August 20, 2017 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, LIT, operator training, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, workflow process
While some downtime is inevitable, more and more forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies are discovering that proper maintenance and proactive care of equipment can significantly reduce its occurrence.
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?
However, as stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, proactively addressing maintenance issues allows managers to reduce costs, increase blade and tooling life, and, most importantly, avoid costly mistakes. “With a simple check-list, operators can enhance their knowledge base and positively affect performance on the shop floor,” the eBook states.
What does this look like in practice? According to the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, operators can conduct daily preventative maintenance (PM) checks in less than 10 minutes. Programs can be as detailed as a manager feels is necessary, but in a band saw environment, the following are a few key checkpoints to include:
- checking coolant levels
- cleaning saw blades of debris
- visual tests of critical tooling elements such as the feed system and lasers
- double-checking parameter settings (i.e., speed and feed rate)
Although many shops conduct PM checks at the start of each shift, there are several ways managers can schedule their PM procedures. In a recent blog, maintenance software provider SM Global offers four possible PM schedules:
- Date based: Schedule PM checks every X amount of days, weeks or months. So, for example, you can have a maintenance task scheduled every 5 business days, on every Friday, the second Monday of every third month, every January on the first Wednesday and so on.
- Meter based: There are two different meter types. In one, you schedule maintenance every time a meter reading increases or decreases by a certain amount. For example, an oil change when a meter reading increases by 3000 miles. The second type is a batch meter. You schedule maintenance after an equipment processes X number of units. For example, replace a bearing every time the equipment produces 500 widgets.
- Alarm based: You schedule a maintenance task every time an alarm condition happens. For example, an alarm could be excessive vibration on a machine. You can schedule a PM check on the machine when this alarm occurs.
- Relative to another task: Start a new maintenance task when another task completes. For example, order more coolant every time you clean your fluid/lubricant reservoir and screen (typically every 3 months).
If your metal forging operation doesn’t have a current PM program in place, you may want to consider working closely with your equipment and tooling supply partners to set up daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual PM schedules. In addition to helping you create checklists, many provide complimentary annual or bi-annual PM check-ups, which can provide more in-depth equipment diagnostics.
March 1, 2017 / agility, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, customer service, industry news, LIT, strategic planning
As we reported in last month’s blog, experts consider aerospace to be one of the strongest industries. In one report from the Metal Service Center Institute, Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at the Teal Group Corporation, said that aerospace was the only industry that saw growth acceleration through the recession and that the civil aviation sector in particular offers “major opportunities for long-term growth.”
This, of course, is good news for industrial metal-cutting companies serving this sector, and prospects continue to look good for the near future.
Set to Soar
According to a report from Defense News, the aerospace and defense industry set a new record for international sales in 2016, delivering $146 billion in exports. The article went on to say that 2017 could be “another banner year” for the defense and aerospace industries thanks to some anticipated government orders.
As reported by Defense News in December, the U.S. State Department approved in the first quarter of this fiscal year foreign military sales worth an estimated $45.2 billion dollars, which is said to be more than the total foreign military sales for all of fiscal 2016. “If approved by Congress and manufactured this year, some of those purchases could help rack up the export total for 2017,” the article states.
Deloitte’s 2017 Global Aerospace and Defense Sector Outlook is also optimistic. According to the Executive Summary, Deloitte expects industry revenues for the global aerospace and defense sector to resume growth, driven by higher defense spending. Following multiple years of positive but subdued rate of growth, Deloitte forecasts that sector revenues will likely grow by about 2.0 percent in 2017.
Forecasts from industry leader Boeing show similar trends. According to a January report from Reuters, Boeing expects to deliver between 760 and 765 commercial aircraft in 2017, topping 748 deliveries in 2016. Honeywell, on the other hand, forecasts a slight decline in 2017; however, the company expects deliveries will begin picking up in 2018 due to the strength of several new aircrafts entering service, AINonline reports.
This could spell opportunity for many industrial metal-cutting companies. As an article from IndustryWeek states, the aerospace industry is a good business in which to be competitive because the underlying drivers of demand are very strong. “Since the end of the Great Recession, new commercial aircraft orders have typically been double, and in some years, triple the number of annual deliveries,” the article states. “This reflects explosive growth of air traffic in the emerging world as rising incomes and declines in ticket fares make air travel affordable for increasing numbers of households.”
