August 3, 2015 / best practices, blade selection, industry news, LIT, Output, quality, strategic planning
Over the past few years, the aerospace industry has enjoyed ample growth. In 2014, the sector earned $228.4 billion in sales, an increase from $219.4 billion in 2013, according to the Aerospace Industries Association. This growth is expected to continue this year, with Deloitte estimating industry growth of 3% in its “2015 Global Aerospace and Defense Industry Outlook.” Catalyzing this growth is the commercial side of the business, with increased passenger travel demand picking up the slack for diminishing defense budgets. In fact, the report predicts passenger travel demand to increase 5% each year for the next 20 years, providing more opportunity for industry growth in the coming decades.
As critical suppliers to the aerospace industry, metal-cutting companies have a prime opportunity to capitalize on the rising demand, provided they are armed with the right services and tools to cater to the needs of this growing industry. In fact, many metal-cutting companies are already taking advantage of the aerospace industry’s success. As mentioned in a previous LENOX blog post, companies TW Metals and Universal Machining Industries Inc. now successfully serve aerospace customers because they were willing to make changes and broaden their capabilities to better address the unique needs of the segment.
Metal-cutting companies that want to successfully serve existing and potential aerospace customers need to be sure they are equipped to handle the industry’s changing material needs. In the past, aluminum alloys were predominantly used in aerospace manufacturing; however, advances in titanium alloys are launching the material to the forefront. According to a report from Research and Markets, demand for aluminum alloys is projected to “remain flat” moving forward, while demand for titanium alloys is predicted to “surge.”
Knowing how to efficiently cut titanium alloys is one way metal-cutting organizations can position themselves to be a preferred supplier of the aerospace industry. To help companies better prepare for this new development, the following is a brief overview on titanium alloys and the most effective cutting tools and methods for working with this material.
Tackling Titanium Alloys
Titanium alloys are praised for their strong, yet light-weight material. However, the metal is often tricky to work with due to its reactivity at higher temperatures and its tough composition. The American Machinist article, “Cool Tips for Cutting Titanium” provides key insights into the chemistry behind the alloys and lends the following tips for its successful manufacturing:
- Machine titanium alloys in the softest state possible to prevent the material from becoming more abrasive
- Use ample amounts of coolant to prevent too-high temperatures
- Lower the cutting speed depending on the alloy– high levels of vanadium and chromium in an alloy require lower cutting speeds
- Use constant feed to avoid hardening and maintain this feeding throughout the whole cut
For more manufacturing tips, you can read the full article here, or check out the paper “Manufacture of Titanium Alloy Components for Aerospace and Military Applications” for a deeper dive into the proper methodologies for forging and machining titanium.
Choosing the Right Blade
Another crucial aspect of efficiently cutting titanium alloys is choosing the right tool. As industry experts, The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) offers critical advice concerning blade selection in its white paper, “Characteristics of a Carbide-Friendly Bandsaw Machine.” Since titanium alloys are a stronger and harder material, they pose a unique cutting challenge best solved by carbide blades. Using a carbide-tipped band saw blade not only allows for the successful cutting of titanium alloys, but it simultaneously offers longer blade life and faster cutting as well. LIT’s white paper further elaborates the benefits of the carbide technology by providing a real-life comparison between a bi-metal and a carbide blade. The test produced the following results:
- The bi-metal band saw blade (Contestor GT) ran 120 feet per minute with a feed rate of 0.53 inches per minute.
- The carbide blade (Armor CT Black) ran at 320 fpm with a feed rate of 3.11 inches per minute.
Ultimately, the higher speed and feed rate of the Armor CT Black blade enabled it to make the cut 13 minutes faster, translating into 160 more parts produced during an 8-hour shift than its bi-metal counterpart.
For more information on choosing the right tool, you can check out the LENOX guide to band sawing here. The guide provides recommendations on the best blade selection and blade speed to effectively cut titanium alloys, as well as other metal materials.
April 30, 2015 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, industry news, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, Output, performance metrics, productivity, resource allocation, root cause analysis, strategic planning, workflow process
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.
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:
- Measure. “The first step, measurement, is critical to asset strategies because every asset in industrial organizations is essential for successful operations,” the article states. “Regular audits and automated measuring allow manufacturers to detect problems early before they become more severe and costly.”
