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How Forges Can Use Cloud-Based Monitoring and other Advanced Technologies to Increase Efficiency

August 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


Any manufacturing executive tracking industry trends will no doubt run across terms like “big data,” “cloud computing,” and the “Internet of Things.” In fact, according to the results of a survey from Deloitte and the Council on Competitiveness, these types of advanced technologies have the power to put the U.S. back on the map as the most competitive manufacturing nation.

“CEOs say advanced manufacturing technologies are key to unlocking future competitiveness,” the report summary states. “As the digital and physical worlds converge within manufacturing, executives indicate the path to manufacturing competitiveness is through advanced technologies, ranking predictive analytics, Internet-of-Things (IoT), both smart products and smart factories via Industry 4.0, as well as advanced materials as critical to future competitiveness.”

As a forging executive, however, the question becomes: How does this technology apply to my operation? Or to put it another way: How do these “buzz words” play out on the shop floor?

One technology application, featured here in Forging magazine, gives a good indication of what cloud-computing and connectivity could look like in a metal-cutting operation. Specifically, the article features a cloud-based bandsaw monitoring system that offers three key features:

These are no small benefits. In fact, they fall right in line with two of the strategies listed in the Benchmark Study of Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations from the LENOX Institute of Technology. According to findings from the study, forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations can gain additional productivity on the shop floor by investing in smarter, more predictive operations management approaches and by taking a more proactive approach to equipment and blade maintenance. By using cloud-based monitoring to track blade life and machine health status, managers can do just that by anticipating downtime, which, as the study states, “translates into more jobs completed on time.”

Of course, bandsaw monitoring is just one possible application. As we reported here in our annual forging industry forecast, controls and sensors are also being developed and implemented to monitor the forging process in a bid to automatically sense and compensate for any variation in the process. This type of consistency not only boosts efficiency, but could have some major quality benefits as well.

An article from IndustryWeek provides a few more application examples. The article describes how three leading companies are using advanced technologies to connect just about everything and anything—video cameras to monitor workflow process, safety helmets to track employees, and end products to predict reliability—all of which shows that the potential applications are only as limited as a manufacturer’s creativity.

What possible applications could cloud-based monitoring and other advanced technologies have in your forging operation?

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How to Effectively Utilize OEE in Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization

August 15, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


As part of the push toward continuous improvement, more and more industrial metal-cutting companies are measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). This is definitely a good trend, as measurement is the first step in making quantifiable change. However, some companies have jumped on the OEE bandwagon without being fully informed, which can cause a lot of misunderstanding and misuse of this important metric.

Knowing what OEE is—and what it isn’t—is the only way to make sure you are using it effectively. The following is a quick primer.

What is OEE?
According to leanproduction.com, OEE is a best practices metric that measures the percentage of production time that is truly productive. It takes into account all six types of loss, resulting in a measure of productive manufacturing time.

In simple terms, OEE can be described as the ratio of fully productive time to planned production time. According to leanproduction.com, it can be measured in one of two ways:

(Good Pieces x Ideal Cycle Time) / Planned Production Time

or

Availability x Performance x Quality

(You can find a more detailed description of the calculation here, as well as a sample calculation.)

A plant with an OEE score of 100 percent has achieved perfect production—high quality parts as fast as possible, with zero down time. While that’s ideal, it’s not quite possible in the real world. According to oee.com, studies show that the average OEE rate among manufacturing plants is 60 percent, which leaves substantial room for improvement. Most experts agree that an OEE rate of 85 percent or better is considered “world class,” and many companies use that number as a long-term goal for their operations.

Managers can use OEE as both a benchmark and baseline. Specifically, leanproduction.com says it can be used to “compare the performance of a given production asset to industry standards, to similar in-house assets, or to results for different shifts working on the same asset.” It can also be used as a baseline “to track progress over time in eliminating waste from a given production asset.”

