October 15, 2014 / agility, benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, LIT, material costs, operations metrics, Output, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
Reports continue to show that U.S. manufacturing is on the upswing. According to the latest data from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), manufacturing continued to expand in October, and new orders posted growth for the 17th consecutive month. The Fabricated Metal Products sector in particular reported growth in October, with one ISM survey respondent stating that “weakness in commodity prices has been very positive” for business.
All of this good news means that fabricators have a prime opportunity for growth and increased profitability. However, because many companies are already running lean, managers will need to get creative with how they meet increased demand, especially if they can’t afford huge capital expenditures.
Looking for ways to do more with less? Below are three key ways fabricators can increase manufacturing output without breaking the bank:
- Improve Raw Material Use. In a recent Manufacturing.net article, Philip Odette, the CEO of Global Supply Chain Solutions, lists raw materials as the go-to starting point for improving operations. Because of the fluctuating costs surrounding raw materials, Odette says the key is to focus on reducing waste, both in materials and processes. This can mean everything from reducing scrap rates to changing up your material purchasing strategies. Odette admits that there is no “magic bullet” that every manufacturer can use to make gains around raw materials, but he does believe data analytics should be a part of the process. “To improve how well you use your raw materials, you’ll need to collect information on the use at every point in your supply chain and production cycle,” he says in the manufacturing.net article. “Track whichever metric is most important for your manufacturing, such as weight and waste production. If steps in your process require a specific transition, you should make note of these special characteristics, such as temperature throughout, if one step waits for metal to cool.”
- Get the Most Out of Old Equipment. While brand new equipment could certainly increase productivity, the reality is that most companies are still running on tight budgets and old equipment. However, there are strategies that can ensure that your current machinery stays as productive as possible. A recent article from IndustryWeek offers five tips for optimizing aging equipment:
- Identify Trouble Spots. Take an assessment of the factory floor to find machinery that’s either close to failure or not producing as expected.
- Estimate your savings. Once you fully understand the impact of the old equipment on your floor, run some calculations.
- Find your MacGyvers. Seek out specialists who’ve been handling specific types of equipment for years and see what creative ideas they have to boost efficiency.
- Set bounties for difficult challenges. Track each efficiency experiment to get a sense of what may be possible. Then, set bigger targets and attach a bounty to encourage friendly competition among experts.
- Raise the stakes. Engage everyone by creating factory-wide incentives for when targets are met.
- Adopt Smarter, More Predictive Operations Management. In today’s fast-paced market, it may be tempting for managers to fall into “react mode.” However, experts continue to say that proactive operations management strategies offer the best return. Data from LIT’s industry benchmark study, for example, suggests that fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting operations with high machine uptime can benefit from investing in smarter, more predictive operations management approaches. According to the survey results, 67 percent of industrial metal-cutting operations that follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also report that their job completion rate is trending upward year over year—a meaningful correlation. The implication is that less disruptive, unplanned downtime and more anticipated, planned downtime translates into more jobs being completed on time. By utilizing proactive strategies such as preventative maintenance, operations managers can actually predict issues like machine downtime and blade failure and, as a result, can plan around it.
September 28, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, Output, performance metrics, productivity, quality, strategic planning
At this point, most metals executives have heard the message of continuous improvement loud and clear. As a benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) confirms, a large number of industrial metal-cutting organizations are embracing smarter, more proactive operations management to stay competitive in today’s uncertain market.
However, knowing where to start can often be both intimidating and frustrating. Active change takes time and costs money, so managers need to be sure they are strategically choosing the right methods to achieve their operational goals.
Two improvement methodologies that are widely used in industrial metal cutting are lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. While both are used to improve productivity and profitability, their approaches are not the same. Understanding the difference between both methods is important not only for managers trying to choose the right organizational improvement program, but also for managers who may want to consider using them together.
According to leanproduction.com, lean manufacturing is “a collection of tips, tools, and techniques that have been proven effective for driving waste out of the manufacturing process.” Toyota is credited for developing it the 1980s, and over the years it has been used by manufacturers worldwide to improve all facets of the manufacturing business, from quality assurance to human resources.
