Metal Service Centers
July 5, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, customer service, LIT, productivity, quality, ROI
Mobile technology is impacting every industry, including the manufacturing and the industrial metal-cutting segments. In fact, VDC Research estimates that the number of mobile connections in global factories is expected to double by 2017, reports Business Solutions magazine.
Manufacturing leaders are integrating mobile technology into their production processes and procedures to gain better communication, collaboration, and responsiveness. In addition, manufacturing environments with hazardous conditions are forecast to use mobile apps more to improve worker safety and productivity. As metal service centers hold safety as a top priority, mobile technology can help reduce incidents while optimizing overall productivity.
To realize the benefits of mobile technology, it is important for manufacturers to consider how, when and where it will be used throughout the operation. An article from Fabricating & Metalworking magazine suggests that manufacturers answer the following questions before they implement any mobile technology on the shop floor:
- What do I use the device for? Data entry, looking at diagrams, work instructions, etc.?
- Can I do my job when I have my device in hand, pocket or wherever?
- Who uses the device?
The answers to these questions will help guide managers toward the technology set-up that will work best for their shops’ specific needs and requirements. For example, an operator in your service center will likely need to move around easily and would benefit from a smaller, hand-held device, whereas, an assembler may be better suited with a full-sized tablet to read detailed drawings and schematics. According to the Fabricating & Metalworking article, tablets or large phones offer both portability and convenience for many tasks and can still be easily placed in a holster or pocket.
There is more than just choosing the right mobile device when it comes to mobile technology, however. To truly optimize production, metal service centers need to also choose and implement the technology so that it truly meets the needs of the operations.
According to Merit Solutions, an IT consulting and development firm, there are four best practices manufacturers should consider when selecting and implementing mobile technology to ensure it benefits the business:
- Put problem-solving first. Before deploying mobile technologies within your manufacturing organization, ask what problems you’re trying to solve. Be sure to get feedback from employees on the needs the challenges they face. Their input is valuable and will likely guide you toward the right solution.
- Evaluate current infrastructure investments. When considering mobile technology for manufacturing, it’s important to assess what infrastructure already exists. Your current infrastructure will determine whether certain technologies are supported or if they are compatible and will function properly. Knowing your current set-up will also prevent wasting dollars on a duplicate investment or one that is similar to what you already have.
- Don’t neglect security. Security is a vital component of any mobile technology solution that prevents hackers from accessing confidential data. Make sure your mobile technology solution has a built-in security feature to help protect your business.
- Educate your employees. Mobile technologies will only make a business more efficient and productive if the end users accept and adopt the technology. If employees feel forced to use something they don’t understand, the technology will go unused. Be sure to explain why the service center is implementing the technology and, more importantly, how to use it before it is implemented. Employees should also know the proper security guidelines and adhere to them.
Like any investment, it’s also important to ask how the use of mobile technology could benefit your customers. As advised in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, a rule of thumb before investing in any technology upgrade is to consider whether or not it enhances customer service. For example, how could it be used to help improve quality or increase delivery time?
While mobile technology can provide benefits such as improved portability and efficiency on the shop floor, implementing the technology so that it truly optimizes your shop’s set-up and production can be challenging. By understanding what your operation needs, how your employees will use mobile technology, and how it can improve customer service, metal service centers can better position themselves to get a full return on their investment.
To read more about using mobile technology on the shop floor, check out the blog post, “Adopting Mobile Technology within Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Operation.”
Metal Service Centers
June 5, 2016 / benchmarking, best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, Output, performance metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, strategic planning, workflow process
Manufacturers know that downtime results in lost productivity and profits. However, thanks to technological advancements in predictive maintenance, service centers and other industrial metal-cutting companies can nearly eliminate downtime altogether.
Unlike preventative maintenance, which uses anticipated and planned downtime to prevent unplanned breakdowns and minimize cost impacts, predictive maintenance aims to predict breakdowns before they even occur. Software and sensors collect data, and algorithms identify not only the anticipated failure, but also calculate the probable time that failure will occur. This enables companies to repair or replace parts before failure and helps eliminate both planned and unplanned downtime.