Equipped for Growth
As a critical part of the supply chain, there is no question that metal-cutting companies could reap the rewards of aerospace’s success. However, companies serving this sector need to be sure they are doing what it takes to win the business of both existing and potential aerospace customers, even if that means investing in advanced metal-cutting tools designed to meet the unique demands and shifting trends within the industry.
For example, as reported here by The Fabricator, Superior Machining & Fabrication has upgraded its 110,000-sq.-ft. machine shop to better serve the aerospace sector. “Changes include the addition of CAD/CAM software, a larger 5-axis bridge mill for hard metals, and a 5-axis SNK bridge mill,” the article states. “The company also has tripled the size of the quality room, added an assembly room, created a staffed tool/fixture room, introduced lean manufacturing/5S throughout the shop, and segmented the shop into cells with their own leaders/supervisors to help improve product flow.”
Shops should also be sure they are equipped to handle the material demands of customers, including the growing use of titanium in aerospace components. In a recent interview with American Metals Market, Rich Harshman of metals supplier Allegheny Technologies, Inc., says he sees a significant mix shift happening within the aerospace industry. Specifically, he says there is a “growing demand for our differentiated next-generation alloys as well as growing demand for our isothermal and hot-die forging and titanium investment castings.”
For metal-cutting operations, this means having a carbide-tipped band saw blade. Since titanium and other high-performance alloys are stronger and harder, they need more than the average bi-metal blade. Using a carbide-tipped band saw blade not only allows for the successful cutting of hard metals like titanium, it simultaneously offers longer blade life and faster cutting as well, according to the white paper, Characteristics of a Carbide-Friendly Bandsaw Machine.
In today’s unpredictable market, the truth is that no one really knows what the future holds for aerospace. However, industry leaders know that it pays to be prepared. Tailoring your operations and processes to meet the unique demands of the industries you serve will not only position you as a valued supply chain partner, but as an agile, industrial metal-cutting leader that is ready to fly when demand takes off.
February 20, 2017 / agility, best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, customer delivery, industry news, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, quality, resource allocation, skills gap, strategic planning
Thanks to an unstable marketplace, capital spending among machine shops and other metalworking companies has been down for the last several years. However, new reports suggest a rebound in the near future.
According to data from Gardner Business Intelligence (GBI), machine tool consumption peaked at $7.5 billion in 2014, and then contracted 3 percent in 2015 and 7 percent in 2016. Based on GBI’s Capital Spending Survey, projected total machine tool consumption in 2017 will be down an additional 1 percent. However, as reported here by Modern Machine Shop, the survey also shows that demand for core machine tools will increase in 2017 by 9 percent. In addition, GBI’s new econometric model for machine tool unit orders indicates that the rate of contraction in overall machine tool demand bottomed in July 2016 and will improve through the end of 2017.
Steven Cline, Jr., director of Market Intelligence at GBI, says the driving force behind the projected rebound is the need for increased productivity. “Shops need to increase productivity in order to remain competitive in a global manufacturing marketplace and to counteract the much-talked-about skills gap,” Cline writes in Modern Machine Shop. “More and more shops are turning to lights-out and/or unattended machining to achieve this increase in productivity, but new equipment, including machine tools, workholding and automation, is needed to run lights-out.”
As reported in the news brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” industrial metal-cutting companies have spent the last few years investing a lot of time and resources into their workforce. This has helped boost productivity and address some of the skills gaps, but the GBI survey suggests that shops are seeking a balance that requires investments in both human capital and equipment.
For example, Speedy Metals, an online industrial metal supply company and processor, recently upgraded its band saws to improve efficiency. “We had been searching for a reasonably priced, high-production band saw to add to our saw department and boost our production,” Bob Bensen, operations manager, tells Modern Metals. “We needed a reliable band saw that was going to stand up to the rigors of our fast-paced environment.”
Bensen went on to say that the new band saw, which has nesting capabilities and allows his operators to cut a variety of metals, has improved productivity. This, he adds, has given Speedy Metals a competitive edge and allows his company to continuously offer same-day shipping on quality parts and customized saw cuts that meet the closest tolerances.
