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productivity

Keep Your Machine Shop Competitive with Value Steam Mapping

November 20, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Research continues to show that leading industrial metal-cutting companies are focused on continuous improvement. For example, according to the latest Top Shop benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop magazine, “top shops” (defined as the top 20 percent of the 350 shops that were surveyed) are more likely to apply lean-manufacturing methodologies than other shops. They are also more likely to have cultures of continuous improvement. Specifically, the survey revealed that 62 percent of top shops have adopted formal continuous improvement programs compared to only 46 percent of other shops.

The survey also found that shops are implementing a variety of improvement tools to stay competitive. One tool in particular that is widely used is value-stream mapping (VSM). In fact, the survey found that almost 40 percent of top shops are using this lean methodology compared to only 20 percent of other shops.

As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, VSM is a “paper and pencil” tool that helps managers visualize and understand the flow of material and information as a product makes its way through the value stream. The map is a representation of the flow of materials from supplier to customer through your organization, as well as the flow of information that support processes as well. According to iSixSigma, this can be especially helpful when working to reduce cycle time because managers gain insight into both the decision-making and the process flows.

Although it is easy to become overwhelmed by the terminology, an archived article from Ryder outlines VSM in five simple steps:

  1. Identify product. Determine what product or product groups you will follow. Focus on one product at a time and start with the highest volumes.
  2. Identify Current Flow. Once you’ve defined the scope, the next step is to create a “current state map,” or a visual representation of how the process (or processes) in the warehouse is operating at the present moment. Key data points such as units per month, shipping frequency/schedules, hours of operations (available time), number of shifts worked, or any pertinent information around customer demand should be gathered before beginning the current state.
  3. Observe. Get on the floor and walk the entire process through step-by-step. Take notes and compile data such as inventory, cycle times, and number of operators.
  4. Make the map. Literally map out the process you just witnessed by drawing it out on a board. Include the data you collected and place inventory numbers under each step in the process. This will identify your bottlenecks.
  5. Create (and implement) a plan. Now that you know what and where your process improvements are, choose one or two to focus and improve on in a set amount of time. Once those are complete, you can prioritize the other bottlenecks to improve lead times.

One of the biggest misconceptions about VSM is that it is only applicable to high-volume shops. Like many other lean tools, VSM can usually be adapted to fit high-mix, low-volume machine shops. In an interview with Fabtech, Mike Osterling, a senior consultant with Osterling Consulting, Inc., explains:

“Let’s begin by pointing out that the front office processes (order taking and management) for low-volume, high-mix production processes are much more complex than the front office processes for high-volume low-mix environments – thereby meaning those value streams are in much greater need of VSM alignment!  So we need to start those VSMs at the receipt of order (or at receipt of a request for quote), and we need to include leaders from those areas in the actual VSM activity.  In some cases we can identify VS product families if there are products that are different, but they go through common production processes. In those situations, there may be opportunities to create areas of flow (or mini-flow).” (You can read the rest of the interview here.)

In an industry driven on speed and schedules, taking a few days to complete VSM or other improvement exercises may seem like wasted time. However, managers need to consider the price of not taking the time to focus on continuous improvement. Investing in tools like VSM can help your shop operate more efficiently, reduce lead time, improve customer service, and as research suggests, help you keep up with your competitors.

If you want to learn more about value stream mapping, iSixSigma provides a wealth of information available here, and the Lean Manufacturing institute offers educational classes and webinars here.

productivity

Implement an Obeya for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization

November 15, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


The metals industry is constantly facing challenges—high inventory levels, fluctuating raw material costs, and declining shipments to name a few. To help offset the challenges and meet customer demands, industrial metal-cutting companies have long turned to continuous improvement practices to reduce downtime and boost productivity.

In fact, continuous improvement is an essential practice for today’s metal-cutting organizations. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, the difference between a metal-cutting company that survives versus one that thrives is continuous improvement.

One continuous improvement tool executives are incorporating into their operations is “obeya.” As defined here in a blog from visual solutions provider Graphics Products, obeya (also spelled oobeya) is a Japanese term for “big room” or “great room.” In lean manufacturing, it is a dedicated room that is reserved for employees to meet and make decisions about any production challenges.

