blade selection

Cutting Titanium Alloys Helps Metal-Cutting Companies Serve the Growing Aerospace Industry

August 3, 2015 / , , , , , ,

Over the past few years, the aerospace industry has enjoyed ample growth. In 2014, the sector earned $228.4 billion in sales, an increase from $219.4 billion in 2013, according to the Aerospace Industries Association. This growth is expected to continue this year, with Deloitte estimating industry growth of 3% in its “2015 Global Aerospace and Defense Industry Outlook.” Catalyzing this growth is the commercial side of the business, with increased passenger travel demand picking up the slack for diminishing defense budgets. In fact, the report predicts passenger travel demand to increase 5% each year for the next 20 years, providing more opportunity for industry growth in the coming decades.

As critical suppliers to the aerospace industry, metal-cutting companies have a prime opportunity to capitalize on the rising demand, provided they are armed with the right services and tools to cater to the needs of this growing industry. In fact, many metal-cutting companies are already taking advantage of the aerospace industry’s success. As mentioned in a previous LENOX blog post, companies TW Metals and Universal Machining Industries Inc. now successfully serve aerospace customers because they were willing to make changes and broaden their capabilities to better address the unique needs of the segment.

Metal-cutting companies that want to successfully serve existing and potential aerospace customers need to be sure they are equipped to handle the industry’s changing material needs. In the past, aluminum alloys were predominantly used in aerospace manufacturing; however, advances in titanium alloys are launching the material to the forefront. According to a report from Research and Markets, demand for aluminum alloys is projected to “remain flat” moving forward, while demand for titanium alloys is predicted to “surge.”

Knowing how to efficiently cut titanium alloys is one way metal-cutting organizations can position themselves to be a preferred supplier of the aerospace industry. To help companies better prepare for this new development, the following is a brief overview on titanium alloys and the most effective cutting tools and methods for working with this material.

Tackling Titanium Alloys

Titanium alloys are praised for their strong, yet light-weight material. However, the metal is often tricky to work with due to its reactivity at higher temperatures and its tough composition. The American Machinist article, “Cool Tips for Cutting Titanium” provides key insights into the chemistry behind the alloys and lends the following tips for its successful manufacturing:

For more manufacturing tips, you can read the full article here, or check out the paper “Manufacture of Titanium Alloy Components for Aerospace and Military Applications” for a deeper dive into the proper methodologies for forging and machining titanium.

Choosing the Right Blade

Another crucial aspect of efficiently 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 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:

Ultimately, the higher speed and feed rate of the Armor CT Black 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.

For more information on choosing the right tool, you can check out the LENOX guide to band sawing here. The guide provides recommendations on the best blade selection and blade speed to effectively cut titanium alloys, as well as other metal materials.


blade selection

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.

blade selection

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.

blade selection

Best Practices for High Production Circular Sawing Operations

March 15, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In a mature manufacturing operation like circular sawing, it is easy for managers and lead operators to rely on trusted and proven techniques. Unfortunately, today’s competitive market has upped the ante, which is why so many operations have stopped depending solely on tribal knowledge and are now embracing continuous improvement and the changes that come along with it.

Today’s leading operations managers know that being successful requires both innovation and re-evaluation. In other words, they understand that their way may not always be the best way, and that, instead, their aim should be to stay open to a better way. As a recent leadership article from Forbes notes, “Top performers are top performers because they consistently search for ways to make their best even better.”

In a circular sawing operation, this may mean testing a new blade on the shop floor, while other times, it may mean adopting a new management technique. Or, as this article from suggests, it may mean basing your decisions on “real-time data versus institutional memory.”

The point is that bar is always moving, and it would serve most operations well to be open to new ideas and, more importantly, to learn from others. What are other circular sawing operations doing to stay competitive? The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) interviewed two high production metal-cutting companies and asked them for some of the best practices they are using to stay competitive. Read below to discover a few of the strategies they are using to become industry leaders.

Jet Cutting Service, Inc.
Based out of  a 69,000-sq-ft facility in Bedford Park, IL, the metal processor currently runs 10 circular cold saws and eight band saws and primarily serves steel service centers, machine shops, and some producing mills. When it comes to strategy, vice president Mike Baron focuses on three key strategies:

A.M. Castle & Co.
In addition to distributing a wide range of metal and plastic materials, the leading metal service center also performs simple sawing operations at several of its locations, including its main distribution center in Franklin Park, IL. Glen Sliwa, who is responsible for keeping saw operations up and running, describes three ways the shop stays productive:

To download the full case study, Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies, visit LIT’s circular saw resource page.

blade selection

Tips to Optimize Your Service Center’s Precision Circular Sawing Operation

March 5, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,

In today’s fast-paced paced and competitive market, the main objective for most service centers is optimization. While getting orders out the door is always a priority, leading companies know that speed isn’t everything. In fact, running a circular saw too fast can lead to shorter blade life, unexpected downtime, and even poor quality and rework, all of which decrease a cutting operation’s overall productivity.

Optimization requires managers to weigh short-term factors such as cutting speed against longer-term factors such as blade life, maintenance, and cost. Of course, this challenge is easier said than done. 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.

To help service centers optimize their precision circular sawing operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) compiled a series of charts that describe some of the common cutting challenges operators face and possible solutions.

The following are LIT’s tips and tricks for keeping your circular sawing operation running at peak efficiency:

charts 1 and 2
chart 3

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.

blade selection

How Should Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Allocate Resources for their Metal Cutting Operations?

