preventative maintenance

KPIs Help Metal Service Centers Optimize Operations in Uncertain Times

January 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The economic uncertainty from 2015 is unfortunately spilling over into 2016. As reported in a recent IndustryWeek article, the head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde said “global growth in 2016 will be disappointing and patchy” due to rising interest rates in the U.S. and a slowdown in China, among other reasons.

The most recent metal service center shipments confirm the gloomy forecast. According to data from the Metal Service Center Institute, service center shipments of both steel and aluminum were down—albeit at slower rates—in November compared to both the previous month and year prior.

Given current economic conditions, it’s not surprising that metal service centers are using metrics and data to improve their operations—the only aspects of their businesses they can control. As reported in a white paper from LENOX Institute of Technology, market leaders know that proactive—not reactive—improvement is the key to being successful in today’s market.

When it comes to metrics, more and more companies believe key performance indicators (KPIs) are the best means for gathering quantifiable and traceable measurements because they are tied directly to business strategy. In fact, KPIs are so popular that the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC) started an initiative called “Six Metric Areas to Best Practices” to help companies focus on the right metrics and align them to their organization.

As reported by Plant Services, Tennessee’s RMC initiative focuses on three guidelines:

As part of its initiative, RMC has also identified six universal KPIs that all companies, regardless of industry, should consider adopting. These include the following:

  1. Percent Reactive Maintenance, including data on predictive, preventive, and capital projects
  2. Maintenance Cost/Replacement Asset Value, expressed as a percent
  3. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), including availability, performance, and quality
  4. Inventory Turns for both overall product and maintenance, repairs and operations (MRO) spare parts
  5. Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)
  6. Suggestions/Employee

If your service center isn’t already using some of the above KPIs, now is the time to consider identifying at least a few, if not all, of them. If the process feels overwhelming, do some research, ask for help, and start measuring. In today’s uncertain economy, manufacturers can’t afford to ignore the operational areas that need improvement. As they say, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.

Are you using KPIs to optimize your operations? What metrics have resulted in the most improvement for your metal service center?

preventative maintenance

How Metal Forges Can Keep Employees Engaged in Times of Change

October 25, 2015 / , , , , , ,

Thanks to the popularity of lean principles like continuous improvement, change is fairly commonplace in the current manufacturing landscape. Or, at least, it is supposed to be. Whether incremental improvements or major overhauls, manufacturing leaders are encouraged to make continual changes to products, services, and processes to achieve success in today’s market. Change is not only critical; it is necessary.

“Change is the only constant,” writes manufacturing consultant Lisa Anderson in a blog published in Liquid Planner. “Companies are looking for opportunities to improve margins, accelerate cash flow, and cut costs. Only those companies that change will endure.”

The problem is that most people resist change. This leaves managers with the challenging task of implementing and communicating the change, and more importantly, getting everyone else on board. According to Anderson, “only those teams that embrace change, and the leaders who engage people around change initiatives will thrive. The others will be left in the dust.”

There is no question that effective change management is hard, especially in a mature industry like metal forging, where seasoned operators can be accustomed to doing things “the way they’ve always been done.” Something as simple as adding preventative maintenance tasks to an operator’s typical “to do” list can quickly cause morale issues if not handled—or communicated—correctly.

When employees don’t “buy-in” into a change, they can feel disconnected from their job, which can negatively affect quality and productivity. On the other hand, when employees are engaged and feel part of the change, those same business areas can be positively affected. As stated in the white paper, The Top Five Operational Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal, “communicating with shop floor employees and actively including them in operational decisions promotes a team atmosphere, and, therefore, motivates employees to achieve company goals.”

If your forge is currently implementing change or is looking to do so in the future, an article from IndustryWeek provides ten guiding principles for successfully leading change management. The following is a summary of some of the key principles, but you can view the complete IndustryWeek article and an accompanying video here [LINK]:

Is your forge going through a time of change right now? How are you keeping employees engaged?

preventative maintenance

Common Missteps Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies Should Avoid in Lean Manufacturing

October 15, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , ,

If there is one “go-to” answer for solving a company’s productivity issues, most experts point to lean manufacturing. The lean movement is, as one author put it here, “our current silver bullet.”