Below are some key attributes of lean manufacturing, as defined by The Process Excellence Network:
- Focuses on Eliminating Waste. The main goal of lean manufacturing is to eliminate waste and superfluous processes in order to reduce production time and costs. Toyota defined seven types of waste, including transport, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, and defects.
- Uses Simple Tools. Lean tools are relatively easy to understand and can be used by anyone in the organization. Examples include 5S, value stream mapping, kanban, and poka-yoke (error proofing).
- Culture-Oriented. For Lean to be successful, experts agree it has to permeate the business silos and receive universal backing amongst senior management and employees. It typically only used in manufacturing applications.
- Fast implementation. Lean’s strength is its quick turnaround. Immediate benefits relate to productivity, error reduction, and customer lead times. Long-term benefits include improvements to financial performance, customer satisfaction, and staff morale.
iSixSigma defines Six Sigma as “a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects in any process, from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service.” It was developed in the mid-1980s by Motorola engineers who were unhappy with traditional quality metrics. In response, they developed a new standard, as well as the methodology and needed cultural change associated with it. Six Sigma gained popularity in the 1990s after General Electric adopted it as part of its business strategy.
Below are some key attributes of Six Sigma, as defined by The Process Excellence Network:
- Focuses on Quality. The main purpose of Six Sigma is to limit defects and variability in business processes to achieve overall process improvement. Using statistical methods, teams identify errors and then work to eliminate them as much as possible. Perfect performance is the goal.
- Uses a Sophisticated Toolset. Six Sigma tools typically require more extensive training, including formal engineering skills and use of sophisticated software. It uses two project methodologies: DMAIC (define, measure, analyze, improve, control) and DMADV (define, measure, analyze, design, verify).
- Built Around Process Improvement Teams. Six Sigma’s implementation is based on a dedicated improvement team. This team is divided into hierarchies based on a “belt” accreditation system that ranges from “black belts,” who lead teams, down to “white belts,” who are still learning the basics and can’t yet participate in project teams.
- Multifaceted Methodology. Six Sigma can be used in a manufacturing environment, but it also can be used for error reduction in non-manufacturing fields. Broadly speaking, it provides companies with a framework to train its employees in key performance areas, shape strategy, align its services with customer needs, and measure and improve the effectiveness of business processes.
The above is just a brief overview of two of the industry’s improvement methodologies and only touches on some of the main characteristics. For a more in depth, side-by-side comparison of lean manufacturing and Six Sigma, check out this article from Chron.
In an upcoming blog, LIT will explore how managers can strategically utilize both methodologies to achieve what some experts believe are longer lasting business results.
September 10, 2014 / agility, benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, lean manufacturing, predictive management, productivity, resource allocation, strategic planning
As customer demands for faster delivery increase, one of the biggest challenges fabricators face is scheduling. No matter how big or small an order, it is not uncommon for today’s customer to expect next-day or two-day turnaround. And, of course, there is almost always an expedited request thrown into the mix.
When it comes to scheduling, today’s managers need to be able to adapt on the fly, keep production moving, and still get everything out the door on time. As any manager will attest, this is no small feat. While 99 percent on-time delivery is always the goal, the reality is that a host of variables makes it almost impossible to achieve.
This is especially challenging for high-mix fabrication operations, where there are even more variables to consider. According to the annual Financial Ratios & Operational Benchmarking Survey from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, many custom fabricators are achieving on-time delivery (OTD) rates between 85 and 88 percent. In other words, there is room for improvement.
