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Taking a Closer Look at Inventory in Your Forging Operation

June 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


As most manufacturing executives know, inventory is one of the eight deadly wastes of lean manufacturing. Unfortunately, many metal-cutting companies tend to either ignore inventory or intentionally stock up on material “just in case.”

But there is a reason lean experts consider inventory as deadly. Excess inventory is costly in more ways than one: it requires space, equipment, measurement, and management, not to mention the initial cash expenditure.

Perhaps the greatest danger of surplus inventory, however, is that it often hides other forms of waste and inefficiencies existing within your forging and metal-cutting operations. As an archived article from Modern Machine Shop explains, inventory provides the perfect mask for a host of workflow problems. “With enough inventory, we do not need to be concerned with problems; in fact, we probably will not even know they exist,” the article says. “After all, with lots of inventory, who needs to worry about long vendor delivery times, critical machine breakdowns, long equipment setup times, production schedules not being met, absenteeism or even quality problems that lead to low production yields?”

Of course, that is exactly why managers need to take a closer look at their inventory. According to an editorial from IndustryWeek, inventory optimization can “unearth huge process improvement opportunities that will impact both the balance sheet and the income statement in a positive way.” Below are just a few of the process improvement opportunities the author says may be hiding underneath your raw material and work-in-process inventory:

In most cases, digging deeper into your inventory will reveal a list of process areas in need of improvement. The question then becomes: What can managers do to keep their inventory low? While there are several ways to accomplish inventory optimization, below are three simple strategies to consider:

 

 

 

Regardless of the strategies you adopt, the bottom line is that inventory management should be a priority. Even if you are consistently filling customer orders, that doesn’t mean you doing it efficiently. By taking a closer look at what lies underneath piles of inventory, forging operations can save costs, improve productivity, and finally get to the root of some operational issues that may have been there all along.

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Use Value Stream Mapping to Reduce Lead Time in Your Metal Service Center

June 5, 2015 / , , , , , , ,


According to data from the Institute for Supply Management, the May PMI increased 1.3 percent to 52.8, indicating growth and economic expansion in the manufacturing sector for the 29th consecutive month. Of course, this is good news for the manufacturing supply chain, and many service centers are taking steps to position themselves as preferred suppliers. These steps include everything from holding inventory and working directly with mills, to preparing material to custom specifications and upgrading to electronic databases.

Service centers are also continuing to work hard to address the increasing demands for faster turnaround. Although efficiency improvements have been the focus of almost every manufacturer the last several years, data shows that it is still a major challenge for most industrial metal-cutting companies. For example, according to an industry benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology, machine downtime, blade failure, and operator error remain the top-three sources of frustration for industrial metal-cutting operations on the shop floor. In other words, there is still room for improvement.

Mapping it Out
To improve efficiency, many leading companies are using a lean manufacturing tool known as value stream mapping. In fact, one company, featured here in IndustryWeek cut its lead time in half—from 10.5 days down to 5 days—by creating a value stream map.

Value stream mapping, as described by iSixSigma, is a paper and pencil tool that helps managers see and understand the flow of material and information as a product or service makes its way through the value stream. The “map” takes into account not only the activity of the product, but the management and information systems that support the basic process as well. This can be especially helpful when working to reduce cycle time because managers gain insight into both the decision making flow in addition to the process flow.

Although it is easy to become overwhelmed by the terminology, an article from Ryder does a good job of outlining the process in five simple steps:

 

 

 

If you want to learn more about value stream mapping, iSixSigma provides a wealth of information available here, and the Lean Manufacturing institute offers educational classes and webinars.

Taking the Time
In an industry driven on speed, taking two days to participate in a class or complete a value steam mapping exercise may seem like a lot. However, managers need to consider the price of not taking the time. Investing in tools like value stream mapping can help your metal service center operate more efficiently, reduce lead time, and, most importantly, allow you to better serve your customers.