- Monitor. “While measurement is the first step for asset performance management, machines must be continuously monitored for valuable insights,” the article states. “Software tools today identify root cause failure through data analysis and initiate proactive maintenance to protect assets and reduce downtime.”
- Manage. “Asset performance management provides structured processes and analytics to identify critical assets and failure modes, calculate equipment reliability, and determine downtime impacts,” the article states. “Executives and operators need the end-to-end picture of operations to drive impactful change.”
(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.
April 25, 2015 / agility, best practices, Cost Management, industry news, KPIs, LIT, operations metrics, Output, performance metrics, productivity, strategic planning
Most metalworking companies started off 2015 with positive expectations. As the LENOX Institute of Technology reported in the 2015 Industrial Metal Cutting Outlook, early forecasts painted a positive picture, with manufacturing production projected to grow by 3.7% in 2015 and 3.6% in 2016.
However, recent reports have clouded expectations a bit. A mid-April outlook from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), for example, stated that short-term outlook for industrial manufacturing is “murky” and “fairly bleak.” According to the report, manufacturing production fell by 1.2 percent during the first quarter of 2015, the first quarterly contraction in factory sector output since the second quarter of 2009. And even though there was a modest gain in factory output growth in March (0.1%), MAPI points out that production in key industry sectors such as primary metals, aerospace, and furniture contracted.
Even with this sobering data, many manufacturers remain optimistic that 2015 will be a year of growth, even if it is only slightly better than last year. Two articles from Forge magazine give some specific reasons why forges can remain hopeful now and in the years ahead.
In its “Aerospace Industry Outlook,” Forge states that based on the 20-year projections from Boeing and Airbus, the long-term outlook for the aerospace industry (one of the forging industry’s biggest markets) is positive. While the demand projections between these two top companies differ slightly, both expect growth, which is good news for the forging industry.
“Whichever forecast you want to believe, many planes will be ordered during the next two decades,” the article states. “The world’s leading forgers, many of which are located in North America, will be asked to supply a wide assortment of forged products made of high-performance and lightweight materials.”
In a separate article, “North American Forging is Advanced Manufacturing,” the industry publication argues that the forging industry has several reasons to be confident in its future position in the metals industry. According to the article, forging is not only an enduring industry, but “is vibrant, technologically challenging and critical to the country’s economic health and defense.” The reason forging endures, the articles adds, is because it provides the parts for critical applications that cannot be produced by any other manufacturing process.
“If the application is important, it depends on a forging,” the article states. “Why would any designer choose any metalworking process not capable of providing the optimum combination of strength, toughness and fatigue resistance required of the application?”
Have a Plan
The point is that regardless of what current data shows, the long-term prospect for the forging industry is bright, which means that managers need to stay focused on growth. However, that means you need a plan. As any leading metals executive knows, success in today’s market requires a strategic plan focused on continuous improvement while also accounting for external challenges.
What does that look like? Below is a brief outline from Canadian Metalworking that will help forging executives create a simple but workable planning process for their business:
- Analyze the current state of the company, including annual sales and estimated market share and whether these variables are growing or sinking.
- Determine your goals and objectives over the next 12 months to five years.
- Take an inventory of the financial and non-financial resources the company currently has and what additional resources are needed to achieve these goals and objectives.
- Identify activities and courses of action that the company needs to embark on to accomplish these objectives.
- Establish key performance indicators (KPI) to quantifiably measure the company’s performance against specific activities that management has identified or against key success factors in the industry.
- Review performance and accomplishments against the plan on an on-going basis and do not hesitate to pivot if necessary.
(For a more in-depth explanation of these steps, you can view the full article here.)
Are you ready for whatever 2015 brings? If you remain focused on growth and have a strategic plan in place, odds are you are more ready than you think.
April 10, 2015 / agility, best practices, Cost Management, cost per cut, customer delivery, customer satisfaction metrics, Employee Morale, human capital, industry news, maintaining talent, Output, productivity, strategic planning
As we reported in our 2015 Industrial Metal Cutting Outlook, most manufacturers are expecting some growth in 2015, although no one expects it to be a banner year. “Modest improvement,” “slight gains,” and “steady” are just a few of the words being used to describe 2015 business prospects.