As this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) states, meeting delivery demands starts with having the right equipment and efficient production processes. However, it also means making sure your scheduling processes are helping—not hindering—your operation. Below are a few strategies to help today’s fabricators tackle their scheduling challenges and, hopefully, improve their OTD rates:
- Evaluate your current software system. If your scheduling software creates more headaches than assistance, it may be time to upgrade or make some necessary changes. “Some older systems are so unwieldy and cumbersome that the best description one can give them is just plain cruel,” states consultant Dick Kallage in a recent column on thefabricator.com. “They may have many screens, lots of interconnected pages, and no visual indicators of time buckets in the operations and their loading.” According to Kallage, complex and dated scheduling systems create a steep learning curve and increase the chance of error. Scheduling software should be easy to use, effective, and as this IndustryWeek article stresses, built specifically around your manufacturing needs
- Check your parameters. Kallage also believes that in most cases, the parameters going into the scheduling system are the real problem. Specifically, he feels most managers don’t correctly estimate their capacity and/or the time it takes for one or more operations. As a solution, Kallage suggest that managers focus on making time and capacity estimates more realistic and less optimistic. “You can keep the ‘targets’ the same, but targets should not have any part in actual scheduling,” Kallage states in thefabricator.com article. “Many companies do not update parameters in the system based on actual results. This means that not only is the current order schedule tanked, but so are the future ones.” The end result, he concludes, is a lower OTD rate.
- Follow First-in-First-Out (FIFO) Principles. One of the biggest scheduling challenges for managers is balancing last-minute orders from key customers. As a recent blog from consultant Kien Leong describes, all customers are born equal, but there are always some that are “more equal.” When last-minute orders come in and inventory is low, the question becomes: How do you decide on demand allocation of inventory to customer orders? In times of shortage risk, some manufacturers are tempted to hard allocate inventory (also known as “hard pegging”), which means stock is held against the sales order upon order confirmation. However, Leong says that hard allocation leads to lower performance and that inventory is best managed with first-in-first-out (FIFO) principles. “Hard allocation violates FIFO, because a long lead-time order can consume inventory, even though there may be some demand and supply that comes in between,” he says. In most cases, Leong says your best bet is to follow FIFO and keep the stock flexible. You can read the rest of Leong’s argument here, where he also offers a free, downloadable demand allocation tool.
August 20, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, blade selection, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, human capital, LIT, material costs, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, resource allocation, ROI
In the busy production environment of a machine shop, achieving the perfect cut is key to maintaining quality and productivity. Premature blade failure and excess scrap caused by operator error or equipment misuse can create quality issues, bottlenecks, and increased costs. In other words, it pays to get it right.
The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) knows what it takes to get the best cut out of your operators and the best “cost per cut” out of your blades. The following are few tips and tricks machine shops can use to optimize their band-saw cutting operations:
- Use the proper band speed. Band speed refers to the rate at which the blade cuts across the face of the material being worked. Faster band speeds can lead to faster cutting rates. However, band speed is restricted by the machinability of the material and ultimately heat produced by the cutting action. Too high a band speed or very hard metals produce excessive heat, resulting in reduced blade life. You can determine if you are using the right band speed by evaluating the shape and color of the metal chips. The goal is to achieve chips that are thin, tightly curled and warm to the touch. If the chips have changed from silver to golden brown, you are forcing the cut and generating too much heat. Blue chips indicate extreme heat, which will shorten blade life.
- Use the proper feed rate. Feed refers to the depth of penetration of the tooth into the material being cut. For cost effective cutting, you want to remove as much material as possible as quickly as possible by using as high a feed rate/pressure as the machine can handle. However, feed will be limited by the machinability of the material being cut and blade life expectancy. As with the speed rate, you can determine if you are using the feed rate by evaluating the shape and color of the metal chips. Overall, the proper speeds/feeds combination should produce chips that form the shape of “6’s” and “9’s.”
- Remember to lubricate. Lubrication is essential for long blade life and economical cutting. Properly applied to the shear zone, lubricant substantially reduces heat and produces good chip flow up the face of the tooth. Without lubrication, excessive friction can produce heat; high enough to weld the chip to the tooth. This slows down the cutting action, requires more energy to shear the material and can cause tooth chipping or stripping which can destroy the blade. Unfortunately, many operators fail to perform this basic maintenance task because they don’t fully understand how lubrication can affect cut quality and costs. For a great resource on metal-cutting fluids, check out this video from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers or download this handbook on minimum quantity lubrication.
