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?
December 1, 2016 / agility, best practices, blade selection, industry news, material costs, productivity, skills gap, strategic planning
Over the last few years, uncertainty has plagued the manufacturing industry. Currency fluctuations, material costs, customer demands, labor shortages, and political issues are just a few of the factors feeding into an overwhelming feeling of doubt and apprehension among manufacturers.
Instead of fearing change, most companies have come to expect it. This has led many industry leaders to focus their efforts on becoming more “agile” so they can quickly respond to changing customer demands. As explained here in a blog post, “agile organizations operate on a ‘sense and respond’ mode rather than the ‘predict and control’ mode.”
An agile company is able to take advantage of short windows of opportunity and adapt to fast changes in customer demand. According to a previously published blog, this tactic can be especially attractive for industrial metal-cutting companies that are trying to gain an advantage over offshore competitors.
However, the question is whether this renewed focus on agility should come at the cost of long-term planning. While short-term goals and gains are important, is it really wise for today’s manufacturers to ditch long-term strategic planning because the future looks uncertain? Does it really pay to be shortsighted?
An article from Forbes suggests that the answer to that question is no. According to the article, one of the top-five questions managers should ask during a strategic planning session is where they want to be in the next three years. “While some might balk at long term plans, they help people to frame a future vision,” the article states. “When teams don’t articulate long-range goals, they get trapped into incrementalism. Each year a little more growth is expected, a few changes are made and revenue and profit targets are increased. The result is a business that probably inches forward.”
According to an editorial from IndustryWeek, there are also risks associated with companies that are fixated on the short term. In fact, the article asserts that short-term goals can often lead to long-term problems. “I am a firm believer in capitalism but capitalism cannot thrive if we remain focused on short-term profits at the expense of long-term sustainability,” the article author states.
From an operational standpoint, this theory holds some weight, as short-term decisions can have long-term consequences. The white paper, Tackling the Top Five Operating Challenges of Industrial Metal Cutting, gives two examples:
- Some metal-cutting operations use the “pick for speed” method to meet growing demand and improve short-term productivity. This means operators are grabbing fresh material every time and ignoring scrap. However, many industry leaders are finding that “pick for clean” is a better long-term solution. In most cases, using remnants first and striving to keep inventory low leads to increases in productivity and quality in the longer term because operators take the time to perform cuts right the first time. This also keeps material costs low, which affects the bottom line.
- One machine shop found that upgrading to a carbide-tipped band saw blade provided a substantial improvement in efficiency. Previously, the shop was using bi-metal band saw blades to cut stainless steel, which could take up to two hours. Now, with the carbide-tipped blade, cuts are performed in minutes, which has provided huge time savings and has freed up the sawing equipment to do more cutting. While the short-term cost of the newer blades was higher, the machine shop found that the long-term productivity benefits were well worth the investment.
While there is no question that today’s companies need to be able to adapt to change, long-term thinking and planning are still an important part of business success. An article from Harvard Business Review puts it this way:
“Don’t just say that the future is uncertain, and that you will act when it gets here. It is the responsibility of a forward-looking leader to share a point of view about the role the company might play in specific scenarios. Communicate how customers are changing, and how your organization can address those needs in the future.”
What is your company’s long-term point of view?
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.
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.
June 25, 2016 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, LIT, ROI
In band sawing, forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies typically rely on two types of blades—bi-metal and carbide-tipped blades. Both blade technologies offer more performance and life expectancy than carbon steel blades, and choosing between the two types used to be fairly straightforward. However, advancements in both technologies have made it a little more difficult for companies to make the best blade choice for their operations.
While sawing is just a small part of the forging process, achieving operational excellence requires managers to optimize all aspects of the forging operation. To help forges make the best decision about the “right” blade type for their band-sawing operations, below is a brief overview on both blade types from the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job.
Bi-metal blades are a common choice for most metal-cutting applications, especially since they are more affordable than carbide-tipped blades. In bi-metal blade construction, high-speed steel edge material is welded to fatigue resistant spring steel backing, providing a good combination of cutting performance and fatigue life.
Generally speaking, bi-metal blades are sub-divided into the following two categories:
- General-purpose blades are often used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon steels, structural steels, and some alloy steels. These blades are also good for switching between different metal types and sizes, as well as from solids to structural pieces. However, some industry experts warn to be judicious when switching between different metal types, sizes and shapes, as subjecting blades to different types of cutting can shorten blade life.
