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Cost Management

Best Practices for Selecting Cutting Tools for Your Machine Shop

January 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , ,


In any manufacturing operation, having the right tool for the job is critical. The challenge is that there will always be instances when the “right tool” won’t be a clear-cut decision.

For example, in metal-cutting, bi-metal band saw blades have been traditionally used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon and structural steels, and some alloy steels. However, blade technology is evolving, and there are now carbide-tipped band saw blades on the market that have been designed specifically to cut aluminum and non-ferrous alloys. This begs the question: Is the new technology worth the investment, or would it be smarter to stick with a tool operators already know?

Answering those types of questions is never easy and takes careful consideration, especially when there is some investment necessary. In today’s competitive market, even a simple tooling decision is strategic.

To assist managers with the task of selecting the best machine tools for their operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following tips:

      1. upfront costs against overall operating and maintenance costs
      2. long-term productivity of a machine and its intended use
      3. equipment and blade life, as well as cost per cut

 

What best practices does your team follow when choosing a new machine tool? 

Cost Management

CEO Survey Reveals Three Key Focus Areas for Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies

December 15, 2016 / , , , , , ,


Industrial manufacturers find themselves competing in an increasing uncertain global market with rising customer expectations and ever-evolving technology, according to the 19th Annual Global CEO Survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The survey found that only 24% of manufacturing CEOs think global growth will improve over the next 12 months compared to 34% last year, and 23% think it will worsen compared to 18% the prior year. In addition, just 29% of industrial manufacturers are confident of revenue growth in the next 12 months, but when given a three-year span, 46% of manufacturers think they’ll see growth.

Data also suggests that CEOs believe business risk has increased.  According to the survey, 55% of industrial manufacturing CEOs said opportunities have increased during the past three years; however, 61% believe the number of threats has increased.

The PwC survey, which interviewed 205 industrial, manufacturing CEOs in 53 countries, revealed that industrial manufacturing companies are working hard to deliver results year after year, but most understand that the future brings complex challenges. The survey highlights three key focus areas for today’s industrial manufacturing CEOs:

  1. Great expectations and influences. When asked to describe their company’s purpose, the survey found many industrial manufacturing CEOs believed it was centered on filling customer needs or developing first-class products, but others said it was creating a great place to work for employees or achieving social goals. And the influences that impact that purpose and overall strategy are many. As one would expect, customer demands drive final products, but 89% of industrial manufacturers say their customers and clients have an impact on their overall business strategy. Supply chain partners weigh-in, too, with 88% of CEOs planning to address social and environmental impacts of their supply chain. In addition, competitors and peers are also a focus, with a third of CEOs saying they too have a high impact on strategy.
  2. Technology and talent. Executives know Industry 4.0 has arrived and are working to invest in new innovations and train their workforce to capitalize on their investments. The survey found that 90% of industrial manufacturing CEOs plan to make changes in how they use technology to assess and deliver on wider stakeholder expectations. However, with new technology comes new skill requirements, and 76% of respondents say they are concerned about the availability of key skills to grow their business. In response, more than half of CEOs are changing their talent strategy.
  3. Measuring and communicating success. Data showed that 60% of survey respondents said innovation is the number one area where the business could do more to measure the impact and value for stakeholders. Not only are CEOs realizing they need to measure and track business success, but that they also need to communicate that success. The survey found that 68% of CEOs believe R&D and innovation has the potential to drive better engagement with wider stakeholders. Together with customer relationship management, data and analytics take the top three spots—validating smart manufacturing will be a driving force for industry leaders.

Like any industrial manufacturer, PwC’s survey findings can help metal-cutting organizations prepare for another challenging, but transformative, year. As reported in the case study, “Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies,” sometimes this means investing in technology. Jett Cutting Service, for example, hit a record-setting 1.1 million cut parts last year and attributes the milestone to smart investments. “I would like to believe that our increase in sales is due to investing in the latest cutting technology, which increases our capacity and production capabilities,” Vice President Mike Baron said. “The newer technology also allows us to offer competitive pricing, which has led to many new customers.”

However, Jett Cutting also understands that it needs to be just as committed to its employees and its customers. The metal-cutting organization also has a strong training program for new employees, an ISO certification program to maintain high quality standards, and additional training for existing employees every time new equipment or software is purchased.