How to Use—and not Use—OEE
It’s important to note that OEE is not necessarily a useful metric for every manufacturing operation. “Measuring OEE only makes sense if you are trying to meet a certain demand on a daily basis,” explains Paul Bryant, senior OPEX manager, LENOX Tools. “If you have a problem with yield, then I would definitely suggest OEE.

“If you have a problem with inconsistent production output and/or downtime on a piece of manufacturing equipment, OEE is a great way to measure and identify how to where to improve your operations,” Bryant continues. However, for smaller metal-cutting operations that are more custom and low volume, Bryant says OEE probably isn’t worth measuring.

Bryant also says that a lot of shops use OEE incorrectly. Specifically, he says there are two common ways metal-cutting operations misuse the metric:

  1. Too Focused on the Benchmark. “Everyone knows that world-class OEE is 85%, but too many people get hung up on that number and how their shop compares to it. When I look at OEE, the number doesn’t mean much to me. I look at three components—availability, performance, and quality—and then break them apart and look for opportunities. That is the true essence of OEE: To find opportunities that help keep your machine and production system optimal.”
  2. Too Focused on the Operator. “Another misuse is that people use OEE to measure the operator. OEE is used to measure equipment. If you run into an issue with the metric, look at the machine first. There are so many variables, don’t always assume it is the operator. Once you’ve evaluated the machine, look at the material and then the operator last.”

An article from IndustryWeek (IW) adds that OEE should be used as an improvement measure, not a Key Performance Indicator (KPI). It also states that it is best used on a single piece of equipment or synchronized line.

Finally, if your shop is ready to start measuring OEE but doesn’t know where to start, enlist the help of some key suppliers. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Company, many companies don’t possess all of the knowledge, resources, or infrastructure necessary to do in-depth measurement. This is where a willing supply partner can help. In today’s competitive market, there are plenty of equipment and tooling suppliers that are willing to share their knowledge and experience as a free, value-added service.

A Helpful Tool
There is no question that OEE can be misused and misunderstood, but as the IW article reiterates, it is not a “bad metric.” When calculated and applied correctly, OEE can be a very useful tool to help industrial metal-cutting companies quantify and uncover new improvement opportunities.

For more information on OEE, check out the article, “The ‘Quick & Dirty’ About OEE,” or you can find a more in-depth overview here.

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Predictive Maintenance Helps Metal Service Centers Reduce Downtime

June 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Manufacturers know that downtime results in lost productivity and profits. However, thanks to technological advancements in predictive maintenance, service centers and other industrial metal-cutting companies can nearly eliminate downtime altogether.

Unlike preventative maintenance, which uses anticipated and planned downtime to prevent unplanned breakdowns and minimize cost impacts, predictive maintenance aims to predict breakdowns before they even occur. Software and sensors collect data, and algorithms identify not only the anticipated failure, but also calculate the probable time that failure will occur. This enables companies to repair or replace parts before failure and helps eliminate both planned and unplanned downtime.

Several industries are adopting predictive maintenance as part of their operations. An article from the Harvard Business Review provides a few examples:

The manufacturing industry is also adopting predictive maintenance, but research shows it is doing so at a slower rate compared to others. For example, a recent survey by the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association and LNS Research concluded that manufacturers have some work to do to catch up to current capabilities—only 14 percent of survey respondents said they used manufacturing data in their analytic program.

Of course, building a predictive maintenance program requires both time and money, but many manufacturers are finding that the benefits outweigh the cost. An article from American Metals Market lists just a few of the many potential benefits of using predictive maintenance:

According to the AMM article, several metals leaders are reaping the rewards of predictive maintenance, including:

The trend is also starting to gain traction in industrial metal cutting. The LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 metal service centers and other industrial metal-cutting organizations found that companies are gaining additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”

While there is no question that predictive maintenance is proving beneficial in the metals industry and beyond, some companies may be hesitant to adopt the technology due to the investment and the training required for implementation. However, if your goal is to reduce downtime and increase the chances of future success, this may be one technology worth considering.

