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Improve Your Metal Service Center Operations with Standardized Processes

November 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Process improvement strategies are nothing new to manufacturing. As an industrial metal-cutting company in today’s challenging market, chances are you’ve spent time finding ways to reduce costs while increasing output to keep up with rising material costs and customer demands.

However, with a slew of improvement strategies, tools, and technologies available, many managers have lost sight of one of the simplest ways they can optimize the performance of their operations—process control.

Process control can help metal service centers ensure consistent quality, and minimize blade and machinery failures that can cause a workflow bottleneck. While there are many ways to implement process control, standardization is perhaps the easiest and most successful way to keep employees moving in the same direction.

Standardized practices, as defined by leanmanufacture.net, dissect larger, overall processes into simple, easy-to-follow steps that any operator can easily perform. This standardized approach allows operators to perform tasks the same exact way every time, which results in using resources, such as time and raw materials, more efficiently.

According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, standardized work “is one of the most powerful, but least used lean tools. By documenting the current best practice, standardized work forms the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement. As the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements and so on. Improving standardized work is a never-ending process.” The approach consists of three elements:

  1. Takt time, or the rate at which products must be made in a process to meet customer demand.
  2. The work sequence in which an operator performs tasks within takt time.
  3. The standard inventory, including units in machines, required to keep the process operating smoothly.

Benefits of standardized practices include:

Not convinced such a simple approach can make a big impact? Case in point—McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain. As cited in this article by consulting firm WIPRO, McDonald’s has standardized it “manufacturing” process for hamburgers so well that most of the organization is focused on growing the business, product development and marketing.

As described here, metal manufacturer ThyssenKrupp reduced work-in-process by 40%, reduced operator movement by nearly 5,000 feet per day and improved productivity by 9% by implementing standardized work at two working stations at its Sao Paulo, Brazil plant.

In today’s fast-paced market, process control is essential for metal service centers that want to grow against competition. According to the industry brief, Strategies for Improving Workflow and Eliminating Bottlenecks in Industrial Metal-Cutting, as the pace on the shop floor increases, metal service centers can’t afford a blade failure or costly mistakes that can slow down and stop production. Today’s metal service centers must focus on the process to identify and correct any mistakes on the shop floor immediately. By implementing standardized work, metal service centers not only gain insight into potential workflow bottlenecks, but also have a solid foundation for a continuous improvement plan going forward.

Even if your metal service center has a cutting-edge improvement plan in place, take a step back and look at your processes. Are they standardized? Have they gotten too complex? By going back to the basics and standardizing work practices, managers can optimize operations and ensure that every employee—and every process—is successful, every time.

What process controls and improvements have you implemented at your metal service center? Is standardized work one of them?

One Key Investment that May Impact the Future of Industrial Metal-Cutting

November 1, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Although recent reports paint a brighter picture of U.S. industrial manufacturing, many companies are still unsure of what the future will bring—and how to prepare for it.

The first half of 2016 didn’t start off strong for industrial manufacturing. Industrial production was essentially unchanged in the first quarter of 2016 and then fell at a 1% annual rate in the second quarter. However, conditions made a turn in the right direction in third quarter when industrial production rose at an annual rate of 1.8 percent—the first quarterly increase since the third quarter of 2015.

Recent data continue to show good overall conditions. The Institute for Supply Management’s Report On Business, for example, states that activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in October, and the overall economy grew for the 89th consecutive month. Specifically, the October PMI registered 51.9 percent (a reading of 50 or higher indicates growth), an increase from the September reading of 51.5 percent.

Unfortunately, ISM’s report wasn’t all good news, especially for the metals sector. Just like in September, both the Primary Metals and Fabricated Metal Products sectors reported contraction in October, although one survey respondent from the Fabricated Metals Products sector stated, “Business is much better.”

With the year drawing to close, what does all of this mean for industrial metal-cutting companies? As executives evaluate performance and look to strategize for the future, the question of whether or not to invest in information and technology advancements will likely be at the forefront of discussion. With terms like “machine-to-machine communication” and “Internet of Things” flying around, many companies are trying to discern whether or not these ideas are truly worth the investment, or if they are nothing more than “buzz words.”