Similarly, metal-cutting companies like Aerodyne Alloys are investing in new metal-cutting tools to further improve efficiency. Working with hard-to-cut metals like Inconel 718 and Hastelloy X, the metal service center decided to upgrade from bi-metal blades to carbide-tipped blades to get higher performance out of its band saws. After upgrading to a carbide blade, Aerodyne was able to tackle hard, nickel-based alloys, while also improving cutting time on easier to cut materials like stainless steel. According to a case study, this helped improve operational efficiencies at Aerodyne by up to 20 percent.
Of course, not all capital investments offer a good return. If your shop is considering investing in new equipment or tools this year, be sure to measure cost against productivity. According to the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job, managers need to weigh the following:
- upfront costs against overall operating and maintenance costs
- long-term productivity of a machine and its intended use
- equipment and blade life, as well as cost per cut
There is no question: Staying competitive in today’s market is tough. Demands for high quality and quick turnaround continue to increase, while cost pressures and issues like the skills gap remain. How will your shop respond? As the GBI survey suggests, it may be time to consider making some capital investments to ensure that your team is fully equipped to meet demands.
January 20, 2017 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, LIT, productivity, ROI, strategic planning
In any manufacturing operation, having the right tool for the job is critical. The challenge is that there will always be instances when the “right tool” won’t be a clear-cut decision.
For example, in metal-cutting, bi-metal band saw blades have been traditionally used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon and structural steels, and some alloy steels. However, blade technology is evolving, and there are now carbide-tipped band saw blades on the market that have been designed specifically to cut aluminum and non-ferrous alloys. This begs the question: Is the new technology worth the investment, or would it be smarter to stick with a tool operators already know?
Answering those types of questions is never easy and takes careful consideration, especially when there is some investment necessary. In today’s competitive market, even a simple tooling decision is strategic.
To assist managers with the task of selecting the best machine tools for their operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following tips:
- Form an internal team. Good strategic decisions are very rarely made alone. As a recent article from Modern Machine Shop explains, even a decision like buying a new machine tool should include input from every department it may impact (i.e., engineering, production, maintenance, etc.). This, the article states, is why forming an internal machine-tool buying committee is a good idea. “During the machine-buying process, some companies will form committees, especially when numerous departments will be involved in and responsible for the daily operation of the machine,” the article states. “Buying committees allow each department to have input, conveying their requirements and concerns prior to machine selection.” You can read more about this best practice here on Modern Machine Shop’s blog.
- Work closely with suppliers. More and more managers are finding that collaborative supplier relationships are critical to business success. In fact, according to the book, Strategic Supply Chain Management by Shoshanah Cohen and Joseph Roussel, companies that strategically utilize their supply chains realize better business results than their competitors. This can include your tooling suppliers. When looking at a new machine tool, a trusted supply partner should be willing to provide informational and educational materials about new tools and technologies, as well as additional services such as short-term trial runs and training support. Some may even be willing to help you measure and analyze the success of a new tool. No one knows your equipment and tooling better than the people who designed it, and a good supplier should be willing to share their expertise with you—no questions asked.
- Look at the total cost. Like any good purchasing decision, tooling selection needs to take into account the total operational costs of running the tool, including maintenance costs and equipment requirements. Case in point: While carbide-tipped band-saw blades are more advanced in the right application, they do not perform well with a lot of vibration. Therefore, they can only be used with certain types of saws—a critical purchasing consideration. As explained in the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job, making the “right” blade choice requires managers to weigh three key factors:
- upfront costs against overall operating and maintenance costs
- long-term productivity of a machine and its intended use
- equipment and blade life, as well as cost per cut
What best practices does your team follow when choosing a new machine tool?
November 25, 2016 / agility, best practices, blade life, continuous improvement, customer delivery, customer service, LIT, quality, strategic planning, workflow process
There is no question that customer expectations are changing. Companies like Amazon have raised the bar on what customers should expect from a service provider, whether that means Sunday deliveries or using the latest technology to improve the purchasing experience.
Not surprisingly, the so-called “Amazon effect” has found its way into industrial manufacturing. Supply chain consultant Lisa Anderson says she has seen this first hand with all of her manufacturing and distribution clients. On-time deliveries, she says, are no longer enough. Today’s customers are looking for suppliers that can offer faster lead times and value-added services that will benefit their bottom line.