Based on recent data, those words seem fairly accurate. According to the latest report from Institute for Supply Management (ISM), activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in March for the 27th consecutive month, and the overall economy grew for the 70th consecutive month. However, it is worth noting that ISM’s readings for March were lower than February’s readings. Specifically, March PMI registered 51.5 percent, a decrease of 1.4 percentage points from February’s reading of 52.9 percent and, even more noteworthy, the fifth consecutive monthly decline. The New Orders Index registered 51.8 percent, a decrease of 0.7 percentage point from the reading of 52.5 percent in February. Even so, PMI and the New Orders Index readings were above the set thresholds of 43.1 and 52.1, respectively, which indicate overall growth.
Of the 18 manufacturing industries covered in ISM’s report, 10 reported growth in March, including fabricated metal products. As one respondent from the fabricated metal products segment told ISM, “Our business is still strong and on projection. Dollar strength is challenging for our international business.”
Planning for Growth
According to industry publication The Fabricator, most fabricators went into 2015 expecting steady growth, and many planned on investing in capacity-building equipment to prepare for increasing customer demand. “The fabricating industry is looking to add capacity to gear up for the unexpected,” the magazine said in its 2015 Metal Fabrication Forecast. “Custom fabricators are all too familiar with demand variability, and demand has become even more variable in recent years.”
Quoting findings from FMA’s 2015 Capital Spending Forecast, The Fabricator says most fabricators are planning to build capacity with more equipment. “Projected capital spending growth has slowed from the dramatic rebound seen postrecession—2015 projections are up only 3.5 percent over 2014—but the spending has shifted,” the magazine says. “Specifically, fabricators are expecting to spend much less on consumables and supplies (down almost 30 percent) and more on capacity-building machinery, especially in cutting and forming, where spending has jumped past prerecession levels.”
Ready for Anything
Regardless of whether or not you entered the year bullish or cautious, most industry leaders would agree that being proactive is the only way to approach today’s marketplace. While you may or may not be planning to add capacity this year, there are several other strategies you can use to prepare your operation for whatever 2015 brings.
In fact, a recent article from IndustryWeek suggests that there are five tests every manufacturer should run quarterly to gauge “factory readiness.” These include the following:
- Utilization versus capacity: Are utilization and capacity running even?
- Per-project profitability: Is per-project profitability acceptable?
- Client mix: Could the client mix be improved?
- Workload diversity: Will the current and expected workload allow for learning new skills and expanding the business?
- Sick time and personal time off: Are workers motivated to deliver exceptional work? If not, why not?
- Strategic Planning. Do you have a strategic plan? It’s not a mission or a value Your company needs a strategy that outlines what its focus is and why that focus is important. Additionally you need a plan with actionable one-year objectives that are communicated at all levels of your organization. And, of course, metrics need to be in place to drive each employee’s role and responsibility in meeting the plan.
- Market Intelligence. To be successful you must be informed. Companies can no longer afford to guess or rely on “luck.” It is critical that you gather and review both internal and external data. Triangulation of customer information, industry knowledge/historical performance/experience and external market intelligence are critical to a successful demand plan.
- Demand Planning. Although difficult, demand planning can lead to driving significant efficiency gains within your business. Utilize market intelligence; talk with your customer and implement demand planning in your facility. Those that are doing so improve throughput by 20 to 30 percent, making profitability soar.
- Manufacturing Efficiency. Rather than just improving the efficiency of one or more machines, you need to look at the entire system for optimization. Rather than scheduling each and every piece of equipment that supports making the product separately, it is critical to schedule the system and how all the pieces interact. Analyzing the entire manufacturing operation as a whole helps identify opportunities for efficiency gain and process improvements.
- Labor. The manufacturing industry is facing a skilled-labor shortage and it is only predicted to get worse. To be competitive and maintain a productive workforce, you need to have a plan and be prepared to attract, train and retain a younger generation.
As the IW articles notes, forecasting the future with any measure of precision is difficult under the best of conditions, and manufacturing tends to have less visibility than most industries. However, by regularly following and measuring your operation’s performance, fabricators can not only be better prepared for what might happen in the near future, but more importantly, be prepared to handle unexpected changes.
March 20, 2015 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, human capital, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, operator training, Output, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, skills gap, strategic planning, workflow process
In an age of information overload, most managers know how their shops should run. They’ve read case studies about successful lean initiatives, benchmarking studies confirming the benefits of preventative maintenance, and forward-thinking editorials endorsing the “smart” factory. Yet, in the midst of in the day-to-day grind, it is often difficult to find the time and resources to make any real improvements, let alone put a plan in place to make them happen. As a recent article from Canadian Metalworking quips, many shops are too busy working on their business to work on their business.