At this point, most manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon and have incorporated at least some lean principles into their operation. Some companies like A.M. Castle, a metal service center featured in a recent case study, have undergone complete lean transformations, while others have adopted basic lean tools like 5S.

However, even with the growing popularity of lean manufacturing and its countless success stories, the reality is that not every lean journey is smooth. In fact, according to research from management consulting firm Quality for Business Success, Inc. (QBS), many are actually quite bumpy. After conducting 200 interviews with managers and lean champions from 71 different companies engaged in lean implementations, QBS found that many managers experienced “false starts” and felt overwhelmed by the learning curve. “Many managers we spoke with find themselves ‘drowning in a sea of half-understood tools and techniques,’” the firm states in a white paper. “Others, unaware of their narrow interpretation of lean, boast successful implementations when they’ve actually barely scratched the surface.”

To help companies achieve successful lean implementations, QBS outlined the most common missteps companies make in the process in a white paper. Below are the top 15 pitfalls managers should avoid:

  1. Thinking of 5S as something you do to an area
  2. Imposing 5S top-down, with limited involvement bottom-up
  3. Equating waste reduction with cost cutting
  4. Remaining aloof to the larger global end-to-end value stream
  5. Assuming your Future State Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is nothing more than your Current State VSM with the identified improvement opportunities corrected or addressed.
  6. Equating visual workplace with top-down visual communication
  7. Viewing Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) as an improvement initiative that exclusively relates to engineering and maintenance personnel
  8. Using overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) to evaluate operations rather than as an improvement gauge
  9. Equating Standard Work with procedures
  10. Engaging in “industrial tourism” and thinking you are benchmarking
  11. Pursuing a one-size-fits-all solution to production planning and control
  12. Forgetting to reduce supermarket inventories once established
  13. Preconditioning continuous flow to waste elimination
  14. Believing you will achieve a lean transformation applying lean tools
  15. Betting your strategy on lean

To read more about these common missteps, you can download the full QBS white paper, The 15 Most Common Mistakes in Lean Implementations, here.

What has been your experience with lean manufacturing? Have you made one or more of these missteps?

preventative maintenance

Preventative Maintenance of Circular Saws in Ball and Roller Bearing Production

September 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,

In ball and roller bearing manufacturing, circular sawing is just one of many steps in the production process. However, one maintenance hiccup in the middle of a long production run can throw off the entire schedule.

This is why preventative maintenance is so critical. When equipment and tooling is well maintained, it is more reliable, more predictable, and more productive—all of which adds up to a more efficient operation.

For example, a benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) revealed that 67 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.

Being proactive—not reactive—when it comes to maintaining your manufacturing equipment can bring major benefits to your operation. This is especially true in high-speed, precision metal-cutting applications.

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers implement an effective preventative maintenance (PM) program for their circular sawing operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) offers the following best practices:

preventative maintenance

Reducing Metal Scrap and Rework in Your Machine Shop

September 20, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In any manufacturing operation, a small amount of scrap is inevitable. However, reducing material waste should still be a top goal for machine shops that cut and process metal. Like all other forms of waste, scrap can negatively affect profitability, especially if it is generated as a result of an error.

The truth is that any amount of scrap or rework you’re experiencing in your operations provides an opportunity for improvement. Taking the time to reduce scrap often leads to better productivity and higher quality cuts. As this article points out, eliminating scrap and waste also contributes to your company’s environmental efforts, which may be important to some customers.

How can you keep your scrap and rework costs low? While there are several ways to accomplish scrap reduction, below are a few simple strategies any machine shop can implement:


preventative maintenance

Becoming a Top Metal Service Center

September 5, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , ,

Staying ahead of the competition can often seem like an impossible task, especially in today’s marketplace. Continuous improvement is now the expectation, lean manufacturing is fairly commonplace, and uncertainty about market conditions makes it hard to gauge investments and risk.

So how do you get ahead in the current landscape? While it would be near impossible to truly answer that question, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) gathered a few examples of high-performing service centers and outlined some of their key traits below. How does your service center stack up against these leaders?