According to the blog, the idea behind obeya is for employees to collaborate easier and solve problems faster by having a central location to meet, share, and discuss key information. Benefits of using obeya include:

Like other lean practices, obeya is part of the Toyota Production System (TPS), which also includes 5S, Kaizen, and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM). According an article from IndustryWeek, obeya is also referred to as the “brain” of TPS and is often called the “Adrenaline Room” at Toyota.

“We call it the Adrenaline Room because we are trying to encourage our manager to address the day, every day, urgently, to improve the output to our customers, internal and external,” Scott Redelman, senior manager, production control and logistics at Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, told IndustryWeek. “So if we think about each process or each person—even within our four walls—as the customer, how do we aggressively have the adrenaline and the energy, the sense of urgency to quickly react and grow together to make that improvement for the customer? We have to have the adrenaline to do it.”

Industrial metal-cutting companies have also benefitted from obeya. As described in IndustryWeek, ball-bearing manufacturer Timken created an obeya at its Shiloh, N.C. plant four years ago to help meet sudden growth at the time. The company also added an obeya at its Honea Path, S.C. plant earlier this year. According to operations manager Robert Porter, the investment is paying off with productivity improvement year over year, even in down years.

Obeya, however, isn’t just placing your managers in a room and hanging charts on the wall. To ensure obeya is an effective tool, the Lean Enterprise Institute suggests managers focus on a few key issues:

While there are many continuous improvement tools available, obeya has proven itself valuable. In fact, Toyota considers it one of its lean pillars. Industrial metal-cutting companies that are looking to stay ahead of the competition in today’s challenging market can experience the benefits of obeya too.

What lean manufacturing tools are you using to improve your metal-cutting operation? Is obeya one of them?

productivity

Improve Your Metal Service Center Operations with Standardized Processes

November 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Process improvement strategies are nothing new to manufacturing. As an industrial metal-cutting company in today’s challenging market, chances are you’ve spent time finding ways to reduce costs while increasing output to keep up with rising material costs and customer demands.

However, with a slew of improvement strategies, tools, and technologies available, many managers have lost sight of one of the simplest ways they can optimize the performance of their operations—process control.

Process control can help metal service centers ensure consistent quality, and minimize blade and machinery failures that can cause a workflow bottleneck. While there are many ways to implement process control, standardization is perhaps the easiest and most successful way to keep employees moving in the same direction.

Standardized practices, as defined by leanmanufacture.net, dissect larger, overall processes into simple, easy-to-follow steps that any operator can easily perform. This standardized approach allows operators to perform tasks the same exact way every time, which results in using resources, such as time and raw materials, more efficiently.

According to the Lean Enterprise Institute, standardized work “is one of the most powerful, but least used lean tools. By documenting the current best practice, standardized work forms the baseline for kaizen or continuous improvement. As the standard is improved, the new standard becomes the baseline for further improvements and so on. Improving standardized work is a never-ending process.” The approach consists of three elements:

  1. Takt time, or the rate at which products must be made in a process to meet customer demand.
  2. The work sequence in which an operator performs tasks within takt time.
  3. The standard inventory, including units in machines, required to keep the process operating smoothly.

Benefits of standardized practices include:

Not convinced such a simple approach can make a big impact? Case in point—McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain. As cited in this article by consulting firm WIPRO, McDonald’s has standardized it “manufacturing” process for hamburgers so well that most of the organization is focused on growing the business, product development and marketing.

As described here, metal manufacturer ThyssenKrupp reduced work-in-process by 40%, reduced operator movement by nearly 5,000 feet per day and improved productivity by 9% by implementing standardized work at two working stations at its Sao Paulo, Brazil plant.

In today’s fast-paced market, process control is essential for metal service centers that want to grow against competition. According to the industry brief, Strategies for Improving Workflow and Eliminating Bottlenecks in Industrial Metal-Cutting, as the pace on the shop floor increases, metal service centers can’t afford a blade failure or costly mistakes that can slow down and stop production. Today’s metal service centers must focus on the process to identify and correct any mistakes on the shop floor immediately. By implementing standardized work, metal service centers not only gain insight into potential workflow bottlenecks, but also have a solid foundation for a continuous improvement plan going forward.

Even if your metal service center has a cutting-edge improvement plan in place, take a step back and look at your processes. Are they standardized? Have they gotten too complex? By going back to the basics and standardizing work practices, managers can optimize operations and ensure that every employee—and every process—is successful, every time.