February 28, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today’s cost-sensitive market makes it difficult for managers to gauge how they should strategically allocate resources within their industrial metal-cutting operations. Is it wise to make high-tech capital investments in an uncertain economy, or would manufacturers be better served to invest in their human capital to close the growing skills gap?

These types of questions can be especially challenging in a mature market like ball and roller bearing manufacturing, where seasoned employees may be resistant to change, both in terms of company culture and technology. However, leaders need to be sure they are making strategic decisions that benefit both the company and their employees, and avoiding the trap of making allocation decisions because “that’s the way they’ve always been done.”

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers discern how to best allocate resources within their operations, below are some resources that discuss some of the trends and strategies today’s manufacturing leaders are using to get ahead in today’s market:

blade selection

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.

blade selection

Trends Affecting Industrial Metals Companies Serving the Automotive Industry

February 15, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,

It’s no secret—the U.S. automotive industry is doing well. In 2014, the industry registered gains it hasn’t seen since 2006, and the momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing. According to a recent report from the New York Times, sales of automobiles rose 14 percent over January of last year, with several major auto makers posting double-digit increases in a month that is traditionally slow for U.S. dealerships. Sales forecasts for the next five years are even better. One analyst has even predicted sales will hit 20 million vehicles by 2020, reports Automotive News.

This is no doubt good news for any supplier serving the automotive space, including industrial metal-cutting companies. However, ramped up demand usually means ramped up customer expectations, and suppliers need to be ready to not only meet the needs of automotive makers, but also stand out from competitors vying for the same business.

To help companies strategically approach this market, below are some of the major trends impacting automotive manufacturing. From materials to robotics, customer needs and processes are evolving, and suppliers looking to win (and perhaps keep) the business may need to adjust accordingly.

blade selection

Deciding Whether or Not Your Machine Shop Should Automate

December 20, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,

It’s budget time, which means that managers are allocating resources and making investment decisions about production equipment and technology. In today’s unstable market, some shops may still be hesitant to make any huge capital expenditures; however, positive outlooks for 2015, increasing demand for faster delivery, and a shortage of skilled workers are pushing many executives to make at least some investments this year. According to the 2015 Capital Spending Survey by Gardner Research, U.S. metalworking facilities will spend $8.8 billion on new metal-cutting equipment in 2015, an increase of almost 37 percent compared to Gardner’s latest estimate for 2014.

One of the first investments most companies will consider is automation. In fact, a recent study by Grand View Research Inc. states that climbing labor costs, a booming automotive industry, and market demands for rapid and efficient manufacturing processes are increasing the need for automation in industrial manufacturing. As a result, the research firm expects the global industrial robotics market to exceed $40 billion by 2020.

For machine shops, there is a wide variety of automated saw options, including equipment with programmable workstations for repeat jobs, as well as models equipped with robotic attachments, complete with a camera and modem system that will notify the plant manager immediately if there’s a malfunction. Automatic feeder systems can take material out of the storing mechanism, place it on the saw, and stack it on a skid after it is cut. If speed is critical to a job, managers have a number of options.  They can consider semi-automatic or automatic saws, choose between high-production precision circular saws or band saws, and evaluate a number of blade choices optimized for faster cutting.

As this white paper explains, the challenge is deciding where automation makes sense within your operation and how to effectively balance technology and process automation with the allocation of shop floor personnel. In most cases, the decision process is not a simple one and requires strategy and careful consideration. For example, while automation is often used to reduce labor costs, automated equipment usually still requires an employee to load material into the system and to remove finished material.

The reality is that the decision to automate is not always clear-cut and depends largely on your specific application and your operational goals. Sometimes, automation is the best way to maximize productivity. Other times, it may be more beneficial to spend your dollars elsewhere. To give managers both perspectives, below are examples of two companies that strategically approached the decision of whether or not to automate:

In the end, managers need to be sure they approach automation with a reasonable set of goals and expectations. Like any investment assessment, the deciding factor should really boil down to the customer. Will customers benefit from adding a robotic arm to your band or circular saw? Will an automated saw increase turn-around time? Is your goal improved productivity or just a reduced head count? These are the questions managers need to be asking as they weigh cost expenditures against the benefits—or detriments—of those dollar-allocating decisions.

blade selection

Innovations that are Advancing Forged Automotive Parts

September 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , ,

As part of the automotive supply chain, forges that cut and process metal have a prime opportunity for growth over the next few years. The latest data shows that automotive sales continue to climb, and manufacturers are investing in new plants and equipment. In fact, predicted earlier this year that new car sales would reach 16.4 million in 2014—the highest total since 2006.

And while this is certainly good news for forges that serve this particular market, the not-so-good news is that competition is stronger than ever, both domestically and globally. In an annual survey conducted by Forging magazine, 38% of forges listed foreign competition as a top concern in 2014. Domestically, forges not only have to compete with each other, but find ways to compete with companies offering alternatives to forged components as well.

Forges that want to stand out among their competitors need to prove that they are achieving operational excellence. Part of this requires internal improvements such as reducing scrap, properly allocating resources, and even making safety a top priority. However, it is just as important for managers to take a look outside their doors and invest in technologies and equipment that can make them more innovative and, in turn, more competitive.

To help readers keep a pulse on how to better serve their automotive customers, below are just a few of the innovations that are advancing forged automotive parts, as well as the processes used to create them.

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