As stated in the white paper, Tackling the Top 5 Challenges In Today’s Metal-Cutting Industry, today’s uncertain market requires managers to carefully and strategically determine whether or not allocating resources to automation and technology will offer a true return on investment. Based on some recent reports from industry experts, technological investments are not only worth it, but necessary for future success, regardless of economic conditions.

A recent article from PwC put it this way:

“Manufacturing may be facing some headwinds, but it’s undeniably in the midst of a technological renaissance that is transforming the look, systems, and processes of the modern factory. Despite the risks — and despite recent history — industrial manufacturing companies cannot afford to ignore these advances. By embracing them now, they can improve productivity in their own plants, compete against rivals, and maintain an edge with customers who are seeking their own gains from innovation.”

Of course, this type of transition is easier said than done. There is a lot to consider before companies start planning, strategizing, and investing in what many are calling “Manufacturing 4.0.” To help give companies a little perspective, the Manufacturing Leadership Council has identified six critical Issues facing the manufacturing industry as it undertakes the journey toward an information-based future. Described in detail here, these issues include the following:

  1. Factories of the Future. Large and small manufacturers, in both process and discrete manufacturing, must now understand and embrace the potential of new and evolving production models, materials and technologies along the journey towards Manufacturing 4.0 to help them create more autonomous, flexible, connected, automated, intelligent, reconfigurable, and sustainable factories and production models for the future.
  2. The Integrated Manufacturing Enterprise. To maximize the potential of Manufacturing 4.0, manufacturers of all sizes need to actively transform traditional, inhibitive functional silos to create more integrated, cross-functional, collaborative enterprise structures, both within and beyond their organizations. These structures must be supported by new digital thread technologies that stretch across the value chain from ideation, to product end of use.
  3. Innovation in Manufacturing. Manufacturers must now successfully develop and manage rapid, continuous, collaborative, and often disruptive innovation processes across the enterprise to drive growth, new products and services, operational efficiencies, and competitive success in the world of Manufacturing 4.0.
  4. Transformative Technologies. Manufacturers must learn how to identify, adopt, and scale the most promising M4.0-enabling technologies in order to achieve greater agility and competitiveness and to drive innovative new business models and better customer experiences.
  5. Next-Generation Manufacturing Leadership & the Changing Workforce. Manufacturing 4.0 requires manufacturing leaders and their teams to become more collaborative, innovative, and responsive and to make decisions based on a greater understanding of manufacturing’s role in company strategy. That means leaders must embrace new behaviors, structures, and strategies. And they must transition the talent within their organizations by identifying, attracting, developing and retaining the next generation of people and skills.
  6. Cybersecurity. In the face of increasing vulnerability to external cyber threats and potential internal disruption, manufacturing companies must identify the most effective cybersecurity processes and technologies and create a culture that will ensure operational continuity, data security, and IP protection.

While the industry still has a way to go before Manufacturing 4.0 becomes mainstream, there is no question that technology is changing the manufacturing landscape. Today’s economic conditions may be uncertain, but industrial metal-cutting companies need to ask themselves if they’re willing to do what it takes to prepare for whatever the future holds.

Using Predictive Analytics in Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing

October 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


In today’s competitive and quickly changing market, manufacturers are finding that it pays to be proactive—not reactive—in their strategic approaches. That’s why a growing number of industrial manufacturers are starting to take a serious look at advanced technologies like predictive analytics, which allows them to not only measure performance, but to also predict and prevent future challenges.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, more than 500 senior manufacturing executives from around the world ranked predictive analytics as the number one technology vital to their companies’ future competitiveness. As reported here, another report from Aberdeen Group shows that 86 percent of top-performing manufacturers are already using predictive analytics to reduce risk and improve operations, compared to 38 percent of those companies with an average performance and 26 percent of those with less than stellar results.

The trend has found its way into industrial metal cutting as well. According to the LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 industrial metal-cutting organizations, companies can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”

What is Predictive Analytics?
Predictive analytics utilizes a variety of statistical and analytical techniques to develop mathematical models that “predict” future events or behaviors based on past data. As the Deloitte study explains, this allows companies to uncover hidden patterns, relationships, and greater insights by analyzing both structured and unstructured data.