For many metal-cutting companies, 2016 certainly hasn’t been the best of years, but it also hasn’t been the worst. As PwC’s survey confirms, no one is confident about what next year will bring; however, industrial manufacturing leaders aren’t standing idle. Jett Cutting and many others are investing in new technology and training now to prepare for growth in the future.

How is your industrial metal-cutting company investing in the future?

Cost Management

Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Focus on Sustainability as Strategy

November 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


In today’s challenging market, any edge you can carve out against the competition is beneficial. While traditional improvement strategies such as lean manufacturing, ongoing training, and preventative maintenance can help improve your operational success, top performers are looking beyond long-established methods to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

According to the brief, “Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” industry leaders understand the importance of thinking outside the box. “In the spirit of continuous improvement, best-in-class managers need to explore all of the ways they can save their operation time and money,” the brief states.

Enter sustainability—the latest initiative manufacturers are using to reduce costs and gain a competitive advantage. Whether implementing strategic energy plans or adopting more environmentally friendly processes, today’s industrial manufacturers are finding that “going green” can provide bottom-line savings.

For example, according to The U.S. Green Building Council report, LEED in Motion: Industrial Facilities, more than 1,755 industrial facilities have received a voluntary green building certification system called LEED – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. As stated here in a blog from Frost & Sullivan, experts believe that the operational efficiencies gained by following LEED building principles are real and measurable.

Take Fiat Chrysler’s Trenton South Engine plant as an example. The Michigan-based facility was the world’s first engine plant to achieve a Gold LEED rating, which has helped cut the plant’s annual CO2 emissions by 12,000 metric tons, reduced energy consumption by 39%, and saved about $1.6 million a year.

Ball and roller bearing manufacturers are following suit. For the last 17 years, industry leader SKF has been listed as one of the most sustainable companies by the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index (DJSI). “Our long-running inclusion in the DJSI is something that we are all very proud of within SKF,” stated Rob Jenkinson, director of corporate sustainability at SKF. “Sustainability issues for businesses have evolved during this period, with an ever increasing focus on reducing negative environmental impacts and doing more for society as a whole. We maintain our focus on understanding these issues and the role we can play to help address them—now, and in the future.”

New Hampshire Ball Bearings, Inc. (NHBB) is also focused on sustainability as a strategy and has a formal Energy Management Plan in place. “Energy management is at the core of our strategy to achieve sustainability because it is so vital to our long term health,” the company says on its website. “Rapid economic growth, especially in the developing world, is expected to increase global energy consumption 40% by 2035. The expected increase in energy costs and the potential for supply disruptions compels us to identify and implement aggressive energy efficiency improvements.”

Instead of embracing sustainability as something that’s just “good to do,” more and more manufacturers are realizing that there are practical short-term and long-term financial benefits to implementing environmentally conscious improvements, according to a blog from the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). The industry group lists five key business advantages to adopting sustainable practices. The following are the top three: (You can read the full list here.)

  1. Reduce Energy-Related Costs. Energy and water costs are a prime concern for manufacturers. Focusing on improvements can reduce these expenses, typically on an annual basis. In addition, switching to energy-efficient lighting and adjusting lighting levels in accordance with your production schedule will reduce your long-term electrical costs. Regular equipment inspections can also prove beneficial.
  2. Attract New Customers and Increase Sales. Green and sustainable practices can make your company more marketable. Consumers are more conscious of the environment, and making improvements will strengthen your reputation. Whether you’re an OEM or a supplier, highlighting your initiatives to the public will help you attract a whole new base of customers, resulting in increased sales.
  3. Tax Incentives. There are a variety of tax credits and rebates on both the federal and state level for manufacturers who proactively implement more sustainable improvements. There may be incentives available to your business. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s website and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.

Of course, the bigger picture benefit of sustainability is its positive impact on the environment. However, as Fiat, SKF, NHBB, and many other industrial manufacturers are discovering, developing and integrating a detailed sustainability vision into your long-term strategic plan can have real, measurable business advantages that contribute to the bottom line.