Several industries are adopting predictive maintenance as part of their operations. An article from the Harvard Business Review provides a few examples:
- Airlines can now predict mechanical failures in advance and can reduce flight delays or cancellations based on data sources such as maintenance history and flight route information.
- The oil and gas industry can use real-time data to predict the failure of electric submersible pumps used to extract crude oil.
- Banks can use sensor data to predict the failure of an ATM cash withdrawal transaction.
The manufacturing industry is also adopting predictive maintenance, but research shows it is doing so at a slower rate compared to others. For example, a recent survey by the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association and LNS Research concluded that manufacturers have some work to do to catch up to current capabilities—only 14 percent of survey respondents said they used manufacturing data in their analytic program.
Of course, building a predictive maintenance program requires both time and money, but many manufacturers are finding that the benefits outweigh the cost. An article from American Metals Market lists just a few of the many potential benefits of using predictive maintenance:
- Reassurance of safe, continued plant operation
- Improved operating efficiencies
- Reduced lost production
- Reduced cost of maintenance
- Less likelihood of secondary damage to equipment
- Reduced inventory of spare parts
- Extension of the life of plant and mill equipment
- Improved product quality
According to the AMM article, several metals leaders are reaping the rewards of predictive maintenance, including:
- U.S. Steel Corp. uses machinery diagnostic services for oil analysis, vibration analysis, electrical thermographic analysis and more to keep its operations up and running.
- ArcelorMittal is using thermal imaging cameras to ensure proper operation of its production plants, saying it improves efficiency, safety, and helps avoid breakdowns and minimizes downtime.
The trend is also starting to gain traction in industrial metal cutting. The LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 metal service centers and other industrial metal-cutting organizations found that companies are gaining additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”
While there is no question that predictive maintenance is proving beneficial in the metals industry and beyond, some companies may be hesitant to adopt the technology due to the investment and the training required for implementation. However, if your goal is to reduce downtime and increase the chances of future success, this may be one technology worth considering.
For more information on predictive maintenance, check out this overview article, which lists common tools and techniques, as well as a video.
Metal Service Centers
May 5, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, industry news, LIT, material costs, strategic planning
For any metal service center, inventory management is an ongoing challenge. Ensuring that the right amount of inventory is in-house while simultaneously working to reduce overall operating costs is not an easy task. Service centers have had an especially tough time striking this balance over the last few years.
As reported in our Metal Service Center Outlook for 2016, service centers spent most of 2015 working to wipe out their leftover inventory from the year before. Due to declining prices, service centers held their purchase orders in hopes prices would improve. According to data from the Metal Service Center Institute (MSCI), U.S. service center steel shipments declined in February by 4.6% from the prior-year, while shipments of aluminum decreased by 2%. As metal service centers focused on offloading high-priced materials, steel and aluminum inventories decreased by 20.6% and 21.6%, respectively from the prior-year.
Despite hopes the market would improve, prices only declined further, pushing service centers to continue offloading inventory and holding orders for better prices. The latest figures from MSCI report U.S. service center steel shipments in March decreased 9.2% from March 2015, and shipments of aluminum products decreased by 11.3% compared to the same time last year. Inventories in March also decreased 1.4% and 1.9%, respectively, from February alone.
A New Approach
Like any other operational area, managers need to approach inventory management with a commitment to continuous improvement. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Company, this is critical to thriving in today’s market. While there is likely no one “silver bullet” answer to the industry’s current inventory challenge, one strategy may help service centers find that critical balance.
As reported by Supply Chain 24/7, a new tactic called the Science of Theoretical Minimums (STM) is said to reduce cost and increase customer service. Unlike other inventory strategies, such as Just-In-Time and forecasting that only push the costs of inventory back to the supplier, STM reveals how much profit is currently untapped throughout the entire supply chain. This provides service centers with a clear picture of where to focus their efforts so they can monetize those supply chain gaps.
The basic premise of STM links actions to results by tracking two metrics—physical lead time and informational lead time. Physical lead times (PLT) are related to how long it takes to procure parts and transportation times. Informational lead times (ILT) track the time it takes for information to move between supply chain participants. After assessing both lead times, areas that can be improved are made evident, pointing out where operations can focus on optimizing the process to reduce costs.