In a manufacturing environment, companies can use predictive analytics to measure the health of production equipment and detect potential failures. However, the possibilities are virtually limitless. According to one analyst’s blog, manufacturers could potentially use software and predictive analytics to forecast potential staffing or supply-chain interruptions, such as a flu outbreak that could cause a temporary personnel shortage or even a blizzard that could disrupt deliveries.

Bearing manufacturing leader Timken has taken a different approach and is using predictive analytics to improve inventory optimization and supply chain performance in the automotive aftermarket sector. As reported by SearchAutoParts.com, Timken is leveraging sales history, registration data, and other information, along with complex analytics, to improve sales and reduce costs.

“Timken’s catalog team matches parts and vehicles, and combines that information with vehicle registration and replacement/failure rates, along with internal sales data,” the article explains. “Crunching that data using proprietary algorithms helps them predict how many parts will be needed in a given geography, and how those parts sales will fall within the premium aftermarket, economy aftermarket and OEMs.”

Common Use Cases
Because predictive analytics is an emerging technology, applications are typically specific to each manufacturer’s products and processes—as in the Timken example. However, an article from Toolbox.com describes four common use cases for predictive analytics that are applicable in most manufacturing environments:

  1. Quality Improvement. Improvements in databases and data storage and easier-to-use analytical software are the big changes for quality improvement. Standard quality improvement analysis is being pushed toward less technical analysts using new software that automates much of the analytical process. Storing more information about products and the manufacturing process also leads to analysis of more factors that influence quality.
  2. Demand Forecast. Predictive analytics takes historical sales data and applies forms of regression to predict future sales based upon past sales. Good predictive analytics modelers find additional factors that influenced sales in the past and apply those factors into forecasted sales models.
  3. Preventative Maintenance. Predictive analytics increases production equipment uptime. Knowing that a machine is likely to break down in the near future means a manufacturer can perform the needed maintenance in non-emergency conditions without shutting down production.
  4. Machine Utilization. Predictive analytics applications for machine scheduling combines forecast for demand with product mix to optimize machine utilization. Using new predictive analytics techniques improves accuracy.

Predicting Success
While there is no question that predictive analytics is still new to many ball and roller bearing manufacturers, industry leaders know that proactive strategies are key in today’s uncertain market. Finding ways to anticipate future events and reduce unplanned downtime can not only help your operation gain efficiency but, more importantly, help you stay competitive.

Key Considerations for Bringing Mobility to Your Forging Operation

October 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As smart phones and other mobile devices become ubiquitous among consumers, it’s not surprising that mobile technologies are starting to be used increasingly in the manufacturing world. Although manufacturing hasn’t gone totally mobile, a growing number of shops are deploying some form of mobile technology to improve efficiency and communication on the shop floor.

Slow to Adopt
There is no question that manufacturing has lagged other business sectors in adopting mobile technology. However, this is not to say that plant managers don’t want to go mobile. In an interview with Design News, David Krebs, executive vice president of VDC Research, says that the interest is there, but issues like budgetary constraints, security concerns, and a lack of IT resources are holding back a lot of manufacturers.

“In addition, many existing manufacturing environments are not conducive to wireless technologies and its infrastructure,” Krebs tells Design News. “Low penetration of WiFi in manufacturing environments and the difficulty of wirelessly interfacing with shop-floor equipment also represent gating issues.”

However, most experts agree that the tide is starting to change as technologies advance and the Industrial Internet of Things becomes more prevalent. In fact, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, mobility was the top technology priority among industrial manufacturing CEOs in 2015. Specifically, the survey found that industrial manufacturers regarded mobile technologies as a strategic way to engage with customers.

Key Trends
Other reports confirm that interest is growing among manufacturers. “Given mobile’s role in improving information flows, it is not surprising that 78 percent of manufacturing companies agree that mobile solutions provide their company with a competitive advantage,” writes Matthew Hopkins, an analyst at VDC Research. “This advantage is demonstrated by tangible use-cases, such as predictive maintenance, workforce management, and energy management, which yield real returns on investment (ROI). Companies’ quick to realize these benefits have embraced mobility for some processes, such as inventory management, in large numbers.”

