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Guidelines for Cutting Structural Tube in Your Fabrication Shop

August 10, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


As reported in our recent Metal-Cutting Industry Report on Non-Residential Construction, the use of industrial and structural steel tube and pipe is growing. According to a market tracker from Metal Bulletin Research (MBR), the category is growing at the fastest rate since the recession, mostly due to economic growth and falling oil prices.

“Construction demand for structural tubing is now growing at a steady pace in most regions of the USA,” the MBR report states. “There has been some concern among market participants that the drop in oil prices and the associated hit to the local energy-centered economies would be detrimental to their construction outlook, especially since these were some of the initial drivers of growth in the recovery. So far, construction continues unabated, as contracts, financing and permitting have already been settled.”

Industry players are also optimistic. HGG, a supplier of tube-processing machinery, told MetalForming magazine it expects the category to grow by about 15 percent in North America alone. (You can read the full MetalForming article here.)

This is good news for fabricators that serve the industrial and commercial construction industries or that cut structural tube for other applications. In either case, most shops are working with hollow structural steel (HSS) tube specified to ASTM A500 (the standard specification for cold-formed welded and seamless carbon steel structural tubing in round, square and rectangular shapes). Although most shops wouldn’t categorize HSS as difficult to cut, it does have some unique characteristics operators need to understand to ensure proper cutting.

Unlike solid tubing, which only requires one cut, HSS tube requires the blade to cut through two thin solids with a space in between. These types of cuts—known as interrupted cuts—are best suited for bi-metal band saw blades because they are designed to withstand the vibration. Carbide band saw blades, on the other hand, have strong, durable teeth, but they are not shock resistant. Therefore, bi-metal blades that reduce harmonics are the best choice.

HSS tubes also aren’t ideal for bundle cutting. While cutting tubing in bundles can allow shops to increase the number of parts per shift, it can substantially reduce blade life. In fact, some experts say that any increased part volume efficiency is offset by a 20 to 25 percent reduction in band life.

A recent article from thefabricator.com highlights several other best practices for sawing structural tube. The following are a few of the industry publication’s tips:

For more guidelines on cutting HSS tube, including a discussion on circular saw blade options, you can read the full thefabricator.com article here.

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Tips for Cutting Superalloys in Your Metal Service Center

August 5, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,


Over the next few years, experts anticipate growth in the use of high performance alloys or “superalloy” materials such as Inconel and Hastelloy. The high-performance metals, which are known for their outstanding corrosion and high temperature resistance, continue to find uses in aerospace and aircraft applications, and more recently, are expanding into the oil and gas industries.

“Growing corrosion as a cost concern in exploration and production in offshore drilling rigs is expected to propel use of high performance alloys such as superalloys in oil and gas applications,” states one study from Grand View Research, Inc. “Non-ferrous alloys such as nickel and titanium are also expected to witness above average growth due to their high mechanical strength coupled with increased use in aerospace, oil & gas and gas turbine applications,” the study continues. Specifically, Grand View Research forecasts that superalloy demand will experience an annual compound growth rate of more than 3.0 percent from 2014 to 2020.

While there is certainly a science to cutting any metal material, tackling tough-to-cut materials like superalloys can be even more challenging as managers try to balance cutting speed, finish quality, and blade life. However, with the right tools and know-how, service centers can efficiently and cost-effectively handle tough-to-cut materials without compromising quality.

The following are three key tips for service centers that want to cut superalloy materials:

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Five Tips for Using Metal Cutting Coolants in Ball and Roller Bearing Production

July 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


As any machining expert will tell you, coolants are a critical part of the metal-cutting process. While they are an added cost and an added step in the production process, the long-term cost benefits of coolants are worth every dime and every minute spent. This is especially true if your goal is optimization. As an article from Production Machining states, manufacturers should view coolants as an asset or, better yet, a “liquid tool.”

Unfortunately, many managers and operators fail to understand the importance of  proper lubrication during the metal-cutting process. According to Modern Machine Shop, most manufacturers see lubricant as “the least important factor in the total cost of machining and the last place to look for process improvements.” In fact, it is common for companies to often “cheat” on the proper concentration levels of metal-cutting fluids in order to save money. This may reduce coolant costs in the short term, but the high costs of machine wear and tooling replacement make this a poor management choice.

