October 15, 2014 / agility, benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, LIT, material costs, operations metrics, Output, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
Reports continue to show that U.S. manufacturing is on the upswing. According to the latest data from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), manufacturing continued to expand in October, and new orders posted growth for the 17th consecutive month. The Fabricated Metal Products sector in particular reported growth in October, with one ISM survey respondent stating that “weakness in commodity prices has been very positive” for business.
All of this good news means that fabricators have a prime opportunity for growth and increased profitability. However, because many companies are already running lean, managers will need to get creative with how they meet increased demand, especially if they can’t afford huge capital expenditures.
Looking for ways to do more with less? Below are three key ways fabricators can increase manufacturing output without breaking the bank:
- Improve Raw Material Use. In a recent Manufacturing.net article, Philip Odette, the CEO of Global Supply Chain Solutions, lists raw materials as the go-to starting point for improving operations. Because of the fluctuating costs surrounding raw materials, Odette says the key is to focus on reducing waste, both in materials and processes. This can mean everything from reducing scrap rates to changing up your material purchasing strategies. Odette admits that there is no “magic bullet” that every manufacturer can use to make gains around raw materials, but he does believe data analytics should be a part of the process. “To improve how well you use your raw materials, you’ll need to collect information on the use at every point in your supply chain and production cycle,” he says in the manufacturing.net article. “Track whichever metric is most important for your manufacturing, such as weight and waste production. If steps in your process require a specific transition, you should make note of these special characteristics, such as temperature throughout, if one step waits for metal to cool.”
- Get the Most Out of Old Equipment. While brand new equipment could certainly increase productivity, the reality is that most companies are still running on tight budgets and old equipment. However, there are strategies that can ensure that your current machinery stays as productive as possible. A recent article from IndustryWeek offers five tips for optimizing aging equipment:
- Identify Trouble Spots. Take an assessment of the factory floor to find machinery that’s either close to failure or not producing as expected.
- Estimate your savings. Once you fully understand the impact of the old equipment on your floor, run some calculations.
- Find your MacGyvers. Seek out specialists who’ve been handling specific types of equipment for years and see what creative ideas they have to boost efficiency.
- Set bounties for difficult challenges. Track each efficiency experiment to get a sense of what may be possible. Then, set bigger targets and attach a bounty to encourage friendly competition among experts.
- Raise the stakes. Engage everyone by creating factory-wide incentives for when targets are met.
- Adopt Smarter, More Predictive Operations Management. In today’s fast-paced market, it may be tempting for managers to fall into “react mode.” However, experts continue to say that proactive operations management strategies offer the best return. Data from LIT’s industry benchmark study, for example, suggests that fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting operations with high machine uptime can benefit from investing in smarter, more predictive operations management approaches. According to the survey results, 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. By utilizing proactive strategies such as preventative maintenance, operations managers can actually predict issues like machine downtime and blade failure and, as a result, can plan around it.
September 25, 2014 / best practices, blade selection, Cost Management, LIT, material costs, productivity, resource allocation, Safety, strategic planning
As part of the automotive supply chain, forges that cut and process metal have a prime opportunity for growth over the next few years. The latest data shows that automotive sales continue to climb, and manufacturers are investing in new plants and equipment. In fact, Edmunds.com predicted earlier this year that new car sales would reach 16.4 million in 2014—the highest total since 2006.
And while this is certainly good news for forges that serve this particular market, the not-so-good news is that competition is stronger than ever, both domestically and globally. In an annual survey conducted by Forging magazine, 38% of forges listed foreign competition as a top concern in 2014. Domestically, forges not only have to compete with each other, but find ways to compete with companies offering alternatives to forged components as well.
Forges that want to stand out among their competitors need to prove that they are achieving operational excellence. Part of this requires internal improvements such as reducing scrap, properly allocating resources, and even making safety a top priority. However, it is just as important for managers to take a look outside their doors and invest in technologies and equipment that can make them more innovative and, in turn, more competitive.
To help readers keep a pulse on how to better serve their automotive customers, below are just a few of the innovations that are advancing forged automotive parts, as well as the processes used to create them.
- Materials. One of the growing areas for innovation within the forging industry is in materials. A presentation at this year’s International Forging Congress discussed the production benefits of using microalloyed steels in several forging applications, including automotive spindles. Another article from Forging highlights the cost savings forges can gain by using new materials for structural, case-hardened, and induction-hardened parts. There have also been some new approaches to aluminum forging that are said to produce forgings with enhanced metallurgical and mechanical properties while also saving energy.
- Automation. Automation and computerized controls are making all aspects of the forging process more efficient. Simple controllers on metal-cutting equipment, for example, have allowed companies to assign operators to run more than one machine at a time. Higher level advancements in areas like robotics are also improving production at higher volume forges. According to Forging magazine, better programming features, range of movement, and motion control are creating new efficiencies and cost savings at companies like Parsan Steel Forging and Machining Co., a Turkish manufacturer of automotive parts.