Last year, VDC conducted a survey among technology influencers at manufacturing companies and found that 36% of organizations actively used mobility solutions to support business initiatives. The survey also revealed the following key trends:

Going Mobile
If mobility is something you want to bring into your forging operation but you aren’t sure where to start, LNS Research, a consultancy based in Cambridge, MA, lists nine key ways companies are using mobile devices in manufacturing environments. Below are the top-three uses (You can read the full list of nine here.):

  1. 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 (i.e., a plant manager versus an operator or quality manager).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

If mobility isn’t on your radar yet, you may want to reconsider. Your shop may be missing out on some prime opportunities for cost savings or efficiency gains. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, proactive leaders are focused on making positive changes in their operations so they can quickly respond to changing customer demands. In other words, today’s forges can’t afford to be reactive to trends. 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.”

To read more about bringing mobility into your forging operation, check out the article “7 Tips for Taking Your Operation Mobile,” published by American Machinist.

Tips for Cutting Titanium Alloys in Your Machine Shop

October 20, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


As end markets like aerospace and medical look for ways to improve the strength and reliability of their products, many machine shops are seeing increased use of harder materials like titanium alloys.

However, there are a few characteristics that make titanium alloys more challenging to work with than many other metal materials. To help machine shops tackle this often tough-to-cut metal, the following is a brief overview on titanium alloys and the most effective cutting tools and methods for working with this material.

Taking on Titanium
Titanium alloys are praised for their strong, yet lightweight properties. The material also has outstanding corrosion resistance. As explained here by Modern Machine Shop, these properties make the material an ideal choice for aircraft designs,medical devices, and implants.

However, titanium can be tricky to work with due to its reactivity at higher temperatures and its tough composition. “Since titanium’s heat conductivity is low, it will flex and return to its original shape a lot more easily than steel or high-nickel alloys,” explains an article from American Machinist. “The downside of this is experienced during machining: the heat from the operation does not transfer into the part itself or dissipate from the tool edge, which can shorten tool life.”

The article goes on to say that this issue is compounded by the tight tolerances demanded by most customers.  “For aerospace, the tolerances are to within a thousandth of an inch, and if violated, the part must be scrapped,” the article states. “Achieving such tolerances while using such a malleable material is difficult, and wear on the cutters increases significantly compared to similar efforts with nickel and chromium alloys.”

The technical article, “Machining Titanium and Its Alloys,” published by jobshop.com provides key insights into the chemistry behind titanium alloys and lends the following tips for its successful manufacturing (You can read the full article here):

Choosing the Right Blade
Like any material, one crucial aspect of cutting titanium alloys is choosing the right tool. As industry experts, The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) offers critical advice concerning blade selection in its white paper, Characteristics of a Carbide-Friendly Bandsaw Machine. Since titanium alloys are a stronger and harder material, they pose a unique cutting challenge best solved by carbide blades. Using a carbide-tipped band saw blade not only allows for the successful cutting of titanium alloys, but it simultaneously offers longer blade life and faster cutting as well.

LIT’s white paper further elaborates on the benefits of the carbide technology by providing a real-life comparison between a bi-metal and a carbide blade. The test produced the following results:

Ultimately, the higher speed and feed rate of the carbide blade enabled it to make the cut 13 minutes faster, translating into 160 more parts produced during an 8-hour shift than its bi-metal counterpart.

Meeting Material Demands
Material trends will come and go, but metal-cutting companies that want to successfully serve existing and potential customers need to be prepared to adapt to the industry’s changing material needs. As the use of titanium grows, today’s machine shops need to understand the material’s unique characteristics and machining requirements so they are fully equipped to tackle every one of their customers’ demands.

Two Technologies that Help Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies Improve Maintenance

October 15, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


While a full economic recovery is still uncertain, manufacturers are finding ways to gain a competitive edge and improve productivity. New advancements and technologies, including “smart” manufacturing and the Internet of Things (IoT), are helping the manufacturing industry do just that.

