August 20, 2017 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, LIT, operator training, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, workflow process
While some downtime is inevitable, more and more forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies are discovering that proper maintenance and proactive care of equipment can significantly reduce its occurrence.
The problem is that maintenance departments are typically busy putting out fires, which pushes anything “preventative” to the side. Why take the time to stop a potential problem when there are enough real problems happening right now?
However, as stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, proactively addressing maintenance issues allows managers to reduce costs, increase blade and tooling life, and, most importantly, avoid costly mistakes. “With a simple check-list, operators can enhance their knowledge base and positively affect performance on the shop floor,” the eBook states.
What does this look like in practice? According to the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, operators can conduct daily preventative maintenance (PM) checks in less than 10 minutes. Programs can be as detailed as a manager feels is necessary, but in a band saw environment, the following are a few key checkpoints to include:
- checking coolant levels
- cleaning saw blades of debris
- visual tests of critical tooling elements such as the feed system and lasers
- double-checking parameter settings (i.e., speed and feed rate)
Although many shops conduct PM checks at the start of each shift, there are several ways managers can schedule their PM procedures. In a recent blog, maintenance software provider SM Global offers four possible PM schedules:
- Date based: Schedule PM checks every X amount of days, weeks or months. So, for example, you can have a maintenance task scheduled every 5 business days, on every Friday, the second Monday of every third month, every January on the first Wednesday and so on.
- Meter based: There are two different meter types. In one, you schedule maintenance every time a meter reading increases or decreases by a certain amount. For example, an oil change when a meter reading increases by 3000 miles. The second type is a batch meter. You schedule maintenance after an equipment processes X number of units. For example, replace a bearing every time the equipment produces 500 widgets.
- Alarm based: You schedule a maintenance task every time an alarm condition happens. For example, an alarm could be excessive vibration on a machine. You can schedule a PM check on the machine when this alarm occurs.
- Relative to another task: Start a new maintenance task when another task completes. For example, order more coolant every time you clean your fluid/lubricant reservoir and screen (typically every 3 months).
If your metal forging operation doesn’t have a current PM program in place, you may want to consider working closely with your equipment and tooling supply partners to set up daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual PM schedules. In addition to helping you create checklists, many provide complimentary annual or bi-annual PM check-ups, which can provide more in-depth equipment diagnostics.
May 20, 2017 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, industry news, LIT, operator training, predictive management, resource allocation, strategic planning
The year started out on a high note for machine shops, and current reports suggest the upward trend will continue throughout 2017. How should machine shops respond?
A Bright Picture
The new year meant good things for machine shops and other industrial metalworking companies. According to the Gardner Business Index, the metalworking industry grew in January for the first time since March 2015, reaching its highest point since May 2014.
That momentum has continued throughout the year. Both February and March registered growth, with the Index hitting its highest points since March 2012. Growth continued in April as well, although at a slightly slower rate. However, as Steven Kline, director of market Intelligence at Gardner Business Media, states here, “Expansion is still the greatest it has been in three years.”
Customer segments are also experiencing growth. According to Kline’s report, power generation was the fastest growing industry in April, growing for the second time in three months. Twelve other industries recorded strong growth as well. Industrial motors/hydraulics/mechanical components grew at an accelerated rate for the fourth month in a row; aerospace continued its streak of growth at six months; and job shops and oil/gas-field/mining machinery also grew in April.
Other economic indicators point to good news. As reported here by Cliff Waldman, chief economist at the MAPI Foundation, manufacturing employment has now increased for five consecutive months, with an average of 14,200 new jobs gained per month. “Overall, this is the most convincing evidence that the broad manufacturing picture is starting to show some real improvement from years of weakness,” Waldman states.
Getting Smart for the Future
Yes, the near-term picture looks bright for machine shops. However, industry leaders can’t rest on their laurels and need to be sure they are prepared for where the market is heading. Perhaps the biggest trend happening within manufacturing is what many call the “fourth industrial revolution.” As explained in a previously published blog, the fourth industrial revolution (also called “Industry 4.0”) is the advent of the long-awaited “smart factory,” in which connectivity and advanced technologies are being used to streamline decisions, optimize processes, eliminate waste, and reduce errors.