- Tooling. Continued advancements in the area of tooling are also creating efficiences in processes such as band saw cutting. Carbide-tipped band saw blades, for example, are widely used among forges that are cutting tougher metals like stainless steel. Designed with a high performance backing steel and optimized carbide grades, these blades offer high cutting performance and longer blade life. A forge mentioned in this white paper, for example, was able to reduce its cut times by one half and double its blade life by switching from a bi-metal band saw blade to a carbide-tipped blade.
August 28, 2014 / blade selection, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, human capital, material costs, operator training, productivity, skills gap, strategic planning, value-added services
With this year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) just wrapping up, investment decisions about production equipment and technology are at the forefront of just about every manager’s mind. While unstable market conditions make it tempting for companies to keep their dollars close, demands for faster delivery and a shortage of skilled workers are making it hard for most metal-cutting companies to keep up without some capital investments.
For many companies, those investments will be in equipment and tooling. According to the 2014 Metalworking Capital Spending Survey by Gardner Research, U.S. metalworking facilities will spend $7.442 billion, an increase of almost 19%, on new metal-cutting equipment in 2015. The same report forecasts that tool sales will be at their highest level in more than a decade.
Another report from market researcher IBIS states that “private investment in metalworking machinery has been improving and demand has been steady.” IBIS also predicts continued growth over the next few years due to renewed demand from machine shops and an upturn in automobile sales.
Meanwhile, experts are saying that managers need to start spending more time and money on their human capital. As this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) discusses, today’s metalworking executives need to optimize every aspect of their operation. While it is easy to rely heavily on equipment and tooling to improve efficiency, more and more companies are finding that it is just as important to account for—and correct—the human variables that can contribute to productivity. This could include everything from working with colleges to secure new talent to instituting ongoing training and incentive programs.
To help companies get a bigger picture perspective on where they should put their money, LIT asked two industry experts to share their thoughts on industry trends, the benefits of technology, and what they think it will take for metal-cutting companies to stay competitive. Read as Don Armstrong, national accounts manager at Marvel Manufacturing Company, Inc., and Rick Arcaro, vice president of Sales & Marketing at Hydmech, weigh in.
What technology advancements have helped metal-cutting companies address the challenges they face in today’s marketplace?
Armstrong: I think the problem of how to increase productivity without adding personnel has been greatly helped by the amount of automation that is available in today’s machine tools. In addition, the advances in cutting tools have given our customers the ability to process more product with fewer machines. The concern over the availability of skilled workers has been offset to some extent by user-friendly controls, preprogrammed settings, and the ability to network machines.
Arcaro: New machines and blades have improved productivity and lowered cost per cut, and simple controllers have allowed companies to hire a lower skill level of operator to run them. Machines that are simple to maintain with the availability of parts off-the-shelf when needed have also helped customers get parts out the door faster with lower processing costs.
How have these advancements contributed to the bottom line?
Armstrong: The highest cost for any business is generally people, i.e. salaries and benefits, so whenever you can increase productivity without increasing your workforce, the bottom line will benefit.
Arcaro: Companies that have adopted continuous improvement management have reduced processing bottlenecks, kept their operations and workers as efficient as possible, while lowering operation costs and increasing the bottom line.
What is one up-and-coming advancement that industrial metal-cutting companies should know about or should consider as today’s market evolves?
Armstrong: I think a trend that metal-cutting companies should keep an eye on is the increasing use of composites and other materials in areas where metal was once used. This trend has been most noticeable in the automotive and aerospace industries.
Arcaro: Service centers need to continue to invest in value-added processing. Several factors are fueling investment in new equipment today: automation and computerized controls that make the latest machinery much more efficient, productive, easy to service, and user friendly. Companies should also look for machines and technologies that will extend tool life and reduce tool-change downtime.
What practical tip would you give an industrial metal-cutting company trying to compete in today’s marketplace?
Armstrong: I would advise them to build on their most valuable asset, their employees, by emphasizing training and ongoing education. I would encourage employees at all levels to get to know their customers in order to better understand their needs and help provide solutions for them. And, finally, I would remind them to look beyond traditional manufacturing processes for new ways to apply the knowledge that they have gained in metal cutting.
Arcaro: Knowing your place and position in the market is key. Trying to be good at everything is impossible—be great and profitable at something.
August 20, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, blade failure, blade selection, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, human capital, LIT, material costs, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, resource allocation, ROI
In the busy production environment of a machine shop, achieving the perfect cut is key to maintaining quality and productivity. Premature blade failure and excess scrap caused by operator error or equipment misuse can create quality issues, bottlenecks, and increased costs. In other words, it pays to get it right.