One way metal-cutting companies are optimizing their overall operations is by using technology to improve maintenance programs. As cited in this eBook, 5 Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, machine breakdowns are one of the top causes of lost productivity, and when productivity suffers, so does the bottom line. While many manufacturers have realized success with tried and true preventative maintenance initiatives, which ward-off an inevitable breakdown, two technologies—predictive maintenance (PdM) and CMMS— are helping manufacturers improve overall maintenance even more accurately.

Predictive Maintenance
According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, predictive technology, specifically, holds the most potential for manufacturers. According to the study, more than 500 executives from around the world ranked predictive analytics as the number one future advanced manufacturing technology. IoT, smart products and smart factories, and advanced materials were also considered critical to future competitiveness.

Unlike preventative maintenance, which uses anticipated and planned downtime to prevent unplanned breakdowns and minimize cost impacts, predictive maintenance (PdM) 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.

In fact, several metals leaders are already reaping the rewards of predictive maintenance to repair or replace parts before failure and eliminate both planned and unplanned downtime, as reported in this blog post.

CMMS
Another technology helping industrial metal-cutting companies improve maintenance is CMMS, or a computerized maintenance management system. While PdM tools provide powerful data, most experts agree its information’s value is limited without the context provided by CMMS software. CMMS software tracks and schedules maintenance tasks by analyzing data to identify bottlenecks before they even take place.

According to an article from MRO Magazine, CMMS can improve maintenance on the production line as it reduces downtime and repairs, improves the lifecycle of equipment and forecasts replacement, and reduces rework and manufacturing scrap—all while providing crucial data for future decisions and improving scheduling and planning.

What does this look like in practice? As described here in an article from Better Buys, one CMMS solution included data-entry fields for technicians to input degradation values manually. The system would provide a graph indicating how many months were left until failure and then give a plan for replacement on a set date if the equipment continued being used excessively.

Making the Switch
In most cases, larger manufacturers have been the only ones looking into PdM and CMMS-based maintenance programs. However, as technology advances and competition intensifies, many smaller companies are starting to invest in the technology as well.

There is no question that making the transition from a paper-based maintenance system to a digital one can be overwhelming, especially for smaller metal-cutting organizations. An article from IndustryWeek provides a few tips for simplifying the transition over to CMMS:

  1. Form a team. Make sure a small team oversees the transition. Designate a lead planner and scheduler to define the processes (such as what equipment and data to collect). The team should understand how the company processes information, how it organizes workflows and analyzes key data.
  2. Data download. A CMMS system is only as good as the data in it. Determine how accessible that data is and establish a baseline of how much to collect before making the switch. Once up and running, don’t stress over every data point. Add as you go to bulk-up your data inputs.
  3. Tech knowledge. Consider how comfortable your team may or may not be with technology. Some may not have any computer experience. A basic computer training course can quickly ease worries.
  4. Tech training. In addition to basic training, the entire maintenance team should be trained on CMMS best practices. Develop step-by-step guides with screen shots at each workstation to help with the transition.
  5. Codes. To help track performance and maintenance trends, start with 10-15 industry-standard codes when setting up maintenance activities. Consistent problem and failure codes can provide valuable information when it comes time to replace equipment before failure.

Technology is no doubt changing the manufacturing landscape, and today’s industrial metal-cutting companies need to ask themselves if they’re willing to do what it takes to prepare for the future. Investing in new technologies and maintenance programs may be one way to keep the competition at bay while optimizing production for future demand.

What technology investments is your organization using to optimize your maintenance department?

A Look at Industry 4.0 in Your Fabrication Shop

October 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


Thanks to advancements in machine-to-machine (M2M) and communications technology, many believe the manufacturing industry is on the brink of the “fourth industrial revolution,” also known as Industry 4.0. This concept has been widely discussed and promoted in Europe, especially by German manufacturers Siemens and Bosch, but the term is starting to gain traction in the U.S as well.