According to the article, managing STM involves three key steps:
- Define a supply chain with zero ILT
- Define the PLT and its corresponding variability
- Define the cost difference between ILT and PLT
Together, the three steps inform managers where they can make beneficial changes with the most impact on cost. “The theoretical goal of supply chain management is quantified as the theoretical minimum, which is defined as that point where informational lead time is zero,” the article explains. “STM provides a theoretically grounded foundation for this goal, and does so in a way that is actionable for supply executives.” (To read more about the specifics about STM, you can read the full article here.)
Strategy into Action
Of course, the real test is when a theory is put into practice. According to the article, several big names have achieved quantifiable success after applying STM principles:
- Walmart, for example, is using STM in its Supplier Portal Allowing Retail Coverage. The portal relies on real-time supply chain information to “stay in stock” with low inventory levels and ultimately reduces ILT and PLT. As a result, the retail giant has reported improved gross margin return on inventory investment.
- After adopting STM, food producer Del Monte Foods reduced inventory by 27%, increased in-store service levels to 99%, and improved forecast accuracy by 20%.
- Hewlett Packard reduced lead times and doubled its on-time deliveries with STM by identifying informational lead time delays and implementing a three-stage process that included communicating to their supplier their delivery dates, production time and end product deliver times. As a result, inventory expenses decreased by $9 million.
While today’s metal service centers need to operate lean and reduce operating costs in the wake of declining prices and shipments, they also need to complete orders in a timely manner and meet increasing customer demands. Finding the right inventory level will likely always be a challenge for service centers, but industry leaders focused on continuous improvement know that even age-old problems can be solved with new solutions.
What new strategies have you implemented to manage inventory levels while reducing costs?
Metal Service Centers
April 5, 2016 / agility, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, material costs, strategic planning
Last year was a rough one for the metal-cutting industry. While many metal service centers were glad to put a close on 2015, most are bracing themselves for more of the same challenges in the year ahead.
For metal service centers, most of 2015 was spent playing catch-up with high inventory levels from the year before. Continued low demand and prices didn’t do much to free-up working capital, so the cycle continued: Metal service centers actively worked to reduce inventory in an effort to maintain, or at least even out, prices.
While the automotive and construction categories did boost demand in 2015, as forecasted in our Metal Service Center Outlook for 2015, the energy sector dealt a blow with historically low oil and gas prices, essentially negating any uptick the metal industry experienced to date.
At the end of 2015, shipments of steel and aluminum were not only down month-over-month but year-over-year as well. According to data from the Metal Service Center Institute (MSCI), U.S. service center steel shipments declined in December by 11.4% from the prior-year, while shipments of aluminum decreased by 3.5%. As metal service centers focused on offloading high-priced materials, steel and aluminum inventories decreased by 16.2% and 3.3%, respectively, from the prior-year.
The decline seen in 2015, unfortunately, continued to impact metal service centers during the first two months of 2016—even with drastically reduced inventory levels—albeit slower than before. The latest figures from MSCI report U.S. service center steel shipments in February decreased 4.6% from February 2015, and shipments of aluminum products decreased by 0.4% compared to the same time last year. Inventories in February also decreased 20.6% and 7.7%, respectively, from the prior-year period.
Gloomy Forecast Ahead
With growth falling short of expectations to date, the manufacturing industry is expecting to see more of the same challenges throughout 2016. In fact, the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) recently lowered its manufacturing forecast for 2016 and 2017 due to high inventory levels and plummeting oil prices. In addition, slightly more than half of manufacturing respondents believe 2016 will be the same or worse than 2015, according to the December 2015 Semiannual Economic Forecast from the Institute for Supply Management.