While same-day delivery may not yet be feasible, industry leaders are finding several ways to enhance customer service. According to the brief, “Strategies for Improving Customer Service and On-Time Delivery in Industrial Metal Cutting,” the following are just a few of the strategies industrial metal-cutting organizations are using to better meet the demands of their customers:
- Put Quality First. Balancing speed with quality has always been a pain point for manufacturers, but as any metal-cutting company can attest, customers are now asking for tighter tolerances in half the time. Growing demand has made this an even greater challenge. While speed and agility are certainly key attributes of any leading metal-cutting operation, they cannot come at the expense of accuracy. In sawing, for example, if an operator increases the speed of the saw to get more cuts per minute without considering the feed setting or the material, the end result will be decreased blade life, possible maintenance issues, and lower quality cuts. In the same way, companies focused solely on speed and delivery without considering the quality aspect of customer service will likely see other areas of their business suffer, including customer retention and costs.
- Standardize Processes. Standardization is one of the key aspects of lean manufacturing. However, experts believe it is often the missing link within many so-called lean factories. By taking the time to standardize manufacturing processes, metal-cutting operations can keep production moving smoothly while also maintaining consistency. This is especially true for shops that run multiple shifts. For example, managers can create standardized cut charts so operators know the right blade to use for every process and type of job. Procedure checklists, sign-off sheets, and training reference documents are additional tools managers can use to maintain quality throughout the production process.
- Consider ISO Certification. Many industry leaders are finding that becoming ISO 9001 certified helps them maintain quality standards during times of high volume. The ISO standard 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 ISO 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. In most cases, it is used to strengthen existing quality programs by making it a formal, documented procedure.
- Engage Customers. As many leading companies are discovering, the voice of the customer can be a valuable tool. According to research from consulting firm Aberdeen Group: “The customer has become much more than a product delivery channel and instead has morphed into an integral stakeholder with the clout to determine the viability of the organization, and their voice can no longer be taken for granted.” Of course, customer feedback requires some form of measurement, which can mean anything from tracking every call to your service center to having your sales team proactively reach out to customers for input. The goal is to both gather and leverage customer feedback to identify problem areas and reveal new service opportunities.
Many forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies are also diversifying their services to better serve new and existing customers. In fact, Ampco-Pittsburgh Corporation has built diversification into its corporate strategy. Earlier this month, the Carnegie, PA-based forging operation announced the acquisition of ASW Steel, Inc., a steel producer based in Welland, Ontario, Canada.Commenting on the acquisition, John Stanik, Ampco-Pittsburgh’s CEO, said:
“This acquisition is a very important element in Ampco-Pittsburgh’s strategic diversification plan. ASW’s proven broad expertise in flexible steel refining methods will provide us with the capabilities to manufacture the additional chemistries needed to expand our reach in the open-die forging market. The transaction also enhances our ability to grow in markets in which we currently participate and to add new markets for customers in the oil and gas, power generation, aerospace, transportation, and construction industries.”
What does it take to keep your customers satisfied and, more importantly, gain their loyalty? In today’s demanding market, most industrial metal-cutting companies would say high quality, competitive costs, and on-time delivery. However, those have always been the hallmarks of any good manufacturer, and some might argue that the last few years weeded out any companies that even remotely lagged in these key areas. How you “amp up” your customer service game will largely depend on what you already have in place, but the above strategies are just a few ideas to get you started.
What is one thing you could do to improve customer service in your forging operation?
November 10, 2016 / best practices, blade life, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, preventative maintenance, ROI, strategic planning, supplier relationships
According to research from Kronos, U.S. manufacturers as a whole are bullish about future growth prospects. As reported by IndustryWeek, the research shows that nine out of 10 company leaders expect revenues to increase every year over the next five years, and well over half anticipate strong annual growth of 5% or more.
That doesn’t, however, mean companies don’t anticipate stumbling blocks. In fact, the report lists five critical challenges today’s manufacturers feel could limit their potential sales and profit growth. Not surprisingly, three of those challenges are cost-related—material costs, labor costs, and transportation/logistics costs.
So while some manufacturers are optimistic right now, there is no question that uncertainty about market conditions remain. The latest data from the Institute for Supply Management, for example, revealed that that Fabricated Metal Products sector contracted in October; however, new orders were up in September. This type of instability means that most fabricators are keeping a close eye on cost.