As explained in the white paper, Understanding the Cut: Factors that Affect the Cost of Cutting, coolants provide lubrication, which 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.

Like any manufacturing tool, proper use and coolant management is essential if you want to get the most out of your investment. To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers ensure proper lubrication management in their metal-cutting operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following five tips:

  1. Start with a clean machine. As an article from MoldMaking Technology explains, proper metalworking fluid management starts with the draining, cleaning, and recharging of the machine. When changing coolants for any reason, clean and disinfect thoroughly with a fluid advised by the supplier of the coolant.
  2. A proper fluid mix is key. Extending the life of your fluids and achieving the best fluid performance starts with proper fluid preparation. Metal-cutting fluids need to be mixed a certain way in order for their chemical makeup to be correct. Experts recommend pouring the water into the mixing container first and then stirring the coolant concentrate into the water. One way to remember the proper technique is by the acronym O.I.L. (Oil In Last).
  3. Remove tramp oil to extend fluid life. Waste oils, which come from the machine or surfaces of the raw materials, are often picked up by the metalworking fluid and are referred to as “tramp oils.” Regular removal of tramp oil from the manufacturing process helps improve fluid performance and longevity, air quality, bacterial resistance, corrosion resistance, and tool life. Typical methods for tramp oil removal include regular inspection and the use of skimmers, centrifuges, and coalescers.
  4. Monitor fluids regularly. Measure, with a regular frequency, the concentration and quality of your fluids. Testing tools include refractometers, which can quickly determine the total amount of solubles in a solution, or titration kits, which are more extensive and are used to analyze fluid concentration in metal-cutting fluids contaminated with tramp oils. Tests for PH levels and alkalinity can also be useful,  as pH readings outside the acceptable range indicate a need for machine cleaning, concentration adjustment, or the addition of biocide.
  5. Make coolant checks part of everyday maintenance. Instituting regular coolant checks as part of a preventative maintenance program or daily operator checks can eliminate unnecessary tooling costs and maintenance downtime. Low coolant levels on a band saw, for example, can lead to premature and uneven wear of band wheels, which typically cost $1,000 each.

While coolants may feel like just another cost item on your consumables list, they play an important role in keeping maintenance costs down and cutting tool performance high. By following a few best practices, ball and roller bearing manufacturers can ensure that their metal-cutting coolants are not a necessary evil, but an opportunity to improve process efficiencies.

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How Fabricators Can Benefit from Tooling Investments

July 10, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


Most operations managers understand the importance of keeping productivity high and costs low. However, many managers fail to understand that in many cases, spending more in the short term is necessary to achieve the long-term goal of productivity.

This concept is especially true when it comes to metal-cutting tools. Because tools are consumables that need to be purchased and replaced often, it is tempting for managers to focus more on upfront cost. But as the following examples will explain, this strategy does not always offer the best return on investment.

Productivity Pays
At an event held earlier this year, Jacob Harpaz, CEO of Ingersoll Cutting Tools, explained why managers need to look beyond the price tag when investing in a new tool. According to Harpaz, featured here in Modern Machine Shop, a cutting tool can deliver improvement in three ways:

  1. Lower price
  2. Longer tool life
  3. Greater productivity

Although all three can be beneficial, Harpaz says choosing a tool with greater productivity will always offer the most lucrative return. Here’s why: For a representative machined part, Harpaz estimates that the cost of machinery represents 26 percent of the cost of machining a part; overhead represents 21 percent of the unit cost of machining; and  labor and raw material account for 28 and 22 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the cost of cutting tools accounts for just 3 percent.

The implications of this are significant, according to Harpaz. Using the above estimates, dropping the price of the tool by 20 percent would only deliver a 0.6-percent unit cost reduction. The seemingly even greater change of increasing the life of the tool by a factor of 2 would still only save 1.5 percent. However, increasing productivity would increase the number of pieces the shop can produce in the same period of time, which means the labor cost, overhead cost, and machinery cost per piece would all decrease. Increasing productivity by 20 percent, thus, produces a savings of 15 percent overall, providing the greatest savings opportunity.

