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preventative maintenance

Five Simple Steps for Boosting Productivity in Your Machine Shops

August 20, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Improving productivity is a constant goal for any manufacturer. In today’s increasingly competitive and uncertain market, machine shops are no different.

To boost efficiency, manufacturers have long implemented lean manufacturing practices as part of their overall operational strategy. As cited in this eBook, 5 Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, there are a host of lean manufacturing tools to consider, including:

While lean manufacturing practices are anything but new, machine shop managers can take a more simplified approach to improve efficiency at even the most customized shop set-up. According to LeanProduction.com, manufacturers can experience great improvements in productivity through small daily increments. The idea is to identify and fix one problem each day using three questions (one each for Information, Focus, and Action) to identify problems from plant floor information, decide which issue to fix, and then take action to correct it. (Click here for some examples of the three questions.)

A Modern Machine Shop blog, however, notes that while improving productivity is essential to maintaining competitiveness, productivity on the shop floor comprises much more. “Productivity on the manufacturing floor depends on a combination of efficient employees, equipment, and processes,” the blog states. “Before you can adopt any method for productivity improvement, you’ll need to measure your existing output levels, create a baseline, and implement solutions for measuring change.”

The blog article goes on to list eight steps to help manufacturers design a more productive and successful manufacturing floor. Read on for a summary of five of the eight steps (Read all eight steps here.):

  1. Examine the workflow. Analyze the people, technology, and processes required for production, as well as the procedures, communication tools, and resources available. Identify the pain points and note how changes would impact the overall system.
  2. Update business processes. Share workflow problems with project managers to make improvement plans. Evaluate performance and interpret any appropriate changes.
  3. Invest in continued employee education. Be sure to keep your workforce up-to-date on the latest machining and manufacturing technologies. New advancements often require new skills for certain tasks and regular training will keep your machine shop running efficiently.
  4. Get smarter machining tools. Even if your workforce is trained, they can only work as fast as their tools. While advanced machinery can be costly, the investment pays off in the long run by helping companies stay competitive.
  5. Invest in maintenance. While new equipment can boost productivity, it also requires maintenance to ensure that it continues working efficiently. Employees should know how to troubleshoot in instances of system downtime, quickly find root causes of errors, and then correct them. Remember to consider the process, the blueprint, and the material when making adjustments.

Whether you run a high-mix or a small-scale shop, increasing productivity is essential to remaining competitive in today’s industrial metal-cutting industry. While there’s no sure-fire formula when it comes to boosting productivity, taking the time to drive improvements across the shop and making small adjustments from a baseline assessment can make a big impact.

What strategies has your machine shop used to increase productivity on the floor?

preventative maintenance

3 Strategies to Reduce Procurement Costs in Small and Mid-Sized Forges

July 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Cost reduction will always be a top priority for manufacturers. However, in today’s ultra-competitive and uncertain market, manufacturing executives need to be both creative and strategic as they look for new ways to reduce costs.

As stated in the white paper, Top Five Operating Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal, there are several ways forges are reducing operational costs. Measuring total cost, monitoring blade life, and instituting ongoing preventative maintenance programs are just a few examples. According to the recently revised Forging Industry Technology Roadmap, the forging industry as a whole is also working toward finding new ways to reduce material and energy usage costs—two of the most significant cost factors in forging.

A recent article published by Thomasnet, however, notes that while the tendency is for small and mid-sized businesses to focus on reducing costs for their overall operations, there is also a huge benefit to reducing costs within specific business functions, most notably procurement.

“Small businesses spend between 45 and 65 percent of sales revenue on procurement of inputs,” the article states. “Therefore, procurement should be considered a viable opportunity to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Even basic changes to the procurement process can cut procurement costs by 5 to15 percent and start a smaller business on the road to strategic sourcing.”

The article goes on to list five strategies small and mid-size operations can use to improve procurement. Read below for a summary of three of the five best practices (You can read the full article here.):

  1. Build and Maintain Strategic Partnerships. Small firms should seek strategic partnerships with key suppliers. Purchasing from fewer suppliers saves time and resources while building trust. A small business owner can talk openly with a strategic partner and ensure the company is not overspending due to unnecessary costs.
  2. Improve Internal Procurement Processes. Procurement efforts should include annual analysis of spend and demand, with supplier pricing reviews occurring semi-annually or even quarterly. Use spend analysis to detail all costs and terms associated with procurement and demand analysis to define essential needs with a focus on improving cost and quantity.
  3. Organize with Others to Increase Buying Power. Partnering with other small businesses can yield volume discounts and achieve savings. Consortiums put the benefits of economies of scale into effect for small businesses that would otherwise be left paying premiums.