As stated in the brief, Cost Management Strategies for Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, there are no “one size fits all” answers when it comes to cost management. However, there are some of guiding principals industry leaders are using to keep costs low.
From an operations standpoint, managers can better manage equipment costs by making sure saws and other metal-cutting tools are operating as optimally as possible. According to the brief, this includes ensuring that equipment is running at the proper settings and that fluids are adequate.
“Closely monitoring blade life and maintenance reports are a critical aspect of managing equipment costs,” the brief explains. “If operators are taking too long to cut a specific material or blade costs are up, managers should review equipment settings and monitor the operator in action.” Consistent general and preventative maintenance programs can also help metals executives better manage costs.
From a more strategic standpoint, there are several best practices metal fabricators can follow. Below are three strategies to consider:
- Partner up to increase buying power and save money. As suggested in an article from Thomasnet, partnering with other small businesses can yield volume discounts and achieve savings. Consortiums put the benefits of economies of scale into effect for small businesses that would otherwise be left paying premiums. In addition, small firms should seek strategic partnerships with key suppliers. Purchasing from fewer suppliers saves time and resources while building trust. A small business owner can talk openly with a strategic partner and ensure the company is not overspending due to unnecessary costs.
- Include financial personnel in improvement initiatives. If your company has decided to embark on a continuous improvement activity to save costs, you may want to check out this article from IndustryWeek. In addition to discussing the dangers of disguising cost cutting as improvement, the article also reminds managers to spend time with the financial community and hold discussions on costs and savings before starting an improvement project. Managers should work closely with the financial team to develop a tracking system for possible problems to prove cost savings in the future. The article also suggests that a person from the financial community be included in each improvement team. This person will be able to validate cost savings and ensure all costs are tracked accurately.
- Factor time into the cost equation. While most people believe the old adage “time is money,” traditional accounting practices don’t exactly account for the cost of time—specifically, customer lead times—in metal fabrication. As explained in an article from The Fabricator, traditional cost accounting treats inventory as an asset and does not capture the true costs of long lead times. However, according to the author of the book, The Monetary Value of Time, there is an accounting method that corrects this oversight and complies with generally accepted accounting principles. You can read more about this method here.
Regardless of whether you are optimistic about the market and making investments or taking a more cautious approach and holding your pennies close, it is always important to closely monitor costs. By taking the time to approach cost strategically, today’s metal fabricators can save money, stay competitive, and, hopefully, see long-term increases to the bottom line.
October 20, 2016 / best practices, blade life, blade selection, continuous improvement, customer service, industry news, LIT, Output, productivity, quality
As end markets like aerospace and medical look for ways to improve the strength and reliability of their products, many machine shops are seeing increased use of harder materials like titanium alloys.
However, there are a few characteristics that make titanium alloys more challenging to work with than many other metal materials. To help machine shops tackle this often tough-to-cut metal, the following is a brief overview on titanium alloys and the most effective cutting tools and methods for working with this material.
Taking on Titanium
Titanium alloys are praised for their strong, yet lightweight properties. The material also has outstanding corrosion resistance. As explained here by Modern Machine Shop, these properties make the material an ideal choice for aircraft designs,medical devices, and implants.
However, titanium can be tricky to work with due to its reactivity at higher temperatures and its tough composition. “Since titanium’s heat conductivity is low, it will flex and return to its original shape a lot more easily than steel or high-nickel alloys,” explains an article from American Machinist. “The downside of this is experienced during machining: the heat from the operation does not transfer into the part itself or dissipate from the tool edge, which can shorten tool life.”
The article goes on to say that this issue is compounded by the tight tolerances demanded by most customers. “For aerospace, the tolerances are to within a thousandth of an inch, and if violated, the part must be scrapped,” the article states. “Achieving such tolerances while using such a malleable material is difficult, and wear on the cutters increases significantly compared to similar efforts with nickel and chromium alloys.”