Cost Management

Three Cost Management Strategies for Metal Fabricators

November 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


According to research from Kronos, U.S. manufacturers as a whole are bullish about future growth prospects. As reported by IndustryWeek, the research shows that nine out of 10 company leaders expect revenues to increase every year over the next five years, and well over half anticipate strong annual growth of 5% or more.

That doesn’t, however, mean companies don’t anticipate stumbling blocks. In fact, the report lists five critical challenges today’s manufacturers feel could limit their potential sales and profit growth. Not surprisingly, three of those challenges are cost-related—material costs, labor costs, and transportation/logistics costs.

So while some manufacturers are optimistic right now, there is no question that uncertainty about market conditions remain. The latest data from the Institute for Supply Management, for example, revealed that that Fabricated Metal Products sector contracted in October; however, new orders were up in September. This type of instability means that most fabricators are keeping a close eye on cost.

As stated in the brief, Cost Management Strategies for Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, there are no “one size fits all” answers when it comes to cost management. However, there are some of guiding principals industry leaders are using to keep costs low.

From an operations standpoint, managers can better manage equipment costs by making sure saws and other metal-cutting tools are operating as optimally as possible. According to the brief, this includes ensuring that equipment is running at the proper settings and that fluids are adequate.

“Closely monitoring blade life and maintenance reports are a critical aspect of managing equipment costs,” the brief explains. “If operators are taking too long to cut a specific material or blade costs are up, managers should review equipment settings and monitor the operator in action.” Consistent general and preventative maintenance programs can also help metals executives better manage costs.

From a more strategic standpoint, there are several best practices metal fabricators can follow. Below are three strategies to consider:

  1. Partner up to increase buying power and save money. As suggested in an article from Thomasnet, partnering with other small businesses can yield volume discounts and achieve savings. Consortiums put the benefits of economies of scale into effect for small businesses that would otherwise be left paying premiums. In addition, small firms should seek strategic partnerships with key suppliers. Purchasing from fewer suppliers saves time and resources while building trust. A small business owner can talk openly with a strategic partner and ensure the company is not overspending due to unnecessary costs.
  2. Include financial personnel in improvement initiatives. If your company has decided to embark on a continuous improvement activity to save costs, you may want to check out this article from IndustryWeek. In addition to discussing the dangers of disguising cost cutting as improvement, the article also reminds managers to spend time with the financial community and hold discussions on costs and savings before starting an improvement project. Managers should work closely with the financial team to develop a tracking system for possible problems to prove cost savings in the future. The article also suggests that a person from the financial community be included in each improvement team. This person will be able to validate cost savings and ensure all costs are tracked accurately.
  3. Factor time into the cost equation. While most people believe the old adage “time is money,” traditional accounting practices don’t exactly account for the cost of time—specifically, customer lead times—in metal fabrication. As explained in an article from The Fabricator, traditional cost accounting treats inventory as an asset and does not capture the true costs of long lead times. However, according to the author of the book, The Monetary Value of Time, there is an accounting method that corrects this oversight and complies with generally accepted accounting principles. You can read more about this method here.

Regardless of whether you are optimistic about the market and making investments or taking a more cautious approach and holding your pennies close, it is always important to closely monitor costs. By taking the time to approach cost strategically, today’s metal fabricators can save money, stay competitive, and, hopefully, see long-term increases to the bottom line.

Cost Management

Using Predictive Analytics in Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturing

October 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


In today’s competitive and quickly changing market, manufacturers are finding that it pays to be proactive—not reactive—in their strategic approaches. That’s why a growing number of industrial manufacturers are starting to take a serious look at advanced technologies like predictive analytics, which allows them to not only measure performance, but to also predict and prevent future challenges.

According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, more than 500 senior manufacturing executives from around the world ranked predictive analytics as the number one technology vital to their companies’ future competitiveness. As reported here, another report from Aberdeen Group shows that 86 percent of top-performing manufacturers are already using predictive analytics to reduce risk and improve operations, compared to 38 percent of those companies with an average performance and 26 percent of those with less than stellar results.

The trend has found its way into industrial metal cutting as well. According to the LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 industrial metal-cutting organizations, companies can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”

What is Predictive Analytics?
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 Deloitte study explains, this allows companies to uncover hidden patterns, relationships, and greater insights by analyzing both structured and unstructured data.