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Smart Manufacturing Boosts Productivity for Industrial Metal Cutting Companies

June 1, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,


With market demand finally on the rise, industrial metal cutting companies need to keep up. However, there is only so much managers can optimize through traditional lean practices and proven technology. While automation has helped create new efficiencies across many industries, including metal cutting, most experts believe the factory of the future lies in “smart” manufacturing.

As reported in this blog post from LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), “smart” manufacturing technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time data are poised to transform the way manufacturers improve operational efficiency and productivity. In fact, according to an IDC Manufacturing Insights survey, manufacturers expect IoT to lower operational costs, increase the potential to retain and attract customers, improve service and support, and further differentiate themselves from the competition. [LINK].

Traditionally, monitoring shop floor operations in real-time has been cost prohibitive. However, with the prevalent availability of new technology, a growing number of manufacturers are investing in hardware adapters and software upgrades, with hopes of a big return.

As this Fabricating & Metalworking article points out, the potential return on investment is huge. For example, only 5 percent of the estimated 64-million computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines around the world are currently connected to the industrial Internet. However, if the remaining machines were connected and started reporting data, they could contribute a staggering $15 trillion to the global GDP by 2030, according to research by GE.

But can “smart” and connected manufacturing facilities really drive performance—and, —ultimately, drive profits—for industrial metal cutting companies? In the Fabricating & Metalworking article, author David McPahil says, “yes.” According to McPahil, “smart” manufacturers have seen positive results in key performance indicators like overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Below are several ways connectivity can positively affect the three ratios used to calculate OEE:

It’s important to note that getting “smart” doesn’t always require brand new, high-tech equipment. As described in a recent white paper from LIT, one metal service center developed an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by its existing sawing equipment. At any point, the manager can go to a computer screen, click on particular band saw or circular saw, and see how many square inches each saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This allows the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.

Of course, upgrading to a “smart” manufacturing operation does require some investment, but it often has a high return. If you haven’t already made the jump to add connectivity to your industrial metal-cutting operation, it may be worth looking into—and soon. As many “smart” companies have discovered, the results are both measurable and promising.

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Simple Lean Strategies to Improve Workflow in Ball and Roller Bearing Production

May 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


For ball and roller bearing manufacturers, the future looks relatively bright. According to Freedonia Group, global demand for bearings is projected to rise 7.3 percent annually through 2018, with ball and roller bearings driving the growth..

However, even with optimistic forecasts, industry leaders can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Market opportunity only intensifies competition, and ball and bearing manufactures are already fighting against imports from lower-cost countries. Staying profitable in a global market requires manufacturers to constantly seek new ways to both differentiate themselves and minimize costs. This means continuous improvement and optimization are critical.

The Workflow Challenge
To remain competitive, today’s industrial manufacturers need to face their greatest operational challenges head on, starting with improving workflow and eliminating bottlenecks. As stated in the latest white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, this is one of the top five challenges ball and roller bearing manufacturers face. Workflow bottlenecks can negatively impact productivity, customer delivery, and ultimately, the bottom line.

Identifying and eliminating bottlenecks is a difficult, but important task for any metal-cutting company striving to be successful. For example, in an article from manufacturing.net, Curt Schmidgall, value stream manager at Winegard, describes how the antennae manufacturer struggled to meet market demand. A lean manufacturing exercise revealed the issue: Product testing at the end of Winegard’s manufacturing process was creating a huge bottleneck. By changing when the testing occurred (during the assembly process versus after the product is built), the company more than doubled its output and was able to meet market demand.

Getting Lean
Like Winegard, many companies are using lean manufacturing strategies to reduce bottlenecks and improve workflow. This includes applying the well-known Theory of Constraints, as well as a host of other lean tools. However, don’t get bogged down with the terminology; continuous improvement doesn’t have to be complex to have an impact. While you may not have the extra hours or resources to implement an aggressive lean program, there are some basic strategies managers can use to improve workflow.