For more information on predictive maintenance, check out this overview article, which lists common tools and techniques, as well as a video.

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Tips for Improving Circular Saw Blade Life in Ball and Roller Bearing Production

May 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , ,


For any metal-cutting operation, bottlenecks are the enemy. Whether caused by machine error, tooling failure, user error, or some other maintenance issue, the end result is typically the same—increased downtime, rework, and scrap, all of which eat into the bottom line. And for a high-production operation like ball and roller bearing manufacturing, a hiccup in early sawing operations can quickly wreak havoc on the entire production process and schedule.

Although circular sawing may seem like a simple operation, there are number of variables that play a role in achieving consistent, quality cuts while also getting the most out of each saw blade. As an archived article from Fabricating & Metalworking explains, “Saws are very much like the people who use them: they don’t react well to heat, shock, abrasion, stress, and tension.” Far too often, managers and operators ignore these critical factors and, as a result, experience premature blade failure and end up going through far more blades than necessary.

Proper cutting speeds, feed rates, blade tension, and lubrication all tie into blade life—a factor any blade buyer knows is critical when it comes to cost.

“Precision circular saw blades can be upwards of  $200 a piece, so you don’t want to just go through those,” Mike Baron, vice president of Jett Cutting, says in a case study published by the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT). “If I am getting 100 pieces an hour at this setting, but push it up to get 150, I may be going through twice as many blades. It just isn’t cost effective.”

Glen Sliwa, maintenance manager at metal service center A.M. Castle & Co, also focuses on blade life to better manage costs. In addition to following a strict preventative maintenance program to save on tooling and equipment costs, Sliwa says it is just as critical to ensure operators know how to optimize blade life. This includes training operators to follow manufacturer suggested cutting parameters, as well as closely tracking tolerance requirements so blades can be reused whenever possible.

“We’re looking at how many pieces that we can get off that blade and then stand perpendicular to the part,” Sliwa explains. “If you have to stay within ten-thousandths or five-thousandths on the cut, and that blade is no good, I can take it off that machine and put it on another one and I can cut an eighth of an inch, 125 thousandths. So I’m still getting more blade life out of it, but it’s not interfering with that customer’s specifications.”

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers extend the life of their circular saw blades, the below chart offers a few troubleshooting tips from LIT’s reference guide, “Tips and Tricks to Optimize Your Precision Circular Sawing Operation.” By understanding some common blade issues and their root causes, operators can reduce premature blade failure and, in turn, improve your  operation’s overall productivity and save on tooling costs.
chart 3

For more downloadable information on optimizing your company’s precision circular sawing operation, you can visit LIT’s resource page here.

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Selecting Maintenance KPIs for Your Fabrication Shop

February 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


Manufacturing leaders know that measurement is the only way to truly gauge how their operations are performing and, more importantly, identify areas that need improvement. However, many companies fail to realize that metrics can be applied to every area of an organization, not just production.

One area that can greatly benefit from measurement is maintenance. A strong maintenance department keeps equipment up and running, which directly impacts production schedules and costs. As an article from Reliable Plant points out, maintenance should be treated just like any other business area.

“You must make good decisions that add value,” the article states. “This means you need input and lots of it. Making decisions based on gut feelings just doesn’t cut it these days. Key performance indicators (KPIs) can provide the input you need to help meet this lofty objective.”

Where Do You Start?
As we covered in a previously published blog, the challenge for many metal fabricators is knowing which metrics to measure, especially in niche areas like maintenance. Not all KPIs are created equally, and the goal should be quality—not quantity—when it comes to metrics of any kind.

According to Lifetime Reliability Solutions (LRS) Consultants, maintenance KPIs should reflect achievement and progress in meeting an agreed maintenance benchmark. “In measuring maintenance performance we are concerned not only with doing good maintenance work, we are also concerned that the maintenance work we do successfully removes risk of failure from our plant and equipment,” LRS advises on its website.