Companies like EVS Metal, a precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ, have already started thinking about what this means for their operation and how they can adapt. From a practical standpoint, shops can start by equipping components and machines with necessary Industry 4.0 features, such as sensors, actuators, machine-level software, and network access to measure productivity of metal-cutting equipment.
However, according to an article from Production Machining, companies need to more than just invest in technology. Matthew Kirchner, managing Director, Profit 360, explains here that manufacturers that wish to capitalize on the coming revolution will require a new level of knowledge, aptitude, and disciplines in the following four areas:
- Understanding throughput: The ability to understand a basic throughput equation, and how throughput is affected by machine speed, setup time, white time between operations, first pass yield and the like is fundamental to succeeding in a cyber-physical plant.
- Jacks of all trades: The lines between departments become increasingly grey as information and manufacturing technology connect and integrate them. The manufacturing operation of the future requires team members that can work fluidly across myriad industrial equipment and technology.
- Networking and control systems: Manufacturing technology will evolve relatively quickly to where every device has its own IP address. This will create what has been called a “hyper-connected Smart System of Systems” where endless streams of data are collected. A working understanding of this interconnectivity will be necessary.
- Inform-Actionable Data: The challenge of the manufacturer will not be a lack of data, but too much of it. Collecting, scrubbing, discerning, and analyzing this information will be fundamental to our ability to improve performance and process. Thus, industrial maintenance, factory automation, IT, and accounting will no longer be individual members of different departments or teams. Instead, they will become members of the same team whose charter is to drive enterprise-wide performance improvements using the tools now afforded them by the advent of cyber-physical systems.
Equipped for Success
As machine shops move into the second half of the year, the key will be to not only make the most of current market conditions, but to also strategically prepare for the future. Like any trend, it will take a while for the fourth industrial revolution to fully materialize. However, many experts are saying that industry leaders are embracing this next generation of manufacturing and, more importantly, are starting to make investments. Is your shop in a position to do the same?
October 30, 2016 / agility, benchmarking, best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry, LIT, predictive management, preventative maintenance, quality, strategic planning, workf
In today’s competitive and quickly changing market, manufacturers are finding that it pays to be proactive—not reactive—in their strategic approaches. That’s why a growing number of industrial manufacturers are starting to take a serious look at advanced technologies like predictive analytics, which allows them to not only measure performance, but to also predict and prevent future challenges.
According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, more than 500 senior manufacturing executives from around the world ranked predictive analytics as the number one technology vital to their companies’ future competitiveness. As reported here, another report from Aberdeen Group shows that 86 percent of top-performing manufacturers are already using predictive analytics to reduce risk and improve operations, compared to 38 percent of those companies with an average performance and 26 percent of those with less than stellar results.
The trend has found its way into industrial metal cutting as well. According to the LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 industrial metal-cutting organizations, companies can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”
What is Predictive Analytics?
Predictive analytics utilizes a variety of statistical and analytical techniques to develop mathematical models that “predict” future events or behaviors based on past data. As the Deloitte study explains, this allows companies to uncover hidden patterns, relationships, and greater insights by analyzing both structured and unstructured data.
In a manufacturing environment, companies can use predictive analytics to measure the health of production equipment and detect potential failures. However, the possibilities are virtually limitless. According to one analyst’s blog, manufacturers could potentially use software and predictive analytics to forecast potential staffing or supply-chain interruptions, such as a flu outbreak that could cause a temporary personnel shortage or even a blizzard that could disrupt deliveries.
Bearing manufacturing leader Timken has taken a different approach and is using predictive analytics to improve inventory optimization and supply chain performance in the automotive aftermarket sector. As reported by SearchAutoParts.com, Timken is leveraging sales history, registration data, and other information, along with complex analytics, to improve sales and reduce costs.
“Timken’s catalog team matches parts and vehicles, and combines that information with vehicle registration and replacement/failure rates, along with internal sales data,” the article explains. “Crunching that data using proprietary algorithms helps them predict how many parts will be needed in a given geography, and how those parts sales will fall within the premium aftermarket, economy aftermarket and OEMs.”