Staying the Course
While 2016 clearly isn’t going to be one for the record books, there are still opportunities for growth. According to an executive roundtable report by Metal Center News, the following two industries are expected to help metal service centers ride out the storm:
- Automotive. Like last year, the automotive sector is expected to see continued growth. According to a report from the National Automobile Dealers Association, new light-vehicles are set to rise to 17.7 million units—the seventh straight year of increasing U.S. new-vehicle sales. General Motors started off 2016 with 0.5 percent more vehicles than in January 2015, and Ford’s CEO Mark Field has said he expects 2016 to be “another strong year,” American Metals Market reports. Continued low fuel prices and interest rates should also help drive sales.
- Residential and non-residential construction. Construction, as a whole, has been showing signs of life for years, and now all segments are expected to grow, including commercial, residential and non-residential sectors. According to Dodge Data & Analytics, total construction starts in 2016 will grow 6%. Low long-term interest rates by the Federal Reserve and moderate job growth will help the segments expand throughout the year.
Yes, the rest of 2016 is set to be a challenging year for metal service centers thanks to inventory levels and low oil prices. Despite the obstacles, however, there are a few bright spots. As described above, increasing demand from the automotive and construction industries provide some opportunities for growth. Some reports are even forecasting increased steel demand from the solar energy sector.
Service centers that take advantage of market opportunities while continuing their strategic planning and continuous improvement activities should be able stay the course in 2016, and, hopefully, position themselves for a strong performance in 2017.
What sectors is your metal service center focusing on in 2016? What strategies are you following to see out the rest of the year?
Metal Service Centers
March 5, 2016 / best practices, blade life, blade selection, continuous improvement, cost per cut, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, ROI, strategic planning
For any manufacturing company, cost reduction has always been—and will likely always be—a top priority. However, like many other business strategies, managers are starting to look at cost management holistically. Instead of simply looking at price tags and cost reduction, today’s managers are looking at long-term return on investment and optimization.
This type of “holistic” approach to cost management is being adopted by several large manufacturers, including food giant General Mills, but it can also be applied on the shop floor of any industrial metal-cutting operation. One specific way metal service centers can apply this concept is by measuring “cost per cut.”
Instead of simply looking at the cost of a blade or even how many cuts a blade performs, “cost per cut” measures the total cost it takes for a shop to perform a cut, including raw material, blade, machine and operator costs. This metric gives service centers a better indication of overall production profitability.
A good analysis of cost per cut should include the following:
- total cuts per blade
- expected blade life
- the number of cuts required for the finished good
- labor and training costs
- utility and other overheard costs to truly optimize cutting operations
Of course, the question for many companies is not how to measure cost per cut, but rather, how they can reduce their cost per cut. Tools like the spreadsheet calculator, “ROI Analysis of Making Improvements to Cost Per Cut,” can be helpful in making that determination. The tool takes into consideration all equipment and factors beyond mechanics that can improve cost per cut rates and a shop’s bottom line.
Another optimization tool, SAWCALC, may also be helpful. The free, web-based software program recommends the correct band saw blade and sawing parameters based on material composition, size, shape and machine model, feed speed, as well as blade and tooth specifications that can streamline sawing processes and extend blade life.
One practical way service centers can reduce cost per cut is to consider investing in a coated saw blade. According to an article from Canadian Industrial Machinery, coating can extend blade life by 100 percent or more and slice cutting time in half, depending on the blade material, coating, and the material being cut.
Although coatings can add a premium of 30 to 50 percent to the cost of a blade, there are instances when the upfront cost can pay off. “You need a reason like a challenging material, a need for extra performance, or a machine that is creating a bottleneck and needs to produce more parts,” Daniel Fernandes, brand manager for band saw blades at LENOX, explains in the CIM article. “Upgrade to a coated blade and you can pump more jobs through the same equipment. You’ll get more out of your overhead costs and your labor.”
Another service center, featured here in a case study, was able to improve its cost per cut by re-adjusting its sawing parameters, increasing its operator training, and upgrading some of its blades. In one instance, the service center was able to reduce cut time by 40 percent.
Is a new, upgraded blade always the answer? Of course not, but optimization should always be the goal. This is why metrics like cost per cut are so important. By focusing more on reducing the true cost of each cut—and not just the price tag of a blade—managers can optimize their metal-cutting operations and, hopefully, see the results in the bottom line.