In a manufacturing environment, companies can use predictive analytics to measure the health of production equipment and detect potential failures. However, the possibilities are virtually limitless. According to one analyst’s blog, manufacturers could potentially use software and predictive analytics to forecast potential staffing or supply-chain interruptions, such as a flu outbreak that could cause a temporary personnel shortage or even a blizzard that could disrupt deliveries.

Bearing manufacturing leader Timken has taken a different approach and is using predictive analytics to improve inventory optimization and supply chain performance in the automotive aftermarket sector. As reported by SearchAutoParts.com, Timken is leveraging sales history, registration data, and other information, along with complex analytics, to improve sales and reduce costs.

“Timken’s catalog team matches parts and vehicles, and combines that information with vehicle registration and replacement/failure rates, along with internal sales data,” the article explains. “Crunching that data using proprietary algorithms helps them predict how many parts will be needed in a given geography, and how those parts sales will fall within the premium aftermarket, economy aftermarket and OEMs.”

Common Use Cases
Because predictive analytics is an emerging technology, applications are typically specific to each manufacturer’s products and processes—as in the Timken example. However, an article from Toolbox.com describes four common use cases for predictive analytics that are applicable in most manufacturing environments:

  1. Quality Improvement. Improvements in databases and data storage and easier-to-use analytical software are the big changes for quality improvement. Standard quality improvement analysis is being pushed toward less technical analysts using new software that automates much of the analytical process. Storing more information about products and the manufacturing process also leads to analysis of more factors that influence quality.
  2. Demand Forecast. Predictive analytics takes historical sales data and applies forms of regression to predict future sales based upon past sales. Good predictive analytics modelers find additional factors that influenced sales in the past and apply those factors into forecasted sales models.
  3. Preventative Maintenance. Predictive analytics increases production equipment uptime. Knowing that a machine is likely to break down in the near future means a manufacturer can perform the needed maintenance in non-emergency conditions without shutting down production.
  4. Machine Utilization. Predictive analytics applications for machine scheduling combines forecast for demand with product mix to optimize machine utilization. Using new predictive analytics techniques improves accuracy.

Predicting Success
While there is no question that predictive analytics is still new to many ball and roller bearing manufacturers, industry leaders know that proactive strategies are key in today’s uncertain market. Finding ways to anticipate future events and reduce unplanned downtime can not only help your operation gain efficiency but, more importantly, help you stay competitive.

Cost Management

Key Considerations for Bringing Mobility to Your Forging Operation

October 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As smart phones and other mobile devices become ubiquitous among consumers, it’s not surprising that mobile technologies are starting to be used increasingly in the manufacturing world. Although manufacturing hasn’t gone totally mobile, a growing number of shops are deploying some form of mobile technology to improve efficiency and communication on the shop floor.

Slow to Adopt
There is no question that manufacturing has lagged other business sectors in adopting mobile technology. However, this is not to say that plant managers don’t want to go mobile. In an interview with Design News, David Krebs, executive vice president of VDC Research, says that the interest is there, but issues like budgetary constraints, security concerns, and a lack of IT resources are holding back a lot of manufacturers.

“In addition, many existing manufacturing environments are not conducive to wireless technologies and its infrastructure,” Krebs tells Design News. “Low penetration of WiFi in manufacturing environments and the difficulty of wirelessly interfacing with shop-floor equipment also represent gating issues.”

However, most experts agree that the tide is starting to change as technologies advance and the Industrial Internet of Things becomes more prevalent. In fact, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, mobility was the top technology priority among industrial manufacturing CEOs in 2015. Specifically, the survey found that industrial manufacturers regarded mobile technologies as a strategic way to engage with customers.

Key Trends
Other reports confirm that interest is growing among manufacturers. “Given mobile’s role in improving information flows, it is not surprising that 78 percent of manufacturing companies agree that mobile solutions provide their company with a competitive advantage,” writes Matthew Hopkins, an analyst at VDC Research. “This advantage is demonstrated by tangible use-cases, such as predictive maintenance, workforce management, and energy management, which yield real returns on investment (ROI). Companies’ quick to realize these benefits have embraced mobility for some processes, such as inventory management, in large numbers.”

