machine shops, and many are already responding. As reported in our “Machine Shop Outlook for 2016,” a benchmarking study from Modern Machine Shop revealed that leading U.S. machine shops this year are focusing on workforce training and talent to close the skills gap, improving shop floor practices to optimize processes, and investing in future technology to stay competitive.
How is your shop responding to these megatrends?
May 20, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer satisfaction metrics, customer service, strategic planning
For most machine shops, marketing and branding are not top priorities. However, in today’s competitive market, industrial manufacturers are starting to see that creating a company brand or message can be an important part of the business strategy.
According to a report from Lippincott, more and more industrial companies are seeing strong brand management as a key for standing out from competitors and expanding into adjacent markets. “Leading industrials are starting to practice many of the elements of B2B branding, from identifying the key audiences for their messages to ensuring that their approaches to branding align with their business strategies,” the consultant firm states.
Of course, hiring a firm to develop a cutting-edge marketing campaign is likely not in your shop’s budget; however, you may want to consider developing a unique selling proposition (USP). As this article from Thomasnet.com explains, a strong USP, also known as a value statement, clearly articulates why a customer should buy from you instead of a competitor. The goal of this type of messaging is to attract customers on an emotional level that goes beyond cost.
“Without a compelling message, nothing about a shop stands out,” the article explains. “And when nothing about a job shop stands out as better than the others, it’s basically a commodity that can only compete on price.”
Ask yourself: What is unique about your company and its values? How do your services translate those values? Most importantly, how are you communicating this message to your customers? The answers to these questions can provide a good starting point for developing your company’s USP.
As stated in the Thomasnet article, an effective USP should meet the following criteria:
- Clear and concise: You shouldn’t make customers guess what you mean. Don’t be too clever; be direct and straightforward.
- Adaptable: A selling proposition will need to take many forms, depending upon whether it is being used in digital advertising, inbound marketing, videos, or traditional print, radio, and television advertisements. Therefore, make sure it is flexible and malleable enough to be used across mediums.
- Distinctive: Your statement should be specific to your organization, so don’t borrow language from other companies—especially your competitors. If it sounds rehashed, it won’t resonate with your customers.
- True: You want to set attainable and realistic expectations with your prospects, so never promise them more than you can deliver and don’t stretch the truth. If you can’t make good on your proposition, or if you can’t validate your claims, then don’t put it in writing. Find another message instead.
|A unique selling proposition (USP) can also be a good ruler to which you can measure your supply chain relationships. If a supply partner doesn’t help you fulfill your USP—or share similar principles—perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship. As explained in the eBook, Five Performance Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, your supply chain should an enabler of your business strategy.|
What does this look like in practice? D&J Technologies, a machine shop featured here in a LENOX white paper, lists the following USP on its website:
“Combining unparalleled quality, on-time shipping, and excellent communication, D & J Tech exists to make the manufacturing process effortless.”
Below are two more examples, as listed in the Thomasnet article:
- “Zero defects, guaranteed, thanks to our proprietary monitoring equipment.”
- “The only ISO 9001:2008 certified supplier in the tri-county area able to vapor polish parts over 24” in diameter.”
These are just a few examples. At the end of the day, all managers should periodically ask the question: Why do customers choose to do business with us? Taking the time to turn the answer into a clear, concise, and marketable message could be a lot more valuable than you realize.
For more information on developing a USP, you can download a free worksheet here, or check out this article from Fabricating & Metalworking, which provides more than 20 tools to help you build your organization’s brand story.
April 20, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer service, Employee Morale, industry news, LIT, maintaining talent, optimization, skills gap, strategic planning
Like the rest of the metal-cutting industry, machine shops were eager to see the end of 2015 due to weak demand. Unfortunately, experts are anticipating that market conditions in 2016 will, at best, be a mixed bag.