In Reliable Plant’s article, “6 Ways to Get Lean in 2015,” three of the six strategies listed are geared specifically toward improving your operation’s workflow. These tactics are good examples of how “lean” can be simple, but effective:

In the end, the pressure to meet customer deadlines can easily take priority in any high-volume manufacturing operation, especially as demand increases. However, manufacturing leaders know that constantly improving their processes and attacking challenges like workflow can make all the difference. By implementing even a few simple lean strategies, ball and roller bearing manufacturers can identify and eliminate bottlenecks, improve productivity, and increase profitability.

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Root Cause Analysis Helps Machine Shops Stay Lean

May 20, 2015 / , , , , , , ,


Successfully operating and managing a machine shop is no easy task. Despite a slowly growing economy, the challenges facing today’s machine shops are no less than they were before. In fact, this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology describes the top five operating challenges a machine shop faces in its metal-cutting operations—challenges that are universal to every operation, regardless of market conditions.

According to the white paper, the top challenge for most shops is process and workflow bottlenecks. In most cases, lean practices are a huge part of the solution. Successful managers know that in order to achieve overall success, you need to actively identify and solve production issues.

This doesn’t come easy or naturally for every shop manager, however. As Wayne Chaneski says in this Modern Machine Shop article, “It’s surprising to me the number of business owners, division heads, operations managers, and even department supervisors who just don’t know what is going on in their areas of responsibility. To such people, I have a simple suggestion: Find out!”

Put simply: Identifying the problem is the first step. The next step is finding the cause and fixing it—permanently.

One lean manufacturing tool that many shops find helpful is root cause analysis. According to LeanProduction.com, root cause analysis is a problem-solving exercise that focuses on solving the underlying cause, not just the symptoms. There are several techniques that can be used when conducting a root cause analysis, including the following:

For more information on root cause analysis, check out this article from the American Society for Quality (ASQ), which includes an educational video from ASQ Fellow Jim Rooney.

It goes without saying that there are many tools that can be used to attack the common workflow challenges a metal-cutting operation encounters on a daily basis. However, a root cause analysis is one tool that can help shops uncover “hidden” problems before they turn into a full-blown issue that effects your production, your product, your deliveries, and, most importantly, your bottom line.

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One Way Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Can Stay Competitive in 2015

April 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


As reported in the 2015 Industrial Metal Cutting Outlook from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), many manufacturing executives expect 2015 to be a solid year. A survey of executives conducted by Prime Advantage, for example, shows that the vast majority of small and midsized industrial manufacturers anticipate revenues to increase or match 2014. For metals companies, industries such as automotive, commercial construction, and energy are expected to drive growth.

Mixed Forecasts
It comes as no surprise, then, that analysts expect growth in the ball and roller bearing segment as well. With the economy poised for recovery, research firm IBISWorld says that demand for downstream markets like automotive will rebound, which will bolster demand for ball bearings. A separate study from Grand View Research echoes these sentiments, forecasting that the global bearings market will reach $117.27 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5% from 2014 to 2020.

Industry leaders, however, seem to have some concerns. In late January, The Timken Company, a bearing manufacturer based in North Canton, OH, said it was viewing its markets “slightly more cautiously than 2014.” Specifically, the company said that “new business wins combined with modest market growth are expected to result in approximately 4% organic growth, but that will largely be offset by the impact of currency.”

Earlier this month, SKF, a global bearing maker based in Sweden, forecast flat second quarter demand for its business. SKF CEO Alrik Danielson said that while there are some positive signs for growth in Europe, they were “not robust enough to merit a more positive outlook,” Reuters reports. He also said there was still a lot of uncertainty about what the market would do in the next quarter.

Using Connectivity to Stay Competitive
The fact is that the last several years have made it difficult for any company to be anything but cautious. However, regardless of where the market lands, the goal for manufacturers should still be continuous improvement. To be competitive, especially on a global scale, companies need to stay focused on efficiency so that they can be agile enough to respond to whatever 2015 brings.