What process controls and improvements have you implemented at your metal service center? Is standardized work one of them?

productivity

Key Considerations for Bringing Mobility to Your Forging Operation

October 25, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , ,


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.

Key Trends
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:

Going Mobile
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.):

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

productivity

Tips for Cutting Titanium Alloys in Your Machine Shop

October 20, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


As end markets like aerospace and medical look for ways to improve the strength and reliability of their products, many machine shops are seeing increased use of harder materials like titanium alloys.

However, there are a few characteristics that make titanium alloys more challenging to work with than many other metal materials. To help machine shops tackle this often tough-to-cut metal, the following is a brief overview on titanium alloys and the most effective cutting tools and methods for working with this material.

Taking on Titanium
Titanium alloys are praised for their strong, yet lightweight properties. The material also has outstanding corrosion resistance. As explained here by Modern Machine Shop, these properties make the material an ideal choice for aircraft designs,medical devices, and implants.

However, titanium can be tricky to work with due to its reactivity at higher temperatures and its tough composition. “Since titanium’s heat conductivity is low, it will flex and return to its original shape a lot more easily than steel or high-nickel alloys,” explains an article from American Machinist. “The downside of this is experienced during machining: the heat from the operation does not transfer into the part itself or dissipate from the tool edge, which can shorten tool life.”

The article goes on to say that this issue is compounded by the tight tolerances demanded by most customers.  “For aerospace, the tolerances are to within a thousandth of an inch, and if violated, the part must be scrapped,” the article states. “Achieving such tolerances while using such a malleable material is difficult, and wear on the cutters increases significantly compared to similar efforts with nickel and chromium alloys.”

The technical article, “Machining Titanium and Its Alloys,” published by jobshop.com provides key insights into the chemistry behind titanium alloys and lends the following tips for its successful manufacturing (You can read the full article here):

Choosing the Right Blade
Like any material, one crucial aspect of cutting titanium alloys is choosing the right tool. As industry experts, The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) offers critical advice concerning blade selection in its white paper, Characteristics of a Carbide-Friendly Bandsaw Machine. Since titanium alloys are a stronger and harder material, they pose a unique cutting challenge best solved by carbide blades. Using a carbide-tipped band saw blade not only allows for the successful cutting of titanium alloys, but it simultaneously offers longer blade life and faster cutting as well.

LIT’s white paper further elaborates on the benefits of the carbide technology by providing a real-life comparison between a bi-metal and a carbide blade. The test produced the following results:

Ultimately, the higher speed and feed rate of the carbide blade enabled it to make the cut 13 minutes faster, translating into 160 more parts produced during an 8-hour shift than its bi-metal counterpart.

Meeting Material Demands
Material trends will come and go, but metal-cutting companies that want to successfully serve existing and potential customers need to be prepared to adapt to the industry’s changing material needs. As the use of titanium grows, today’s machine shops need to understand the material’s unique characteristics and machining requirements so they are fully equipped to tackle every one of their customers’ demands.

productivity

Two Technologies that Help Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies Improve Maintenance

October 15, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


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.

Predictive Maintenance
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.

CMMS
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

productivity

A Look at Industry 4.0 in Your Fabrication Shop

October 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


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:

  1.   Vertical networking of smart production systems
  2.   Horizontal integration via a new generation of global value chain networks
  3.   Cross-disciplinary “through-engineering” across the entire value chain
  4.   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:

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?

productivity

How to Optimize Metal Service Center Operations with Operator Accountability

October 5, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Industrial metal-cutting companies know running an efficient and productive operation is imperative to keeping up with and, more importantly, staying ahead of the changing industry and customer demands. However, in industrial metal cutting—as well as any manufacturing process—an operation is only as good as its operators.

This is why operator accountability is so important. As reported in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, as more metal service centers rely on automated technology, managers need to work closely with machine operators to ensure their knowledge and skill sets align with the company’s technology assets and productivity goals. The objective is to encourage employees to take ownership of their impact on the operation so they not only care about the quality of their work, but also understand the role they play in the company’s overall success. Working closely with employees to create a culture of accountability can help metal service centers achieve the operational excellence they desire.