What is Industry 4.0?
Because it is a newer term, definitions for what comprises Industry 4.0 vary greatly. A report from Deloitte states that there are four characteristics that define Industry 4.0:

  1.   Vertical networking of smart production systems
  2.   Horizontal integration via a new generation of global value chain networks
  3.   Cross-disciplinary “through-engineering” across the entire value chain
  4.   Acceleration through exponential technologies

An article from Forbes defines Industry 4.0 as “a combination of several major technology innovations, all maturing simultaneously, and expected to have a dramatic impact on manufacturing sectors.”  More specifically, the article states that technologies such as advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, sophisticated sensors, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things, are joining together to integrate the physical and virtual worlds.

Simply put, Industry 4.0 is the advent of the long-awaited “smart factory,” in which connectivity and advanced technologies are being used to streamline decisions, optimize processes, eliminate waste, and reduce errors.

Industry 4.0 In Practice
According to the Forbes article, Industry 4.0 has the potential to offer manufacturers three major benefits:

What could this look like in your fabrication shop? EVS Metal, a precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ, says here in a blog post that Industry 4.0 “will eventually impact the way we fabricate and machine both single items and finished products, from start to finish, including warehousing and shipping, whether we’re manufacturing full production runs, or single prototypes.”

On a small scale, fabricators can start by equipping components and machines with necessary Industry 4.0 features, such as sensors, actuators, machine-level software, and network access to measure productivity of metal-cutting equipment. For example, one metal service center, featured here in a white paper, is using an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by each band saw and each blade. At any point, the operations manager can go to a computer screen, click on a saw, and see how many square inches that saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This has allowed the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.

This, however, is only the beginning. Once a manufacturer starts capturing relevant data from multiple machines, this data can be further analyzed to detect patterns, helping managers forecast and, eventually, automate decision-making processes. In a metal-cutting environment, this might include predicting blade life and equipment maintenance needs, which would essentially turn disruptive, unplanned downtime to more anticipated, planned downtime. This could translate into more jobs completed on time.

The Time is Now
Like any trend, it will take a while for Industry 4.0 to fully take hold. However, many experts are saying that industry leaders are embracing this next generation of manufacturing and, more importantly, are starting to make investments.

A PwC survey encompassing 2000 participants across nine industry sectors has concluded that Industry 4.0 will revolutionize industrial production and that first movers are transforming into digital enterprises. According to the study, 33% of companies say they’ve achieved advanced levels of digitization today, and 72% of companies expect to achieve advanced levels of digitization by 2020.

While no one believes the changeover to Industry 4.0 capabilities will come cheap, more than half of companies in PwC’s survey expect a return on investment within two years. “The payoff will potentially be enormous, as competitive landscapes get redefined,” PwC states. “Industrial companies need to act now to secure a leading position in tomorrow’s complex industrial ecosystems.”

Is your fabrication shop ready to invest in Industry 4.0?

How to Optimize Metal Service Center Operations with Operator Accountability

October 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Industrial metal-cutting companies know running an efficient and productive operation is imperative to keeping up with and, more importantly, staying ahead of the changing industry and customer demands. However, in industrial metal cutting—as well as any manufacturing process—an operation is only as good as its operators.

This is why operator accountability is so important. As reported in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, as more metal service centers rely on automated technology, managers need to work closely with machine operators to ensure their knowledge and skill sets align with the company’s technology assets and productivity goals. The objective is to encourage employees to take ownership of their impact on the operation so they not only care about the quality of their work, but also understand the role they play in the company’s overall success. Working closely with employees to create a culture of accountability can help metal service centers achieve the operational excellence they desire.

According to an article from IndustryWeek, accountability can be a powerful manufacturing tool because it is a broad-based effort to define and track an organization’s standards. “Accountability systems serve to prompt and encourage people to keep their promises to each other,” Jon Thorne, senior consultant, Daniel Penn Associations, says in the IW article. “Accountability monitors whether promises are being kept and reminds us to hold up our end of the bargain. When we all keep our promises to each other the result is human reliability. And with human reliability, your organization can accomplish anything.”