Of course, there are several ways to attack continuous improvement. Traditional lean tools are always effective; however, more and more manufacturers are literally working smarter by using technology. According to the Prime Advantage survey, many industrial manufacturers are leveraging digital tools, additive manufacturing, and other technological advancements to operate more efficiently.

A separate report from manufacturing.net agrees, adding that manufacturers that want to stay competitive in an ever-changing global market cannot underestimate the value of connectivity. According to the article, leading manufacturers started in 2014 to put buzz words like the industrial Internet of things (IIoT), machine to machine (M2M), and “big data”  into practice. To be successful in 2015, the manufacturing.net author suggests that the trend needs to continue.

How? The article states that manufacturers need to start by creating a fully connected framework for top asset performance and strategic data analysis. This framework should include three important processes:

(For a more in-depth explanation of these steps, you can view the full manufacturing.net article here.)

A Year of Improvement?
In the end, the forecast for 2015 is no more certain than any annual forecast. Even the most educated analyst knows that there is no crystal ball to accurately gauge how the market will fare. There are just too many factors at play. However, by regularly measuring, monitoring, and managing your operation’s performance, ball and roller bearing manufacturers can more accurately gauge how their operations will fare.

Will 2015 be the year your operation improved? That is perhaps the only factor today’s manufacturing executives can control.

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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.

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Alternative Lubrication Option for Forges that Cut and Process Metal

March 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,


Every industrial metalworker knows that lubrication is an essential part of the forging process. As this article from Forging magazine explains, selecting the right die lubricant can directly impact the quality of a finished part, and many times, it is essential to achieving process efficiency and cost-effectiveness. This means taking into account the type of forging (i.e., hot or cold), as well as the type of material (i.e., nonferrous or ferrous).

However, if you are a forge that also cuts metal, it is important to remember that lubrication selection is just as important to your metal-cutting operation as it is to your forging operations. In band saws, for example, failure to maintain proper coolant levels can lead to decreased blade life and premature and uneven wear of band wheels, according to a white paper, Tackling the Top 5 Operating Challenges in Industrial Metal Cutting. This not only leads to increased maintenance and tooling costs, but can snowball into other costly problems such as unplanned downtime, poor quality, missed delivery dates, and unhappy customers.

If optimization is your goal, then it pays to carefully address the lubrication needs for every operation under your roof, including metal cutting. One lubrication choice that many metal-cutting operations are starting to use is Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL). This alternative option sprays a very small quantity of lubricant precisely on the cutting surface, eliminating any cutting fluid waste. In fact, many consider it a near-dry process, as less than 2 percent of the fluid adheres to the chips.

MQL is most commonly used in precision circular saw operations, but it can also be used in band sawing as well. In most cases, metal-cutting companies use this type of coolant for both cost and sustainability reasons. Below are just a few of the key benefits to using MQL over traditional flood or “wet” coolants:

It is important to note that MQL application is a more sensitive process than flood cooling. Mist must be aimed precisely at the tool to be effective. Fluid selection, equipment, and material type also play key roles in proper MQL application.

To learn more about MQL, including equipment needs, fluid types, and a few “rules of thumb,” click here to download The MQL Handbook. You may also want to check out this educational video from Modern Machine Shop.

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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.

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Strategies for Ensuring Metal Cutting Quality in Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing

January 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


The key to customer satisfaction has always been finding a balance between fast turnaround and high quality. Growing demand has made this even more of a challenge for many of today’s ball and roller bearing manufacturers. With the economy poised for recovery thanks to stronger demand from the transportation and industrial manufacturing industries, industry analysts are anticipating increased demand for ball bearings. According to a report from Freedonia Group, global demand for bearings is projected to rise 7.3 percent annually through 2018, with ball and roller bearings registering the fastest gains.

This increase in demand is certainly good news for manufacturers, but it also means that companies need to make sure they remain focused on quality. Speed and agility will always be key attributes of any leading high-production operation, but they cannot come at the expense of accuracy.

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers ensure quality in their metal-cutting operations, below are a few highlights from the paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal Cutting, written by the LENOX Institute of Technology:

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