The technical article, “Machining Titanium and Its Alloys,” published by jobshop.com provides key insights into the chemistry behind titanium alloys and lends the following tips for its successful manufacturing (You can read the full article here):
- Use low cutting speeds
- Maintain high feed rates
- Use generous amounts of cutting fluid
- Use sharp tools and replace them at the first sign of wear, or as determined by production/cost considerations
- Never stop feeding while a tool and a work piece are in moving contact
Choosing the Right Blade
Like any material, one crucial aspect of cutting titanium alloys is choosing the right tool. As industry experts, The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) offers critical advice concerning blade selection in its white paper, Characteristics of a Carbide-Friendly Bandsaw Machine. Since titanium alloys are a stronger and harder material, they pose a unique cutting challenge best solved by carbide blades. Using a carbide-tipped band saw blade not only allows for the successful cutting of titanium alloys, but it simultaneously offers longer blade life and faster cutting as well.
LIT’s white paper further elaborates on the benefits of the carbide technology by providing a real-life comparison between a bi-metal and a carbide blade. The test produced the following results:
- The bi-metal band saw blade (Contestor GT) ran 120 feet per minute with a feed rate of 0.53 inches per minute.
- The carbide blade (Armor CT Black) ran at 320 feet per minute with a feed rate of 3.11 inches per minute.
Ultimately, the higher speed and feed rate of the carbide blade enabled it to make the cut 13 minutes faster, translating into 160 more parts produced during an 8-hour shift than its bi-metal counterpart.
Meeting Material Demands
Material trends will come and go, but metal-cutting companies that want to successfully serve existing and potential customers need to be prepared to adapt to the industry’s changing material needs. As the use of titanium grows, today’s machine shops need to understand the material’s unique characteristics and machining requirements so they are fully equipped to tackle every one of their customers’ demands.
October 10, 2016 / agility, best practices, blade failure, blade life, continuous improvement, customer satisfaction metrics, industry news, lean manufacturing, operations metrics, performance metrics, predictive management, productivity
Thanks to advancements in machine-to-machine (M2M) and communications technology, many believe the manufacturing industry is on the brink of the “fourth industrial revolution,” also known as Industry 4.0. This concept has been widely discussed and promoted in Europe, especially by German manufacturers Siemens and Bosch, but the term is starting to gain traction in the U.S as well.
What is Industry 4.0?
Because it is a newer term, definitions for what comprises Industry 4.0 vary greatly. A report from Deloitte states that there are four characteristics that define Industry 4.0:
- Vertical networking of smart production systems
- Horizontal integration via a new generation of global value chain networks
- Cross-disciplinary “through-engineering” across the entire value chain
- Acceleration through exponential technologies
An article from Forbes defines Industry 4.0 as “a combination of several major technology innovations, all maturing simultaneously, and expected to have a dramatic impact on manufacturing sectors.” More specifically, the article states that technologies such as advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, sophisticated sensors, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things, are joining together to integrate the physical and virtual worlds.
Simply put, Industry 4.0 is the advent of the long-awaited “smart factory,” in which connectivity and advanced technologies are being used to streamline decisions, optimize processes, eliminate waste, and reduce errors.
Industry 4.0 In Practice
According to the Forbes article, Industry 4.0 has the potential to offer manufacturers three major benefits:
- Better transparency and agility
- More responsive to customer needs
- Self-monitoring products and services
What could this look like in your fabrication shop? EVS Metal, a precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ, says here in a blog post that Industry 4.0 “will eventually impact the way we fabricate and machine both single items and finished products, from start to finish, including warehousing and shipping, whether we’re manufacturing full production runs, or single prototypes.”
On a small scale, fabricators can start by equipping components and machines with necessary Industry 4.0 features, such as sensors, actuators, machine-level software, and network access to measure productivity of metal-cutting equipment. For example, one metal service center, featured here in a white paper, is using an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by each band saw and each blade. At any point, the operations manager can go to a computer screen, click on a saw, and see how many square inches that saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This has allowed the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.
This, however, is only the beginning. Once a manufacturer starts capturing relevant data from multiple machines, this data can be further analyzed to detect patterns, helping managers forecast and, eventually, automate decision-making processes. In a metal-cutting environment, this might include predicting blade life and equipment maintenance needs, which would essentially turn disruptive, unplanned downtime to more anticipated, planned downtime. This could translate into more jobs completed on time.
The Time is Now
Like any trend, it will take a while for Industry 4.0 to fully take hold. However, many experts are saying that industry leaders are embracing this next generation of manufacturing and, more importantly, are starting to make investments.