The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) knows what it takes to get the best cut out of your operators and the best “cost per cut” out of your blades. The following are few tips and tricks machine shops can use to optimize their band-saw cutting operations:
- Use the proper band speed. Band speed refers to the rate at which the blade cuts across the face of the material being worked. Faster band speeds can lead to faster cutting rates. However, band speed is restricted by the machinability of the material and ultimately heat produced by the cutting action. Too high a band speed or very hard metals produce excessive heat, resulting in reduced blade life. You can determine if you are using the right band speed by evaluating the shape and color of the metal chips. The goal is to achieve chips that are thin, tightly curled and warm to the touch. If the chips have changed from silver to golden brown, you are forcing the cut and generating too much heat. Blue chips indicate extreme heat, which will shorten blade life.
- Use the proper feed rate. Feed refers to the depth of penetration of the tooth into the material being cut. For cost effective cutting, you want to remove as much material as possible as quickly as possible by using as high a feed rate/pressure as the machine can handle. However, feed will be limited by the machinability of the material being cut and blade life expectancy. As with the speed rate, you can determine if you are using the feed rate by evaluating the shape and color of the metal chips. Overall, the proper speeds/feeds combination should produce chips that form the shape of “6’s” and “9’s.”
- Remember to lubricate. Lubrication is essential for long blade life and economical cutting. Properly applied to the shear zone, lubricant substantially reduces heat and produces good chip flow up the face of the tooth. Without lubrication, excessive friction can produce heat; high enough to weld the chip to the tooth. This slows down the cutting action, requires more energy to shear the material and can cause tooth chipping or stripping which can destroy the blade. Unfortunately, many operators fail to perform this basic maintenance task because they don’t fully understand how lubrication can affect cut quality and costs. For a great resource on metal-cutting fluids, check out this video from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers or download this handbook on minimum quantity lubrication.
- Break in your blades. A new band saw blade has razor sharp tooth tips. In order to withstand the cutting pressures used in band sawing, tooth tips should be honed to form a micro-fine radius. Failure to perform this honing will cause microscopic damage to the tips of the teeth, resulting in reduced blade life. Completing a proper break-in on a new blade will dramatically increase its life. According to LIT’s benchmark study, this is a best practice among industrial metal-cutting companies. According to the study, 45 percent of organizations surveyed reported they “always” break in blades, 30 percent said they do it “most of the time,” and 15 percent said they do it “occasionally.”
- Have the right tools. Oftentimes, optimization means upgrading tooling and equipment. For example, a machine shop featured in this white paper from LIT, was having trouble cutting stainless steel in a timely fashion. The company found that switching from a general-purpose bi-metal blade to a high-performance, coated carbide tipped blade provided faster cutting and higher productivity, while extending blade life by preventing heat buildup. With the new blade, it takes operators just takes minutes to saw one piece and about an hour to saw an entire bar, whereas before it took almost 2 hours to cut just one piece. This improved cutting time freed up the saws to take on additional cutting jobs, offering a great return on the new blade investment. In some cases, shops may be questioning whether or not they should go one step further and invest in custom cutting tools. This article from Modern Machine Shop does a good job of weighing the pros and cons of standardized vs. custom cutting tools.
For more metal-cutting tips and tricks, you can download the complete white paper, Understanding the Cut: Factors that Affect the Cost of Cutting, here.
August 5, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, material costs, Output, performance metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, strategic planning
Whether or not you consider yourself a “lean” operation, there are some lean manufacturing principles that are universal to almost every manufacturer. One of those is waste. As a metal service center, your ultimate goal is to turn material into profit as efficiently possible, which means you want to avoid waste and downtime at all costs. And while this isn’t groundbreaking information, many service centers aren’t effectively tackling waste because they don’t know where to start.
Identification of the Six Big Losses is one tool manufacturers can use to understand the most common forms of waste or “loss” within their operations. According to leanproduction.com, the Six Big Losses are key because ”they are nearly universal in application for discrete manufacturing, and they provide a great starting framework for thinking about, identifying, and attacking waste.”
The first step to reducing waste in your organization is to identify your losses. There are six types of loss every manufacturing operation faces, and each fall under three main categories—downtime loss, speed loss, and quality loss.
The following is a brief description of each of the Six Big Losses:
- Breakdowns. These are considered a downtime loss and could include tooling failure, unplanned maintenance, and motor failure.
- Setup and Adjustments. This is also a downtime loss and could include changeover, material shortage, operator shortage, and warm-up time.
- Small Stops. This is considered a speed loss, and it only includes stops that are less than 5 minutes and don’t require maintenance. This might include a blocked sensor or minor cleaning.