Benefits of Upgrading
With the above in mind, managers that want to get the best return out of their tooling need to remain open about investing in upgrades and new technologies In saw blades, advancements in tooth geometry and wear-resistant materials are providing significant improvements for many metal-cutting operations. This article from Canadian Industrial Machinery, for example, explains why the additional cost of a coating on a band saw or circular saw blade can be worth the investment, especially when cutting a challenging material or when higher performance is needed.

There is no question that high-performance blades will cost more. However, because they are able to cut faster and with more accuracy, they improve productivity and save money in the long run. O’Neal Steel, a Birmingham, Alabama-based fabricator featured in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, found that incurring a significant upfront expense to upgrade some of its blade was worth it. Before the upgrade, O’Neal was spending about $90 per blade, but the fabricator was only getting one day’s worth of cutting. “We had a fair margin, but we were constantly messing up material,” explains Jim Davis, corporate operations services manager. “Most people think it’s costing a lot of money in blades to switch. Well, that’s true, but when you’re cutting really tight tolerances, your blade’s going bad and the material lengths are off, you can add up money really fast and lose all your profits in just an hour or two if you have blade issues.”

For another job in its Knoxville, TN, location, O’Neal was only getting two days of cutting per blade, so they were going through three blades a week. Again, Davis upgraded from a blade costing $280 to one that was $40 more, and immediately his blade-life increased to seven days.. He estimates that in the long run O’Neal saved $600 a week, or an annual total of around $30,000. “That’s a radical change, about a 3:1 ratio on the life of a blade,” said Davis.

The Deciding Factors
Of course, not every upgrade will be worth the cost. The key is for managers to weigh the opportunity cost against the hard cost, considering the true benefits a new tool can offer and whether or not it will contribute positively to the bottom line. To do this effectively, managers need to work closely with their tooling partners to discuss the pros and cons of the different metal-cutting options, while also evaluating all of the factors that contribute to the cost of the cutting process. If the long-term benefit is there, managers need to be sure they aren’t being shortsighted by the price tag. As fabricators like O’Neal are finding, the upfront investment may offer higher productivity, as well as substantial bottom-line savings.

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2015 Industrial Metal Cutting Outlook

April 1, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Like most manufacturers, industrial metal-cutting companies went into 2015 with both optimism and caution. While all signs seem to be pointing to a full economic recovery, concerns surrounding an unstable political landscape, foreign markets, and pricing continue to keep many metals companies on their toes.

Some Growth Ahead
As we enter the second quarter of 2015, most experts anticipate growth in the metals industry. Early predictions painted a positive picture for the year, and recent reports are confirming that the industry will, at the very least, see slight improvements over 2014.

According to the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), industrial production increased at a 3.8% annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2014 and posted 3.6% growth for the year as whole—over a percentage point higher than the 2.4% gain in the overall economy. The manufacturing outlook for 2015 and 2016 calls for a minor acceleration from the 2014 growth rate. According to the MAPI Foundation’s most recent U.S. Industrial Outlook, manufacturing production is forecast to grow by 3.7% in 2015 and 3.6% in 2016.

MAPI’s outlook also predicts that 21 out of 23 industries will show gains in 2015. This includes growth in metals industries such as iron and steel products (5%), alumina and aluminum production and processing (7%), and fabricated metal products (3%). The top industry performer will be housing starts, which is expected to increase by 16%.

Forecasts for steel demand are also positive, but growth rates will not be as strong as they were in 2014. According to the Short Range Outlook 2014-2015 from the World Steel Association (worldsteel), U.S. steel demand is expected to increase by 1.9% in 2015—much lower than the 6% growth the U.S. experienced in 2014. Globally, worldsteel forecasts that global apparent steel use will increase by 2.0% this year. This is a downward revision from previous forecasts, due to a slowdown in emerging economies like China.

“Recoveries in the EU, United States and Japan are expected to be stronger than previously thought, but not strong enough to offset the slowdown in the emerging economies,” stated Hans Jürgen Kerkhof, chairman of worldsteel’s Economics Committee. “In 2015, we expect steel demand growth in developed economies to moderate, while we project growth in the emerging and developing economies to pick up.”

Concerns and Challenges
Buying into the positive forecasts, most metals manufacturers expect business to improve this year. According to an annual survey of metals executives by American Metal Market (AMM), 42% of respondents expect the economy to turn around in 2015 and 67% expected business to improve overall, mostly due to growth in the auto and energy sectors.