- Break in your blades. A new band saw blade has razor sharp tooth tips. In order to withstand the cutting pressures used in band sawing, tooth tips should be honed to form a micro-fine radius. Failure to perform this honing will cause microscopic damage to the tips of the teeth, resulting in reduced blade life. Completing a proper break-in on a new blade will dramatically increase its life. According to LIT’s benchmark study, this is a best practice among industrial metal-cutting companies. According to the study, 45 percent of organizations surveyed reported they “always” break in blades, 30 percent said they do it “most of the time,” and 15 percent said they do it “occasionally.”
- Have the right tools. Oftentimes, optimization means upgrading tooling and equipment. For example, a machine shop featured in this white paper from LIT, was having trouble cutting stainless steel in a timely fashion. The company found that switching from a general-purpose bi-metal blade to a high-performance, coated carbide tipped blade provided faster cutting and higher productivity, while extending blade life by preventing heat buildup. With the new blade, it takes operators just takes minutes to saw one piece and about an hour to saw an entire bar, whereas before it took almost 2 hours to cut just one piece. This improved cutting time freed up the saws to take on additional cutting jobs, offering a great return on the new blade investment. In some cases, shops may be questioning whether or not they should go one step further and invest in custom cutting tools. This article from Modern Machine Shop does a good job of weighing the pros and cons of standardized vs. custom cutting tools.
For more metal-cutting tips and tricks, you can download the complete white paper, Understanding the Cut: Factors that Affect the Cost of Cutting, here.
August 10, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, bottlenecks, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, Output, performance metrics, productivity, quality
Over the last several years, a growing number of fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies have started measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). This is definitely a good trend, as measurement is a critical part of continuous improvement. However, many companies are jumping on the OEE bandwagon without being fully informed, which is causing a lot of misunderstanding and misuse of this important metric.
Knowing what OEE is—and what it isn’t—is the only way to make sure you are using it effectively. Here’s a quick primer.
What OEE Is
According to leanproduction.com, OEE is a best practices metric that measures the percentage of production time that is truly productive. It takes into account all six types of loss, resulting in a measure of productive manufacturing time.
In simple terms, OEE can be described as the ratio of fully productive time to planned production time. According to leanproduction.com, it can be measured in one of two ways:
(Good Pieces x Ideal Cycle Time) / Planned Production Time
Availability x Performance x Quality
(You can find a more detailed description of the calculation here, as well as a sample calculation.)
A plant with an OEE score of 100 percent has achieved perfect production—high quality parts as fast as possible, with zero down time. While that’s ideal, it’s not quite possible in the real world. According to oee.com, studies show that the average OEE rate among manufacturing plants is 60 percent, which leaves substantial room for improvement. Most experts agree that an OEE rate of 85 percent or better is considered “world class” and is a good long-term goal for most operations. The good news it that 85 percent is achievable. As this case study from Metalforming magazine describes, Magellan Aerospace in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada was able to improve its OEE from a mere 36 percent to a world-class 85-percent-plus.
Managers can use OEE as both a benchmark and baseline. Specifically, leanproduction.com says it can be used to “compare the performance of a given production asset to industry standards, to similar in-house assets, or to results for different shifts working on the same asset.” It can also be used as a baseline “to track progress over time in eliminating waste from a given production asset.”
What OEE Isn’t
Even with a basic understanding of OEE, many operations are still misinterpreting it and, therefore, aren’t using it effectively. This blog post, for example, argues that OEE is not a key performance indicator (KPI), and it shouldn’t be measured at a company or plant level. The author goes on to state five reasons why OEE is not a good KPI, including the fact that it is not comparable between different pieces of equipment and/or different locations. Instead, he suggests OEE should be used as a way to help identify and eliminate waste in front of a process, line, or equipment.
Another misconception is that OEE is the same thing as Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). An article from IndustryWeek (IW) says this is definitely not the case. “OEE is the measure most closely associated with TPM, but OEE is not equivalent to TPM,” the IW article states. “At its heart, TPM is not about complex metrics; it’s about developing the capabilities of people.” So while a good understanding of OEE can help with TPM, the two terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably.