Taking a look back, 2015 started off strong. According to Gardner’s metalworking business index (MBI), industry conditions expanded in March 2015 for the 15th consecutive month. The streak stopped in April when the market contracted for the first time since December 2013, with the largest month-to-month decline since April 2013. Production also slowed while new orders declined. That contraction continued until the industry bottomed out in October and November and then ended the year with a slight uptick in December.
While growth did return at the start of 2016, it was often short-lived and fragile. For example, industrial production decreased 0.5 percent in February after increasing 0.8 percent in January, according to the Federal Reserve. On the other hand, according to Gardner’s most recent MBI index results, as reported by Modern Machine Shop, the metalworking industry has started showing signs of life. Despite the industry contracting as a whole, the trade publication says the market has improved significantly since December.
Spending trends are also a bit mixed. According to the Modern Machine Shop report, while future capital spending plans are still below the historical average, those rates are on the rise and have increased to their highest level since last March. “Compared with one year earlier, planned spending was down just 1.2 percent in March, the slowest rate of contraction since September 2014,” the trade publication reported. “This trend indicates that capital spending could begin improving later this year.”
Preparing for Returned Growth
While the start to 2016 hasn’t been the best the industry has seen, it also isn’t the worst and creates an opportunity for machine shops to invest in their operations, especially if they can afford the time to do so.
Like in 2015, most shops will continue to work on process optimization to increase productivity. However, this year, industry leaders will also need to focus on the next generation of machine shop operators to fill any skills gaps and prepare for an eventual market rebound. Based on the “Top Shops” benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop, leading U.S. machine shops are doing that and more.
Findings from the publication’s fifth annual survey revealed that leading U.S. shops are focusing on the following four key areas in 2016:
- Machining technology. A higher percentage of top shops use turn-mill multitasking machines at nearly 54 percent compared to 27 percent of other shops, helping to minimize work in process (WIP) and the number of times a part is touched during production. Top shops also use enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to help manage scheduling, costing and estimating and ensure they know all aspects of the workflow at any point in the process.
- Shop floor practices. According to the survey, top shops integrate unattended processes with new technology such as sensors and equipment monitoring technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT) and MTConnect. Nearly 25 percent of survey respondents reported they’ve integrated machine-tending robots into their processes compared to 11 percent in 2011. Continuous improvement remains to lead on the floor with 62 percent of shops adopting formal improvement programs.
- Business strategies. Top shops report a median profit margin of 13.5 percent compared to 8 percent for other shops. Leading shops also invest more in capital equipment, spending 9.5 percent of gross sales versus the 3.5 percent spent by average shops. In addition, they invest in value-added services such as design for manufacturability (DFM) engineering services, which help refine product designs by working with customers early in the product development cycle and simplify machining and production costs.
- Human resources. Top shops use benefits to attract and retain employees. This is key as the majority of experienced workers get ready to retire. Top shops offer annual review and pay-raise programs, paid medical benefits, and bonus plans to attract top talent. They are also more willing to invest in growing the skills of their employees with education reimbursement and formal training programs. (For more information on workforce trends in 2016, check out this article from Production Machining magazine.)
As the past few years have taught us, no one can truly predict what the rest of 2016 will bring for machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting organizations. However, leaders remain focused on optimizing operations. By investing in workforce training and talent, improving shop floor practices, and investing in future technology, machine shops can survive current market conditions and, more importantly, prepare for growth in the future.
How are you preparing for growth? What is your shop focusing on in 2016?
March 20, 2016 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, lean manufacturing, LIT, preventative maintenance
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.
February 20, 2016 / Cost Management, customer delivery, customer service, LIT, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning, workflow process
The question of whether or not to automate is a difficult decision for any operations manager. As we covered here a previously published blog, the challenge is not only ensuring a good return on investment, but also figuring out how to effectively balance the allocation of technology and process automation with shop floor personnel.
In most cases, deciding whether or not to automate is neither a simple nor straight forward process and requires strategy, careful consideration, and a little bit of risk. This is especially true for low-volume/high-mix machine shops. While research has shown that many small manufacturers still believe that automation is reserved for mass production operations, more and more low-volume shops are finding that automation can work for them as well.