Common Use Cases
Because predictive analytics is an emerging technology, applications are typically specific to each manufacturer’s products and processes—as in the Timken example. However, an article from Toolbox.com describes four common use cases for predictive analytics that are applicable in most manufacturing environments:
- Quality Improvement. Improvements in databases and data storage and easier-to-use analytical software are the big changes for quality improvement. Standard quality improvement analysis is being pushed toward less technical analysts using new software that automates much of the analytical process. Storing more information about products and the manufacturing process also leads to analysis of more factors that influence quality.
- Demand Forecast. Predictive analytics takes historical sales data and applies forms of regression to predict future sales based upon past sales. Good predictive analytics modelers find additional factors that influenced sales in the past and apply those factors into forecasted sales models.
- Preventative Maintenance. Predictive analytics increases production equipment uptime. Knowing that a machine is likely to break down in the near future means a manufacturer can perform the needed maintenance in non-emergency conditions without shutting down production.
- Machine Utilization. Predictive analytics applications for machine scheduling combines forecast for demand with product mix to optimize machine utilization. Using new predictive analytics techniques improves accuracy.
While there is no question that predictive analytics is still new to many ball and roller bearing manufacturers, industry leaders know that proactive strategies are key in today’s uncertain market. Finding ways to anticipate future events and reduce unplanned downtime can not only help your operation gain efficiency but, more importantly, help you stay competitive.
October 25, 2016 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, predictive management, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
As smart phones and other mobile devices become ubiquitous among consumers, it’s not surprising that mobile technologies are starting to be used increasingly in the manufacturing world. Although manufacturing hasn’t gone totally mobile, a growing number of shops are deploying some form of mobile technology to improve efficiency and communication on the shop floor.
Slow to Adopt
There is no question that manufacturing has lagged other business sectors in adopting mobile technology. However, this is not to say that plant managers don’t want to go mobile. In an interview with Design News, David Krebs, executive vice president of VDC Research, says that the interest is there, but issues like budgetary constraints, security concerns, and a lack of IT resources are holding back a lot of manufacturers.
“In addition, many existing manufacturing environments are not conducive to wireless technologies and its infrastructure,” Krebs tells Design News. “Low penetration of WiFi in manufacturing environments and the difficulty of wirelessly interfacing with shop-floor equipment also represent gating issues.”
However, most experts agree that the tide is starting to change as technologies advance and the Industrial Internet of Things becomes more prevalent. In fact, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, mobility was the top technology priority among industrial manufacturing CEOs in 2015. Specifically, the survey found that industrial manufacturers regarded mobile technologies as a strategic way to engage with customers.
Other reports confirm that interest is growing among manufacturers. “Given mobile’s role in improving information flows, it is not surprising that 78 percent of manufacturing companies agree that mobile solutions provide their company with a competitive advantage,” writes Matthew Hopkins, an analyst at VDC Research. “This advantage is demonstrated by tangible use-cases, such as predictive maintenance, workforce management, and energy management, which yield real returns on investment (ROI). Companies’ quick to realize these benefits have embraced mobility for some processes, such as inventory management, in large numbers.”
Last year, VDC conducted a survey among technology influencers at manufacturing companies and found that 36% of organizations actively used mobility solutions to support business initiatives. The survey also revealed the following key trends:
- 61% of manufacturers currently support mobile inventory management
- 44% currently support shop floor control via a mobile device, and 45% of manufacturers noted that they plan to support this capability in the future
- Tablets have been the mobile device of choice (43%) among manufacturers, followed closely by smartphones (38%)
If mobility is something you want to bring into your forging operation but you aren’t sure where to start, LNS Research, a consultancy based in Cambridge, MA, lists nine key ways companies are using mobile devices in manufacturing environments. Below are the top-three uses (You can read the full list of nine here.):
- Dashboards. Solutions providers have been offering performance dashboarding apps for a few years now, and many are taking it a step further by delivering role-based information that has been analyzed and contextualized for the specific personnel based on their information needs (i.e., a plant manager versus an operator or quality manager).
- Quality Auditing. In the past, quality auditing in remote locations typically involved some form of paper. Today, on-site and off-site auditing is typically done within a smartphone or tablet application, offering better integrity of information and allowing audits to be standardized across multiple locations.