Last year, VDC conducted a survey among technology influencers at manufacturing companies and found that 36% of organizations actively used mobility solutions to support business initiatives. The survey also revealed the following key trends:

Going Mobile
If mobility is something you want to bring into your forging operation but you aren’t sure where to start, LNS Research, a consultancy based in Cambridge, MA, lists nine key ways companies are using mobile devices in manufacturing environments. Below are the top-three uses (You can read the full list of nine here.):

  1. Dashboards. Solutions providers have been offering performance dashboarding apps for a few years now, and many are taking it a step further by delivering role-based information that has been analyzed and contextualized for the specific personnel based on their information needs (i.e., a plant manager versus an operator or quality manager).
  2. Quality Auditing. In the past, quality auditing in remote locations typically involved some form of paper. Today, on-site and off-site auditing is typically done within a smartphone or tablet application, offering better integrity of information and allowing audits to be standardized across multiple locations.
  3. Corrective Actions. Today, most solutions providers offer some form of mobile app to support interactions with the corrective action process. These apps typically leverage the native capabilities of mobile phones and tablets, such as GPS/location services, voice/visual recording, and more.

If mobility isn’t on your radar yet, you may want to reconsider. Your shop may be missing out on some prime opportunities for cost savings or efficiency gains. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, proactive leaders are focused on making positive changes in their operations so they can quickly respond to changing customer demands. In other words, today’s forges can’t afford to be reactive to trends. According to Mike Roberts of LNS Research: “If you’re not on the path to using mobile apps to better manage your production operations, you’re seriously at risk of being stuck in the past.”

To read more about bringing mobility into your forging operation, check out the article “7 Tips for Taking Your Operation Mobile,” published by American Machinist.

Cost Management

How to Optimize Metal Service Center Operations with Operator Accountability

October 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Industrial metal-cutting companies know running an efficient and productive operation is imperative to keeping up with and, more importantly, staying ahead of the changing industry and customer demands. However, in industrial metal cutting—as well as any manufacturing process—an operation is only as good as its operators.

This is why operator accountability is so important. As reported in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, as more metal service centers rely on automated technology, managers need to work closely with machine operators to ensure their knowledge and skill sets align with the company’s technology assets and productivity goals. The objective is to encourage employees to take ownership of their impact on the operation so they not only care about the quality of their work, but also understand the role they play in the company’s overall success. Working closely with employees to create a culture of accountability can help metal service centers achieve the operational excellence they desire.

According to an article from IndustryWeek, accountability can be a powerful manufacturing tool because it is a broad-based effort to define and track an organization’s standards. “Accountability systems serve to prompt and encourage people to keep their promises to each other,” Jon Thorne, senior consultant, Daniel Penn Associations, says in the IW article. “Accountability monitors whether promises are being kept and reminds us to hold up our end of the bargain. When we all keep our promises to each other the result is human reliability. And with human reliability, your organization can accomplish anything.”

While using accountability to improve your metal service center operations is not an exact science, it is systematic. In fact, accountability is a set of systems that overlap and reinforce each other, according to the IW article. The following three systems are just a few ways manufacturers can boost accountability (You can read the full list here):

  1. Customer satisfaction. Measuring your service to internal customers puts interdepartmental cooperation on an objective basis: You confront issues rather than people. The plant manager’s role is to insist that the organization seek out and satisfy its customer’s needs, but it is the customers and suppliers who decide how to do it.
  2. Weekly staff meetings. The idea sounds simple, but having a regular and consistent forum where information can flow both ways enables employees to hold management accountable by asking questions and discussing any issues. Two meetings per week are recommended.
  3. Action item lists. Many times, regular staff meetings result in new policies and processes, or changes to those that are existing. Keeping an action list or planner helps prioritize activities, highlights important information, and enables employees to hold each other accountable for keeping the agreements they’ve made.

Another simple strategy is to regularly share performance reports with employees by either posting them or discussing them in staff meetings. As stated in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, sharing report results encourages accountability, provides motivation, and reminds operators that they are a critical aspect of the company’s success. This approach falls in line with the culture of lean production environments, and research has shown it positively affects employee morale.