How has your service center improved cost per cut? What tools have helped you optimize your operations?
Metal Service Centers
February 5, 2016 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, LIT, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning, workflow process
Many technologies have helped advance the manufacturing industry to where it stands today. From the Industrial Revolution in the late 17th Century and Ford’s assembly line for its Model T to robotic automation and the Industrial Internet of Things, new applications and advanced software solutions enable the manufacturing industry to adapt. One such technology—the industrial vending machine—is currently helping the industrial metal cutting industry adapt as well.
Industrial vending machines are based on the traditional machines you know and love, but instead of providing a quick snack, they distribute metal cutting parts, tools, and other consumable supplies (e.g., safety gloves, goggles, metal-cutting blades). The key benefit is streamlined inventory control—the machines keep track of the person or department requesting the part and the time and frequency of requests, in addition to monitoring inventory levels. This can eliminate the need for storage rooms or tool “cribs,” as well as the necessary staff needed to manage them.
With metal cutting companies facing diverse economic conditions and shifting shipment levels, industrial vending machines can help service centers increase operational efficiency and productivity. As reported in this white paper by the LENOX Institute of Technology, resource allocation and efficiency are top operating challenges for metal service centers. Industrial vending machines can help resolve both, while also saving costs.
Below are a few benefits of industrial vending:
- Automate ordering, receiving, stocking, and maintaining inventory
- High inventory visibility (i.e., reduce stock-outs and obsolete inventory)
- Reduce consumption, hoarding, and theft
- Control employee and department spending
- Improve job costing, inventory forecasting, and demand planning
- Reduce operator travel time and other non-value added activities
- Access control by item, department, employee, job, machine, etc.
Several metal-cutting companies are already reaping the rewards of what industrial vending can bring first-hand. The following are just two examples:
- CNC Manufacturing increased productivity and decreased tool inventory by installing industry vending machines at its shop in Coatesville, PA, according to a case study. The precision part maker not only reduced tool inventory by 80 percent but also eliminated costly manufacturing redundancies, which ultimately improved efficiency.Before CNC installed vending units, the company was working in a disorganized shop, had challenges meeting rigid delivery dates, and was fighting a constant battle to keep parts in stock and on hand. After installing vending units, CNC’s tool usage was completely controlled, which helped free-up money to invest in new machine technology and additional operators.
- Transfer Tool Products experienced a 15-percent decrease in overall tooling inventory after installing industrial vending machines at its shop in Grand Haven, Mich. According to Modern Machine Shop, the Grand Haven, MI-based company, which makes metal precision parts, needed a way to organize and manage its tools and supplies to ensure efficient production.Previous to installing the industrial vending machines, Transfer Tool had no way to track what employee took what part and why they did so. Now, however, the company can track tools but also, and more importantly, track patterns that can identify employee training issues or efficiency bottlenecks with the vending machines. For instance, the vending system saw one worker continually ordered gloves. When asked why, the company realized the worker thought he needed to replace his gloves daily and were able to provide additional training.
As service centers and other manufacturing operations look to save money and improve efficiency, industrial vending machines are quickly gaining popularity. While they have been more common in larger manufacturing operations over the last few years, smaller shops and service centers are starting to realize that automated inventory control is a fairly simple way to eliminate paperwork, save floor space, streamline purchasing, improve workflow, and, ultimately, save costs.
Could industrial vending machines be an option for your metal service center?
Metal Service Centers
January 5, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, KPIs, operations metrics, performance metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, strategic planning, workflow process
The economic uncertainty from 2015 is unfortunately spilling over into 2016. As reported in a recent IndustryWeek article, the head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde said “global growth in 2016 will be disappointing and patchy” due to rising interest rates in the U.S. and a slowdown in China, among other reasons.
The most recent metal service center shipments confirm the gloomy forecast. According to data from the Metal Service Center Institute, service center shipments of both steel and aluminum were down—albeit at slower rates—in November compared to both the previous month and year prior.
Given current economic conditions, it’s not surprising that metal service centers are using metrics and data to improve their operations—the only aspects of their businesses they can control. As reported in a white paper from LENOX Institute of Technology, market leaders know that proactive—not reactive—improvement is the key to being successful in today’s market.