- Corrective Actions. Today, most solutions providers offer some form of mobile app to support interactions with the corrective action process. These apps typically leverage the native capabilities of mobile phones and tablets, such as GPS/location services, voice/visual recording, and more.
If mobility isn’t on your radar yet, you may want to reconsider. Your shop may be missing out on some prime opportunities for cost savings or efficiency gains. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, proactive leaders are focused on making positive changes in their operations so they can quickly respond to changing customer demands. In other words, today’s forges can’t afford to be reactive to trends. According to Mike Roberts of LNS Research: “If you’re not on the path to using mobile apps to better manage your production operations, you’re seriously at risk of being stuck in the past.”
To read more about bringing mobility into your forging operation, check out the article “7 Tips for Taking Your Operation Mobile,” published by American Machinist.
October 15, 2016 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, industry news, LIT, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity
While a full economic recovery is still uncertain, manufacturers are finding ways to gain a competitive edge and improve productivity. New advancements and technologies, including “smart” manufacturing and the Internet of Things (IoT), are helping the manufacturing industry do just that.
One way metal-cutting companies are optimizing their overall operations is by using technology to improve maintenance programs. As cited in this eBook, 5 Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, machine breakdowns are one of the top causes of lost productivity, and when productivity suffers, so does the bottom line. While many manufacturers have realized success with tried and true preventative maintenance initiatives, which ward-off an inevitable breakdown, two technologies—predictive maintenance (PdM) and CMMS— are helping manufacturers improve overall maintenance even more accurately.
According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index, predictive technology, specifically, holds the most potential for manufacturers. According to the study, more than 500 executives from around the world ranked predictive analytics as the number one future advanced manufacturing technology. IoT, smart products and smart factories, and advanced materials were also considered critical to future competitiveness.
Unlike preventative maintenance, which uses anticipated and planned downtime to prevent unplanned breakdowns and minimize cost impacts, predictive maintenance (PdM) aims to predict breakdowns before they even occur. Software and sensors collect data, and algorithms identify not only the anticipated failure, but also calculate the probable time that failure will occur.
In fact, several metals leaders are already reaping the rewards of predictive maintenance to repair or replace parts before failure and eliminate both planned and unplanned downtime, as reported in this blog post.
Another technology helping industrial metal-cutting companies improve maintenance is CMMS, or a computerized maintenance management system. While PdM tools provide powerful data, most experts agree its information’s value is limited without the context provided by CMMS software. CMMS software tracks and schedules maintenance tasks by analyzing data to identify bottlenecks before they even take place.
According to an article from MRO Magazine, CMMS can improve maintenance on the production line as it reduces downtime and repairs, improves the lifecycle of equipment and forecasts replacement, and reduces rework and manufacturing scrap—all while providing crucial data for future decisions and improving scheduling and planning.
What does this look like in practice? As described here in an article from Better Buys, one CMMS solution included data-entry fields for technicians to input degradation values manually. The system would provide a graph indicating how many months were left until failure and then give a plan for replacement on a set date if the equipment continued being used excessively.
Making the Switch
In most cases, larger manufacturers have been the only ones looking into PdM and CMMS-based maintenance programs. However, as technology advances and competition intensifies, many smaller companies are starting to invest in the technology as well.
There is no question that making the transition from a paper-based maintenance system to a digital one can be overwhelming, especially for smaller metal-cutting organizations. An article from IndustryWeek provides a few tips for simplifying the transition over to CMMS:
- Form a team. Make sure a small team oversees the transition. Designate a lead planner and scheduler to define the processes (such as what equipment and data to collect). The team should understand how the company processes information, how it organizes workflows and analyzes key data.
- Data download. A CMMS system is only as good as the data in it. Determine how accessible that data is and establish a baseline of how much to collect before making the switch. Once up and running, don’t stress over every data point. Add as you go to bulk-up your data inputs.
- Tech knowledge. Consider how comfortable your team may or may not be with technology. Some may not have any computer experience. A basic computer training course can quickly ease worries.
- Tech training. In addition to basic training, the entire maintenance team should be trained on CMMS best practices. Develop step-by-step guides with screen shots at each workstation to help with the transition.