According to an article from Canadian Industrial Machinery, just-in-time manufacturing has made automation in low-volume/high-mix a growing trend. “Automation is suitable even for job shops, where the shop owner often doesn’t know what jobs will be running from week to week until an order request arrives,” CIM reports. The key, the article states, is investing in a flexible automation system that can be set up and changed over quickly.
As listed in the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Today’s Machine Shop Metal Cutting Operations, today’s shops have at their disposal a number of automated metal-cutting options, including:
- Semi-automatic or automatic saws
- Equipment with programmable workstations for repeat jobs
- Saw models equipped with robotic attachments, complete with a camera and modem system that will notify plant manager immediately if there’s a malfunction
- Automatic feeder systems that will take material out of the storing mechanism, place it on the saw, and stack it on a skid after it is cut
Another more advanced automation trend that is starting to show up in low-volume shops is collaborative robotics. In fact, ABI Research estimates that the collaborative robotics sector will increase roughly tenfold between 2015 and 2020. The robotic systems, which are designed to work safely in close proximity and cooperatively with human coworkers, are said to save space and money, as well as permit more flexible manufacturing practices.
High-mix/low-volume electronics manufacturer Scott Fetzer Electrical Group (SFEG), for example, has benefited from collaborative robotics. According to a recent article from Fabricating & Metalworking, the robots helped the manufacturer optimize production by 20 percent. SFEG used the robots to take over monotonous and potentially hazardous tasks from employees, who were then reallocated to more rewarding jobs.
“One of our biggest challenges is that we’re a high mix-low volume producer, most of our lines don’t run all the time, so trying to find a way to put robots on the line in the traditional sense was a very big challenge,” Matthew Bush, SFEG’s director of operations, tells Fabricating & Metalworking. “We wanted to build a mobile, flexible robot force. The only way we would accomplish this was with a collaborative robot.” (You can read the full article here.)
Of course, shops don’t have to invest in high-tech robotics to automate their metal-cutting operations. Thanks to software advancements, there are plenty of other tasks that can be automated as well.
As described in another white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, one metal-cutting company developed a software system that connects the sawing equipment to its order-tracking system. Historically, employees would input order information into the company’s system, print out a report, and deliver it to the operator. The operator would then have to reenter the data into the sawing equipment. By creating a communication bridge between the saw and the computer system, the company no longer needs to enter the same data twice. This has not only reduced the chance of human error, it has also eliminated an unnecessary production step.
Is automation a good option for your machine shop? That is a question only you can answer, but the good news is there is a growing number of options available for low-volume operations. In the end, the deciding factor should really boil down to one key question: Will it help you better serve your customers?
January 20, 2016 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, Employee Morale, industry news, Output, productivity, quality, ROI, Safety, workflow process
As smart phones and other mobile devices become ubiquitous among consumers, it’s not surprising that mobile technologies are also finding their way onto the shop floor. In fact, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, mobility is the top technology priority among industrial manufacturing CEOs.
For many companies, the choice to make their manufacturing operation “mobile” is strategic. As a recent article from Forbes explains, companies are designing mobility into new production strategies, processes, and procedures to gain greater accuracy and speed. “Augmenting existing processes with mobility is delivering solid efficiency gains,” the Forbes article states. “The net result is greater communication, collaboration and responsiveness to customer-driven deadlines and delivery dates than has been possible before.”
Of course, how you choose to use mobility in your operation will truly dictate its impact—both positive and negative. There are still a lot of managers who are hesitant to allow mobile devices on the shop floor, fearing that workers will be distracted and less productive. In some cases, those fears are warranted. One machine shop, featured here in Modern Machine Shop magazine, found that it was beneficial to completely ban cell phone use on the shop floor. While some employees resisted the change at first, the ban allowed the shop to avoid a hike in their insurance premiums, increased productivity, and eventually helped improve employee morale.