How to Use OEE Effectively
So how do you use OEE correctly? Below are a few pointers we called out from the IW article:
- Use OEE as an improvement measure—not a KPI.
- OEE is best used on a single piece of equipment or synchronized line.
- There is no absolute that works as an OEE benchmark or target—it’s relative to your situation.
- Use it as a yardstick, not a club.
Also, if you are short-run, high-mix fabricator, don’t assume OEE isn’t for you. Check out this article from thefabricator.com, which describes how automated data collection can help you to better measure OEE in more custom manufacturing applications.
As the IW article states, OEE is often misused, but it is not a “bad metric.” In fact, it can be very useful in helping companies quantify improvement opportunities. Just be sure you know the facts before you start using OEE measurements to make strategic decisions.
August 5, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, material costs, Output, performance metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, strategic planning
Whether or not you consider yourself a “lean” operation, there are some lean manufacturing principles that are universal to almost every manufacturer. One of those is waste. As a metal service center, your ultimate goal is to turn material into profit as efficiently possible, which means you want to avoid waste and downtime at all costs. And while this isn’t groundbreaking information, many service centers aren’t effectively tackling waste because they don’t know where to start.
Identification of the Six Big Losses is one tool manufacturers can use to understand the most common forms of waste or “loss” within their operations. According to leanproduction.com, the Six Big Losses are key because ”they are nearly universal in application for discrete manufacturing, and they provide a great starting framework for thinking about, identifying, and attacking waste.”
The first step to reducing waste in your organization is to identify your losses. There are six types of loss every manufacturing operation faces, and each fall under three main categories—downtime loss, speed loss, and quality loss.
The following is a brief description of each of the Six Big Losses:
- Breakdowns. These are considered a downtime loss and could include tooling failure, unplanned maintenance, and motor failure.
- Setup and Adjustments. This is also a downtime loss and could include changeover, material shortage, operator shortage, and warm-up time.
- Small Stops. This is considered a speed loss, and it only includes stops that are less than 5 minutes and don’t require maintenance. This might include a blocked sensor or minor cleaning.
- Slow Running. This is another speed loss, and it covers anything that prohibits equipment from running at its optimal speed. Incorrect setting of parameters and equipment wear are prime examples.
- Startup Defects. This quality loss covers any scarp or rework that occurs during setup or very early in the production phase.
- Production Defects. This is the second form of quality loss. This refers to any scrap or rework that happens during the steady-state production process.
Once you have identified the Six Big Losses and the events that contribute to them, the next step is to record and monitor what you find within your operation. The only way to do this effectively is through measurement and documentation. This article from oee.com gives several tips for addressing each loss category and includes helpful links to help you accurately measure your losses.
The final step is attacking your losses and preventing them from happening again. This is where strategy comes into play. In a recent benchmark study of industrial metal-cutting organizations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) identified three key areas where organizations can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor. These include the following:
- invest in smarter, more predictive operations management;
- embrace proactive care and maintenance of saws and saw blades; and
- invest in human capital.
To read more about these recommendations, you can download the full report here.
As a service center that cuts and processes metal, some waste and loss are inevitable. However, the only way to keep those losses from hurting your business is to identify, monitor, and attack them, one by one. Add in a little strategy, and you might just be able to turn those losses into opportunities for improvement and growth.
July 25, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, material costs, operations metrics, performance metrics, productivity, quality, root cause analysis
In industrial metal-cutting, a small amount of scrap is inevitable. However, reducing material waste should still be a top goal for forges that cut and process metal. Like all other forms of waste, scrap negatively affects profitability, especially if it is generated out of error.
