August 3, 2015 / best practices, blade selection, industry news, LIT, Output, quality, strategic planning
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:
- Machine titanium alloys in the softest state possible to prevent the material from becoming more abrasive
- Use ample amounts of coolant to prevent too-high temperatures
- Lower the cutting speed depending on the alloy– high levels of vanadium and chromium in an alloy require lower cutting speeds
- Use constant feed to avoid hardening and maintain this feeding throughout the whole cut
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:
- 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 fpm with a feed rate of 3.11 inches per minute.
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.
July 10, 2015 / blade failure, blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, cost per cut, LIT, productivity, resource allocation, ROI
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.
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:
- Lower price
- Longer tool life
- 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.
March 30, 2015 / best practices, blade failure, blade selection, bottlenecks, circular sawing, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, LIT, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
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:
- Quality parts and world-class maintenance matter. According to Moore, one way to save on parts and components spending is to invest in high-quality parts and world-class maintenance practices. As an example, Moore states that a premium bearing that costs 30% more but lasts twice as long can save a plant 50% of its bearing procurement cost. He also suggests transitioning non-critical equipment to the same maintenance standard used for mission-critical equipment. “When the use of superior parts is combined with the implementation of trial-tested maintenance standards, results expand to include reduced machinery downtime, improved productivity, and stronger output,” Moore explains.
- Strategic partnerships are essential. Moore states that factories with a strong record in de-costing often create local customer teams made up of top suppliers. This could include original equipment manufacturers, parts suppliers, distributors, etc. He also suggests seeking expertise from suppliers who can provide a global perspective and international best practices. According to Moore, this type of collaboration should be characteristic of any good, high-quality supplier relationship. “A leading parts supplier should be able to help establish de-costing program goals and benchmarks, including ongoing monitoring of parts and equipment performance,” Moore says. “Trusted suppliers can recommend and, if desired, oversee maintenance best practices.
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.
March 15, 2015 / agility, benchmarking, best practices, blade selection, circular sawing, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, preventative maintenance, quality, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
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 manufacturing.net 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:
- Technology. According to Baron, his team is always testing new advancements to ensure the shop is using the most advanced cutting tools. Last year, for example, Baron had eight different circular saw blade manufacturers come into his factory to see which blades performed the best. While the project was time-consuming, Baron said it was a huge learning experience for his team and it ended up giving him a 20-percent cost savings.
- Ongoing training. Like most shops, new operators are “put through the rigors,” Baron says, and seasoned employees are retrained every time new equipment or software is purchased.
- ISO Certification. Baron says maintaining ISO certification helps his shop keep quality high and plays a critical role in achieving continuous improvement. “If you don’t track it, you can’t measure it, and then you can’t improve upon that,” Baron says.
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:
- Continuous Improvement. Sliwa says the company’s focus is on continuous improvement and is “always doing something to upgrade.” About 7 years ago, the operation underwent a lean transformation, which included major changes in workflow and equipment placement as well as simple improvements like color-coding material. The facility also constantly uses the lean tool known as 5S, which eliminates waste by keeping work areas clean and organized.
- Preventative Maintenance. According to Sliwa, preventative maintenance is critical to keeping production moving. Operators perform daily maintenance on machines by following a check list that they have to verify and sign at the end of every job. Sliwa and his team also perform more in-depth PM checks on quarterly basis.
- Strong Supplier Relationships. Sliwa works closely with his suppliers and relies on their expertise any time his team has a cutting issue or is looking to improve performance. In one instance, operators were having a hard time reaching productivity goals when cutting several grades of stainless steel. A technical representative from Sliwa’s blade supplier came out to evaluate the problem and suggested a new blade type. Not only did the new blade cut Sliwa’s cutting time half and double the blade life, the supplier also trained his team and tuned up his saws.
To download the full case study, Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies, visit LIT’s circular saw resource page.
March 5, 2015 / blade selection, bottlenecks, circular sawing, Cost Management, cost per cut, LIT, operator training, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality
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:
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.
How Should Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Allocate Resources for their Metal Cutting Operations?