- Codes. To help track performance and maintenance trends, start with 10-15 industry-standard codes when setting up maintenance activities. Consistent problem and failure codes can provide valuable information when it comes time to replace equipment before failure.
Technology is no doubt changing the manufacturing landscape, and today’s industrial metal-cutting companies need to ask themselves if they’re willing to do what it takes to prepare for the future. Investing in new technologies and maintenance programs may be one way to keep the competition at bay while optimizing production for future demand.
What technology investments is your organization using to optimize your maintenance department?
October 10, 2016 / agility, best practices, blade failure, blade life, continuous improvement, customer satisfaction metrics, industry news, lean manufacturing, operations metrics, performance metrics, predictive management, productivity
Thanks to advancements in machine-to-machine (M2M) and communications technology, many believe the manufacturing industry is on the brink of the “fourth industrial revolution,” also known as Industry 4.0. This concept has been widely discussed and promoted in Europe, especially by German manufacturers Siemens and Bosch, but the term is starting to gain traction in the U.S as well.
What is Industry 4.0?
Because it is a newer term, definitions for what comprises Industry 4.0 vary greatly. A report from Deloitte states that there are four characteristics that define Industry 4.0:
- Vertical networking of smart production systems
- Horizontal integration via a new generation of global value chain networks
- Cross-disciplinary “through-engineering” across the entire value chain
- Acceleration through exponential technologies
An article from Forbes defines Industry 4.0 as “a combination of several major technology innovations, all maturing simultaneously, and expected to have a dramatic impact on manufacturing sectors.” More specifically, the article states that technologies such as advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, sophisticated sensors, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things, are joining together to integrate the physical and virtual worlds.
Simply put, Industry 4.0 is the advent of the long-awaited “smart factory,” in which connectivity and advanced technologies are being used to streamline decisions, optimize processes, eliminate waste, and reduce errors.
Industry 4.0 In Practice
According to the Forbes article, Industry 4.0 has the potential to offer manufacturers three major benefits:
- Better transparency and agility
- More responsive to customer needs
- Self-monitoring products and services
What could this look like in your fabrication shop? EVS Metal, a precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ, says here in a blog post that Industry 4.0 “will eventually impact the way we fabricate and machine both single items and finished products, from start to finish, including warehousing and shipping, whether we’re manufacturing full production runs, or single prototypes.”
On a small scale, fabricators can start by equipping components and machines with necessary Industry 4.0 features, such as sensors, actuators, machine-level software, and network access to measure productivity of metal-cutting equipment. For example, one metal service center, featured here in a white paper, is using 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.
This, however, is only the beginning. Once a manufacturer starts capturing relevant data from multiple machines, this data can be further analyzed to detect patterns, helping managers forecast and, eventually, automate decision-making processes. In a metal-cutting environment, this might include predicting blade life and equipment maintenance needs, which would essentially turn disruptive, unplanned downtime to more anticipated, planned downtime. This could translate into more jobs completed on time.
The Time is Now
Like any trend, it will take a while for Industry 4.0 to fully take hold. However, many experts are saying that industry leaders are embracing this next generation of manufacturing and, more importantly, are starting to make investments.
A PwC survey encompassing 2000 participants across nine industry sectors has concluded that Industry 4.0 will revolutionize industrial production and that first movers are transforming into digital enterprises. According to the study, 33% of companies say they’ve achieved advanced levels of digitization today, and 72% of companies expect to achieve advanced levels of digitization by 2020.
While no one believes the changeover to Industry 4.0 capabilities will come cheap, more than half of companies in PwC’s survey expect a return on investment within two years. “The payoff will potentially be enormous, as competitive landscapes get redefined,” PwC states. “Industrial companies need to act now to secure a leading position in tomorrow’s complex industrial ecosystems.”
Is your fabrication shop ready to invest in Industry 4.0?
September 25, 2016 / benchmarking, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, LIT, operations metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, strategic planning
With changing customer requirements and an increasingly competitive marketplace, leading manufacturers are finding it pays to be proactive—not reactive—in their strategic approaches. Instead of simply measuring performance, many companies are taking the next step and using measurement to anticipate and prevent future challenges—a concept known as predictive operations management.