Of course, there are no quick fixes when it comes to cost reduction. However, by taking the time to approach cost strategically—and perhaps even one business function at a time—small and mid-sized forges can make improvements that may have a long-term and sustainable impact on the bottom line.

What strategies has your forge adopted to reduce costs?

preventative maintenance

Predictive Maintenance Helps Metal Service Centers Reduce Downtime

June 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


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:

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:

According to the AMM article, several metals leaders are reaping the rewards of predictive maintenance, including:

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.

preventative maintenance

Tips for Improving Circular Saw Blade Life in Ball and Roller Bearing Production

May 30, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , ,


For any metal-cutting operation, bottlenecks are the enemy. Whether caused by machine error, tooling failure, user error, or some other maintenance issue, the end result is typically the same—increased downtime, rework, and scrap, all of which eat into the bottom line. And for a high-production operation like ball and roller bearing manufacturing, a hiccup in early sawing operations can quickly wreak havoc on the entire production process and schedule.

Although circular sawing may seem like a simple operation, there are number of variables that play a role in achieving consistent, quality cuts while also getting the most out of each saw blade. As an archived article from Fabricating & Metalworking explains, “Saws are very much like the people who use them: they don’t react well to heat, shock, abrasion, stress, and tension.” Far too often, managers and operators ignore these critical factors and, as a result, experience premature blade failure and end up going through far more blades than necessary.

Proper cutting speeds, feed rates, blade tension, and lubrication all tie into blade life—a factor any blade buyer knows is critical when it comes to cost.

“Precision circular saw blades can be upwards of  $200 a piece, so you don’t want to just go through those,” Mike Baron, vice president of Jett Cutting, says in a case study published by the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT). “If I am getting 100 pieces an hour at this setting, but push it up to get 150, I may be going through twice as many blades. It just isn’t cost effective.”

Glen Sliwa, maintenance manager at metal service center A.M. Castle & Co, also focuses on blade life to better manage costs. In addition to following a strict preventative maintenance program to save on tooling and equipment costs, Sliwa says it is just as critical to ensure operators know how to optimize blade life. This includes training operators to follow manufacturer suggested cutting parameters, as well as closely tracking tolerance requirements so blades can be reused whenever possible.

“We’re looking at how many pieces that we can get off that blade and then stand perpendicular to the part,” Sliwa explains. “If you have to stay within ten-thousandths or five-thousandths on the cut, and that blade is no good, I can take it off that machine and put it on another one and I can cut an eighth of an inch, 125 thousandths. So I’m still getting more blade life out of it, but it’s not interfering with that customer’s specifications.”

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers extend the life of their circular saw blades, the below chart offers a few troubleshooting tips from LIT’s reference guide, “Tips and Tricks to Optimize Your Precision Circular Sawing Operation.” By understanding some common blade issues and their root causes, operators can reduce premature blade failure and, in turn, improve your  operation’s overall productivity and save on tooling costs.
chart 3

For more downloadable information on optimizing your company’s precision circular sawing operation, you can visit LIT’s resource page here.

preventative maintenance

2016 Industrial Metal-Cutting Outlook

April 1, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Although many hoped that 2016 was going to be a year of full recovery and growth, expansion in the industrial manufacturing sector has been slow moving. High inventory levels, a strong dollar, falling commodity prices, and a slowdown in China have left many industrial metal-cutting companies disappointed and more than a little cautious.

Slow Growth
Evidence of slow growth started at the end of 2015. According to estimates from the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), manufacturing industrial production was unchanged from the third to the fourth quarter of 2015. Monthly data has shown erratic patterns of growth and decline that have pretty much cancelled out any movement forward—a trend that is expected to continue.

“We expect the volatility to continue through the first half of 2016, a situation that will result in essentially no manufacturing production growth,” MAPI stated in a recent report. “Manufacturing production should be flat in the first and second quarters of 2016 before accelerating to a 3-percent annual rate in the second half of 2016.”

For the entire year, MAPI expects manufacturing production to decelerate rather than accelerate compared to 2015. “Production increased 2 percent last year, and we forecast only 1.1-percent growth in 2016,” MAPI states. The good news is that MAPI predicts growth in industrial manufacturing of more than 2 percent for both 2017 and 2018.

