January 20, 2014 / lean manufacturing, planning, preventative maintenance, productivity
Recent data continues to confirm that business is on the upswing. In fact, according to latest Business Conditions Report from the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA), metalforming companies can expect a spike in incoming orders during the next three months. In a recent press release, PMA president William E. Gaskin said shipments could increase three to six percent thanks to strong auto production and the general sense that fundamentals are improving.
As the economy continues to recover and customer demand increases, industrial metal-cutting operations need to be sure they are ready. Productivity will be more critical than ever, leaving no time for unnecessary bottlenecks. The question is—what are you doing to prepare?
While the nature of a machine shop makes it difficult to adjust for a sudden in-rush of orders, there are some strategies managers can use to keep production moving and reduce the number of potential bottlenecks. Here are a few best practices to consider:
- Preventative Maintenance. Machine downtime is perhaps the greatest threat to any cutting operation, especially those with a limited maintenance staff. Machine shops like Fort Worth, TX-based D&J Technologies rely heavily on preventative maintenance (PM) to address this issue. The machine shop, featured in this white paper from LENOX Institute of Technology, says its PM program is “highly important in keeping the machines running” 10-14 hours a day, six days a week. This involves weekly checks of equipment fluid levels, as well as greasing and oiling all of its saws when necessary. To prevent premature belt and drive wheel wear, the shop also does a quick daily maintenance check by running each saw from low to high a few times (as opposed to starting them cold and running them all day at one speed fitting).
- Planning Ahead. Production planning and forecasting is critical to keeping operations running smoothly and on time. Many leading industrial metal-cutting companies are implementing aggressive planning schedules that are 4 to 6 weeks in advance and, as a result, are seeing benefits such as reduced scrap and fewer errors. However, many managers find this to be a challenge in a machine shop, where last minute and specialty orders are common. In these cases, an automated solution such as scheduling software can help. This Buyer’s Guide from www.softwareadvice.com provides a good reference of the different software options available for automating many of the tracking and scheduling duties within a shop.
- Get Lean. There is no question that lean initiatives take both time and commitment. However, even simple changes like the 5S tool can help reduce bottlenecks by eliminating hazards and creating a more organized work environment. More ambitious managers may want to consider additional lean methods such as value stream mapping and the Theory of Constraints. This web site explains these methods and other popular lean tools that are being used by today’s leading machine shops.
Of course, bottlenecks are an inevitable aspect of any metal-cutting operation. However, as demand increases, so does the negative impact of downtime. One misstep can lead to a domino effect that can throw off an entire production schedule. By taking proactive measures, managers can reduce the chances of unexpected events, eliminate potential bottlenecks and, at the same time, improve productivity and quality.
December 5, 2013 / customer delivery, planning, quality
Like all segments of the industrial metal-cutting industry, forges must respond quickly to changes in the marketplace. This is even more so the case in recent years. While projections from the Forging Industry Association and IHS Global Insights expect the forging industry to pick up again in 2014, a few rough years have heightened competition not only among forges, but also with companies that offer alternatives to forged components. And that competition isn’t just within the U.S. According to a global industry report from ResearchMoz, an Albany, N.Y.-based market research firm, there has been an upward trend in the outsourcing of forged parts to low-cost countries.
This means that meeting customer demands for both speed and quality are essential, especially if you can’t compete on cost. The harsh reality is that today’s customers expect parts to be finished in half the time they took five years ago—with zero errors. The challenge for operations managers is finding strategies that balance excellence and efficiency, making sure that one doesn’t come at the cost of the other.
In some cases, this will require the use of advanced measurement tools and other technologies that optimize production. However, a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology suggests several other ways forging operations can ensure they are meeting deadlines and maintaining a high level of quality. Below are a few highlights from the paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal:
- Planning Ahead is Key. Taking the time to forecast can provide an operation with a wealth of benefits, from faster customer delivery and higher efficiency to improved employee morale and a reduction in errors. In one instance, an industrial metal-cutting company was able to reduce its scrap rate to less than 1.5 percent and increase annual sales up to 20 percent after implementing a production schedule that planned out orders six to eight weeks in advance.
- Monitor Inbound Material Quality. Product liability and traceability continue to be huge concerns for industrial metal-cutting companies, and mix-ups can be both expensive and dangerous. Operations managers have to be sure they are tracking the quality and accuracy of the material coming from the supplier. In other words, inbound quality control is just as critical as outbound quality control. By confirming what is coming in the door, forges can confidently supply products that are both accurate and fail-safe.
- Faster Is Not Always Better. This is especially true in an industrial metal-cutting environment. In band sawing, for example, too high of a band speed or very hard metals produce excessive heat, resulting in reduced blade life and poor quality cuts. The scale found on most forged parts only magnifies this issue and can dull blades even faster. Setting the proper band speed and feed rates takes a certain finesse, and it is important that operators are aware that what appear to be short-term gains can cause setbacks in the long run. To help control this, some metal-cutting companies are using automation to “lock in” cutting parameters. In many cases, supply chain partners can also help with education to ensure that operators are trained on proper equipment settings.