The consulting firm suggests that maintenance managers use a mix of lagging indicators and leading indicators so they have an understanding of what is happening to the risk and performance of their operational assets through maintenance efforts. “Lagging indicators use historic data to build a performance trend line,” LRS writes, while leading indicators use historic data to monitor if an operation is doing those activities that are known to produce good results. A good example of a lagging indicator related to machine health is Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), whereas a leading indicator in maintenance might be the percentage of condition inspection work orders performed when they fall due.

In general, LRS suggests maintenance managers consider using KPIs within the following six categories:

Why Do Maintenance KPIs Matter?
Like any other business area, maintenance performance can directly impact the bottom line. For example, if maintenance personnel fail to follow a shop’s preventative maintenance (PM) schedule, a host of problems can arise, ranging from lower quality cuts to unplanned machine downtime. As confirmed by a recent benchmarking study of fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies, maintenance tasks like PM can impact job completion rates, blade life, and material costs.

With the right KPIs in place, maintenance managers can make sure that maintenance performance is up to par, as well as play a key role in ensuring that the shop as a whole operates as optimally as possible.

How are you measuring maintenance performance at your fabrication shop?

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Industrial Vending Machines Help Metal Service Centers Improve Productivity, Save Costs

February 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Many technologies have helped advance the manufacturing industry to where it stands today. From the Industrial Revolution in the late 17th Century and Ford’s assembly line for its Model T to robotic automation and the Industrial Internet of Things, new applications and advanced software solutions enable the manufacturing industry to adapt. One such technology—the industrial vending machine—is currently helping the industrial metal cutting industry adapt as well.

Industrial vending machines are based on the traditional machines you know and love, but instead of providing a quick snack, they distribute metal cutting parts, tools, and other consumable supplies (e.g., safety gloves, goggles, metal-cutting blades). The key benefit is streamlined inventory control—the machines keep track of the person or department requesting the part and the time and frequency of requests, in addition to monitoring inventory levels. This can eliminate the need for storage rooms or tool “cribs,” as well as the necessary staff needed to manage them.

With metal cutting companies facing diverse economic conditions and shifting shipment levels, industrial vending machines can help service centers increase operational efficiency and productivity. As reported in this white paper by the LENOX Institute of Technology, resource allocation and efficiency are top operating challenges for metal service centers. Industrial vending machines can help resolve both, while also saving costs.

Below are a few benefits of industrial vending:

Several metal-cutting companies are already reaping the rewards of what industrial vending can bring first-hand. The following are just two examples:

As service centers and other manufacturing operations look to save money and improve efficiency, industrial vending machines are quickly gaining popularity. While they have been more common in larger manufacturing operations over the last few years, smaller shops and service centers are starting to realize that automated inventory control is a fairly simple way to eliminate paperwork, save floor space, streamline purchasing, improve workflow, and, ultimately, save costs.

Could industrial vending machines be an option for your metal service center?

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Tips for Preventing Premature Band Saw Blade Failure in Your Forging Operation

January 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


For any metal-cutting operation, blade life is critical. Premature blade failure not only results in increased tooling costs, it can also increase downtime, rework, and scrap—all of which eat into the bottom line.

For forges that cut and process metal, however, blade life is even more crucial. The scale that forms on forged metal pieces can quickly deteriorate blade life, which makes blade selection extremely important. In most cases, forges require aggressive bandsaw blades with varied tooth geometries that can get underneath any scale buildup (i.e., carbide-tipped blades).

While choosing the right blade is a good start, blade life also relies on a variety of other variables, including proper cutting speeds, feed rates, blade tension, lubrication, and break-in procedures. As an article form Fabricating & Metalworking explains, “Saws are very much like the people who use them: they don’t react well to heat, shock, abrasion, stress, and tension.” Far too often, managers and operators ignore these critical factors and, as a result, experience premature blade failure and end up going through far more blades than necessary.