When it comes to metrics, more and more companies believe key performance indicators (KPIs) are the best means for gathering quantifiable and traceable measurements because they are tied directly to business strategy. In fact, KPIs are so popular that the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC) started an initiative called “Six Metric Areas to Best Practices” to help companies focus on the right metrics and align them to their organization.
As reported by Plant Services, Tennessee’s RMC initiative focuses on three guidelines:
- Work on what matters. There can be hundreds of KPIs, but only a few of them can dramatically improve an initiative. Make sure these KPIs are aligned with the company’s business goals and strategy. Tasks should be explicit and all actions should support a larger goal.
- Data should be industry specific. While using an average is a good place to start when determining improvement goals, it is important to look at industry specific data to ensure those goals remain realistic. Averages provide a guideline, but specific data provides meaning and context as to what is attainable or not, depending on market, costs and other industry related factors.
- Use benchmarks. Other data, according to industry, should act as a guideline and provide focus for ongoing improvements. RMC plans to publish competitive gaps and summarize results for participating companies.
As part of its initiative, RMC has also identified six universal KPIs that all companies, regardless of industry, should consider adopting. These include the following:
- Percent Reactive Maintenance, including data on predictive, preventive, and capital projects
- Maintenance Cost/Replacement Asset Value, expressed as a percent
- Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), including availability, performance, and quality
- Inventory Turns for both overall product and maintenance, repairs and operations (MRO) spare parts
- Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)
If your service center isn’t already using some of the above KPIs, now is the time to consider identifying at least a few, if not all, of them. If the process feels overwhelming, do some research, ask for help, and start measuring. In today’s uncertain economy, manufacturers can’t afford to ignore the operational areas that need improvement. As they say, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.
Are you using KPIs to optimize your operations? What metrics have resulted in the most improvement for your metal service center?
Metal Service Centers
December 5, 2015 / blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, cost per cut, LIT, material costs, optimization
Any metal-cutting expert knows that having the right blade for the job is critical. Although it may seem like a small operational detail, blade performance impacts several key business areas, including productivity, maintenance, quality, and tooling costs.
Like any purchasing decision, blade selection needs to be strategic, taking into consideration a host of variables—business goals, material type, equipment, and operator skill level, to name just a few. Blade performance is also based on several variables—the cutting application, blade specification, number of teeth per inch, tooth set, etc. Put simply, not every blade is created equal, and choosing the wrong blade can result in poor quality cutting and higher operational costs.
The problem is that many of today’s service centers don’t even realize they are using the “wrong” blade. In many cases, companies settle for “good” instead of “great.” Managers and operators become content with the blade technology they’ve been using for years and end up missing out on the benefits a new blade technology could bring to their operation.
This is a common occurrence in band sawing. For example, many service centers have used bi-metal band saw blades over the years and have had decent results. And in many cases, bi-metal blades are a good choice. However, there are applications in which carbide blade technology would be the better choice.
Many companies are finding that making the switch to carbide blade technology can provide savings and productivity gains they would never have achieved with bi-metal blades. This was the case for Aerodyne Alloys, a metal service center featured here in Today’s Energy Solutions. For years, the company’s Greenville, South Carolina facility used bi-metal blades to cut its toughest metals, including stainless steel, nickel alloy, and super-alloys like Inconel 718 and Hastelloy.
To gain more performance out of its band saws, Aerodyne decided to upgrade to carbide blades. Carbide-tipped band saw blades use strong, durable materials to provide high performance, faster cutting, and prolonged blade life. The blade tooth has carbide tips welded to a high-strength alloy backing, allowing the metal service center to take on hard, nickel-based alloys, as well as stainless steel, tool steel, and titanium.
In addition to tackling hard-to-cut metals, carbide-tipped band saw blades offer longer blade life and faster cutting. The white paper, Characteristics of a Carbide-Friendly Band Saw Machine, further elaborates the benefits of the carbide technology by providing a real-life comparison between a bi-metal blade and a carbide-tipped blade. The test produced the following results:
- The bi-metal band saw blade (LENOX Contestor GT) ran 120 feet per minute with a feed rate of 0.53 inches per minute.