This trend has found its way into industrial metal cutting. According to the LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 forges and other industrial metal-cutting organizations, companies can gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”
One such approach is predictive maintenance. Not to be confused with preventative maintenance, which uses planned maintenance activities to prevent possible failures, predictive maintenance (also known as condition-based maintenance) uses data-driven analytics to optimize capital equipment upkeep.
Reliable Plant defines predictive maintenance as “the application of condition-based monitoring technologies, statistical process control, or equipment performance for the purpose of early detection and elimination of equipment defects that could lead to unplanned downtime or unnecessary expenditures.” By using tools to predict and then correct possible failures, operators can keep machines running while eliminating unnecessary preventative maintenance downtime and reducing reactive maintenance downtime.
In fact, predictive maintenance was identified in a McKinsey Global Institute report as one of the most valuable applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the factory floor. The report, The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype, says that predictive maintenance using IoT has the potential to reduce equipment downtime by up to 50 percent and reduce equipment capital investment by 3 to 5 percent by extending the useful life of machinery. “In manufacturing, these savings have a potential economic impact of nearly $630 billion per year in 2025,” the report states.
According to an article from Manufacturing Business Technology, the potential benefits of predictive maintenance analytics go beyond predicting machine failure. The magazine lists several wide-ranging implications the technology has for the manufacturing industry, including the following:
- Part harmonization. Predictive models are able to show which parts will be the first in line to fail, what will need replacing in the next six months, for example. This then allows teams to better manage inventories, stockpile the right parts, and even bulk order replacements before they are needed.
- Cost-benefit analyses. Teams are better equipped to do cost benefit analyses and further understand the risks of not performing maintenance at any given time. Presenting this data to the C-suite, and outlining future risk weighed against a smaller outlay at the present time, is a far more compelling argument than suggesting a piston might eventually need replacing.
- Warranty Claims. Defining the optimal cost and duration for any given warranty is a great challenge for many manufacturers. Analytics can help better define these boundaries by modeling usage patterns.
Of course, all of these benefits come with a cost. One of the major drawbacks of predictive maintenance analytics is that it requires a high upfront investment for condition monitoring equipment and software, as well as a high skill level and experience to accurately interpret condition-monitoring data. There are also privacy and security issues that need to be addressed. For smaller forges, this could be a huge stumbling block, although some may discover that the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.
In the end, predictive maintenance may not be an option for every shop or every piece of equipment, but in today’s competitive market, it might be worth the research. Many companies are finding that the potential benefits of the technology are opening up new opportunities for improvement and growth that were once not possible.
Non-Residential Construction Industry Continues to Create Demand for Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies
September 15, 2016 / best practices, Cost Management, human capital, industry news, maintaining talent, operations metrics, operator training, Output, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, strategic planning
The year has started off slow, with low production and shipments for metal products. However, the commercial and industrial construction segment is proving its staying powerful when it comes to creating demand for industrial metal-cutting companies.
As we reported in our “Metal Service Center Outlook for 2016,” the construction industry was expected to help industrial metal-cutting companies ride out the storm with total construction starts forecast to grow 6% in 2016.
Over the last few years and most recent months, the construction industry has seen its ups and down, depending on the segment. The electric utility and gas plant category, for example, saw project starts spike in 2015 only to drop this year, according to the latest construction report from Dodge Data and Analytics. In fact, nonbuilding construction dropped 56% in July 2016 as power plant projects ended, causing total new construction starts to fall 11% from the prior-year period.
However, nonresidential building starts are offsetting the steep drops elsewhere, growing 4% in July after a 7% increase in June. Commercial building starts grew 3%, with 20% of the increase attributed to office construction, according to the report.
Despite the slowdown and uncertainty about the upcoming presidential election, experts remain optimistic that the construction industry will continue to remain strong into next year. At a recent mid-year forecast, chief economists from the Associated Builders & Contractors, American Institute of Architects, and National Association of Home Builders predicted growth for commercial projects into 2017, as reported by MetalMiner.