Reliance Steel & Aluminum
Los Angeles, CA-based Reliance was ranked number one in Metal Center News’ (MCN) annual survey, “Top 50 Service Center Industry Giants.” The industry leader, which operates more than 290 locations in 29 states and 11 countries, continues to expand its reach. According to Reliance’s profile in MCN, the service center shines in three key areas:

A.M. Castle & Co.
In addition to distributing a wide range of metal and plastic materials, the leading metal service center also performs simple sawing operations at several of its locations, including its main distribution center in Franklin Park, IL. A case study, published here by LIT, describes the company’s three areas of focus:

Klein Steel Service Inc.
In May 2015, American Metal Market (AMM) magazine named Klein Steel one of its service centers of the year. According to the magazine, the Rochester, NY-based company experienced its largest year ever in 2014 in terms of weight shipped and revenue generated. The following are just a few notable attributes of the service center:

preventative maintenance

Solving the Six Common Cutting Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face

August 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , ,

Like most high-production operations, ball and roller bearing manufacturers are running on tight schedules and can’t afford unexpected downtime or tooling issues. This means that every step of the manufacturing process must be optimized, starting with the first operation—circular sawing.

While precision circular sawing may seem like a simple operation, any metal-cutting expert can confirm that proper cutting depends on several variables. As this article from Canadian Metalworking points out, the overall performance of your cutting tool depends on speed, feed, depth of cut, and the material being cut. Knowing how to balance these variables is critical to cutting success.

For example, according to the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal-Cutting, increasing the speed of a saw to get more cuts per minute without considering the feed setting or the demands of the material will result in premature blade failure and increased tooling costs. This, in turn, can lead to unplanned downtime for blade change-out, which directly impacts productivity.

Understanding how these different variables affect the cutting process can also help operators quickly and properly resolve any cutting challenges that arise. In many cases, this knowledge can make or break a production schedule.

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers keep their circular sawing operations running at optimal levels, the LENOX Institute of Technology offers the followings tips for solving six of the most common problems operators may face:

Problem #1: Excessive vibration or noise
Potential solutions:

Problem #2: Crooked cutting
Potential Solutions:

Problem #3: Wavy cutting
Potential Solution:

Problem #4: Chips are too hot or glowing
Potential Solutions:

Problem #5: Poor finish/Excessive stripping
Potential Solutions:

Problem #6: Heavy burr
Potential Solutions:

For more information on optimizing your precision circular sawing operation, including best practices, white papers, and case studies, check out LIT’s resource center here.

preventative maintenance

Using Predictive Maintenance in Your Machine Shop

August 20, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , ,

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 the LENOX Institute of Technology’s benchmark study of more than 100 machine shops 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 tools to predict failures just before they happen.

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.

Monitoring tools typically include vibration analysis, infrared thermography, motor circuit analysis, sonic and ultrasonic analysis and other technologies that can find defects while the machine is in normal operation. In most cases, condition-based monitoring won’t interfere with production schedules—a huge plus for any manufacturer.

If predictive maintenance is effective, maintenance is only performed on machines before failure is likely to occur. According to, this brings several cost savings, including:

While this can translate into less maintenance downtime compared to preventative maintenance, predictive maintenance also has some drawbacks, including:

According to an article from Life Cycle Engineering, creating an effective predictive maintenance program is a bit more complicated than it appears. The magazine poses four questions managers need to address before implementing a predictive maintenance program:

  1. Can predictive maintenance technologies provide real value to your preventive maintenance program?
  2. What is the most effective predictive technology for your plant?
  3. Can you provide the right training?
  4. Will you actually use the information?

In the end, predictive maintenance may not be an option for every shop or every piece of equipment, but many manufacturers find it worth the investment for machines that have a critical operational function and have failure modes that can be cost-effectively predicted with regular monitoring.

For more information on predictive maintenance, read the full Life Cycle Engineering article here or click here for dates of upcoming training seminars.

preventative maintenance

Strategies for Metal Cutting Companies Juggling Multiple Improvement Efforts

August 15, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,

As manufacturing leaders aim for continuous improvement, they typically find themselves juggling multiple initiatives at once to reach the performance and quality level expected in today’s market. It isn’t uncommon for a shop to simultaneously implement a lean practice like 5S while also bumping up its productivity goals. Or, as revealed in a case study on high production metal-cutting companies from the LENOX Institute of Technology, managers may be overseeing ongoing initiatives like ISO 9001 certification, training, and preventative maintenance.

While these best practices are typically worth the effort, the challenge is making sure each is managed well enough to actually be effective. If not handled correctly, employees and even management can end up overwhelmed and uninspired, which typically adds up to little or no results.