The truth is that any amount of scrap or rework you’re experiencing in your operations provides an opportunity for improvement. Taking the time to reduce scrap often leads to better productivity and higher quality cuts. According to this article from CONNSTEP, a Connecticut-based continuous improvement organization, reducing scrap and rework rates can also improve cash flow. “The number one reason small businesses go out of business is lack of cash flow,” the article states. “If the scrap rate is 8 percent of your production now and it is reduced to 6 percent, that newly created 2% may now be used to produce new/additional product and your savings should account for the cost avoidance of using new/additional material to complete the existing order.” In other words, by reducing rework and scrap from occurring, industrial metal-cutting organizations can actually generate money that goes right to their bottom line.
If you are a forge that cuts and processes metal, here are a few strategies we gathered to help you reduce your scrap rates:’
- Measure and compare. As with any continuous improvement activity, you need to start with measurement. If you aren’t measuring your scrap rate, this is your first step. If you are tracking scrap, you may also want to consider other helpful metrics, including first-pass yield, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), dock-to-dock time, manufacturing cycle time, and inventory turns. You should also know your scrap and rework costs. Once you have some quantifiable data, you should compare your operation to others in your industry. Benchmarking is the only way to gauge whether or not you need serious improvement. For example, 81 percent of the industrial metal-cutting companies surveyed by the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) said their scrap and re-work costs are “always” (23 percent), “mostly” (45 percent) or “occasionally” (less than 5 percent). How does your operation stack up?
- Evaluate Operators. If you know your scrap and rework rates could be better, identifying the root cause of the issue is the only way to make any real, sustainable improvements. Often times, high inventory levels and scrap rates are indicators of “hidden” inefficiencies such as operator error. Are all of your operators properly trained on how to use equipment? Are they running saws at optimal levels, or are they just focused on getting the job done as fast as possible? Have you recently taken on a new job that may require a different cutting tactic or a blade type? Poorly trained operators that misuse equipment or fail to perform basic tasks like breaking in blades often lead to low-quality cuts, higher instances of scrap due to error, and shortened blade life—all of which add up to elevated costs.
- Pick for clean. While quick turnaround is always a goal, scrap can quickly get out of control if operators are reaching for a new piece of material every time they start a job. That’s why many companies are moving away from the “pick for speed” method of inventory selection and, instead, are embracing “pick for clean” methods. Picking for clean is the practice of picking high-quality leftover materials from a previous job to use up the inventory. In other words, you reach for remnants first. This keeps inventory and material costs low. Structural Steel of Carolina, a fabricator featured here in a series of industry case studies, uses a software-based inventory system to help facilitate this strategy. According to Superintendent Gary Kirkman, the software system tells operators exactly what material to use and how much drop off they can expect. “That is how we determine what we keep and what we throw away,” he explains. “Scrap less than 4 feet in length is considered waste, but any pieces 5 feet and longer are entered back into the inventory system to be reused.”
In the end, scrap is just one of the many areas of waste that today’s leading forges are trying to attack. However, with the cost of inventory being so high, no industrial metal-cutting organization can really afford to ignore a pile of wasted material that could have been used for profit. When it comes down to it, every piece of scrap counts in today’s lean manufacturing world. However, by implementing some of the above strategies, not every piece of scrap has to count against you.
July 20, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, continuous improvement, Cost Management, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, preventative maintenance, productivity
Most machine shops understand the benefits of implementing a preventative maintenance (PM) program. They can improve efficiency, enhance safety, reduce costs, and save time. In fact, a recent benchmark study confirmed that preventative maintenance is a best practice among many of today’s leading industrial metal-cutting companies.
The problem is that maintenance departments are typically busy putting out fires, which pushes anything “preventative” to the side. Why take the time to stop a potential problem when there are enough real problems happening right now? So while a machine shop may have a PM program in place, it isn’t always followed, which completely eliminates most of the benefits preventative maintenance can offer.
This is where a team-centered approach can help. In today’s lean manufacturing world, most continuous improvement initiatives need to be a team effort if they are going to be sustainable, and PM programs are no exception. One way to do this is to get operators involved in the day-to-day maintenance of your equipment. This tactic not only empowers shop-floor employees and encourages communication, for many companies, it is the only way they can feasibly adhere to their PM schedule.