February 28, 2015 / blade selection, circular sawing, Cost Management, employee incentives, Employee Morale, human capital, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, quality, resource allocation, skills gap, strategic planning
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:
- Be Smart about Getting Smart. The ideology that industry leaders use cutting-edge technology carries some truth, but that doesn’t mean that every manufacturer should go out and invest in the latest high-tech connectivity software. That is, not without at least doing a little research. Check out this article from IndustryWeek, which does a great job of explaining how managers can start to make a business case around “smart” manufacturing investments, including data capture, connectivity, remote control and analytics. In addition, business consultancy ARC Advisory Group has developed a handful of evaluation and selection guides to help industrial manufacturers determine which technologies they should adopt to get the best return on investment.
- Small Upgrades Can Pay Off. Having the right tools for the job is critical in metal-cutting, which means that even a small upgrade in tooling has the potential to make a huge impact. According to the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal Cutting, managers should re-evaluate their tooling choices every few years, even if they feel satisfied with current results. While testing new blade technologies can be a time-consuming endeavor, it can certainly pay off if the end result is faster cutting times and lower costs. Recent advancements in tooth geometries, wear-resistant materials, and blade life are providing significant improvements in productivity and quality. For example, the tips of many precision circular saw blades are now made with cermet, a composite material composed of ceramic and metallic materials. These blades can cost more upfront, but they are said to offer longer blade life as well as provide exceptional heat and wear resistance when cutting solid, carbon-based metals.
- Human Capital Counts. While manufacturers have historically invested in machines over people, the looming skills gap is starting to change that. As more baby boomers retire, industry reports like this one from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute have been suggesting that manufacturers focus on investing in their human capital, both in terms of training and recruiting. And according to a recent article from manufacturing.net, companies may also want to consider increasing the wages they pay their employees. The trend, the article states, is moving in that direction. “We have seen an increase in jobs, but not an increase in pay, but that is starting to change,” Traci Fiatte, president of General Staffing at recruiting firm Randstad, tells manufacturing.net. “Even in entry level positions, the salaries are staring to creep up, and that is what you would expect to find when demand is high and supply is low.” Regardless of how managers decide to address the skills gap, the overarching lesson it is teaching the manufacturing industry is clear: human capital counts.
February 20, 2015 / blade failure, blade selection, circular sawing, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, customer delivery, LIT, Output, productivity, quality, resource allocation, ROI, workflow process
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:
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.
February 15, 2015 / agility, blade selection, Cost Management, customer delivery, industry news, material costs, productivity, resource allocation, strategic planning
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.
- Aluminum vs. Steel. One of the biggest shifts happening within automotive manufacturing has been the growing use of aluminum over steel. To meet new federal emission standards, a growing number of U.S. auto makers (i.e., Ford) are using aluminum to decrease the weight of their vehicles and, therefore, increase the fuel economy. Key aluminum suppliers like Alcoa have been reaping the rewards and expect growth to continue on a global scale. However, Tim Triplett, editor of Metal Center News, says that despite the hype around aluminum, the steel industry isn’t losing any ground in the automotive sector. “Just as many headlines heralded new developments in lightweight, advanced high-strength steels,” Triplett says here in an editorial. He adds, “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.”
- Tooling Advancements. Regardless of whether or not the use of aluminum outpaces steel, the fact that more and more aluminum is being used by the automotive industry means that metal-cutting companies need to ensure they have the right tools for the job. As a general rule, thefabricator.com offers the following advice when choosing the right tool for aluminum jobs: “Circular saws generally are suitable for cutting aluminum between 0.5 and 6 in. diameter, for high-volume jobs (up to 5,000 parts per shift), and for the best possible finish on the cut piece. Band saws generally make sense for aluminum stock of 6 in. diameter and larger and for shops that are interested in high-speed cutting of aluminum but also frequently cut other materials.”