Unfortunately, the forecast for steel demand also shows little to no growth, although 2016 is expected to be an improvement over 2015. According to the Short Range Outlook 2015-2016 from the World Steel Association (worldsteel), global steel demand decreased 1.7 percent in 2015 but is expected to grow by 0.7 percent in 2016.

“It is clear that the steel industry has, for the time being, reached the end of a major growth cycle which was based on the rapid economic development of China,” Hans Jürgen Kerkhoff, chairman of the worldsteel Economics Committee, said. “Combined with China’s slowdown, we also face low investment, financial market turbulence, and geopolitical conflicts in many developing regions.”

The only bright spot is that steel demand in developed countries is expected to show positive growth of 1.8 percent this year. The U.S. in particular should see demand increase by 2 percent in 2016, worldsteel predicts.

Realistic Expectations
While no one wanted the year to start off slow, most manufacturers aren’t too surprised. In a roundtable discussion with Metal Center News (MCN), Michael Bush, a vice president at Esmark, Inc., was quoted as saying that he didn’t expect the market to pick up until at least May. “Even though it will pick up in the second half, we expect 2016 to be down 1 percent for the year,” Bush told MCN. “That’s our general feeling going into the market.”

Bush isn’t alone. The American Metals Market annual survey of metals executives showed that 30 percent of respondents in the steel, aluminum, and other metals sectors expected business to be worse in 2016, and 70 percent predicted that the domestic economy would not fully turnout until 2017 or later. (You can read the full report here.)

The reality is that the U.S. is still in the middle of an economic recovery, which means that metal-cutting companies and other manufacturers won’t likely see any major growth this year. According to MAPI, manufacturing industrial production must grow another 3 percent in order to reach the pre-recession production level achieved in the fourth quarter of 2007, which means a full recovery is expected in the third quarter of 2017. Non-high-tech manufacturing production is 5 percent below the prerecession level and will not be fully recovered until the third quarter of 2018.

On a positive note, the latest numbers from the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) show some improvement. As reported by Plant Engineering, ISM’s monthly Purchasing Manufacturers’ Index (PMI) jumped 2.3 percentage points in March to 51.8 percent, putting the index solidly above the 50-percent growth threshold for the first time in 2016.

Out of 18 manufacturing industries, ISM says that 12 reported growth in March, including Fabricated Metal Products and Primary Metals. One survey respondent from the Primary Metals segment stated, “Our business is still going strong.” Another respondent from the Fabricated Metals Products segment said, “Capital equipment sales are steady.”

The big question, of course, is will this momentum continue? Analysts believe that continued growth will depend largely on continued strong employment because it creates new income growth and a solid base of consumer spending. MAPI says that another impetus is easy credit availability, which propels big-ticket spending for motor vehicles, residential housing, and nonresidential construction.

Moving Forward
While the overall data is certainly sobering, there are a few signs that suggest the metals sector can still snap out of the lull. As Modern Metals recently reported, “The average age of a vehicle on the road still exceeds 10 years; construction season is coming and Congress passed a long-term highway bill in December.”

Metal executives participating in MCN’s roundtable believe that automotive—which is predicted to top 17 million vehicles this year—will be the big market driver, as well as residential and nonresidential construction, white goods, and anything associated with “green energy.”

A report from Fabricating & Metalworking says that surviving 2016 will require manufacturers to use the current market conditions to their advantage. “U. S. manufacturers should be aggressive to take advantage of falling costs while at the same time finding new opportunities created by these economic forces,” the report says. Specifically, the article states that companies should consider employing two key strategies:

From an operations standpoint, continuous improvement activities will continue to be critical for industrial metal-cutting companies as they push through this slow period. Finding ways to optimize what is happening inside your shop doors is perhaps one of the most effective ways to balance the uncertainty of what is happening outside your doors. What does that look like? An eBook from the LENOX Institute of Technology’s lists five performance-boosting best practices that can help metal-cutting companies improve internal operations:

