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performance metrics

Understanding Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing in Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

September 28, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


At this point, most metals executives have heard the message of continuous improvement loud and clear. As a benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) confirms, a large number of industrial metal-cutting organizations are embracing smarter, more proactive operations management to stay competitive in today’s uncertain market.

However, knowing where to start can often be both intimidating and frustrating. Active change takes time and costs money, so managers need to be sure they are strategically choosing the right methods to achieve their operational goals.

Two improvement methodologies that are widely used in industrial metal cutting are lean manufacturing and Six Sigma. While both are used to improve productivity and profitability, their approaches are not the same. Understanding the difference between both methods is important not only for managers trying to choose the right organizational improvement program, but also for managers who may want to consider using them together.

Lean Manufacturing
According to leanproduction.com, lean manufacturing is “a collection of tips, tools, and techniques that have been proven effective for driving waste out of the manufacturing process.” Toyota is credited for developing it the 1980s, and over the years it has been used by manufacturers worldwide to improve all facets of the manufacturing business, from quality assurance to human resources.

Below are some key attributes of lean manufacturing, as defined by The Process Excellence Network:

Six Sigma
iSixSigma defines Six Sigma as “a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects in any process, from manufacturing to transactional and from product to service.” It was developed in the mid-1980s by Motorola engineers who were unhappy with traditional quality metrics. In response, they developed a new standard, as well as the methodology and needed cultural change associated with it. Six Sigma gained popularity in the 1990s after General Electric adopted it as part of its business strategy.

Below are some key attributes of Six Sigma, as defined by The Process Excellence Network:

The above is just a brief overview of two of the industry’s improvement methodologies and only touches on some of the main characteristics. For a more in depth, side-by-side comparison of lean manufacturing and Six Sigma, check out this article from Chron.

In an upcoming blog, LIT will explore how managers can strategically utilize both methodologies to achieve what some experts believe are longer lasting business results.

performance metrics

What Connectivity Could Mean for Industrial Metal Cutting Companies

August 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


If the words the “Internet of Things” and “real-time data” mean nothing to you or your metal-cutting operation, you may want to lean in. A growing number of industry experts believe these buzzwords may just transform the manufacturing industry.

“Today’s more powerful sensors and devices, connected to back-end systems, analytics software, and the cloud, are transforming industries, right now,” says Sanjay Ravi, Worldwide Managing Director, Discrete Manufacturing Industry at Microsoft in this blog post. “With the rise of these connected operations, manufacturing executives are not only finding new ways to automate and create efficiency, they are also focusing on a big new opportunity for revenue growth—services.”

In other words, forward-thinking manufacturers are finding that connecting their production equipment to the Internet and/or to other devices is providing insight into their internal operations they may not have been able to get otherwise. By gathering production data and then using software to make it understandable, they are improving efficiency and uncovering new service opportunities.

And according to Ravi, this is no passing trend. Quoting research from IDC (commissioned by Microsoft), Ravi says “manufacturers stand to gain $371 billion in value from data over the next four years.”

A recent article from Forbes echoes this sentiment, stating that factories that are connected to the Internet are more efficient, productive, and smarter than their non-connected counterparts. However, the article also says that only 10 percent of industrial operations are currently using the connected enterprise, which means 90 percent are missing out.

The way in which manufacturers can use connectivity will vary by industry and application, but as this article from O’Reilly Radar describes, the Internet of Things (IoT) and connectivity are revolutionizing manufacturing policies and procedures in two key ways:

  1. For the first time, managers can actually know what’s happening on the assembly line to both products and machinery in real time.
  2. That information can be shared, also in real time, with anyone inside or outside the enterprise who could improve their operating efficiency and decision-making with that real-time data.

As the Forbes article describes, companies like manufacturing giant GE, bread maker King’s Hawaiian, and Sine-Wave, a provider of technology solutions, are already taking full advantage of what many are calling the “information revolution.” At GE’s Durathon battery factory in Schenectady, NY,  for example, 10,000 sensors on the assembly line, along with sensors located in every single battery it produces, allow managers to instantly find out the status of production.

This is happening in the metal-cutting world as well. According to this white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), one metal service center developed an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by each band saw and each blade. At any point, the operations manager can go to a computer screen, click on a saw, and see how many square inches that saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This has allowed the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.