- Slow Running. This is another speed loss, and it covers anything that prohibits equipment from running at its optimal speed. Incorrect setting of parameters and equipment wear are prime examples.
- Startup Defects. This quality loss covers any scarp or rework that occurs during setup or very early in the production phase.
- Production Defects. This is the second form of quality loss. This refers to any scrap or rework that happens during the steady-state production process.
Once you have identified the Six Big Losses and the events that contribute to them, the next step is to record and monitor what you find within your operation. The only way to do this effectively is through measurement and documentation. This article from oee.com gives several tips for addressing each loss category and includes helpful links to help you accurately measure your losses.
The final step is attacking your losses and preventing them from happening again. This is where strategy comes into play. In a recent benchmark study of industrial metal-cutting organizations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) identified three key areas where organizations can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor. These include the following:
- invest in smarter, more predictive operations management;
- embrace proactive care and maintenance of saws and saw blades; and
- invest in human capital.
To read more about these recommendations, you can download the full report here.
As a service center that cuts and processes metal, some waste and loss are inevitable. However, the only way to keep those losses from hurting your business is to identify, monitor, and attack them, one by one. Add in a little strategy, and you might just be able to turn those losses into opportunities for improvement and growth.
July 25, 2014 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, material costs, operations metrics, performance metrics, productivity, quality, root cause analysis
In industrial metal-cutting, a small amount of scrap is inevitable. However, reducing material waste should still be a top goal for forges that cut and process metal. Like all other forms of waste, scrap negatively affects profitability, especially if it is generated out of error.
The truth is that any amount of scrap or rework you’re experiencing in your operations provides an opportunity for improvement. Taking the time to reduce scrap often leads to better productivity and higher quality cuts. According to this article from CONNSTEP, a Connecticut-based continuous improvement organization, reducing scrap and rework rates can also improve cash flow. “The number one reason small businesses go out of business is lack of cash flow,” the article states. “If the scrap rate is 8 percent of your production now and it is reduced to 6 percent, that newly created 2% may now be used to produce new/additional product and your savings should account for the cost avoidance of using new/additional material to complete the existing order.” In other words, by reducing rework and scrap from occurring, industrial metal-cutting organizations can actually generate money that goes right to their bottom line.
If you are a forge that cuts and processes metal, here are a few strategies we gathered to help you reduce your scrap rates:’
- Measure and compare. As with any continuous improvement activity, you need to start with measurement. If you aren’t measuring your scrap rate, this is your first step. If you are tracking scrap, you may also want to consider other helpful metrics, including first-pass yield, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), dock-to-dock time, manufacturing cycle time, and inventory turns. You should also know your scrap and rework costs. Once you have some quantifiable data, you should compare your operation to others in your industry. Benchmarking is the only way to gauge whether or not you need serious improvement. For example, 81 percent of the industrial metal-cutting companies surveyed by the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) said their scrap and re-work costs are “always” (23 percent), “mostly” (45 percent) or “occasionally” (less than 5 percent). How does your operation stack up?
- Evaluate Operators. If you know your scrap and rework rates could be better, identifying the root cause of the issue is the only way to make any real, sustainable improvements. Often times, high inventory levels and scrap rates are indicators of “hidden” inefficiencies such as operator error. Are all of your operators properly trained on how to use equipment? Are they running saws at optimal levels, or are they just focused on getting the job done as fast as possible? Have you recently taken on a new job that may require a different cutting tactic or a blade type? Poorly trained operators that misuse equipment or fail to perform basic tasks like breaking in blades often lead to low-quality cuts, higher instances of scrap due to error, and shortened blade life—all of which add up to elevated costs.
- Pick for clean. While quick turnaround is always a goal, scrap can quickly get out of control if operators are reaching for a new piece of material every time they start a job. That’s why many companies are moving away from the “pick for speed” method of inventory selection and, instead, are embracing “pick for clean” methods. Picking for clean is the practice of picking high-quality leftover materials from a previous job to use up the inventory. In other words, you reach for remnants first. This keeps inventory and material costs low. Structural Steel of Carolina, a fabricator featured here in a series of industry case studies, uses a software-based inventory system to help facilitate this strategy. According to Superintendent Gary Kirkman, the software system tells operators exactly what material to use and how much drop off they can expect. “That is how we determine what we keep and what we throw away,” he explains. “Scrap less than 4 feet in length is considered waste, but any pieces 5 feet and longer are entered back into the inventory system to be reused.”
In the end, scrap is just one of the many areas of waste that today’s leading forges are trying to attack. However, with the cost of inventory being so high, no industrial metal-cutting organization can really afford to ignore a pile of wasted material that could have been used for profit. When it comes down to it, every piece of scrap counts in today’s lean manufacturing world. However, by implementing some of the above strategies, not every piece of scrap has to count against you.