- Production-sawing blades tend to be more versatile and are able to cut everything from the easiest-to-cut materials to difficult-to-cut nickel-based alloys. These blades are also ideal for cutting structural pieces and bundles, and they typically offer a long blade life and fast, straight cutting.
Like bi-metal blades, carbide-tipped blades are made of at least two different types of material. In most cases, carbide tips are welded to a high-strength alloy back, providing a longer lasting, smoother cutting blade.
Although carbide-tipped blades are typically more expensive than bi-metal blades, shops may elect to trade up to a carbide-tipped blade for three key reasons:
- longer life
- faster cutting
- better finish
The various choices of carbide-tipped blades will cover the machinability spectrum, but they are most often used for hard-to-cut materials like super alloys. High-performance carbide-tipped blades work especially well with hard tool steel that needs to be cut fast. Some high-performance carbide-tipped blades—especially coated versions—can offer extreme cutting rates, while others can perform exceptionally well when cutting super alloys.
Weighing the Options
As explained in the white paper, Top 5 Operating Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal, having the right blade for the job optimizes cut times, cut quality, and blade life, especially when cutting tougher metals like stainless steel and super alloys. This is particularly important in forged materials, which require aggressive blades with varied tooth geometries that can get underneath any scale buildup.
Of course, there will always be instances when the “right” blade choice won’t be clear cut and will require managers to strategically choose between a “good,” “better” and “best” option. For example, 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, as featured here in Modern Metals, LENOX offers a carbide-tipped band saw blade that has been designed specifically to cut aluminum and non-ferrous alloys. The new blade has a range of features that are optimized for aluminum cutting applications, including a specialized grade of carbide on the tip, a multi-chip tooth pattern, and a high rake angle.
Another example is noted in an article from Canadian Industrial Machinery. According to the article, bi-metal blades can be used to cut super alloys; however, as the article explains, cutting speeds will need to be slower and blades will wear out faster than when using carbide blades. “An experienced operator can adjust parameters to cut the occasional super alloy with a bimetal blade, but carbide is the choice to cost-effectively cut large quantities of hard materials,” the article states. “Blade choice comes down to a cost-per-cut situation and what fits with a shop’s operation.”
Making the Right Choice
Indeed, blade selection needs to take into account the total operational costs of running the blade, including maintenance costs and equipment requirements. Case in point: While carbide-tipped 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 saws. Metal-cutting operations using carbide-tipped blades need to make sure they are using a saw that can run the blade speeds that are required.
In the end, the “right” blade choice requires forges 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
By understanding some of the basic features of each blade type and then strategically assessing operational needs and goals, managers can make informed purchasing decisions that will factor into the bottom line and, ultimately, contribute to the shop’s overall success.
June 15, 2016 / agility, best practices, blade selection, industry news, material costs, strategic planning
As we reported in our 2016 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, this year has started off much slower than experts had hoped or anticipated. However, there are still a few industry segments that are sparking demand for industrial metal-cutting companies. One of these segments is solar power.
Over the last few years, the solar power industry has experienced exponential growth. In 2010, solar only totaled 4 percent of all forms of electric generation but has since grown to 30 percent in 2015, according to the latest U.S. Solar Market Insight report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
The sector shows no signs of slowing down either. In the first quarter of 2016 alone, solar accounted for 64 percent of all new electric capacity in the U.S., adding more capacity than natural gas, coal, nuclear, and wind industries combined. SEIA forecasts that the solar industry will nearly quadruple by 2021. In addition, Congress recently extended the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) until the end of 2021, which provides a substantial federal tax credit for both residential and commercial projects until a permanent 10-percent credit takes effect in 2022. The Solar ITC also allows owners who start construction before the end of 2021 to claim a larger credit as long as it’s complete and in service by the end of 2023.
According to an article from IndustryWeek, one of the reasons solar is booming is due to large-scale installations, which will account for approximately 75 percent of all installations this year. The utility and large-scale solar installations require many metal products for towers, including structural tubing, racking, and torque tubes for fixed and tracking systems—all of which have to be cut and shipped.
Industrial metal-cutting companies that want to grow with the solar power market need to be aware of customer needs and how the market is evolving. Based on our research, there are two trends worth noting.
1. Metal Wars
Following suit with other industries, price is driving metal material preferences for solar power installations. According to this article from American Metals Market (AMM), Aaron Faust, vice president of business development and co-founder of Applied Energy Technologies (AET) explained: “During our first four years, we sold predominately stainless products. In the last three years, galvanized steel has taken the lion’s share of our products. For a long time, it was the perfect storm—stainless could complete with aluminum and galvanized. But margin has been squeezed so tight across the board. Prices are driving everything now.”