Tim Heston, senior editor at The Fabricator, also sees the opportunities sensors, data, and connectivity offer the metal fabrication industry and its supply chain. “Imagine a future in which you have trillions of sensors able to predict customer demand throughout the supply chain, monitor machine conditions to prevent unplanned downtime; and a future with machine tool technology and manufacturing methodologies allowing shops to change over between jobs within seconds (some of this technology is already here), all synced with customer demands,”  he says in a recent editorial. “In short, imagine a future in which the majority of activities in the supply chain add value.”

Does connectivity have a place in your metal-cutting operation? Could it? At the very least, these are the questions leading companies should be asking. Unless, of course, they are part of the 10 percent that is already connected.

performance metrics

How Fabricators Can Use Overall Equipment Effectiveness for Continuous Improvement

August 10, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,


Over the last several years, a growing number of fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies have started measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). This is definitely a good trend, as measurement is a critical part of continuous improvement. However, many companies are jumping on the OEE bandwagon without being fully informed, which is causing a lot of misunderstanding and misuse of this important metric.

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

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

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

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

or

Availability x Performance x Quality

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

A plant with an OEE score of 100 percent has achieved perfect production—high quality parts as fast as possible, with zero down time. While that’s ideal, it’s not quite possible in the real world. According to oee.com, studies show that the average OEE rate among manufacturing plants is 60 percent, which leaves substantial room for improvement. Most experts agree that an OEE rate of 85 percent or better is considered “world class” and is a good long-term goal for most operations. The good news it that 85 percent is achievable. As this case study from Metalforming magazine describes, Magellan Aerospace in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada  was able to improve its OEE from a mere 36 percent to a world-class 85-percent-plus.

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

What OEE Isn’t
Even with a basic understanding of OEE, many operations are still misinterpreting it and, therefore, aren’t using it effectively. This blog post, for example, argues that OEE is not a key performance indicator (KPI), and it shouldn’t be measured at a company or plant level. The author goes on to state five reasons why OEE is not a good KPI, including the fact that it is not comparable between different pieces of equipment and/or different locations. Instead, he suggests OEE should be used as a way to help identify and eliminate waste in front of a process, line, or equipment.

Another misconception is that OEE is the same thing as Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). An article from IndustryWeek (IW) says this is definitely not the case. “OEE is the measure most closely associated with TPM, but OEE is not equivalent to TPM,” the IW article states. “At its heart, TPM is not about complex metrics; it’s about developing the capabilities of people.” So while a good understanding of OEE can help with TPM, the two terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

How to Use OEE Effectively
So how do you use OEE correctly? Below are a few pointers we called out from the IW article:

Also, if you are short-run, high-mix fabricator, don’t assume OEE isn’t for you. Check out this article from thefabricator.com, which describes how automated data collection can help you to better measure OEE in more custom manufacturing applications.

As the IW article states, OEE is often misused, but it is not a “bad metric.” In fact, it can be very useful in helping companies quantify improvement opportunities. Just be sure you know the facts before you start using OEE measurements to make strategic decisions.

performance metrics

Tackling the Six Big Losses in Your Metal Service Center

August 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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:

  1. Breakdowns. These are considered a downtime loss and could include tooling failure, unplanned maintenance, and motor failure.
  2. Setup and Adjustments. This is also a downtime loss and could include changeover, material shortage, operator shortage, and warm-up time.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Startup Defects. This quality loss covers any scarp or rework that occurs during setup or very early in the production phase.
  6. 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:

  1. invest in smarter, more predictive operations management;
  2. embrace proactive care and maintenance of saws and saw blades; and
  3. 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.

performance metrics

Reducing Scrap in Forges that Cut and Process Metal

July 25, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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:’

 

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.

performance metrics

Using Enterprise Resource Planning in Your Machine Shop

June 20, 2014 / , , , , , , ,


According to research quoted in a recent article from MetalForming Magazine, 45% of manufacturers list “improving business execution” as a primary goal for 2014. In today’s uncertain marketplace, this isn’t much of a surprise. In short, agility is key.

However, manufacturers are finding that achieving this goal is a lot harder than it sounds. As the MetalForming article states, companies need to start by clearing “some common hurdles, most notably delays in decision-making due to a lack of timely information, and an inability to quickly react to change.”

This is why more and more companies are focused on data-driven manufacturing. As stated in the 2014 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), best-in-class machine shops are forming strategies, making decisions, and optimizing their operations using hard, quantifiable information. Anything else is just guessing.

The challenge is finding an efficient way to not only gather “timely data” but also store it, interpret it, manage it, and share it across your entire organization. Odds are you don’t have a fully staffed IT department waiting in the wings.