TPM: A Lean Team PM Tool
To create a more team-centric PM program, a growing number of companies are using a lean tool called Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). According to leanproduction.com, TPM “blurs the distinction between the roles of production and maintenance by placing a strong emphasis on empowering operators to help maintain their equipment.” The goal of a TPM program is to create a shared responsibility for equipment maintenance to maximize the operational efficiency of equipment. Many companies have found this approach to be very effective in increasing up time, reducing cycle times, and eliminating defects.
What does this look like on the shop floor? TPM uses a set of eight techniques or “pillars” for improving equipment reliability. The first pillar, for example, gives operators the responsibility of routine maintenance (i.e., cleaning, lubricating, and inspection). This not only keeps a machine running better on a daily basis, it helps operators have a better understanding of their operation. With a simple checklist, operators can enhance their knowledge base and positively affect performance on the shop floor. (You can read about the other seven pillars of TPM here.)
Put it in Writing: Daily Operator PM Checklist
Even if you don’t decide to implement a complete TPM program, daily operator checks are still a great option. These will vary based on your equipment needs, but the goal is to create a checklist that is simple and straight forward. Daily PM checks should take an operator less than 10 minutes and should be performed regularly (i.e., the start of each shift). Programs can be as detailed as a company feels is necessary, but the following are some key checkpoints outlined in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology:
- check coolant levels
- clean saw blades of debris
- perform visual tests of critical tooling elements such as the feed system and lasers
- double-check parameter settings (i.e., speed and feed rate in band saw equipment)
Again, this is just a starting point. Managers should work closely with their blade and equipment manufacturers to create their daily PM programs. No one knows your equipment needs better than the ones who made it. In addition, many suppliers also provide complimentary annual or bi-annual PM check-ups, which can provide more in-depth equipment diagnostics and take some responsibility of your stressed maintenance department.
Operator Input Pays
If you still aren’t sold on making PM a team effort, a recent article from IndustryWeek does a good job of reinforcing why it is worth the effort to involve all employees in continuous improvement activities. Using an all-to-familiar scenario, the article points out that the root cause of one shop’s productivity issues is a lack of equipment maintenance—something that could be solved with a strong PM program. The real nugget, however, is when the article points to an even deeper issue at far too many companies and that is management’s total disregard for operator input.
In the end, the benefits of getting operators involved in preventative maintenance are pretty hard to argue. Managers get the typical benefits of a solid PM program (i.e., reduced costs, increased blade and tooling life, and improved productivity), as well as the additional benefits of fewer errors, better cross communication, a more knowledgeable team, and valuable, shop floor insight.
July 15, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, continuous improvement, human capital, LIT, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity
In today’s challenging operating environment, it is critical that managers stay on top of industry trends. Benchmarking what your peers are doing, the latest strategies they are using, and even the pain points they are facing can help you gauge your company’s competitive edge. In fact, management consultancy McGladery, which has strong experience in the manufacturing and industrial arena, says the use of benchmarking is on the rise as companies look to offset the effects of the uncertain economy by reducing costs and improving effectiveness.
In Fall 2013, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) conducted a Benchmark Survey of Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations to identify key trends happening in industrial metal-cutting – especially among Fabricators, Forges, Machine Shops, and Metal Service Centers. The study surveyed more than 100 companies within this group and collected information on productivity, scrap rates, training programs, safety, and other operational issues.
The survey revealed that there are three pain points today’s industrial metal-cutting companies continue to face, despite industry efforts to improve operational effectiveness. These challenges included machine downtime (35%), blade failure (27%), and operator errors (15%).
The key findings, however, identified how leading industrial metal-cutting companies are addressing these challenges. Based on LIT’s survey results, there are three strategies industry leaders are using to not only tackle their top pain points but, even more so, to optimize their operations. These include the following:
- Invest in Human Capital. While the trend has been for managers to invest in technology, LIT’s study results suggest that it is just as important to invest in human capital. More than 64% of companies that cited that operator turnover is reducing every year also reported that their on-time job completion is trending upward. Investing in such areas such as employee training can improve operator effectiveness and reduce errors – translating into improved customer delivery.