  1. Get lean. Although lean manufacturing is not a new movement, it is evolving. Companies that “got lean” years ago are focusing on continuous improvement, and a growing number of high-mix, low-volume operations are tweaking traditional lean methodologies to fit their specific situation. Regardless of your organization’s size, lean manufacturing should be at least part of your operational strategy.
  2. Invest in human capital. Industry data indicates that metal executives tend to invest in technology over people, but the tide is changing as the manufacturing industry deals with a serious shortage of skilled production workers. Managing this skills gap will require changing the way companies train and maintain talent, whether by beefing up training programs or rethinking their hiring tactics.
  3. Focus on quality as a process. There is no question that speed and agility are critical in today’s fast-paced market, but managers need to make sure that meeting demand doesn’t come at the expense of accuracy. To meet this challenge a growing number of market leaders are putting practices in place to ensure that their quality goals are met and maintained.
  4. Embrace preventative maintenance. In almost every manufacturing operation, machine breakdowns are one of the top causes of lost productivity. While some downtime is inevitable, proper maintenance and proactive care of equipment and tooling can reduce its occurrence. One benchmark survey revealed that 67 percent of industrial metal-cutting operations that follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also report an upward trending job completion rate.
  5. Form strategic supplier relationships. In today’s competitive marketplace, it is easy to base supplier relationships on price. However, a growing number of manufacturing leaders are placing more value on their supply chain. By leveraging the knowledge and services of trusted suppliers, companies can turn vendor relationships into strategic partnerships that have a real impact on the bottom line.

Ready and Waiting
All things considered, 2016 won’t likely be a banner year for industrial metal-cutting organizations. However, not all hope is lost. Recent upticks in manufacturing may indicate some positive (albeit slow) momentum, and many experts believe growth is in the long-term future, even if we have to wait another year. Until then, metal-cutting companies can continue to apply strategies that address external trends while also improving internal operations, putting them in the best position possible when the market finally turns around.

preventative maintenance

Small Optimization Opportunities for Your Machine Shop

March 20, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Although the metalworking industry was hoping 2016 would be a year of growth, recent reports show continued declines in both new orders and production rates in February. While no one is worried that business is going to completely plummet, the sobering reality is that shops need to continue to focus on cost reduction and optimization to survive in today’s unpredictable and competitive market.

The challenge for many shops is figuring out where to optimize. After a few rough years, many shops have already implemented large-scale improvements to increase efficiency and save costs.  According to the results of Modern Machine Shop’s annual Top Shop Survey, 62 percent of leading machine shops (or “top shops”) have developed a formal continuous improvement program, and most use manufacturing tools like 5S workplace organization, cellular manufacturing, and value stream mapping.

What else, then, can possibly be improved? For some shops, the answer may be to “think small.” Take band sawing as an example. When thinking about optimization, the instinct for most operation managers is to focus on the efficiency of the saw, the workflow process, and maybe even the operator. But what about the tools? Could they be optimized?

If we are talking about band saw blades, the answer is yes. As explained in the LENOX Guide to Band Sawing, completing a proper break-in procedure on a new band saw blade will significantly increase its life (see photo). This not only allows the shop to cut more material, it also reduces unnecessary downtime to replace blades and lowers the cost of replacement blades.

When it comes to consumable tools like blades, many machine shops fail to understand the critical role they can play in the overall success of their sawing equipment and, ultimately, their entire operation.  In fact, according to a benchmark study of machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting companies, less than half (45%) of the organizations surveyed reported they “always” break in blades, 30 percent said they do it “most of the time,” and 15 percent said they do it “occasionally.” This means that the majority of industrial metal-cutting shops are missing out on a simple and effective opportunity for optimization.

This can be true of other “small” aspects of your cutting operations. As covered here in an earlier blog post, running blades at the right speed settings and proper lubrication can also directly affect your shop’s productivity, costs, and quality. Other metalworking operations, such as welding and punching, have similar best practices that offer opportunities for optimization, allowing you to get the most out of your manufacturing tools.

Like any change, optimization starts small. What areas of your shop’s operations are you overlooking?

For more bandsawing tips, including how to properly break-in blades, click here to download LENOX’s Guide to Bandsawing.

preventative maintenance

Selecting Maintenance KPIs for Your Fabrication Shop

February 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


Manufacturing leaders know that measurement is the only way to truly gauge how their operations are performing and, more importantly, identify areas that need improvement. However, many companies fail to realize that metrics can be applied to every area of an organization, not just production.

One area that can greatly benefit from measurement is maintenance. A strong maintenance department keeps equipment up and running, which directly impacts production schedules and costs. As an article from Reliable Plant points out, maintenance should be treated just like any other business area.

“You must make good decisions that add value,” the article states. “This means you need input and lots of it. Making decisions based on gut feelings just doesn’t cut it these days. Key performance indicators (KPIs) can provide the input you need to help meet this lofty objective.”

Where Do You Start?
As we covered in a previously published blog, the challenge for many metal fabricators is knowing which metrics to measure, especially in niche areas like maintenance. Not all KPIs are created equally, and the goal should be quality—not quantity—when it comes to metrics of any kind.