To help forges extend the life of their band saw blades, below are a few troubleshooting tips from the reference guide, “User Error or Machine Error?”, from the LENOX Institute of Technology. By understanding some common blade issues and their root causes, operators can reduce and, hopefully, eliminate premature blade failure.

Issue #1: Heavy Even Wear On Tips and Corners Of Teeth
The wear on teeth is smooth across the tips and the corners of set teeth have become rounded.

Probable Cause:

Issue #2: Wear On Both Sides Of Teeth
The side of teeth on both sides of band have heavy wear markings.

Probable Cause:

Issue #3: Wear On One Side Of Teeth
Only one side of teeth has heavy wear markings.

Probable Cause:

Issue #4: Chipped Or Broken Teeth
A scattered type of tooth breakage on tips and corners of the teeth.

Probable Cause:

Issue #5: Body Breakage Or Cracks From Back Edge
The fracture originates from the back edge of band. The origin of the fracture is indicated by a flat area on the fracture surface.

Probable Cause:

For more information on extending blade life, download the full reference guide, “User Error or Machine Error?” here, or check out The LENOX Guide to Band Sawing.

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Predictive Technology Helps Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies Stay Ahead of the Curve

January 15, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


The U.S. manufacturing landscape is changing, and industrial metal-cutting companies are no exception. Technology has created an increasingly connected industry, and manufacturers are realizing that while traditional lean practices have proved successful in the past, when it comes to operational efficiency, data and other advanced “smart” technologies are the wave of the future.

One area that is quickly gaining popularity is the use of predictive technologies. As reported in a recent Manufacturing.net article, nearly three dozen manufacturing company executives and national research facility directors identified predictive data analytics as the number one advanced manufacturing technology critical to growth, as part of a study conducted by Deloitte Global and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness.

Predictive analytics utilizes a variety of statistical and analytical techniques to develop mathematical models that “predict” future events or behaviors based on past data. As the study explains, this allows companies to uncover hidden patterns, relationships, and greater insights by analyzing both structured and unstructured data.

Several industries are already benefiting from the use of predictive technologies. Healthcare, for example, is using predictive analytics to improve the effectiveness of new procedures, medical tests, and medications. Manufacturing companies are using the technology to identify quality and production issues, as well as optimize delivery and distribution. Other industries, such as aerospace, automotive, and consumer products, are also finding interesting applications.

Thyssen Krupp, for example, recently used predictive analysis to improve the reliability of more than 1.1. million elevators it maintains worldwide. With the help of Microsoft cloud technology, the company gathered data from thousands of sensors and systems in its elevators to measure motor temperature, shaft alignment, cab speed and door functioning. After being sent to the cloud, the data is then displayed on a single dashboard in real-time. The data is also used in predictive model formulas, helping technicians know when and where a failure may occur.

The trend is also finding its way into industrial metal cutting. Data from the LENOX Institute of Technology’s Benchmark Survey of Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations suggests that investing in smarter, more predictive operations strategies can help companies gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor.

Although not through the use of analytics, the benchmark survey found that industry leaders are using strategies such as planned maintenance and blade care to prevent downtime and predict blade failure. Specifically, the benchmark study found that:

While there is no question that predictive analytics is still an emerging area, it is clear that proactive strategies are key in today’s uncertain market. Whether you invest in advanced predictive analytics software or simply stick to your preventative maintenance program, finding ways to anticipate future events and reduce unplanned downtime can help your operation gain efficiency and, more importantly, stay competitive.

What predictive operational strategies are you using to make your operation more efficient?

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Fabricators Stay Competitive By Proactively Addressing Downtime

January 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


It’s no secret that downtime is the enemy of any fabrication shop and, really, any manufacturer. Huge volumes, continuous sawing, and extremely tight tolerances are characteristic of many fabrication environments, so any process or workflow bottlenecks that slow production can cause quality issues, slow delivery schedules, increased maintenance costs, and hurt overall business performance.

