May 25, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, blade selection, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, lean manufacturing, LIT, operator training, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality
As any industrial metal-cutting leader knows, optimization is not only about high-level thinking and strategy. In a manufacturing environment, it often starts with having the right tools for the job.
In band saw cutting, for example, proper blade selection is key to optimizing cut times, cut quality, and blade life. This is especially true when cutting tougher metals like super alloys, and it is even more critical when cutting forged materials, which require aggressive blades that can get underneath any scale buildup. While a low-cost blade may get the job done, the “right” blade should be efficient, effective, and reliable. It should help keep tooling and maintenance costs under control, quality high, and production flowing.
In some cases, optimization may mean upgrading tooling and equipment. For example, one metal-cutting company featured in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) found that switching from a bi-metal to a carbide-tipped band saw blade provided a substantial improvement in productivity. With the bi-metal blades, the company was having difficulties cutting stainless steel and was missing productivity goals. However, after switching to the carbide-tipped blade, the company reduced cut times by one half and doubled blade life. While the short-term cost of the newer blades was higher, the long-term productivity benefits made it a worthwhile investment.
However, new tooling isn’t always the answer. As this IndustryWeek article explains, a common misconception among managers is that getting “leaner” requires investment. “Lean is not about spending money,” the article states. In fact, the IW author says that “proper lean mindset first looks to avoid spending the capital in the first place.”
While it is fundamentally important to have the right tool for the job, proper utilization of the tool is just as important. In fact, it could help save you money. If you are a forge that cuts and processes metal, here are a few tips and tricks we gathered to help you optimize your cutting operations:
- Use the proper speed rate. 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 training resource on the importance of metal-cutting fluids, check out this video from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.
- 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% 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.”
For more cutting tips and tricks, you can download the complete white paper, Understanding the Cut: Factors that Affect the Cost of Cutting, here.
May 20, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, customer satisfaction metrics, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, quality, ROI, strategic planning, value-added services
As the industrial metal-cutting industry becomes more competitive, a growing number of machine shops are looking for ways to differentiate their operations, whether that means offering value-added services or implementing the latest lean techniques.
One best practice that many of today’s leading shops tout is ISO 9001 certification. The standard, described in detail here, is based on a number of quality management principles, including a strong customer focus, the motivation and implication of top management, and continuous improvement. The basic goal of the standard is to help companies provide customers with consistent, good quality products and services, which, in turn, often brings business benefits like improved financial performance.
Metal Cutting Service, a specialty shop based in City of Industry, CA, has reaped the rewards of ISO certification, including improved productivity and quality. The company, featured in a series of LIT case studies, estimates that quality has improved 20 to 30% since it became ISO certified more than 12 years ago.
However, ISO certification isn’t a quick fix nor should it be taken lightly. Like any company-wide initiative, it requires time, money, and strategic planning. Here are a few points to consider before undergoing ISO certification:
- Understand the purpose. If you haven’t done so already, do your own research on the standard. You can download a basic brochure here. As this Quality Digest article states, many companies go into ISO 9001 certification under the incorrect assumption that the standard itself is supposed to be implemented to ensure quality. However, as the QD author states, this just isn’t true. “ISO 9001 was never intended to be used to design or implement quality management for any organization, but merely to assess quality management,” he says. “Sure, management might glean some details about QMS [quality management system] development from analyzing ISO 9001 requirements, but the requirements are not supposed to establish any QMS. A company must first establish real-time standard operating procedures (SOPs), and then look at how they compare to ISO 9001 requirements.” In other words, as the author quips, make sure you don’t put the cart before the horse.
- Reach out to other shops. Finding out why and how other machine shops approached ISO certification can help you determine if certification is worth the time and financial investment, as well as what you should (and shouldn’t) do in the process. As this Modern Machine Shop article suggests, contact some certified shops—particularly ones about the same size as yours—to get a feel for whether ISO certification is right for your operation. If you find a shop that hasn’t found value in certification, try to find two shops that have had a good ROI and then compare their approaches. However, managers need to realize that no two certification processes are going to be the same. The cost and time of ISO 9001 registration and implementation will vary depending on the size and complexity of your organization and on whether you already have some elements of a quality management system in place.
- Consider getting some support. If you decide to follow through with certification, there are several services and consultants that can help. Although third-party support may initially seem cost-prohibitive, don’t completely write it off. You may find it is worth the investment, especially if you are short-staffed. You can find a list of training and other service providers here on ThomasNet.com, and there are also several software programs available that can help you streamline the process. This is also an area where external insight from other shops can be helpful. Did they utilize any support services? If so, what was the most helpful? If not, do they wish they would have in hindsight?