- The carbide blade (LENOX Armor CT Black) ran at 320 fpm 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.
Carbide-tipped band saw blades can also deliver benefits to a metalworking operation by producing an improved surface finish. In many cases, a cut part will require additional processing steps downstream in order to refine the finish. By having a smoother finish, the carbide blade can reduce the number of secondary processes, which saves both time and money.
A good example of this is LENOX’s new carbide blade technology, which was featured in the latest issue of Modern Metals. Developed to cut aluminum and nonferrous alloys, the carbide-tipped band saw blade is able to make straight cuts at high speeds without sacrificing surface finish. As stated in the article, the blade tip’s particular grade of carbide wears very slowly, which is ideal for cutting aluminum. A multi-chip tooth pattern balances the chip load and reduces cutting forces, and sharp-edged teeth and high rake angles penetrate material more easily. The cutting tool is said to be the latest blade designed specifically to cut aluminum and nonferrous parts often used in today’s aerospace and automotive applications.
As carbide blade technology continues to advance, the more options service centers have to optimize and grow their operations. Whether the goal is to take on a harder material, improve performance, or increase quality, carbide-tipped blades are an investment worth considering. While the upfront product cost may be higher than other blade types, benefits like improved productivity, lower operational costs, and higher customer satisfaction will pay off in the long run.
For more information on the benefits of carbide blade technology, click here to download the white paper, “Leveraging Carbide Blade Technology to Increase the Productivity of Your Sawing Operation.”
Metal Service Centers
November 5, 2015 / continuous improvement, Employee Morale, industry news, KPIs, lean manufacturing, performance metrics, root cause analysis, strategic planning
In today’s lean manufacturing world, you don’t have to be an expert to know some of the lingo. Most manufacturing executives could easily rattle off terms like continuous improvement, kanban, just-in-time, and root cause analysis without even fully understanding what each entails, and many could probably provide a basic definition.
However, one lean manufacturing term that is not as well known—and even harder to say—is Hoshin Kanri. Although not as popular as some of the other lean strategies, Hoshin Kanri (also called Policy Deployment) can be a valuable planning tool for manufacturers. In fact, according to an article from IndustryWeek, the methodology is starting to gain traction among industry leaders.
“Hoshin Kanri is fast becoming an integral part of the strategic planning process at many organizations,” William Waldo, COO of consulting firm BMGI, writes in IndustryWeek. “From decades of refinement, this methodology has emerged as extremely effective in creating strategic alignment and galvanizing an organization toward achieving its vision.”
What is Hoshin Kanri?
Although difficult to pronounce, Hoshin Kanri is fairly simple in concept. The Japanese strategic planning process is designed to ensure that a company’s mission, vision, goals, and annual objectives are communicated and implemented throughout the entire organization, from top management to the shop floor level. According to leanproduction.com, this alignment eliminates the waste that comes from inconsistent direction and poor communication. In essence, it aims to “get every employee pulling in the same direction at the same time,” the website explains.
Although experts often vary on the specific steps involved in Hoshin Kanri planning, Waldo of BMGI believes there are seven key steps to successful implementation. Below is a brief summary of each step:
- Step 1. Establish Organizational Vision: This requires you to evaluate the current state of your organization with respect to your vision, business planning processes, and execution engine.
- Step 2. Develop Breakthrough Objectives: Breakthrough objectives are significant improvements that require your organization to stretch itself and will take three to five years to achieve.
- Step 3. Develop Annual Objectives: What will you need to achieve this year in order to reach those three to five-year breakthrough objectives?
- Step 4. Deploy Annual Objectives: The goal here is to turn those breakthrough objectives into workable targets and objectives at the departmental level using tools such as the Hoshin Planning Matrix, detailed action plans, summary reports, and value stream maps.
- Step 5. Implement Annual Objectives: This is where improvements are executed, using the most appropriate problem-solving approach.
- Step 6. Monthly Review: A monthly review fosters a culture of accountability and action by reviewing progress toward achieving annual improvement objectives.