In the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Fabricators’ Metal-Cutting Operations, Jim Davis, corporate operations services manager at O’Neal Steel, explains why today’s shops can’t afford any unplanned downtime. “Downtime affects us heavily,” Davis states. “When you’re cutting five- to six-thousand pieces for a customer or you’re doing ‘just-in-time’ production where you’re taking orders on the previous day and guaranteeing delivery the next day, downtime will affect us heavily.”

However, instead of finding new ways to react to unplanned downtime events, several leading manufacturers are attacking the issue head on by using proactive strategies. In fact, according to a recent blog published by ARC Advisory Group, Inc., four industrial manufacturing leaders are aiming for “zero downtime”—a goal that may seem a bit lofty and unrealistic. However, with the help of technology, these big name companies seem to believe it is within reach.

For example, late last year, Cisco and Fanuc America announced a 12-month Zero Downtime (ZDT) pilot project with a major automotive manufacturer. The goal was to achieve zero downtime by proactively detecting equipment issues that could cause downtime.

According to a press release, the pilot was a success. Using cloud-based technology, Fanuc and Cisco’s solution detected and informed the automotive manufacturer of potential equipment or process problems before unexpected downtime occurred, allowing the maintenance issue to be addressed in a planned outage window. The end result was a significant decrease in related production downtime and increased overall equipment effectiveness. (To learn more about Fanuc’s technology solution, check out this video).

There are other types of proactive strategies metal-cutting leaders are using to turn “interruptive downtime,” which can hurt performance and impact on-time customer delivery, into “predictive downtime,” which can actually improve cutting performance and extend equipment life. Research shows that simple strategies such as breaking in band saw blades and other preventative maintenance are helping fabricators and other metal-cutting companies predict blade failure and, as a result, better plan for downtime.

In a benchmark survey of industrial metal-cutting organizations, 67 percent of operations that claimed to follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also reported that their job completion rate is trending upward year over year – a meaningful correlation. “The implication is that less disruptive, unplanned downtime and more anticipated, planned downtime translates into more jobs being completed on time,” the study states. “Slightly more than half (51 percent) of organizations that ‘always’ follow scheduled and preventative maintenance plans say that blade failure is predicted ‘always’ or ‘mostly.’”

What could be the business impact of near-zero unplanned downtime? According to the ARC blog, there are at least four key benefits, including:

Even if the concept of zero downtime still seems impossible, the above examples show that proactive—not reactive—strategies can help eliminate unplanned downtime. Whether using high-tech solutions like Cisco and Fanuc’s cloud-based application or simple preventative strategies like breaking in blades, today’s fabrication shops have the opportunity to reduce unplanned downtime and achieve real, bottom-line benefits.

What strategies does your fabrication shop use to reduce or predict downtime?

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Preventative Maintenance of Circular Saws in Ball and Roller Bearing Production

September 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


In ball and roller bearing manufacturing, circular sawing is just one of many steps in the production process. However, one maintenance hiccup in the middle of a long production run can throw off the entire schedule.

This is why preventative maintenance is so critical. When equipment and tooling is well maintained, it is more reliable, more predictable, and more productive—all of which adds up to a more efficient operation.

For example, a benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) revealed that 67 percent of industrial metal-cutting operations that follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also report that their job completion rate is trending upward year over year—a meaningful correlation. The implication is that less disruptive, unplanned downtime and more anticipated, planned downtime translates into more jobs being completed on time.

Being proactive—not reactive—when it comes to maintaining your manufacturing equipment can bring major benefits to your operation. This is especially true in high-speed, precision metal-cutting applications.

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers implement an effective preventative maintenance (PM) program for their circular sawing operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) offers the following best practices:

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