While using accountability to improve your metal service center operations is not an exact science, it is systematic. In fact, accountability is a set of systems that overlap and reinforce each other, according to the IW article. The following three systems are just a few ways manufacturers can boost accountability (You can read the full list here):

  1. Customer satisfaction. Measuring your service to internal customers puts interdepartmental cooperation on an objective basis: You confront issues rather than people. The plant manager’s role is to insist that the organization seek out and satisfy its customer’s needs, but it is the customers and suppliers who decide how to do it.
  2. Weekly staff meetings. The idea sounds simple, but having a regular and consistent forum where information can flow both ways enables employees to hold management accountable by asking questions and discussing any issues. Two meetings per week are recommended.
  3. Action item lists. Many times, regular staff meetings result in new policies and processes, or changes to those that are existing. Keeping an action list or planner helps prioritize activities, highlights important information, and enables employees to hold each other accountable for keeping the agreements they’ve made.

Another simple strategy is to regularly share performance reports with employees by either posting them or discussing them in staff meetings. As stated in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, sharing report results encourages accountability, provides motivation, and reminds operators that they are a critical aspect of the company’s success. This approach falls in line with the culture of lean production environments, and research has shown it positively affects employee morale.

How does this help optimize operations? Although employee investments are often hard to quantify, the following two manufacturers have seen measurable results after implementing accountability practices:

Running an efficient operation is essential to every metal service center, but far too many managers fail to understand the role their operators play in their optimization efforts. By implementing a few processes that hold operators accountable for their actions, managers can create a culture in which employees care about their jobs and, even more so, the long-term success of the company.

What accountability practices have you implemented at your metal service center?

Using DMAIC Methodology in Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization

October 1, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Being a leader in today’s industrial metal-cutting industry is tough. In addition to dealing with external challenges like high inventory levels, falling commodity prices, and a slowdown in China, managers still have to deal with operational pain points such as process and workflow bottlenecks, resource allocation, and delivery schedules.

As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, thriving in today’s unstable market requires metal-cutting executives to focus on continuous improvement. “Whether implementing a lean manufacturing tool to improve processes or investing in training to develop people, proactive leaders are focused on making positive changes in their operations so they can quickly respond to today’s changing customer demands,” the eBook states.

One methodology many leaders are using as part of their continuous improvement initiatives is DMAIC. As explained here by American Society for Quality (ASQ), DMAIC is a data-driven quality strategy used to improve processes. Although it is typically used as part of a Six Sigma initiative, the methodology can also be implemented as a standalone quality improvement procedure or as part of other process improvement initiatives such as lean.

DMAIC is an acronym for the five phases that make up the process:

According to an archived article from Six Sigma Daily, the heart of DMAIC is making continuous improvements to an existing process through objective problem solving. “Process is the focal point of DMAIC,” the article explains. “The methodology seeks to improve the quality of a product or service by concentrating not on the output but on the process that created the output. The idea is that concentrating on processes leads to more effective and permanent solutions.”

DMAIC can be used by any project team that is attempting to improve an existing process. For example, SeaDek, a manufacturer of non-skid marine flooring, used DMAIC methods to reduce major inventory stockouts in 2015. The company went from 14 major stockouts in 2014 to one stockout in 2015, resulting in a materials cost savings of more than $250,000 and improving on-time delivery from 44 percent the previous year to 95 percent in 2015. (You can download the entire case study here.)

Paul Bryant, senior OPEX manager of LENOX Tools, says there are two key ways companies can identify when and where to apply the DMAIC method:

  1. Target highest scrap cost by machine and/or cost center
  2. Areas with low production yield or poor quality (i.e., high defective parts per million)

In his experience, Bryant says that DMAIC can be especially helpful in lowering scrap costs. Last year, LENOX made the strategic decision to start making wire internally; however, the blade manufacturer was working 10-15 hours overtime to keep up with weekly demand. “Using the DMAIC process, we reduced scrap and improved production speeds by 19.2%, resulting in $75K plus an additional $30K in overtime reduction,” Bryant says. “In 2017, we expect to pick up an additional 15% in production using the DMAIC methodology.”

Of course, the real payoff is what DMAIC can bring to the customer. “The ultimate expected benefit is that customers receive products of the best quality, on-time, and at lowest possible costs,” Bryant says.