There are plenty of other ways, however, that manufacturers are using mobility for their benefit. Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp., featured here in a case study, recently replaced its card-based Kanban system with a more efficient electronic method that could better manage its just-in-time parts system. Using tablets and a custom mobile software application, Kawasaki eliminated the waste of 4,500 Kanban cards per day, which ultimately led to $3,500 in operational savings per day and a quick ROI, the article states.
How can your shop incorporate mobility into your operation? LNS Research, a consultancy based in Cambridge, MA, lists nine key ways companies are using mobile devices in manufacturing environments. Below are the top-five uses (you can read the full list of nine here):
- Dashboards. Solutions providers have been offering performance dashboarding apps for a few years now, and many are taking it a step further by delivering role-based information that has been analyzed and contextualized for the specific personnel based on their information needs (for example, a plant manager versus an operator or quality manager).
- Quality Auditing. In the past, quality auditing in remote locations typically involved some form of paper. Today, on-site and off-site auditing is typically done within a smartphone or tablet application, offering better integrity of information and allowing audits to be standardized across multiple locations.
- Corrective Actions. Today, most solutions providers offer some form of mobile app to support interactions with the corrective action process. These apps typically leverage the native capabilities of mobile phones and tablets, such as GPS/location services, voice/visual recording, and more.
- Real-time Alerts. With nearly any type of mobile device, real-time alerts can be set up to streamline notifications based on some type of predetermined parameter.
- Electronic Work Instructions (EWI). Work instructions in general have greatly benefited from the digitization of manufacturing records. Now, thanks to mobile technology, it’s common for shop floor workers to reference EWIs on a tablet or smartphone as they follow a particular process or assemble something.
If mobility is something you want to bring into your shop, but you aren’t sure where to start, check out the feature, “7 Tips for Taking Your Operation Mobile,” published by American Machinist.
If mobility isn’t on your radar, you may want to reconsider. Slowly but surely, industrial manufacturers are finding that there is indeed “an app for that,” which means your shop may be missing out on some prime opportunities for cost savings or efficiency gains. In fact, according to Mike Roberts of LNS Research: “If you’re not on the path to using mobile apps to better manage your production operations, you’re seriously at risk of being stuck in the past.”
How could mobility help your machine shop function better?
December 20, 2015 / blade failure, blade life, blade selection, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, productivity, quality, strategic planning
For decades, machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting companies have mostly relied on two types of band saw blades—bi-metal and carbide-tipped blades. Both blade technologies offer more performance and life expectancy than carbon steel blades, and choosing between the two types used to be fairly straightforward. However, advancements in both technologies have made it a little more difficult for companies to make the “right” blade choice.
For example, 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, as featured here in Modern Metals, a new carbide-tipped band saw blade has been introduced by LENOX that has been designed specifically to cut aluminum and nonferrous alloys. The new blade has a range of features that optimize it for aluminum cutting applications, including a specialized grade of carbide on the tip, a multi-chip tooth pattern, and a high rake angle.
As this archived article from Production Machining notes, next-generation coatings and more complex tooth designs in both bi-metal and carbide blades have given metal-cutting companies more high-performance cutting options. Although this is certainly a good thing for end users, it can also make it more difficult for managers trying to decide between a “good” and “best” blade choice.
To help machines shops make the best decision about the “right” blade type for their band-sawing operations, below is a brief overview on both blade types from the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job.
Bi-metal blades are a common choice for most metal-cutting applications, especially since they are more affordable than carbide-tipped blades.
Generally speaking, bi-metal blades are sub-divided as either general-purpose blades or production-sawing blades:
- General-purpose blades are often used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon steels, structural steels, and some alloy steels. These blades are also good for switching between different metal types and sizes, as well as from solids to structural pieces. However, some industry experts warn to be judicious when switching between different metal types, sizes and shapes, as subjecting blades to different types of cutting shortens blade life.
- Production-sawing blades tend to be more versatile and are able to cut everything from the easiest-to-cut materials to difficult-to-cut nickel-based alloys. These blades are also ideal for cutting structural pieces and bundles, and they typically offer a long blade life and fast, straight cutting.