April 30, 2014 / agility, benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, industry news, KPIs, LIT, operations metrics, Output, performance metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, strategic planning
A recent report from Gartner continues to build the case that metrics and smarter, more predictive management strategies are critical for industrial metal-cutting companies that want to succeed in today’s competitive landscape. In fact, according to the consulting firm, organizations that use predictive business performance metrics will increase their profitability by 20 percent by 2017.
“Using historical measures to gauge business and process performance is a thing of the past,” Samantha Searle, research analyst, said in a Gartner press release. “To prevail in challenging market conditions, businesses need predictive metrics—also known as ‘leading indicators’—rather than just historical metrics (aka ‘lagging indicators’).”
Gartner said that predictive risk metrics are particularly important for mitigating and even preventing the impact of disruptive events on profitability. The key is for companies to have predictive metrics that contribute to strategic key performance indicators (KPIs); however, Gartner discovered that many companies are failing to do just that.
Metrics vs. Strategic KPIs
After conducting a survey of 498 business and IT leaders in the fourth quarter of 2013, Gartner analysts found that while 71% of business and IT leaders understood which KPIs are critical to supporting the business strategy, only 48% said they can access metrics that help them understand how their work contributes to strategic KPIs. In addition, only 31% had a dashboard to provide visibility into KPIs.
However, according to Searle, even visible metrics won’t help drive strategic business outcomes if business leaders don’t have the right metrics in place. The problem, she says, is that managers often misinterpret the goal of a KPI.
The first thing companies need to realize is that KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. A KPI is a measure that should indicate what you need to do to significantly improve performance—or that indicates where performance is trending—which means it is predictive in nature. However, Gartner’s Searle says many companies don’t have predictive measures in place. “They persist in using historical measures and consequently miss the opportunity to either capture a business moment that would increase profit or intervene to prevent an unforeseen event, resulting in a decrease in profit,” she explains.
If you are still unsure of what qualifies as a KPI, check out this article, which lists five rules for selecting the best KPIs for your manufacturing organization. As the article states, “the key to success is selecting KPIs that will deliver long-term value to the organization.”
The larger lesson here is that in today’s fast-moving market, companies need to anticipate business events—not react to them. From a high level, Gartner is saying that this requires KPIs that are predictive. But what does this mean from a plant-floor level? What type of shop floor metrics can help businesses anticipate business events and provide input into strategic KPIs?
A benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) may provide a little insight. The following are two of the study’s key findings:
- 67% 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.
- 51% of organizations that “always” follow scheduled and preventative maintenance plans say that blade failure is predicted “always or “mostly.” This shows that preventative maintenance helps operations predict blade failure. And as any metal-cutting leader knows, predicting blade failure not only keeps production flowing, it also helps tooling and maintenance costs under control.
Both of the benchmark findings are, in fact, key metrics that can help industrial metal-cutting companies better understand strategic KPIs. In this case, we discovered that a proactive strategy like preventative maintenance can help managers plan for downtime and, in essence, allows them to create “predictive downtime,” which can actually improve cutting performance and extend equipment life. This is a much different from “interruptive downtime,” which can hurt performance, reduce on-time customer delivery, and increase material costs.
Based on this example, the KPI might be whether or not an organization is hitting its preventative maintenance schedule or whether or not the cadence of preventative maintenance is increasing or decreasing. For instance, if production was increasing but preventive maintenance measurements were static, it could predict massive failure issues.
Moving forward, here are a few questions to consider: What metrics are you using to measure business performance? Are they KPIs? Are your management strategies focused on being proactive or reactive? Are there ways you can predict business events such as blade failure and machine downtime?
Answering these key questions may help you determine whether or not your company is on track to increased profitability or at risk for being stagnant. Proactive strategies like the predictive metrics suggested by Gartner and the preventative measures suggested by the LIT study are critical for industrial metal-cutting companies that want improve their agility and, most importantly, their bottom line. Leaders are realizing that they need to act now—not later—if they want to be successful in the future. When it comes to today’s manufacturing landscape, good things will not come to those who wait.