- Embrace Proactive Care and Maintenance of Saws and Saw Blades. Seventy percent of organizations that report their scrap and rework costs are less than five percent also say they “always” break in their band saw blades. By breaking in blades properly, organizations are able to reduce “soft” failure that leads to waste and scrap, and, in turn, eats into their bottom line. This type of proactive care can help managers save costs, as well as improve cut quality.
- Invest in Smarter, More Predictive Operations Management. No matter how efficient an operation, some machine downtime is inevitable. The key is to be proactive and minimize it as much as possible. For example, LIT’s study showed that 51% of companies that strictly adhere to a preventative maintenance program say they can predict blade failure “always” or “mostly.” Managers that can predict blade life can have better control over maintenance costs and improve overall productivity.
For more information about the results found in LIT’s Benchmark Survey and to download a complete copy of the report, visit the LENOX Industrial Metal Cutting Resource Center.
June 10, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, human capital, LIT, maintaining talent, productivity, quality, root cause analysis, Safety
When quality hiccups or bottlenecks occur, the first instinct is to blame the machine. A quick blade replacement or tooling adjustment is the go-to response, and in the short-term, the problem is addressed. Production continues, and the order is eventually filled.
However, industrial metal-cutting leaders know that quick fixes are not doing anyone any favors, especially when quality is involved. Fabricators with high quality standards need to be sure that all areas of their cutting operation are optimized; otherwise, their costs are going to go through the roof. For instance, an operator that doesn’t understand the proper speed setting for a specific type of metal might end up going through a half a dozen blades to maintain a square cut, when the job should have only required two blades.
The harsh reality is that today’s customers are demanding tighter tolerances and higher quality without the added cost. While it is tempting to make knee-jerk responses to meet tight timetables, fabricators that want to remain competitive need to focus on long-term solutions to improve cut quality. Really, you can’t afford to do it any other way.
With the right strategies in place, maintaining premium cut quality doesn’t have to cost a premium. Here are a few to consider:
- Evaluate your operators. Sometimes the root cause of quality or cost issues isn’t what it is cutting your metal; it’s who is cutting your metal. According to research from ARC Advisory Group, the global process industry loses about 5% of annual production due to unscheduled downtime and poor quality. But here’s the kicker: almost 80% of these losses are preventable, with 40% largely due to operator error, ARC estimates. When problems arise, don’t fail to consider the human variable. A lack of skill sets, business knowledge, and low employee morale can affect quality, as well as other areas like cost, maintenance, and safety. One way to address this is by implementing a strong ongoing training program, either internally or with the help of a trusted supplier. To read about more strategies for attacking the human variable, check out the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment.
- Break in blades. According to LIT’s benchmark study, breaking in band saw blade is a best practice among fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies. According to the study, 45% of organizations surveyed reported they “always” break in blades, 30% said they do it “most of the time,” and 15% said they do it “occasionally.” While breaking in a blade may seem tedious, highly skilled operators know that it pays off in the long run. A new band saw blade has razor sharp tooth tips, and in order to withstand the cutting pressures used in band sawing, tooth tips should be honed to form a micro-fine radius. Failure to perform this honing will cause microscopic damage to the tips of the teeth, resulting in reduced blade life and poor-quality cuts. Completing a proper break-in on a new blade will dramatically increase its life and cut performance.
- Communicate. As this Quality Digest article states, quality is no longer a topic for the Quality department; it should be a company-wide mindset. Talking to operators and maintenance personnel about how their actions affect quality—and then holding them accountable—promotes a bigger picture understanding of the role everyone plays in company success. You may even want to consider including a few key shop floor employees in quality meetings. According to the QD article, a growing number of companies are developing internal cross-functional quality councils that pull in personnel from across the value chain to gain different perspectives and identify new solutions to problems. This type of management encourages employee “buy-in” and creates a team atmosphere— both of which can help build a commitment to quality.