Although carbide-tipped blades are more expensive, machine shops may elect to trade up to a carbide-tipped blade for three key reasons:
- longer life
- faster cutting
- better finish
The various choices of carbide-tipped blades will cover the machinability spectrum, but they are most often used for hard-to-cut materials like super alloys. High-performance carbide-tipped blades work especially well with hard tool steel that needs to be cut fast.
While these blades cost more upfront, they are designed to take more bite and more chip load, which allows for faster cutting and typically save costs in the long run. Some high-performance carbide-tipped blades—especially coated versions—can offer extreme cutting rates, while others can perform exceptionally well when cutting super alloys.
Balancing Cost with Productivity
In some cases, the decision between bi-metal and carbide-tipped blades may not be crystal clear and will require some strategic choices. Ultimately, to make the best saw blade selection, operation 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
This may mean that a shop will have to spend a little more upfront to save money in the long run. Like any equipment and tooling investment, blade selection should be about more than the initial price tag. By understanding some of the basic features of each blade type and then strategically assessing operational needs and goals, managers can make informed purchasing decisions that will help their metal-cutting operations reach their full potential and, ultimately, achieve market success.
November 20, 2015 / continuous improvement, Employee Morale, industry news, LIT, operator training, Output, productivity, Safety
Of all the challenges that industrial metal-cutting companies face, process and workflow bottlenecks are at the top of the list. While lean manufacturing practices have helped machine shops streamline production processes and improve machine efficiency, many shops are using other methods aimed at optimizing their human capital. One strategy is to improve ergonomics.
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.
As a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology explains, larger volumes and longer hours of operation can easily turn the smoothest running operation into a frenzied, disorganized, and dangerous mess. However, when an operation is organized with ergonomics in mind, workers can maintain a high level of productivity while also staying safe.
U.S.-based automaker Ford, for example, is working with ergonomic experts to analyze its assembly line and workstations to prepare for more than 100 new vehicle launches, reports IndustryWeek. Using technology used by professional athletes to assess their performance, Ford captured the data of arm, leg, back and torso movements with motion-capture sensors, 3-D printed equipment and virtual workstations. The experts then analyzed more than 50,000 data points related to muscle strength and weakness, joint strain, and body imbalance to improve plant design and operations. The changes resulted in two significant improvements:
- They reduced assembly line injury rates by 70 percent by applying ergonomics to assembly improvements and lift-assist technologies.
- They reduced ergonomic issues with overextended movements, difficult hand clearance, and hard-to-install parts by 90 percent since 2003.
Metal-cutting companies like California-based Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ) are also using ergonomics as a smart business tool. After performing an in-depth ergonomic study at one of its metalworking facilities, EMJ made several changes on the shop floor, including repositioning band irons and adjusting the height of staging tables. As a result, the service center was able to reduce employee injuries, improve operator efficiency, and increase output.
While the benefits of workplace ergonomics are clear, how to successfully implement them on the shop floor can be murky. An article from EHS Today says the key is to engage your employees in the process by using the following five principles:
- Invite them. Be clear about your goals to create an ergonomic plan and have your employees be part of the process. Genuinely invite them to be involved, and let them know your intentions are to help make their lives easier and safer.
- Communicate. Continue the transparency by keeping the lines of communication open. Use announcements, bulletin boards, safety meetings, and training sessions to keep the ergonomic conversation going.
- Train your team members. A team is as only as good as its people. Train your employees for success with ergonomic awareness and skills development training. Use real-world examples (i.e., pictures and case studies) to illustrate the before and after.
- Celebrate wins. Celebrate ergonomic successes. This will help keep momentum going and shape a culture of safety.
- Respond quickly. When an employee suggests an improvement, respond immediately and with enthusiasm. Keep the team member updated on the improvement process—and don’t forget to say thank you.
Have you analyzed your workflow for ergonomic inefficiencies? If so, what changes have you made and what improvements have you experienced?