However, taking the time to make strategic decisions for your shop is critical to its success. Maintaining status quo is no longer enough in today’s market. Modern machine shops need to have both short- and long-term plans, and they need to make the time to see them through.
But where do you start? At this year’s The MFG Meeting, Laurie Harbour, president of manufacturing consulting firm Harbour Results, Inc. (HRI), shared five best practices for leaders who want to start making real changes in their operations:
To help leaders take a deeper look at their operation, HRI also offers a Strategic Planning Worksheet, which lists some questions leaders can use to identify opportunities for improvement in each of these five areas. You can download the worksheet here.
Are you addressing these five major areas in your machine shop? In what areas could you use some improvement? Taking the time to ask critical questions like these—and those listed in the HRI worksheet—is the first step in optimization and, even more so, putting you on the right path to becoming one of those shops you always read about.
March 10, 2015 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, Employee Morale, human capital, LIT, operator training, Output, productivity, quality, Safety
Every fabricator knows that safety is important. Unfortunately, many companies fail to understand that safety needs to be more than just a priority. Instead, it needs to be viewed as a value—something that carries a cost. Injured workers can’t be productive, which means safety directly affects your operations and your profitability. In fact, some fabrication experts argue that safety is a primary component of operational effectiveness.
And, of course, if you value your employees at all, then treating their safety as a value should really be a no-brainer.
But how do you position safety as a value? How do you ingrain it into the culture of your fabrication shop? Below are a few strategies that should help get you and your operation on the right track:
- Set goals. Like any strategic endeavor, it starts by looking at your goals. For example, according to a recent article from Occupational Health & Safety, if your goal is to hit zero injuries, then you may need to re-evaluate. “Zero injury goals are often more fodder for company posters and financial and vision statements than real, meaningful direction for an organization,” the author states. Instead, the article suggests that the real goal should be safety excellence. “Zero injuries are a qualifier of our safety improvement efforts, not the primary goal if excellence is our journey’s purpose,” the author says.
- Lead by example. Positioning safety as a value also starts with leadership, according to an article from EHS Today. Quoting research from Jim Spigener, a senior vice president at consulting firm BST Solutions, the article states that culture is the ultimate predictor of safety performance, and senior leaders make or break the culture of the company. “To create a safety culture, leaders must behave differently,” the article states. To do that, Spigener believes that leaders need to “’get connected to their value for safety.’” Is safety only about meeting OSHA standards, or do you, as a leader, truly understand its value?
- Make it visual. Another strategy for keeping safety at the forefront of everyone’s minds is to create visual reminders. This tactic has been especially effective for the LENOX team. About a year and a half ago, LENOX implemented the Safety Sticker program, which visually displays whether or not its operation has had any safety incidents. Here’s how it works: Sticker dispensing stations and a safety calendar are located at every entrance to the facility, and every employee is required to put on a green sticker with the number of days “accident free” written on it. When a recordable accident occurs, everyone in the facility changes from a green sticker to a red sticker for a seven-day period. After seven days, everyone reverts back to the green sticker. According Matt Howell, senior manager, the program has been effective in several ways. “This system is a good rallying point for the facility and builds energy around safety,” Howell explains. “It has a strong behavioral impact as well. It puts safety on people’s minds when they put the sticker on at the beginning of the day and when they take it off at the end of the day. This ultimately promotes thought on safety and prompts people to think twice before engaging in an unsafe behavior/act.” While Howell admits it is hard to quantify the exact impact of the program, he says that it has played a huge role in recent safety gains: Thanks to the sticker program and a variety of other safety/behavior-based programs, LENOX has reduced the number of OSHA recordable accidents in its facility in 2014 by 73 percent.
- Talk about it. Perhaps the best way to reinforce the safety message is to talk about it—a lot. Structural Steel of California, a leading industrial metal-cutting company featured in a series of case studies from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), is intentional about communicating to employees that safety is a critical aspect of the metal products it fabricates, and that consistent message has evolved into an overall culture of safety within the company’s two North Carolina facilities. To facilitate this, managers hold a safety meeting every morning with the operators and a safety committee meeting every month.