A PwC survey encompassing 2000 participants across nine industry sectors has concluded that Industry 4.0 will revolutionize industrial production and that first movers are transforming into digital enterprises. According to the study, 33% of companies say they’ve achieved advanced levels of digitization today, and 72% of companies expect to achieve advanced levels of digitization by 2020.
While no one believes the changeover to Industry 4.0 capabilities will come cheap, more than half of companies in PwC’s survey expect a return on investment within two years. “The payoff will potentially be enormous, as competitive landscapes get redefined,” PwC states. “Industrial companies need to act now to secure a leading position in tomorrow’s complex industrial ecosystems.”
Is your fabrication shop ready to invest in Industry 4.0?
September 20, 2016 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, continuous improvement, Cost Management, operator training, preventative maintenance, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
Most metal-cutting professionals agree that lubricants are a critical part of any sawing operation. As explained in the reference guide, User Error or Machine Error?, insufficient sawing fluid can cause a host of metal-cutting issues, from premature blade failure to poor cut quality.
Metal-cutting fluids save maintenance time, improve cut quality, and extend tooling life. However, not all lubricating options are created equally. As this blog post describes, managers have a wide range of lubrication options available to them. And while fluid selection may seem like a small detail, it should be treated like any other operational purchase—with both strategy and cost in mind.
One lubricant choice that many machine shops overlook is Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL). This alternative option sprays a very small quantity of lubricant precisely on the cutting surface, eliminating any cutting fluid waste. In fact, many consider it a near-dry process, as less than 2 percent of the fluid adheres to the chips.
MQL is great for smaller saws and for structural applications, but it is also versatile enough to be used in both precision circular sawing and band sawing operations. To help machine shops determine whether or not MQL is a good fit for their operation, below are just a few of its key benefits:
- Lower long-term costs. Although MQL fluids typically cost substantially more per gallon, less than 1/10,000 of the amount of fluid is used. It also eliminates the need to invest in reclamation equipment such as sumps, recyclers, containers, pumps, or filtration devices.
- Less waste. Another major benefit is that MQL is a much more sustainable option. As an article from Fabricating & Metalworking discusses, metal chips produced during MQL machining are much cleaner than conventional approaches. Near-dry chips are easier to recycle and more valuable as a recycled material. Conversely, “wet” processes like flood coolants produce “increased and on-going lifecycle costs in the form of energy consumption, chemical maintenance, water make-up, disposal of used cutting fluids, and then starting the cycle of waste/recovery all over again by replenishing consumed fluids,” the article states.
- Less maintenance. The smaller amount of coolant means that less fluid sticks to the part. This reduces the need to clean parts after cutting. Also, MQL fluids do not have to be diluted with water. Flood coolants, however, have to be mixed with water, and operators need to monitor the concentration as fluid is lost, water evaporates, etc.
Of course, changing over to MQL is not as simple as just plugging in a new lubrication system. Implementation will require some research, training, and upfront investment. In fact, as a recent article from Modern Machine Shop points out, MQL can also present some manufacturing challenges. According to the magazine, operations managers should consider the following before deciding to implement MQL:
- MQL does not have comparable chip evacuation abilities to those of wet machining.
- MQL is still not well suited for deep-hole drilling, energy-intensive processes such as grinding, special operations like honing and small-hole drilling, or for difficult-to-machine materials such as titanium and nickel-based alloys.
- MQL still produces a very fine mist, which can be more difficult to filter.
- MQL implementation may require changes to the machine tool and processing strategy.
Although MQL may not be suitable for every shop, in many cases, it can offer significant advantages to your business, your employees, and the environment—three major reasons to at least consider using it in your metal-cutting operations.
For more information about what is needed to use MQL, including equipment requirements and some “rules of thumb,” you can download a copy of The MQL Handbook here.
September 10, 2016 / agility, best practices, blade life, blade selection, continuous improvement, industry news, material costs, strategic planning
For the last several years, the U.S. auto industry has been a growth driver for many industries, including industrial metal cutting. As we reported in our “Metal Service Center Outlook for 2016,” the automotive sector is one of two industries expected to help metal fabricators “ride out the storm” of today’s uncertain market.
While recent reports have shown that U.S. auto industry sales have started to cool, most experts still believe auto sales will remain strong over the next few years, even if they aren’t breaking any new records. In theory, this is good news for metal fabricators and other companies serving the auto segment. However, sales aren’t the only trend suppliers should be tracking.