This is where business management software like Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) can be helpful. ERP software is typically a suite of integrated applications that allows an organization to efficiently manage their business and automate back office functions. It combines all facets of an operation, including product planning, development, manufacturing, sales and marketing. It can be managed in-house, or as is the case with many machine shops, purchased as software as a service (SaaS).

Why ERP?
Top-tier manufacturers and large enterprises have been touting the benefits of ERP systems for years. They can improve productivity, enhance cross-functional communication, and speed the “quote to cash” cycle. Even so, smaller shops often shy away from these systems because they can also be expensive, complex, and far too often, fail to provide bottom-line results.

That’s not to say you should write off ERP systems all together. It just means a little research is in order. Below are a few resources we gathered to help you dig a little deeper into the benefits ERP can offer your machine shop, along with a few pointers to ensure success.

performance metrics

Building Strategic Supplier Relationships that Benefit Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

June 15, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


Most manufacturers understand that they are only as good as their supply chain. Quality starts well before a product enters the doors of a production facility.

Industry leaders, however, are finding that with a little strategy, the supply chain can add a lot more than a quality service or product. When positioned correctly, they can add value.

A recent report from Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium confirms this philosophy. After polling 172 supply chain professionals, a strong 80% of respondents reported that they felt that the supply chain is an enabler of business strategy. A majority of companies also felt that supply chain is a source of business value and a competitive advantage. This, along with the report’s other findings, led the Consortium to conclude that the importance of an integrated supply chain and overall business strategy cannot be ignored. “The better the level of alignment is, the more likely it is that companies are achieving their objectives for cost reduction, customer service, and other metrics,” the report stated.

What’s interesting, however, is the report revealed that a fairly high 35% consider the supply chain a standalone function. This indicates there still is some work to be done. Positioning and treating your supply chain as trusted partners—not just as independent service providers—can be an effective strategy in helping you achieve company goals. For instance, if your goal is to increase productivity, perhaps your suppliers can offer troubleshooting expertise and even training in specific areas of your operation. Or, as was the case with leading metal service center Aerodyne, they may even be able to provide useful, practical tools like free software to help your operators work smarter.

As this Forbes article states, long-term, worthwhile suppliers should treat manufacturers as more than just clients. They, too, should treat you like a partner, which means they should be willing to offer more than one-dimensional service. If that isn’t the case for your organization, it may be time to reevaluate your supply chain or, even more so, reevaluate how you are utilizing your supply chain.

How do you position your supplier relationships to bring value to your company? A recent white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the following strategies:

In the end, today’s competitive marketplace requires manufacturers to focus more on value than on cost if the objective is long-term success. While cost-effective products provide short-term benefits, aligning the right suppliers with your business strategies—and then leveraging their services to achieve company goals—will likely offer a greater ROI than any product ever could.

performance metrics

The Importance of Predictive Strategies in Industrial Metal Cutting

April 30, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


A recent report from Gartner continues to build the case that metrics and smarter, more predictive management strategies are critical for industrial metal-cutting companies that want to succeed in today’s competitive landscape. In fact, according to the consulting firm, organizations that use predictive business performance metrics will increase their profitability by 20 percent by 2017.

“Using historical measures to gauge business and process performance is a thing of the past,” Samantha Searle, research analyst, said in a Gartner press release. “To prevail in challenging market conditions, businesses need predictive metrics—also known as ‘leading indicators’—rather than just historical metrics (aka ‘lagging indicators’).”

Gartner said that predictive risk metrics are particularly important for mitigating and even preventing the impact of disruptive events on profitability. The key is for companies to have predictive metrics that contribute to strategic key performance indicators (KPIs); however, Gartner discovered that many companies are failing to do just that.

Metrics vs. Strategic KPIs

After conducting a survey of 498 business and IT leaders in the fourth quarter of 2013, Gartner analysts found that while 71% of business and IT leaders understood which KPIs are critical to supporting the business strategy, only 48% said they can access metrics that help them understand how their work contributes to strategic KPIs. In addition, only 31% had a dashboard to provide visibility into KPIs.

However, according to Searle, even visible metrics won’t help drive strategic business outcomes if business leaders don’t have the right metrics in place. The problem, she says, is that managers often misinterpret the goal of a KPI.