February 20, 2015 / blade failure, blade selection, circular sawing, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, customer delivery, LIT, Output, productivity, quality, resource allocation, ROI, workflow process
When it comes to circular sawing, productivity is always the goal, especially as demand increases. However, industry leaders understand that productivity isn’t about going as fast as possible. In fact, speed can be detrimental to cutting tool life—a fact that not only negatively affects your bottom line, but can also decrease your overall productivity.
The real goal for today’s machine shops should be optimization. This requires operations managers to adopt strategies that allow their shops to achieve the highest possible cutting performance without sacrificing tool life.
As this article from Canadian Metalworking points out, the overall performance of your cutting tool depends on a variety of factors, including speed, feed, depth of cut, and the material being cut. The ability to balance all of these variables is critical for companies that want to be productive and stay competitive in today’s challenging environment.
To help machine shops optimize their precision circular sawing operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) created a series of charts that describes some common cutting challenges operators face. For example, here are some tips and tricks operators can use to prolong blade life and keep cutting operations running at peak efficiency levels:
Another critical aspect of optimization is making sure you have the right blade for the job. Advancements in tooth geometries, wear-resistant materials, and blade life can offer significant improvements in productivity and quality that can contribute to the bottom line. In the spirit of continuous improvement, managers should re-evaluate their circular saw blade choices every few years, even if they feel satisfied with current results. Testing new blades and technologies can be a time-consuming endeavor, but if the end result is faster cutting times and lower costs, it can certainly pay off.
The key is for machine shops to run the right tools at the right parameters—an approach that is a lot easier in theory than it is in practice. However, by combining operational tricks and strategic investments, many of today’s shops are finding their “sweet spot” and striking a balancing between cutting speed, quality, and cost. In today’s competitive and growing marketplace, industry leaders understand that optimization can mean the difference between “getting by” and getting ahead.
For more information on optimizing your precision circular sawing operation, including best practices, white papers, and case studies, check out LIT’s resource center here.
January 20, 2015 / benchmarking, best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, LIT, Output, preventative maintenance, productivity, strategic planning, workflow process
The idea of eliminating waste to increase profitability is nothing new. It is the cornerstone of the lean manufacturing movement, and even if you don’t consider your shop a “lean” operation, odds are you have spent the last decade or so trying to find ways to reduce downtime and other wastes from your operation.
However, just because you have made attempts to reduce waste doesn’t mean you are doing it effectively. In fact, despite a trend toward internal process improvements, machine downtime remains the top source of frustration for industrial metal-cutting operations on the shop floor, according to a recent benchmark study.
The reality is that many machine shops aren’t successfully tackling waste because either they don’t know where to start or they are looking in the wrong places. A recent editorial appearing in IndustryWeek confirms this theory, stating that the hardest part of gaining efficiency is correctly identifying the waste. As the article states, waste often “hides in plain site.” Using examples from light brick laying and fast food to light bulbs, the IndustryWeek author argues that the greatest stumbling block for eliminating waste is “not the absence of an off the shelf technical solution, but rather failure to recognize the waste in the first place.”
To successfully reduce waste, you need to identify and quantify the different types of waste that exist within your operation. According to leanproduction.com, 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, you can then begin to record and monitor what you find within your operation. This article from oee.com gives several tips for addressing each loss category and includes helpful links to help you accurately measure your losses.
As a machine shop that cuts and processes metal, the reality is that 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.
December 30, 2014 / agility, best practices, Cost Management, customer delivery, industry news, Output, productivity, quality, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning, value-added services
As a critical part of the aerospace supply chain, industrial metal-cutting companies need to be sure they understand both the needs and challenges of their end users. As a supplier, this not only helps you provide better service to existing customers, it allows you to anticipate new growth opportunities.
Overall, the aerospace and defense industry had a decent 2014. According to the Year-End Review and Forecast from the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), sales were expected to end up at $228.4 billion in 2014, up from $219.4 billion in 2013. The association also reports that aerospace exports maintained an upward trend throughout 2014, and sales of commercial aircraft paced the industry’s sales growth.
Early reports indicate that this year may show similar trends. According to mid-December article from Reuters, Boeing is expected to deliver a record 754 commercial aircraft in 2015, an increase of up to 5.5 percent. Honeywell also expects industry deliveries to be “up modestly again” in 2015 and forecasts a 4-percent average annual industry growth in jet deliveries over the next decade.