“Nonresidential construction spending growth will continue into the next year with an estimated increase in the range of 3 to 4%,” stated Anirban Basu, chief economist for Associated Builders & Contractors. “Growth will continue to be led by privately financed projects, with commercial construction continuing to lead the way. Energy-related construction will become less of a drag in 2017, while public spending will continue to be lackluster.”
In addition, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) from the American Institute of Architects has posted six consecutive months of increasing demand for design activity, according to this report. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate nine to 12 month lead-time between architecture billings and construction spending.
“The uncertainty surrounding the presidential election is causing some funding decisions regarding larger construction projects to be delayed or put on hold for the time being,” said Kermit Baker, AIA Chief Economist. “It’s likely that these concerns will persist up until the election, and, therefore, we would expect higher levels of volatility in the design and construction sector in the months ahead.”
Making the Cut
Industrial metal-cutting companies that want to grow with the construction market need to know how the market is evolving and be prepared to meet demand for more I- and H-beams, hollow structural sections, and other structural products. More importantly, companies will need to be ready for changing market conditions.
One way industrial metal-cutting companies can ensure they make the cut is to optimize operations. As cited in the Benchmark Survey of Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, there are three key ways companies can optimize operations and, in turn, be better prepared to meet customer demands:
- Invest in smarter, more predictive operations management. According to the survey, 73-percent of industrial metal cutting operations that follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also report that their job completion rate is trending upward year over year—a meaningful correlation. The implication is that less disruptive, unplanned downtime and more anticipated, planned downtime translates into more jobs being completed on time.
- Embrace proactive care and maintenance of cutting equipment and tools. Ongoing operator monitoring, coupled with corrective instruction and coaching, can have a direct benefit on industrial metal cutting operations—improving their ability to meet customer demands, drive revenues and lower costs.
- Invest in human capital. Historically, metal executives have been more likely to invest in technology rather than their people; however, the benchmark survey provides evidence that investing in human capital is critical not only to attack operator error itself, but also to improve on-time customer delivery, drive higher revenue per operator, and lower rework costs.
While industrial metal-cutting companies are set to benefit from another strong year in construction, preparing for changes in segment demand and prices will set the foundation for a solid performance in 2017.
What strategies is your organization taking to take advantage of the construction boom?
June 5, 2016 / benchmarking, best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, Output, performance metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, strategic planning, workflow process
Manufacturers know that downtime results in lost productivity and profits. However, thanks to technological advancements in predictive maintenance, service centers and other industrial metal-cutting companies can nearly eliminate downtime altogether.
Unlike preventative maintenance, which uses anticipated and planned downtime to prevent unplanned breakdowns and minimize cost impacts, predictive maintenance aims to predict breakdowns before they even occur. Software and sensors collect data, and algorithms identify not only the anticipated failure, but also calculate the probable time that failure will occur. This enables companies to repair or replace parts before failure and helps eliminate both planned and unplanned downtime.
Several industries are adopting predictive maintenance as part of their operations. An article from the Harvard Business Review provides a few examples:
- Airlines can now predict mechanical failures in advance and can reduce flight delays or cancellations based on data sources such as maintenance history and flight route information.
- The oil and gas industry can use real-time data to predict the failure of electric submersible pumps used to extract crude oil.
- Banks can use sensor data to predict the failure of an ATM cash withdrawal transaction.
The manufacturing industry is also adopting predictive maintenance, but research shows it is doing so at a slower rate compared to others. For example, a recent survey by the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association and LNS Research concluded that manufacturers have some work to do to catch up to current capabilities—only 14 percent of survey respondents said they used manufacturing data in their analytic program.
Of course, building a predictive maintenance program requires both time and money, but many manufacturers are finding that the benefits outweigh the cost. An article from American Metals Market lists just a few of the many potential benefits of using predictive maintenance:
- Reassurance of safe, continued plant operation
- Improved operating efficiencies
- Reduced lost production
- Reduced cost of maintenance
- Less likelihood of secondary damage to equipment
- Reduced inventory of spare parts
- Extension of the life of plant and mill equipment
- Improved product quality
According to the AMM article, several metals leaders are reaping the rewards of predictive maintenance, including:
- U.S. Steel Corp. uses machinery diagnostic services for oil analysis, vibration analysis, electrical thermographic analysis and more to keep its operations up and running.