The first thing companies need to realize is that KPIs are metrics, but not all metrics are KPIs. A KPI is a measure that should indicate what you need to do to significantly improve performance—or that indicates where performance is trending—which means it is predictive in nature. However, Gartner’s Searle says many companies don’t have predictive measures in place. “They persist in using historical measures and consequently miss the opportunity to either capture a business moment that would increase profit or intervene to prevent an unforeseen event, resulting in a decrease in profit,” she explains.

If you are still unsure of what qualifies as a KPI, check out this article, which lists five rules for selecting the best KPIs for your manufacturing organization. As the article states, “the key to success is selecting KPIs that will deliver long-term value to the organization.”

Bottom-Line Predictions

The larger lesson here is that in today’s fast-moving market, companies need to anticipate business events—not react to them. From a high level, Gartner is saying that this requires KPIs that are predictive. But what does this mean from a plant-floor level? What type of shop floor metrics can help businesses anticipate business events and provide input into strategic KPIs?

A benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) may provide a little insight. The following are two of the study’s key findings:

Both of the benchmark findings are, in fact, key metrics that can help industrial metal-cutting companies better understand strategic KPIs. In this case, we discovered that a proactive strategy like preventative maintenance can help managers plan for downtime and, in essence, allows them to create “predictive downtime,” which can actually improve cutting performance and extend equipment life. This is a much different from “interruptive downtime,” which can hurt performance, reduce on-time customer delivery, and increase material costs.

Based on this example, the KPI might be whether or not an organization is hitting its preventative maintenance schedule or whether or not the cadence of preventative maintenance is increasing or decreasing. For instance, if production was increasing but preventive maintenance measurements were static, it could predict massive failure issues.

Agile Actions

Moving forward, here are a few questions to consider: What metrics are you using to measure business performance? Are they KPIs? Are your management strategies focused on being proactive or reactive? Are there ways you can predict business events such as blade failure and machine downtime?

Answering these key questions may help you determine whether or not your company is on track to increased profitability or at risk for being stagnant. Proactive strategies like the predictive metrics suggested by Gartner and the preventative measures suggested by the LIT study are critical for industrial metal-cutting companies that want improve their agility and, most importantly, their bottom line. Leaders are realizing that they need to act now—not later—if they want to be successful in the future. When it comes to today’s manufacturing landscape, good things will not come to those who wait.

performance metrics

How Machine Shops Can Make the Cut in 2014

April 20, 2014 / , , , , , , , , ,


Here’s the good news: Data continues to show that 2014 will likely be a year of growth. Gardner’s most recent metalworking business index (MBI), for example, showed that conditions in the metalworking industry expanded in March for the third straight month and the fourth time in five months. According to Modern Machine Shop, this was the fastest rate of growth since March 2012. Additional MBI findings revealed positive trends in several key business areas, including new orders and production, capacity utilization and spending, employment, and supplier deliveries. You can read the full report here.

All of this good news, however, comes with some uncertainty. As reported in LENOX Institute of Technology’s (LIT) 2014 outlook, most metals executives are only cautiously optimistic about the near-term future. Political issues, pricing pressures, and talent shortages are issues weighing heavily on industrial metal-cutting companies, leaving executives with no choice but to focus on continuous improvement as they attempt to strategically approach a shaky marketplace.

For machine shops, taking the time to make improvements is a challenge in itself, especially if business is starting to pick up. However, leading-edge shops know that in today’s demanding market, optimization is the only way to stay competitive. In other words, they are making time.

While you may not have the resources to undergo a major improvement initiative in 2014, the following are two key trends today’s machine shops need to consider:

To read more about trends we expect to see in 2014, check out LIT’s 2014 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook.

performance metrics

Key Trends for Metal Service Centers in 2014

April 5, 2014 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As the industry heads into the second quarter, uncertainty remains. In fact, as we state in our 2014 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook, uncertainty may be the only thing that is certain right now.

Like most sectors of the metal-cutting industry, metal service centers have experienced little if any growth in 2014. January started off with a much-needed improvement over December, with small increases in shipments and reduced inventory levels. However, February wasn’t as strong as many had hoped. According to the latest figures from the Metal Service Center Institute, U.S. service center steel shipments in February 2014 increased by 0.4% from February 2013, and 2014 year-to-date steel shipments increased by 0.2% from the same period in 2013. When looking at total volume from January to February, service centers’ shipments of steel and aluminum actually declined, reports IndustryWeek.

In other words, we aren’t quite there yet. Experts like the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) are hopeful that the rebound is coming, but until then, there are several industry trends that we feel will be key for metal service centers in 2014. Here are a few to keep in mind:

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