How does this help optimize operations? Although employee investments are often hard to quantify, the following two manufacturers have seen measurable results after implementing accountability practices:

Running an efficient operation is essential to every metal service center, but far too many managers fail to understand the role their operators play in their optimization efforts. By implementing a few processes that hold operators accountable for their actions, managers can create a culture in which employees care about their jobs and, even more so, the long-term success of the company.

What accountability practices have you implemented at your metal service center?

Cost Management

Benefits of Using Predictive Maintenance Analytics in Your Forging Operation

September 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


With changing customer requirements and an increasingly competitive marketplace, leading manufacturers are finding it pays to be proactive—not reactive—in their strategic approaches. Instead of simply measuring performance, many companies are taking the next step and using measurement to anticipate and prevent future challenges—a concept known as predictive operations management.

This trend has found its way into industrial metal cutting. According to the LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations, companies can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”

One such approach is predictive maintenance. Not to be confused with preventative maintenance, which uses planned maintenance activities to prevent possible failures, predictive maintenance (also known as condition-based maintenance) uses data-driven analytics to optimize capital equipment upkeep.

Reliable Plant defines predictive maintenance as “the application of condition-based monitoring technologies, statistical process control, or equipment performance for the purpose of early detection and elimination of equipment defects that could lead to unplanned downtime or unnecessary expenditures.” By using tools to predict and then correct possible failures, operators can keep machines running while eliminating unnecessary preventative maintenance downtime and reducing reactive maintenance downtime.

In fact, predictive maintenance was identified in a McKinsey Global Institute report as one of the most valuable applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the factory floor. The report, The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype, says that predictive maintenance using IoT has the potential to reduce equipment downtime by up to 50 percent and reduce equipment capital investment by 3 to 5 percent by extending the useful life of machinery. “In manufacturing, these savings have a potential economic impact of nearly $630 billion per year in 2025,” the report states.

According to an article from Manufacturing Business Technology, the potential benefits of predictive maintenance analytics go beyond predicting machine failure. The magazine lists several wide-ranging implications the technology has for the manufacturing industry, including the following:

  1. Part harmonization. Predictive models are able to show which parts will be the first in line to fail, what will need replacing in the next six months, for example. This then allows teams to better manage inventories, stockpile the right parts, and even bulk order replacements before they are needed.
  2. Cost-benefit analyses. Teams are better equipped to do cost benefit analyses and further understand the risks of not performing maintenance at any given time. Presenting this data to the C-suite, and outlining future risk weighed against a smaller outlay at the present time, is a far more compelling argument than suggesting a piston might eventually need replacing.
  3. Warranty Claims. Defining the optimal cost and duration for any given warranty is a great challenge for many manufacturers. Analytics can help better define these boundaries by modeling usage patterns.

Of course, all of these benefits come with a cost. One of the major drawbacks of predictive maintenance analytics is that it requires a high upfront investment for condition monitoring equipment and software, as well as a high skill level and experience to accurately interpret condition-monitoring data. There are also privacy and security issues that need to be addressed. For smaller forges, this could be a huge stumbling block, although some may discover that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.

In the end, predictive maintenance may not be an option for every shop or every piece of equipment, but in today’s competitive market, it might be worth the research. Many companies are finding that the potential benefits of the technology are opening up new opportunities for improvement and growth that were once not possible.

Cost Management

Is Minimum Quantity Lubrication a Good Choice for Your Machine Shop?

September 20, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Most metal-cutting professionals agree that lubricants are a critical part of any sawing operation. As explained in the reference guide, User Error or Machine Error?, insufficient sawing fluid can cause a host of metal-cutting issues, from premature blade failure to poor cut quality.

Metal-cutting fluids save maintenance time, improve cut quality, and extend tooling life. However, not all lubricating options are created equally. As this blog post describes, managers have a wide range of lubrication options available to them. And while fluid selection may seem like a small detail, it should be treated like any other operational purchase—with both strategy and cost in mind.