In addition to price, solar requires high quality and durability to withstand the weight of the installation itself and weather conditions. While aluminum and stainless steel have long been used in solar applications, many aluminum rack suppliers are now offering galvanized steel products, as they not only meet strict specifications for custom utility and large-scale installations but also are highly resistant to corrosion. “Two things that will define next year are the availability of steel and the capacity of companies to process it,” Faust tells AMM. “There’s not much concern over availability, but the market could face some limitations with the market concentrated on certain forms.”
Given a shift in material preference, it is important for metal-cutting companies to have the right tool for the job. For example, carbide band saw blades are designed to cut faster and last longer for a variety of applications, including aluminum and hardened materials like galvanized steel. However, high-performance bi-metal blades may provide a cost-effective solution for carbon steel and structural steel tubing. (For more information on choosing the right blade, check out the Blade Selector tool from the LENOX Institute of Technology.)
2. Fixed vs. Tracking Systems
Besides the preferred metal type for utility grade solar installations, the type of installation itself will have an impact on what industrial metal-cutting companies will be cutting. GameChange Solar, a New York-based manufacturer of commercial and utility scale solar racking and tracker systems, recently switched to pre-galvanized steel for its production after aluminum prices increased, according to an article from Modern Metals. In addition to the material switch, the company recently increased its use of metal tubing and sourced 40 million pounds of sheet and tubing due in part to the growing use of solar trackers. Unlike fixed systems that simply collect sunrays as they pass over the panel, tracking systems follow the sun throughout the day with the use of structural tubing. Panels are then installed on the tube so they can pivot back and forth to increase a panel’s efficiency. GameChange Solar’s President Andrew Worden estimates that the tracker market will total $1 billion this year in the U.S. alone, with the world market growing to an estimated $3 billion.
With nothing but growth in the forecast for the solar power industry, the metal industry is poised to grow alongside it. Industrial metal-cutting companies that stock the right material and cutting tools will be prepared to take full advantage of this market opportunity and gain a competitive edge.
March 20, 2016 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, lean manufacturing, LIT, preventative maintenance
Although the metalworking industry was hoping 2016 would be a year of growth, recent reports show continued declines in both new orders and production rates in February. While no one is worried that business is going to completely plummet, the sobering reality is that shops need to continue to focus on cost reduction and optimization to survive in today’s unpredictable and competitive market.
The challenge for many shops is figuring out where to optimize. After a few rough years, many shops have already implemented large-scale improvements to increase efficiency and save costs. According to the results of Modern Machine Shop’s annual Top Shop Survey, 62 percent of leading machine shops (or “top shops”) have developed a formal continuous improvement program, and most use manufacturing tools like 5S workplace organization, cellular manufacturing, and value stream mapping.
What else, then, can possibly be improved? For some shops, the answer may be to “think small.” Take band sawing as an example. When thinking about optimization, the instinct for most operation managers is to focus on the efficiency of the saw, the workflow process, and maybe even the operator. But what about the tools? Could they be optimized?
If we are talking about band saw blades, the answer is yes. As explained in the LENOX Guide to Band Sawing, completing a proper break-in procedure on a new band saw blade will significantly increase its life (see photo). This not only allows the shop to cut more material, it also reduces unnecessary downtime to replace blades and lowers the cost of replacement blades.
When it comes to consumable tools like blades, many machine shops fail to understand the critical role they can play in the overall success of their sawing equipment and, ultimately, their entire operation. In fact, according to a benchmark study of machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting companies, less than half (45%) of the organizations surveyed reported they “always” break in blades, 30 percent said they do it “most of the time,” and 15 percent said they do it “occasionally.” This means that the majority of industrial metal-cutting shops are missing out on a simple and effective opportunity for optimization.
This can be true of other “small” aspects of your cutting operations. As covered here in an earlier blog post, running blades at the right speed settings and proper lubrication can also directly affect your shop’s productivity, costs, and quality. Other metalworking operations, such as welding and punching, have similar best practices that offer opportunities for optimization, allowing you to get the most out of your manufacturing tools.
Like any change, optimization starts small. What areas of your shop’s operations are you overlooking?
For more bandsawing tips, including how to properly break-in blades, click here to download LENOX’s Guide to Bandsawing.