However, AMM reports that respondents did have some reservations. Political events, cheap imports, and foreign markets were all causes for concern, as well as uncertainty about “where important industry segments like construction might be headed,” AMM states in its survey report.

In his State of the Industry address earlier this year, Robert Weidner, president and CEO of the Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI), listed several trends that will affect the metals industry in 2015 and beyond. Below are the five challenges he outlined, as reported by thefabricator.com (You can read the full coverage here.):

 

 

Strategic Approaches
With both forecasts and anticipated challenges in mind, industrial metal-cutting companies can strategically approach the market from both a business and operational standpoint. In fact, as we reported here, it is critical for today’s managers to develop operational short-term plans that are effective in achieving the overall strategy set forth in the business plan. For instance, if the goal is continuous improvement, then make sure your metrics, your daily practices, and communication with your team all point to that overall strategy.

As a global company serving the industrial metal-cutting industry, we at LENOX Tools have a unique vantage point of what is happening in the marketplace. We have watched some metal companies barely survive, while others have found ways to thrive. The difference, in most instances, seems to be the company’s commitment to making improvements. Whether investing in new equipment to improve cutting time and quality or investing in training to improve and empower their human capital, industry leaders are continuing to focus on making positive changes on the shop floor so they can be ready to respond to changing customer demands. In other words, the only way to offset external uncertainties is to focus on making internal improvements.

Based on industry trends and our own experience, LENOX sees the following as key strategies for industrial metal-cutting companies that want to be successful in today’s marketplace:

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How Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Can Strategically Approach Cost Management

March 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Cost is and always will be a top concern for every manufacturer, no matter how great their efficiency efforts. The reality is that everything that happens in a manufacturing operation carries a cost, regardless of whether or not it has a price tag attached to it. This is why so many industry leaders now approach cost strategically. Instead of looking for short-term savings, today’s managers are making cost decisions based on big-picture goals and long-term benefits.

For example, in a high-production metal-cutting environment, it is tempting to run circular saw blades as fast as possible to increase productivity and meet a tight deadline. However, according to the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal Cutting, the true value of a saw blade goes far beyond its cutting time or price tag. This is especially true in a high-production operation, where there is no time to constantly change out blades. To get the best return on investment, metal-cutting leaders know that it pays for operators to focus on prolonging blade life. By running blades at proper speed and feed settings, as well as maintaining adequate lubrication during the cutting process, manufacturers can get the most out of their blades and, in turn, save on tooling costs, maintenance costs, and the cost of unexpected downtime.

Like any strategic endeavor, cost management can be used as a competitive advantage. In an article recently published by IndustryWeek, Bill Moore, a senior vice president at ball and roller bearing manufacturer SKF USA Inc., echoes this sentiment and states that executives can use parts and components de-costing programs to make their factories more competitive. When done strategically, Moore says that parts and components de-costing can yield strong results, with measureable improvements seen within 90 days and major savings within 24 to 36 months.

Here are two of Moore’s strategies:

Moore’s methods suggest that successful cost management in today’s marketplace requires managers to look at cost from a high level before making any decisions. In other words, gone are the days of “quick fixes.” By taking the time to approach cost strategically, ball and roller bearing manufacturers can make improvements that have a long-term—and more importantly, sustainable—impact on the bottom line.

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Optimizing Your Machine Shop’s Precision Circular Sawing Operation

February 20, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


When it comes to circular sawing, productivity is always the goal, especially as demand increases. However, industry leaders understand that productivity isn’t about going as fast as possible. In fact, speed can be detrimental to cutting tool life—a fact that not only negatively affects your bottom line, but can also decrease your overall productivity.

The real goal for today’s machine shops should be optimization. This requires operations managers to adopt strategies that allow their shops to achieve the highest possible cutting performance without sacrificing tool life.

As this article from Canadian Metalworking points out, the overall performance of your cutting tool depends on a variety of factors, including speed, feed, depth of cut, and the material being cut. The ability to balance all of these variables is critical for companies that want to be productive and stay competitive in today’s challenging environment.