According to Lifetime Reliability Solutions (LRS) Consultants, maintenance KPIs should reflect achievement and progress in meeting an agreed maintenance benchmark. “In measuring maintenance performance we are concerned not only with doing good maintenance work, we are also concerned that the maintenance work we do successfully removes risk of failure from our plant and equipment,” LRS advises on its website.

The consulting firm suggests that maintenance managers use a mix of lagging indicators and leading indicators so they have an understanding of what is happening to the risk and performance of their operational assets through maintenance efforts. “Lagging indicators use historic data to build a performance trend line,” LRS writes, while leading indicators use historic data to monitor if an operation is doing those activities that are known to produce good results. A good example of a lagging indicator related to machine health is Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF), whereas a leading indicator in maintenance might be the percentage of condition inspection work orders performed when they fall due.

In general, LRS suggests maintenance managers consider using KPIs within the following six categories:

Why Do Maintenance KPIs Matter?
Like any other business area, maintenance performance can directly impact the bottom line. For example, if maintenance personnel fail to follow a shop’s preventative maintenance (PM) schedule, a host of problems can arise, ranging from lower quality cuts to unplanned machine downtime. As confirmed by a recent benchmarking study of fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies, maintenance tasks like PM can impact job completion rates, blade life, and material costs.

With the right KPIs in place, maintenance managers can make sure that maintenance performance is up to par, as well as play a key role in ensuring that the shop as a whole operates as optimally as possible.

How are you measuring maintenance performance at your fabrication shop?

preventative maintenance

Tips for Preventing Premature Band Saw Blade Failure in Your Forging Operation

January 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


For any metal-cutting operation, blade life is critical. Premature blade failure not only results in increased tooling costs, it can also increase downtime, rework, and scrap—all of which eat into the bottom line.

For forges that cut and process metal, however, blade life is even more crucial. The scale that forms on forged metal pieces can quickly deteriorate blade life, which makes blade selection extremely important. In most cases, forges require aggressive bandsaw blades with varied tooth geometries that can get underneath any scale buildup (i.e., carbide-tipped blades).

While choosing the right blade is a good start, blade life also relies on a variety of other variables, including proper cutting speeds, feed rates, blade tension, lubrication, and break-in procedures. As an article form Fabricating & Metalworking explains, “Saws are very much like the people who use them: they don’t react well to heat, shock, abrasion, stress, and tension.” Far too often, managers and operators ignore these critical factors and, as a result, experience premature blade failure and end up going through far more blades than necessary.

To help forges extend the life of their band saw blades, below are a few troubleshooting tips from the reference guide, “User Error or Machine Error?”, from the LENOX Institute of Technology. By understanding some common blade issues and their root causes, operators can reduce and, hopefully, eliminate premature blade failure.

Issue #1: Heavy Even Wear On Tips and Corners Of Teeth
The wear on teeth is smooth across the tips and the corners of set teeth have become rounded.

Probable Cause:

Issue #2: Wear On Both Sides Of Teeth
The side of teeth on both sides of band have heavy wear markings.

Probable Cause:

Issue #3: Wear On One Side Of Teeth
Only one side of teeth has heavy wear markings.

Probable Cause:

Issue #4: Chipped Or Broken Teeth
A scattered type of tooth breakage on tips and corners of the teeth.

Probable Cause:

Issue #5: Body Breakage Or Cracks From Back Edge
The fracture originates from the back edge of band. The origin of the fracture is indicated by a flat area on the fracture surface.

Probable Cause:

For more information on extending blade life, download the full reference guide, “User Error or Machine Error?” here, or check out The LENOX Guide to Band Sawing.

preventative maintenance

Predictive Technology Helps Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies Stay Ahead of the Curve

January 15, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


The U.S. manufacturing landscape is changing, and industrial metal-cutting companies are no exception. Technology has created an increasingly connected industry, and manufacturers are realizing that while traditional lean practices have proved successful in the past, when it comes to operational efficiency, data and other advanced “smart” technologies are the wave of the future.

One area that is quickly gaining popularity is the use of predictive technologies. As reported in a recent Manufacturing.net article, nearly three dozen manufacturing company executives and national research facility directors identified predictive data analytics as the number one advanced manufacturing technology critical to growth, as part of a study conducted by Deloitte Global and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness.

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 study explains, this allows companies to uncover hidden patterns, relationships, and greater insights by analyzing both structured and unstructured data.