March 15, 2014 / benchmarking, Cost Management, human capital, KPIs, lean manufacturing, overall equipment effectiveness, productivity
Most companies that have adopted lean manufacturing strategies know the importance of measurement. When a metal-cutting operation can quantitatively assess their performance, it can start to make significant improvements and set realistic goals to stay competitive. It also allows them to benchmark themselves against other industrial metal-cutting organizations. However, metrics are only meaningful if they are tied to strategy. That’s where key performance indicators (KPIs) come into play.
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, this isn’t as easy as it sounds and takes careful consideration.
Case in point: Over the last several years, it has been popular for manufacturers to us overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) as a KPI. However, this blog post argues that OEE is not a KPI that should be measured at a company or plant level. In the blog, the author states 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.
Although the “right” KPI will vary by organization, there are a few simple guidelines managers should follow to determine the most effective performance measurements for their metal-cutting operation. Below are a few strategies to consider:
- Plant-level KPIs should align with business objectives. According to this article from Control magazine, managers should begin by making sure plant-level KPIs line up with corporate goals. Is your company focused on growth, or is the goal to maintain existing customers? How does your KPI tie into those goals? As the manager quoted in the Control article states, a good KPI should consider the manufacturing side and business side of an operation.
- Keep the list short. If every KPI should help drive strategic intent, the list should be intentional and concise. As stated in this column from IndustryWeek, managers that measure too many things aren’t really measuring anything. While it is okay to add to your list of KPIs, as the IW author states, be sure to go back and edit the list to make sure each KPI works toward the overall company strategy. This helps maintain focus.
- Make it a team effort. KPIs must mean something to everyone in order to be effective. This means communication is critical. Key personnel and supervisors should understand what the KPIs are, why they are important, and how they are measured. Without explanation, team members can get frustrated, especially if goals aren’t being met. Managers can also take it one step further by defining employee goals in terms of organizational KPIs. According to this article from Mind Tools, this is the critical link between employee performance and organizational success. For more information on how to link KPIs with employee goals, you can read the full Mind Tools article here.
December 10, 2013 / benchmarking, Cost Management, LIT
In an ideal world, a fabricator wouldn’t list cost management as a challenge. If production is running smoothly, maintenance is under control, operators are trained, and customers are satisfied, then costs should be relatively stable. However, at a time when the industry hasn’t fully rebounded and uncertainty about market conditions remain, cost is a concern for even the most efficient industrial metal-cutting operations.
The question, then, becomes: How can today’s fabricators better manage their costs? When many companies are already “running lean,” what other measures can they take to keep costs under control or, better yet, save money?
Unfortunately, there are no “one size fits all” answers when it comes to cost management, but the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) was able to find a few strategies currently being used by industry leaders. Below are some of the ways top performers are approaching cost:
- Weigh long-term benefits against short-term costs. Whether a hard cost or an opportunity cost, fabricators should weigh their cost expenditures against the benefits or detriments of dollar-allocating decisions. Managers need to make sure they are not shortsighted by upfront costs and, instead, consider the long-term benefits. For example, would investing in a new piece of equipment improve productivity? Would it increase quality? Will it help reduce maintenance costs? This was certainly the case for O’Neal Steel. The company, featured in a white paper from LIT, found that spending $40 more per band saw blade saved the company about $600 a week—a total of $30,000 in annual savings.
- Focus on improving the order-to-cash cycle. An industry study from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International (FMA) says top-performing fabricators are focused on increasing the order-to-cash-cycle. The study, covered here by thefabricator.com, says that best-in-class companies are scrutinizing and improving every process in the order-to-cash cycle, including sales, quoting, engineering, customer communication, part flow, packaging, and delivery. According to the article, this shortens the cycle, which improves a host of financial metrics. When employees are able to process more jobs in less time, sales per employee increases and costs per job decreases, all of which outpaces downward pricing pressure from customers and rises earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA).
- Set cost-cutting targets using external benchmarks. If your company is focused on reducing costs, make sure you are not setting arbitrary goals. According to a survey from Bain & Company, the problem with many cost-cutting initiatives is that they are based on internal benchmarks that ignore market trends. According to the consultancy, successful companies develop cost-cutting goals after taking into account what their competitors are doing. For example, cutting costs by 10 percent means nothing if all of your competitors are using new technologies that reduce costs by 30 percent. Managers need to make sure their cost-cutting goals are both realistic and relevant.
All three of these methods suggest that successful cost management in today’s marketplace requires managers to look at cost from a high level before implementing any initiatives. In other words, gone are the days of “quick fixes.” By taking the time to approach cost strategically, fabricators can make improvements that have a long-term—and more importantly, sustainable—impact on the bottom line.