To help machine shops optimize their precision circular sawing operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) created a series of charts that describes some common cutting challenges operators face. For example, here are some tips and tricks operators can use to prolong blade life and keep cutting operations running at peak efficiency levels:

Insufficient blade life

Another critical aspect of optimization is making sure you have the right blade for the job. Advancements in tooth geometries, wear-resistant materials, and blade life can offer significant improvements in productivity and quality that can contribute to the bottom line. In the spirit of continuous improvement, managers should re-evaluate their circular saw blade choices every few years, even if they feel satisfied with current results. Testing new blades and technologies can be a time-consuming endeavor, but if the end result is faster cutting times and lower costs, it can certainly pay off.

The key is for machine shops to run the right tools at the right parameters—an approach that is a lot easier in theory than it is in practice. However, by combining operational tricks and strategic investments, many of today’s shops are finding their “sweet spot” and striking a balancing between cutting speed, quality, and cost. In today’s competitive and growing marketplace, industry leaders understand that optimization can mean the difference between “getting by” and getting ahead.

For more information on optimizing your precision circular sawing operation, including best practices, white papers, and case studies, check out LIT’s resource center here.

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Strategies for Ensuring Metal Cutting Quality in Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing

January 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The key to customer satisfaction has always been finding a balance between fast turnaround and high quality. Growing demand has made this even more of a challenge for many of today’s ball and roller bearing manufacturers. With the economy poised for recovery thanks to stronger demand from the transportation and industrial manufacturing industries, industry analysts are anticipating increased demand for ball bearings. According to a report from Freedonia Group, global demand for bearings is projected to rise 7.3 percent annually through 2018, with ball and roller bearings registering the fastest gains.

This increase in demand is certainly good news for manufacturers, but it also means that companies need to make sure they remain focused on quality. Speed and agility will always be key attributes of any leading high-production operation, but they cannot come at the expense of accuracy.

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers ensure quality in their metal-cutting operations, below are a few highlights from the paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal Cutting, written by the LENOX Institute of Technology:

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Why Your Metal Service Center May Want to Consider Coolant Recycling

January 5, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


If your metal service center is doing its part to ensure proper coolant management, then you are fully aware that it is not as simple as it seems. From choosing the right coolant to proper fluid prep and monitoring, getting the most out of your metal-cutting fluids takes time and effort, but it is well worth the investment.

Cut quality, productivity, and cost savings are all major reasons your service center should continue to make coolant management a priority. Case in point: As this white paper explains, low coolant levels on a band saw can lead to premature and uneven wear of band wheels, which can cost $1,000 each. Poor fluid management can have negative effects on circular saws as well, causing blade problems such as excessive edge chipping and tooth damage. (You can read more about that here.)

Really, any informed manager can typically accept the ROI argument for most areas of coolant management, except maybe when it comes to disposal. In today’s environmentally conscious world, coolant waste disposal can get expensive (up to $0.50 a gallon), and if you are a larger service center, this adds up fast.

For this reason alone, more and more manufacturers are investing in in-house coolant recycling. Some experts claim that coolant recycling can cut coolant waste disposal costs by up to 90 percent, and according to an archived article from Manufacturing Engineering magazine, tool life can also be significantly extended—from 25 percent up to 209 percent—with effective coolant recycling equipment.

In a recent article from Canadian Metalworking, Tom Tripepi, technical director for the fluid filtration division of PRAB, discusses some of the advantages of in-house coolant recycling. Below are a few highlights from the article:

To read about some metal-cutting companies that have reaped the benefits of coolant recycling, check out these case studies. SME also offers technical papers that discuss more recycling best practices as well as a review of the different types of recycling technologies.

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Implementing Process Control in High Production Metal Cutting

December 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


While process and workflow bottlenecks are a common challenge for any manufacturing operation, it can be especially challenging for high production metal-cutting companies. The fast pace and constant volume can tempt operators and managers to focus on speed before quality, which often leads to failures in equipment and blades, costly mistakes, and a decrease in overall productivity.

This is why process control is critical. When production requirements increase, it is imperative that systems are in place to keep quality consistent and, even more so, make it easy to identify and correct any mistakes or maintenance issues that create bottlenecks.

There are several strategies high production metal-cutting organizations can implement to keep processes under control and production moving. The following are a few best practices used by high production metal-cutting leaders:

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