According to an article from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the auto industry is in the midst of change, and the supply chain needs to be ready to respond. “It’s not clear how cars will change in the coming years, but automakers and suppliers no longer have the luxury of sitting out the transformation,” the PwC article states. “If you are an executive at an OEM or an auto equipment supplier, your strategic acumen — your ability to place your company in the vanguard of product trends without running afoul of ever more stringent environmental rules — will surely be tested.”
Put simply: if automotive is one of your key customer segments, it’s time to pay attention.
One of the biggest shifts happening within automotive manufacturing has been the growing use of lightweight materials. To meet federal emission standards, a growing number of U.S. automakers like Ford are using lightweight metals to decrease the weight of their vehicles and, therefore, increase the fuel economy. Many in the industry refer to this trend as “lightweighting.”
Of course, with new materials come new equipment and tooling needs, as well as new cutting parameters and techniques. To ensure that fabricators are prepared, below is a short summary of two materials trends worth following:
- Aluminum. As this American Metals Market (AMM) article states, aluminum is now second to steel as the most used material in automotive design. According to AMM, the use of aluminum is growing because it is a fast, safe, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective way to improve performance, boost fuel economy, and reduce emissions. Key aluminum suppliers like Alcoa have been reaping the rewards of this trend and expect growth to continue on a global scale.
As any metal-cutting expert can attest, every material has its own distinct properties that affect how it is cut. Aluminum is a softer material, but it is also abrasive, which can present some machining challenges. According to an article published by Canadian Industrial Machinery (CIM) magazine, aluminum’s abrasive property can wreak havoc on a saw blade, accelerating tooth wear and diminishing blade life. To combat aluminum’s abrasive quality, most manufacturers recommend carbide-tipped band saw blades over bi-metal blades. This is because carbides are harder, tougher, and more durable, Matt Lacroix of LENOX explains in the CIM article. “Carbide tips are slower to wear and better suited to handle the high machining speeds,” Lacroix writes. Other blade factors, such as backing steel and tooth geometry, can also help improve the efficiency of sawing aluminum, he adds. (To read more about cutting aluminum, check out the entire CIM article here.)
- Magnesium Alloys. Although it hasn’t received nearly as much attention as aluminum, metals experts quoted here in an article from Canadian Fabricating & Welding believe that magnesium alloys will have a place in lightweight auto design in the future. “The weight reduction we experience using aluminum in place of steel is 40 percent,” Adrian Gerlich, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering at Waterloo, tells the magazine. “Using magnesium alloys in place of aluminum sees a further comparative weight reduction of between 30 and 40 percent.”
Gerlich adds that despite its lightweight properties, magnesium alloys do present a host of manufacturing challenges. Because it is less stiff than aluminum, magnesium alloys require the addition of stringers and stiffeners, he explains. In addition, the material is difficult to weld, has to be formed at a higher temperature if it is to be used for stamped parts, and is more susceptible to corrosion. “The oxide of magnesium isn’t inherently protective; it continues to corrode, so careful protection of the material is required,” Gerlich states. Even with these challenges, however, Gerlich and others believe that with more research, magnesium alloys could have huge potential in automotive applications.
Steel Still Reigns—For Now
Even with these new materials hitting the automotive scene, steel will likely continue to be the dominant metal used in automotive manufacturing. According to Automotive World, the average vehicle is still made using between 800kg and 900kg of steel.
As Tim Triplett, editor of Metal Center News, said in an archived editorial, the steel industry won’t likely lose any ground in auto design but, instead, will simply adjust to the trends. “Just as many headlines heralded new developments in lightweight, advanced high-strength steels,” Triplett wrote. “Steelmakers claim the auto industry can meet the government mileage standards by using the new steel alloys, in combination with power train innovations, and at a lower cost than switching parts to aluminum.”
Indeed, reports show that auto manufacturers are already testing the use of lightweight steel alloys, and innovators like GM are even trying mixed-metal manufacturing in which steel and aluminum parts are welded together.
Regardless of which automotive material trends take hold, the point is that fabricators and other suppliers serving this market need to be ready: Do the research, ask the questions, and be ready to adapt accordingly.