Several industries are already benefiting from the use of predictive technologies. Healthcare, for example, is using predictive analytics to improve the effectiveness of new procedures, medical tests, and medications. Manufacturing companies are using the technology to identify quality and production issues, as well as optimize delivery and distribution. Other industries, such as aerospace, automotive, and consumer products, are also finding interesting applications.

Thyssen Krupp, for example, recently used predictive analysis to improve the reliability of more than 1.1. million elevators it maintains worldwide. With the help of Microsoft cloud technology, the company gathered data from thousands of sensors and systems in its elevators to measure motor temperature, shaft alignment, cab speed and door functioning. After being sent to the cloud, the data is then displayed on a single dashboard in real-time. The data is also used in predictive model formulas, helping technicians know when and where a failure may occur.

The trend is also finding its way into industrial metal cutting. Data from the LENOX Institute of Technology’s Benchmark Survey of Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations suggests that investing in smarter, more predictive operations strategies can help companies gain additional productivity and efficiency on the shop floor.

Although not through the use of analytics, the benchmark survey found that industry leaders are using strategies such as planned maintenance and blade care to prevent downtime and predict blade failure. Specifically, the benchmark study found that:

While there is no question that predictive analytics is still an emerging area, it is clear that proactive strategies are key in today’s uncertain market. Whether you invest in advanced predictive analytics software or simply stick to your preventative maintenance program, finding ways to anticipate future events and reduce unplanned downtime can help your operation gain efficiency and, more importantly, stay competitive.

What predictive operational strategies are you using to make your operation more efficient?

preventative maintenance

Fabricators Stay Competitive By Proactively Addressing Downtime

January 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


It’s no secret that downtime is the enemy of any fabrication shop and, really, any manufacturer. Huge volumes, continuous sawing, and extremely tight tolerances are characteristic of many fabrication environments, so any process or workflow bottlenecks that slow production can cause quality issues, slow delivery schedules, increased maintenance costs, and hurt overall business performance.

In the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Fabricators’ Metal-Cutting Operations, Jim Davis, corporate operations services manager at O’Neal Steel, explains why today’s shops can’t afford any unplanned downtime. “Downtime affects us heavily,” Davis states. “When you’re cutting five- to six-thousand pieces for a customer or you’re doing ‘just-in-time’ production where you’re taking orders on the previous day and guaranteeing delivery the next day, downtime will affect us heavily.”

However, instead of finding new ways to react to unplanned downtime events, several leading manufacturers are attacking the issue head on by using proactive strategies. In fact, according to a recent blog published by ARC Advisory Group, Inc., four industrial manufacturing leaders are aiming for “zero downtime”—a goal that may seem a bit lofty and unrealistic. However, with the help of technology, these big name companies seem to believe it is within reach.

For example, late last year, Cisco and Fanuc America announced a 12-month Zero Downtime (ZDT) pilot project with a major automotive manufacturer. The goal was to achieve zero downtime by proactively detecting equipment issues that could cause downtime.

According to a press release, the pilot was a success. Using cloud-based technology, Fanuc and Cisco’s solution detected and informed the automotive manufacturer of potential equipment or process problems before unexpected downtime occurred, allowing the maintenance issue to be addressed in a planned outage window. The end result was a significant decrease in related production downtime and increased overall equipment effectiveness. (To learn more about Fanuc’s technology solution, check out this video).

There are other types of proactive strategies metal-cutting leaders are using to turn “interruptive downtime,” which can hurt performance and impact on-time customer delivery, into “predictive downtime,” which can actually improve cutting performance and extend equipment life. Research shows that simple strategies such as breaking in band saw blades and other preventative maintenance are helping fabricators and other metal-cutting companies predict blade failure and, as a result, better plan for downtime.

In a benchmark survey of industrial metal-cutting organizations, 67 percent of operations that claimed to follow all scheduled and planned maintenance on their machines also reported 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,” the study states. “Slightly more than half (51 percent) of organizations that ‘always’ follow scheduled and preventative maintenance plans say that blade failure is predicted ‘always’ or ‘mostly.’”

What could be the business impact of near-zero unplanned downtime? According to the ARC blog, there are at least four key benefits, including:

Even if the concept of zero downtime still seems impossible, the above examples show that proactive—not reactive—strategies can help eliminate unplanned downtime. Whether using high-tech solutions like Cisco and Fanuc’s cloud-based application or simple preventative strategies like breaking in blades, today’s fabrication shops have the opportunity to reduce unplanned downtime and achieve real, bottom-line benefits.

What strategies does your fabrication shop use to reduce or predict downtime?

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