Could DMAIC help your industrial metal-cutting organization? To learn more about this Six Sigma continuous improvement tool, click here for a detailed DMAIC roadmap or here for an overview and short video tutorial.

Determining which KPIs to Measure in Your Ball and Roller Bearing Operation

September 30, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Most companies that have adopted lean manufacturing strategies know the importance of measurement. When a manufacturing operation can quantitatively assess their performance, it can start to make significant improvements and set realistic goals to stay competitive. In fact, according to a series of case studies on high production metal-cutting companies, measurement was noted as a key best practice.

However, metrics are only meaningful if they are tied to strategy. That’s where key performance indicators (KPIs) come into play. Unfortunately, some companies fail to understand the purpose of KPIs and, therefore, are unable to take full advantage of the benefits they can provide. All KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. Understanding the difference is critical.

What are KPIs?
KPIs are the measurements selected by a company to give an overall indication of the health of the business. KPIs are typically dominated by historical, financial measurements, but most experts agree that they are more valuable if they also include operational measurements. Unfortunately, choosing the right KPIs to track isn’t as easy as it sounds and takes careful consideration.

There are hundreds of KPIs that can be measured, but experts suggest that companies focus on a select few. According to the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC), manufacturers need to make sure all KPIs are aligned with the company’s business goals and strategy. Tasks should be explicit and all actions should support a larger goal. When it comes to KPIs, it is quality—not quantity—that matters.

Choosing the Right KPI
Because they are tied to strategy, KPIs will vary by organization. However, an article from Red Lion outlines seven of the common production KPIs used on automated plant floors:

  1. Count (Good or Bad). An essential factory floor metric relates to the amount of product produced. The count (good or bad) typically refers to either the amount of product produced since the last machine changeover or the production sum for the entire shift or week.
  2. Reject Ratio. Production processes occasionally produce scrap, which is measured in terms of reject ratio. Minimizing scrap helps organizations meet profitability goals so it is important to track whether or not the amount being produced is within tolerable limits.
  3. Rate. Machines and processes produce goods at variable rates. When speeds differ, slow rates typically result in dropped profits while faster speeds affect quality control. This is why it is important for operating speeds to remain consistent.
  4. Target. Many organizations display target values for output, rate and quality. This KPI helps motivate employees to meet specific performance targets.
  5. Takt Time. Takt time is the amount of time, or cycle time, for the completion of a task. This could be the time it takes to produce a product, but it more likely relates to the cycle time of specific operations. This KPI helps manufacturers quickly determine where the constraints or bottlenecks are within a process.
  6. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). OEE is a metric that multiplies availability by performance and quality to determine resource utilization. Production managers want OEE values to increase because this indicates more efficient utilization of available personnel and machinery.
  7. Downtime. Whether the result of a breakdown or simply a machine changeover, downtime is considered one of the most important KPI metrics to track. When machines are not operating, money isn’t being made so reducing downtime is an easy way to increase profitability.

Making it Count
For many managers, the above list and the resulting data may feel overwhelming. Others may be so afraid of missing something that they end up measuring more information than necessary. For example, research from the Advanced Performance Institute finds that less than 10% of all the metrics that are collected, analyzed and reported in businesses are ever used to inform decision-making.  That means 90% of the metrics are wasted, or worse, used to drown people in data while they are thirsting for insights.

The question then becomes: How many KPIs are enough? Or, even more so, how much data is too much?

An article from IndustryWeek suggests that companies follow the “Rule of Three,” which involves dividing all KPIs into organizational categories and then focusing on the top three metrics within that category. This is a good way to keep managers focused on improvement without data overload.

If you are still unsure where to place your focus, the University of Wisconsin-Madison recommends that manufacturers in 2016 zero in on KPIs that fall under the following four themes:

As a high production manufacturer, odds are that your ball and roller bearing operation is already tracking some of the above KPIs. However, if that is not the case, now is the time to start identifying a few to measure. If the process feels overwhelming, do some research, ask your supply chain for help, and get started. In the words of quality expert H. James Harrington: “Measurement is the first step that leads to control and, eventually, to improvement.”

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