- ArcelorMittal is using thermal imaging cameras to ensure proper operation of its production plants, saying it improves efficiency, safety, and helps avoid breakdowns and minimizes downtime.
The trend is also starting to gain traction in industrial metal cutting. The LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 metal service centers and other industrial metal-cutting organizations found that companies are gaining additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor by “investing in smarter, more predictive and more agile operations management approaches.”
While there is no question that predictive maintenance is proving beneficial in the metals industry and beyond, some companies may be hesitant to adopt the technology due to the investment and the training required for implementation. However, if your goal is to reduce downtime and increase the chances of future success, this may be one technology worth considering.
For more information on predictive maintenance, check out this overview article, which lists common tools and techniques, as well as a video.
May 10, 2016 / best practices, Cost Management, cost per cut, KPIs, lean manufacturing, operations metrics, optimization, predictive management, productivity, ROI, workflow process
As fabricators continue to seek new ways to optimize their operations, many are turning to software. Whether using it to connect the plant floor to the front office, or to measure key performance indicators (KPIs), data shows that more and more fabricators view software as a smart—and necessary—manufacturing tool.
For example, according the “2016 Capital Spending Forecast” from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, more than 94 percent of survey respondents said their software spending this year would either remain the same or increase. This is significant, especially as more and more reports show that many companies are pulling back on spending this year.
A separate benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop shows that leading shops are more likely to utilize advanced software programs in their operations. Specifically, the survey found that top-performing machine shops (referred to as “top shops”) are more apt to utilize software solutions like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and toolpath simulation software in comparison to other shops.
While there are many reasons software is becoming a valuable tool for manufacturers, for fabricators, a lot of it has to do with evolving customer demands. “As more custom fabricators are taking on more design work—beyond just design for manufacturability—engineering and estimating functions become more complex, especially as that work focuses on more subassemblies and full assemblies that call for multilevel bills of material and a multitude of sourced parts,” states a report from thefabricator.com. This, the article continues, is causing shops to invest in better methods of communication, as well as software tools like CAD/CAM, nesting systems, and ERP.
The good news is that as more manufacturers embrace software, the more tools are being developed—both by software designers and supply chain partners. Like consumers, industrial manufacturers are finding that where there is a need or challenge, there is indeed “an app for that.”
In metal cutting, specifically, there are several tools fabricators can use to help optimize their operations—many of which are free of charge. Below are two in particular that fabricators may find helpful:
- Bandsawing. SawCalc, a web-based software program from LENOX, is a free online tool that helps plant managers and operators solve band-sawing challenges encountered in the field by providing cutting recommendations for maximum blade performance. Users have free access to the program, which determines the proper cutting parameters based on material composition, size and shape, as well as the machine model. The program’s library of materials is regularly updated, providing accurate cutting recommendations for 54 country standards, and more than 35,000 materials and 9,000 band saw machines. Because the program is web-based, managers and operators can access the service right from the shop floor. Aerodye Alloys, a service center featured here in a case study, says that using the online tool has helped increase efficiency at one of its facilities by about 15 to 20 percent.
- Circular Sawing. For fabricators using circular saws, Tsune America has developed Sawculator, a free web-based software tool to assist fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies with pre-planning their sawing requirements. The downloadable program allows users to perform automatic US and Metric Dimensional Conversions on the fly, makes automatic suggestions for proper blade selection and chip load, provides more than twenty cutting job outlines, and calculates everything from estimated blade life and bar utilization to trim cut and net cutting time. Users can report prospective cutting jobs to their computer screen, as well as send it to concerned participants on the job via a local printer, email or Smart phone outputs. You can view a video of how the program works here.
Enhance Your Toolbox
Having the right tool for the job has always been a critical part of any metal-cutting operation, but fabricators are finding that it pays to have more than just hardware in their strategic toolbox. While it will never replace the important work machinery and other hardware tools perform on the shop floor, software tools can further optimize cutting operations by measuring important metrics, analyzing job trends, automating certain functions, and educating operators on proper cutting parameters. Although some software programs can be costly in terms of both money and training time, there are plenty of free tools available that can help even the smallest fabrication shop improve their operations.
What software tools are helping your shop optimize operations?