One lubricant choice that many machine shops overlook 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 great for smaller saws and for structural applications, but it is also versatile enough to be used in both precision circular sawing and band sawing operations. To help machine shops determine whether or not MQL is a good fit for their operation, below are just a few of its key benefits:

Of course, changing over to MQL is not as simple as just plugging in a new lubrication system. Implementation will require some research, training, and upfront investment. In fact, as a recent article from Modern Machine Shop points out, MQL can also present some manufacturing challenges. According to the magazine, operations managers should consider the following before deciding to implement MQL:

  1. MQL does not have comparable chip evacuation abilities to those of wet machining.
  2. MQL is still not well suited for deep-hole drilling, energy-intensive processes such as grinding, special operations like honing and small-hole drilling, or for difficult-to-machine materials such as titanium and nickel-based alloys.
  3. MQL still produces a very fine mist, which can be more difficult to filter.
  4. MQL implementation may require changes to the machine tool and processing strategy.

Although MQL may not be suitable for every shop, in many cases, it can offer significant advantages to your business, your employees, and the environment—three major reasons to at least consider using it in your metal-cutting operations.

For more information about what is needed to use MQL, including equipment requirements and some “rules of thumb,” you can download a copy of The MQL Handbook here.

Cost Management

Non-Residential Construction Industry Continues to Create Demand for Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies

September 15, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


The year has started off slow, with low production and shipments for metal products. However, the commercial and industrial construction segment is proving its staying powerful when it comes to creating demand for industrial metal-cutting companies.

As we reported in our “Metal Service Center Outlook for 2016,” the construction industry was expected to help industrial metal-cutting companies ride out the storm with total construction starts forecast to grow 6% in 2016.

Over the last few years and most recent months, the construction industry has seen its ups and down, depending on the segment. The electric utility and gas plant category, for example, saw project starts spike in 2015 only to drop this year, according to the latest construction report from Dodge Data and Analytics. In fact, nonbuilding construction dropped 56% in July 2016 as power plant projects ended, causing total new construction starts to fall 11% from the prior-year period.

However, nonresidential building starts are offsetting the steep drops elsewhere, growing 4% in July after a 7% increase in June. Commercial building starts grew 3%, with 20% of the increase attributed to office construction, according to the report.

Cautiously Optimistic
Despite the slowdown and uncertainty about the upcoming presidential election, experts remain optimistic that the construction industry will continue to remain strong into next year. At a recent mid-year forecast, chief economists from the Associated Builders & Contractors, American Institute of Architects, and National Association of Home Builders predicted growth for commercial projects into 2017, as reported by MetalMiner.

“Nonresidential construction spending growth will continue into the next year with an estimated increase in the range of 3 to 4%,” stated Anirban Basu, chief economist for Associated Builders & Contractors. “Growth will continue to be led by privately financed projects, with commercial construction continuing to lead the way. Energy-related construction will become less of a drag in 2017, while public spending will continue to be lackluster.”

In addition, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) from the American Institute of Architects has posted six consecutive months of increasing demand for design activity, according to this report. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to 12 month lead-time between architecture billings and construction spending.

“The uncertainty surrounding the presidential election is causing some funding decisions regarding larger construction projects to be delayed or put on hold for the time being,” said Kermit Baker, AIA Chief Economist. “It’s likely that these concerns will persist up until the election, and, therefore, we would expect higher levels of volatility in the design and construction sector in the months ahead.”

Making the Cut
Industrial metal-cutting companies that want to grow with the construction market need to know how the market is evolving and be prepared to meet demand for more I- and H-beams, hollow structural sections, and other structural products. More importantly, companies will need to be ready for changing market conditions.

One way industrial metal-cutting companies can ensure they make the cut is to optimize operations. As cited in the Benchmark Survey of Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, there are three key ways companies can optimize operations and, in turn, be better prepared to meet customer demands:

  1. Invest in smarter, more predictive operations management. According to the survey, 73-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.
  2. Embrace proactive care and maintenance of cutting equipment and tools. Ongoing operator monitoring, coupled with corrective instruction and coaching, can have a direct benefit on industrial metal cutting operations—improving their ability to meet customer demands, drive revenues and lower costs.
  3. Invest in human capital. Historically, metal executives have been more likely to invest in technology rather than their people; however, the benchmark survey provides evidence that investing in human capital is critical not only to attack operator error itself, but also to improve on-time customer delivery, drive higher revenue per operator, and lower rework costs.

While industrial metal-cutting companies are set to benefit from another strong year in construction, preparing for changes in segment demand and prices will set the foundation for a solid performance in 2017.

What strategies is your organization taking to take advantage of the construction boom?

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