- Automation Trends. A recent study by Grand View Research Inc. states that the booming automotive industry, climbing labor costs, 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. Many industrial metal-cutting companies are following this trend and are investing in automation and computerized controls to make all aspects of the sawing process more efficient. Simple controllers are allowing companies to assign operators to run more than one machine at a time, and higher level advancements in areas like robotics are also improving productivity. For example, Parsan Steel Forging and Machining Co., a Turkish manufacturer of automotive parts, is using robotics to gain production flexibility and efficiency. According to an article from Forging magazine, better programming features, range of movement, and motion control are creating new efficiencies and cost savings at the forge. You can read the full case study here.
December 20, 2014 / agility, best practices, blade selection, continuous improvement, Cost Management, human capital, LIT, productivity, quality, resource allocation, strategic planning
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:
- Choosing Not to Automate. Although Pointe Precision has always been known for its low-volume, high-complexity aerospace and medical parts, the machine shop, featured here in Modern Machine Shop, decided to diversify its operations by becoming a high-volume production supplier of critical parts to a large manufacturer of recreational products. According to the article, this required the machine shop to invest in several new pieces of equipment, which shop owner Joe Kinsella arranged into cells. However, Kinsella decided very early on not to automate the new line and, instead, chose to invest in developing a specially trained workforce. Why? Kinsella told Modern Machine Shop that “automation would have added to the cost and complexity of the system,” and “it would have been difficult to grow the automation as more machines were added, especially since the final configuration of the cells hinged on an expansion to the existing shop building.” In addition, a customized, dedicated system of automation would have restricted the flexibility of the line, making it difficult to repurpose it down the road. “We preferred the strategy of developing a workforce of specially trained hires who were not likely to have prior factory or production experience,” Kinsella says in the Modern Machine Shop report. “We could grow this staff as we added new machines, all the while preserving the versatility of the machines by avoiding customized, dedicated systems.”
- Choosing to Automate. For metal service center Infra-Metals, automation is a top priority in every aspect of the operation. According to a case study published by Modern Metals (MM), the service center aims to automate wherever possible to improve efficiency and eliminate paperwork. “When we implement automation, we have fewer mistakes, fewer man-hours per ton, and a saw operator is able to do more during the time he’s here,” Mark Johnson, processing/facility manager for Infra-Metals New England Division, tells MM. The service center recently invested in four automated band saws, which feed, cut-to-length, and discharge automatically. The company can download data from its mainframe straight to the saws, so operators no longer need to input information. Measurement information and cutting instructions transits from the order to the manual batcher and into the automated sawing system’s computer system. According to Johnson, automated processing has not only helped Infra-Metals improve cutting output by 30 to 40 percent, but has also reduced mistakes, provided a better cut, and improved on-time delivery, MM reports.
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.
September 25, 2014 / best practices, blade selection, Cost Management, LIT, material costs, productivity, resource allocation, Safety, strategic planning
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, Edmunds.com 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.
- Materials. One of the growing areas for innovation within the forging industry is in materials. A presentation at this year’s International Forging Congress discussed the production benefits of using microalloyed steels in several forging applications, including automotive spindles. Another article from Forging highlights the cost savings forges can gain by using new materials for structural, case-hardened, and induction-hardened parts. There have also been some new approaches to aluminum forging that are said to produce forgings with enhanced metallurgical and mechanical properties while also saving energy.
- Automation. Automation and computerized controls are making all aspects of the forging process more efficient. Simple controllers on metal-cutting equipment, for example, have allowed companies to assign operators to run more than one machine at a time. Higher level advancements in areas like robotics are also improving production at higher volume forges. According to Forging magazine, better programming features, range of movement, and motion control are creating new efficiencies and cost savings at companies like Parsan Steel Forging and Machining Co., a Turkish manufacturer of automotive parts.
- Tooling. Continued advancements in the area of tooling are also creating efficiences in processes such as band saw cutting. Carbide-tipped band saw blades, for example, are widely used among forges that are cutting tougher metals like stainless steel. Designed with a high performance backing steel and optimized carbide grades, these blades offer high cutting performance and longer blade life. A forge mentioned in this white paper, for example, was able to reduce its cut times by one half and double its blade life by switching from a bi-metal band saw blade to a carbide-tipped blade.