- Step 7. Annual Review: This is a thorough review of the year’s objectives that shows where the organization stands against the stated objectives and what adjustments must be made to the next cycle.
Like any lean manufacturing initiative, Hoshin Kanri can seem a bit daunting. However, many manufacturing leaders have had success with the methodology, including Bridgestone, Boeing, Motorola and Toyota, to name a few. Accuride, a manufacturer of forged aluminum wheels and other commercial vehicle components, was recently honored by The Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) for its continuous improvement efforts, including implementation of Hoshin Kanri at its Rockford corporate facility and factory, reports The Fabricator.
There are two main reasons why your service center should consider joining many others in adopting Hoshin Kanri strategic planning. First, it creates a shared vision across the entire organization, which fosters good communication and can be good for employee morale. In addition, it can have a positive impact on performance. “Implementing Hoshin allows an organization to build a high performance culture and measure the progress of culture change toward a high performance,” according to an article from iSixSigma. “Following this process on a set schedule for each of the fundamental plans and annual plans throughout the organization ensures achievement of the business mission and progress towards the business vision.”
Even if Hoshin Kanri is not for your service center, adopting some form of strategic planning is critical if you want to be successful in today’s market. As Confucius once said, “A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble at his door.”
Metal Service Centers
October 5, 2015 / blade life, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, material costs, operations metrics, ROI, Safety
For years, manufacturers were bombarded with the “green movement.” Everything from conference keynotes and annual reports to football commercials centered on sustainability and the many ways manufacturing leaders were “going green.”
And while the trend has died down in recent years—replaced by buzzwords like “big data” and “connectivity”—the issue is still very relevant. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just implemented a new ozone rule that will affect the metals and larger manufacturing community. Under the new regulation, “facilities may be required to install costly pollution control equipment, limit production, or forgo expansion,” according to an article from industry publication Edge.
The final ruling, which was just published this month, isn’t as strict as many manufacturers feared it would be; however, organizations like the Metal Service Center Institute (MSCI) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) openly oppose the new directive. “The new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America—and destroy job opportunities for American workers,” Jay Timmons, CEO of NAM, said in a press release.
Whether by force or by choice, the point is that sustainability efforts will continue to be important for manufacturers. If you haven’t already started changing the way your metal service center operates, now is the time to make some environmentally conscious changes. Below are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Change Your Bulbs. Kenwal Steel Corp. saved 93 percent in energy when it replaced 369 metal halide lights with high-efficiency, maintenance-free LED lights, reports Modern Machine Shop. The change, the article states, not only increased the overall lighting quality of the facility, it also reduced the total number of fixtures by 60 percent. The company also saw a return on its investment of 124 percent in less than a year by using an intelligent system that automatically turned off lights, dimmed aisle lighting in low-traffic areas, and scheduled automatic changes to the lighting behavior based on usage patterns.
- Recycle Fluids. While coolant recycling is certainly good for the environment, some experts claim it can also cut coolant waste disposal costs by up to 90 percent and extend tooling life, as we reported here. It can provide additional benefits as well. Eriez HydroFlow, a manufacturer featured in Fabricating & Metalworking magazine, found that investing in a fluid recycling program paid off through reduced costs, liability and environmental impact, improved workplace safety, and better employee health. To hear more about the company’s experience, you can check out a three-minute testimonial on the company’s YouTube channel.
- Consider Minimum Quantity Lubrication. One “green” coolant choice that many metal-cutting companies 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. Benefits of MQL include less waste, lower long-term costs, and less maintenance. You can read more about this coolant option here.
- Track Consumption. The idea of tracking your carbon footprint is nothing new, but with new technologies and software updates it’s easier than ever to measure everything from water usage and energy consumption to carbon emissions. “Companies that may have been interested in these types of metrics in the past now have an easier way to measure them and make changes,” reiterates a recent article from Quality Magazine. “As technology continues to advance, it may make green manufacturing more common. As leaders from around the world look at ways to reduce carbon pollution, manufacturers should take notice and be prepared to make their operations more energy efficient.”
What changes have you made to make your service center more environmentally friendly?