However, experts are also anticipating major challenges for aerospace industry, including the continued effects of sequestration and decreasing defense budgets. AIA believes that these obstacles are “adversely stifling innovation, resulting in significant layoffs of the industry’s highly-skilled workforce” and, ultimately, will hinder the aerospace industry’s global competitiveness. In fact, AIA uses the term “uncertainty” to describe its overall outlook for 2015.
So where is the opportunity for the industrial metal-cutting companies serving this industry? As AIA suggests, aerospace manufacturers will need to focus on efficiency and innovation to stay competitive, whether that includes developing new approaches to solving everyday challenges or exploring cutting-edge processes. In other words, they will have to look for additional avenues for saving money and time, which is where a trusted supply partner can help.
The key for metal-cutting companies will be finding ways to offer their aerospace customers value. This could include investing in advanced metal-cutting tools designed to meet the unique demands of the industry or equipping employees with certifications and specialized training.
Below are examples of two metals companies that have intentionally positioned themselves to better serve the aerospace industry:
- TW Metals, a specialty metal distributor and processer recently featured in Modern Metals, has focused its efforts on helping its aerospace customers shorten the supply chain and eliminate any waste. Using machinists approved by the OEMs, TW Metals partners with the entire supply chain to provide the end customer with just in time parts, including full “kits” like wings and tail assemblies, MM reports. The metals supplier also has its employees go through extensive training and certification specific to the aerospace industry’s needs. “The more you add value, the less total cost there is for the customer,” Bob Mraz, TW Metals Sales & Marketing VP, tells Modern Metals.
- Universal Machining Industries Inc. (UMII), a job shop based in Muenster, TX, has invested heavily in aerospace manufacturing technologies to address the unique needs of its customers. According to an article from Canadian Metalworking magazine, the company has transitioned from primarily stand-alone vertical machining centers to horizontal machining centers in automated cells. This helped the shop meet customer requirements for shorter lead-times and reduced part costs, as well as internal benefits such as improved workflow management and a more positive team atmosphere. “Through these investments, UMII has witnessed continual year-over-year growth and a 60 percent increase in total production over just four years,” Canadian Metalworking reports. You can read the details about the technology investments here.
In the end, successful suppliers know that winning customers has to be about both cost and value. Tailoring your company and processes to meet the unique demands of the industries that you serve will not only position you as a valued supply chain partner, but as an agile, industrial metal-cutting leader.
December 10, 2014 / best practices, blade failure, continuous improvement, Cost Management, cost per cut, human capital, material costs, operator training, Output, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, resource allocation
There is no question that coolants should be considered a critical part of your metal-cutting operations. They save you 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 fluid options available to them. And while coolant selection may seem like a small detail, it should be treated like any other operational purchase, with both strategy and cost in mind.
One coolant choice that many fabricators 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, both of which are popular in fabrication shops. This type of coolant application is most commonly used in precision circular saw operations, but it can also be used in band sawing as well.
Below are just a few of the key benefits to using MQL over traditional flood coolants:
- Lower long-term costs. Although MQL fluids typically cost substantially more per gallon, less than 1/10,000 of the amount of fluid is used. It also eliminates the need to invest in reclamation equipment such as sumps, recyclers, containers, pumps, or filtration devices.
- Less waste. Another major benefit is that MQL is a much more sustainable option. As this article from Fabricating & Metalworking discusses, metal chips produced during MQL machining are much cleaner than conventional approaches. Near-dry chips are easier to recycle and more valuable as a recycled material. Conversely, “wet” processes like flood coolants produce “increased and on-going lifecycle costs in the form of energy consumption, chemical maintenance, water make-up, disposal of used cutting fluids, and then starting the cycle of waste/recovery all over again by replenishing consumed fluids,” the article states.
- Less maintenance. The smaller amount of coolant means that less fluid sticks to the part. This reduces the need to clean parts after cutting. Also, MQL fluids do not have to be diluted with water. Flood coolants, however, have to be mixed with water, and operators need to monitor the concentration as fluid is lost, water evaporates, etc.
Managers need to be aware, however, 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. For a full description of what is needed to use MQL, including equipment and fluid types, download The MQL Handbook. This helpful resource also offers some “rules of thumb” and other important tips to consider before transitioning to MQL.
As stated in the handbook, changing over to MQL is not as simple as just plugging in a lubrication system. It will require some research, upfront investment, and some training. However, it can offer significant advantages to your business, your employees, and the environment—three major reasons to at least consider using it in your fabricating and metal-cutting operations.