December 5, 2013 / continuous improvement, workflow process
As customers continue to demand faster delivery, metal service centers have no choice but to optimize every aspect of their industrial metal-cutting process. This means squeezing out any inefficiencies that could be holding up production—a task most managers would admit is a lot easier said than done. While every operation wants to run as “lean” as possible, the challenge is finding the time and resources to identify workflow bottlenecks and then pinpoint the areas of improvements that will have a real impact on the bottom line.
As metal service centers juggle issues like multiple shifts, tight production schedules, and a high product mix, it can be difficult for managers to make any broad efficiency improvements. In fact, many companies don’t even know where to start and, in turn, end up pushing orders through instead of taking the time to reevaluate their processes. While this may work in the short-term, the long-term costs to areas such as quality and even maintenance can be detrimental to the economic health of a metal service center.
While efficiency initiatives are no small undertaking, even a few changes can make a difference. The key is knowing where to start. The following are some tips to help managers improve workflow on the shop floor and, even more so, start on a path toward continuous improvement.
- Monitor and Measure Processes. As the saying goes, “You can’t improve what you can’t measure.” However, measurement can take many forms. Some companies may want to go all out and conduct a detailed time analysis of every operation happening on the shop floor. Others, however, may want to take a more simple approach, like Micron Metalworks. The Minnesota fabricator, recently featured on thefabricator.com, used an observation technique it describes as the “13-second rule:” If anyone was stationary for more than 13 seconds, they marked that down as an area for improvement.
- Implement a Preventative Maintenance (PM) Program. While some maintenance downtime is inevitable, the goal of a PM program is to reduce that downtime as much as possible. PM programs can help extend the useful life of metal-cutting equipment, increase efficiency, and improve cut quality. However, because a PM program requires both time and resources, James Shorten, a technical specialist at Centris Consulting, says it will require a commitment from everyone in the company—from executives and production managers to the maintenance department and even operators. To keep production running smoothly, Shorten also recommends scheduling PM programs in the off-shift.
- Establish a Process Improvement Team. Perhaps the best way to attack workflow bottlenecks is to ensure they don’t happen again. As discussed in LENOX Institute of Technology’s white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, one leading service center addressed this issue by assembling a process improvement team. Every time there is a bottleneck on the shop floor, the team investigates the issue, determines the source, and develops a solution. By getting to the root of the problem, companies will reduce the likelihood of dealing with the same issue in the future and, in the meantime, identify major operational issues that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
December 5, 2013 / customer delivery, planning, quality
Like all segments of the industrial metal-cutting industry, forges must respond quickly to changes in the marketplace. This is even more so the case in recent years. While projections from the Forging Industry Association and IHS Global Insights expect the forging industry to pick up again in 2014, a few rough years have heightened competition not only among forges, but also with companies that offer alternatives to forged components. And that competition isn’t just within the U.S. According to a global industry report from ResearchMoz, an Albany, N.Y.-based market research firm, there has been an upward trend in the outsourcing of forged parts to low-cost countries.
This means that meeting customer demands for both speed and quality are essential, especially if you can’t compete on cost. The harsh reality is that today’s customers expect parts to be finished in half the time they took five years ago—with zero errors. The challenge for operations managers is finding strategies that balance excellence and efficiency, making sure that one doesn’t come at the cost of the other.
In some cases, this will require the use of advanced measurement tools and other technologies that optimize production. However, a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology suggests several other ways forging operations can ensure they are meeting deadlines and maintaining a high level of quality. Below are a few highlights from the paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal:
- Planning Ahead is Key. Taking the time to forecast can provide an operation with a wealth of benefits, from faster customer delivery and higher efficiency to improved employee morale and a reduction in errors. In one instance, an industrial metal-cutting company was able to reduce its scrap rate to less than 1.5 percent and increase annual sales up to 20 percent after implementing a production schedule that planned out orders six to eight weeks in advance.
- Monitor Inbound Material Quality. Product liability and traceability continue to be huge concerns for industrial metal-cutting companies, and mix-ups can be both expensive and dangerous. Operations managers have to be sure they are tracking the quality and accuracy of the material coming from the supplier. In other words, inbound quality control is just as critical as outbound quality control. By confirming what is coming in the door, forges can confidently supply products that are both accurate and fail-safe.
- Faster Is Not Always Better. This is especially true in an industrial metal-cutting environment. In band sawing, for example, too high of a band speed or very hard metals produce excessive heat, resulting in reduced blade life and poor quality cuts. The scale found on most forged parts only magnifies this issue and can dull blades even faster. Setting the proper band speed and feed rates takes a certain finesse, and it is important that operators are aware that what appear to be short-term gains can cause setbacks in the long run. To help control this, some metal-cutting companies are using automation to “lock in” cutting parameters. In many cases, supply chain partners can also help with education to ensure that operators are trained on proper equipment settings.