According to an article from Plant Engineering, the problem is that most managers have not been properly trained on how to manage multiple improvement efforts. Instead of leading, many turn into micromanagers that have their hands in every initiative, making it hard for supervisors and employees to “buy into” or take ownership of whatever is being asked of them. As Muriel Maignan Wilkins, coauthor of Own the Room and managing partner of Paravis Partners, recently told the Harvard Business Review: “Micromanaging dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust—and it limits your team’s capacity to grow.”

To help managers navigate today’s continuous improvement landscape, the following is a condensed list of Plant Engineering’s “dos” and “don’ts” for managing multiple improvement initiatives:

1. Delegate. While managers and supervisors should sponsor teams to make sure they have what they need to accomplish their work, the reality is that the managers and supervisors need to let go and get out of the way so the teams can get their work done. Your job is to remove roadblocks, provide resources, and report progress.

2. Stop having meetings about meetings. Team progress reports can all be accomplished through electronic communication in the form of team notes that can be sent in an email. If you’re having meetings about meetings, you are headed in the wrong direction and wasting people’s time.

3. It’s all about the business case. Every effort should have a business case, and as a manager, you need to request the business case for every new initiative or directive that comes from corporate.

4. Set behavior-based goals and rewards. Working in a safe and environmentally responsible way is about behaviors and rewarding the right behaviors is what helps to improve performance in these areas. Reward things like near misses reported or mistakes discovered in a lockout/tagout procedure and the performance of safety audits. Odds are you will notice not only an improvement in performance, but your people will clearly see that Employee Health, Safety, and Environment are truly the top priority.

5. Stay out of the way! Nothing will slow the wheels of improvement faster than a manager who believes he/she has to be involved in everything. Simply demand a business case from each team; if there is a business case for mitigating or eliminating the problem, then give them the green light to go to work. Reinforce them for meeting on a regular basis, for showing that they are using a structured approach to solving problems, and for providing open communications.

Is your shop juggling multiple improvement efforts? What strategies are you using to ensure they all receive equal attention and profitable results?

preventative maintenance

Guidelines for Cutting Structural Tube in Your Fabrication Shop

August 10, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,

As reported in our recent Metal-Cutting Industry Report on Non-Residential Construction, the use of industrial and structural steel tube and pipe is growing. According to a market tracker from Metal Bulletin Research (MBR), the category is growing at the fastest rate since the recession, mostly due to economic growth and falling oil prices.

“Construction demand for structural tubing is now growing at a steady pace in most regions of the USA,” the MBR report states. “There has been some concern among market participants that the drop in oil prices and the associated hit to the local energy-centered economies would be detrimental to their construction outlook, especially since these were some of the initial drivers of growth in the recovery. So far, construction continues unabated, as contracts, financing and permitting have already been settled.”

Industry players are also optimistic. HGG, a supplier of tube-processing machinery, told MetalForming magazine it expects the category to grow by about 15 percent in North America alone. (You can read the full MetalForming article here.)

This is good news for fabricators that serve the industrial and commercial construction industries or that cut structural tube for other applications. In either case, most shops are working with hollow structural steel (HSS) tube specified to ASTM A500 (the standard specification for cold-formed welded and seamless carbon steel structural tubing in round, square and rectangular shapes). Although most shops wouldn’t categorize HSS as difficult to cut, it does have some unique characteristics operators need to understand to ensure proper cutting.

Unlike solid tubing, which only requires one cut, HSS tube requires the blade to cut through two thin solids with a space in between. These types of cuts—known as interrupted cuts—are best suited for bi-metal band saw blades because they are designed to withstand the vibration. Carbide band saw blades, on the other hand, have strong, durable teeth, but they are not shock resistant. Therefore, bi-metal blades that reduce harmonics are the best choice.

HSS tubes also aren’t ideal for bundle cutting. While cutting tubing in bundles can allow shops to increase the number of parts per shift, it can substantially reduce blade life. In fact, some experts say that any increased part volume efficiency is offset by a 20 to 25 percent reduction in band life.

A recent article from highlights several other best practices for sawing structural tube. The following are a few of the industry publication’s tips:

For more guidelines on cutting HSS tube, including a discussion on circular saw blade options, you can read the full article here.

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