According to an article from IndustryWeek, accountability can be a powerful manufacturing tool because it is a broad-based effort to define and track an organization’s standards. “Accountability systems serve to prompt and encourage people to keep their promises to each other,” Jon Thorne, senior consultant, Daniel Penn Associations, says in the IW article. “Accountability monitors whether promises are being kept and reminds us to hold up our end of the bargain. When we all keep our promises to each other the result is human reliability. And with human reliability, your organization can accomplish anything.”

While using accountability to improve your metal service center operations is not an exact science, it is systematic. In fact, accountability is a set of systems that overlap and reinforce each other, according to the IW article. The following three systems are just a few ways manufacturers can boost accountability (You can read the full list here):

  1. Customer satisfaction. Measuring your service to internal customers puts interdepartmental cooperation on an objective basis: You confront issues rather than people. The plant manager’s role is to insist that the organization seek out and satisfy its customer’s needs, but it is the customers and suppliers who decide how to do it.
  2. Weekly staff meetings. The idea sounds simple, but having a regular and consistent forum where information can flow both ways enables employees to hold management accountable by asking questions and discussing any issues. Two meetings per week are recommended.
  3. Action item lists. Many times, regular staff meetings result in new policies and processes, or changes to those that are existing. Keeping an action list or planner helps prioritize activities, highlights important information, and enables employees to hold each other accountable for keeping the agreements they’ve made.

Another simple strategy is to regularly share performance reports with employees by either posting them or discussing them in staff meetings. As stated in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, sharing report results encourages accountability, provides motivation, and reminds operators that they are a critical aspect of the company’s success. This approach falls in line with the culture of lean production environments, and research has shown it positively affects employee morale.

How does this help optimize operations? Although employee investments are often hard to quantify, the following two manufacturers have seen measurable results after implementing accountability practices:

Running an efficient operation is essential to every metal service center, but far too many managers fail to understand the role their operators play in their optimization efforts. By implementing a few processes that hold operators accountable for their actions, managers can create a culture in which employees care about their jobs and, even more so, the long-term success of the company.

What accountability practices have you implemented at your metal service center?

productivity

Using DMAIC Methodology in Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization

October 1, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


Being a leader in today’s industrial metal-cutting industry is tough. In addition to dealing with external challenges like high inventory levels, falling commodity prices, and a slowdown in China, managers still have to deal with operational pain points such as process and workflow bottlenecks, resource allocation, and delivery schedules.

As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, thriving in today’s unstable market requires metal-cutting executives to focus on continuous improvement. “Whether implementing a lean manufacturing tool to improve processes or investing in training to develop people, proactive leaders are focused on making positive changes in their operations so they can quickly respond to today’s changing customer demands,” the eBook states.

One methodology many leaders are using as part of their continuous improvement initiatives is DMAIC. As explained here by American Society for Quality (ASQ), DMAIC is a data-driven quality strategy used to improve processes. Although it is typically used as part of a Six Sigma initiative, the methodology can also be implemented as a standalone quality improvement procedure or as part of other process improvement initiatives such as lean.

DMAIC is an acronym for the five phases that make up the process:

According to an archived article from Six Sigma Daily, the heart of DMAIC is making continuous improvements to an existing process through objective problem solving. “Process is the focal point of DMAIC,” the article explains. “The methodology seeks to improve the quality of a product or service by concentrating not on the output but on the process that created the output. The idea is that concentrating on processes leads to more effective and permanent solutions.”

DMAIC can be used by any project team that is attempting to improve an existing process. For example, SeaDek, a manufacturer of non-skid marine flooring, used DMAIC methods to reduce major inventory stockouts in 2015. The company went from 14 major stockouts in 2014 to one stockout in 2015, resulting in a materials cost savings of more than $250,000 and improving on-time delivery from 44 percent the previous year to 95 percent in 2015. (You can download the entire case study here.)

Paul Bryant, senior OPEX manager of LENOX Tools, says there are two key ways companies can identify when and where to apply the DMAIC method:

  1. Target highest scrap cost by machine and/or cost center
  2. Areas with low production yield or poor quality (i.e., high defective parts per million)

In his experience, Bryant says that DMAIC can be especially helpful in lowering scrap costs. Last year, LENOX made the strategic decision to start making wire internally; however, the blade manufacturer was working 10-15 hours overtime to keep up with weekly demand. “Using the DMAIC process, we reduced scrap and improved production speeds by 19.2%, resulting in $75K plus an additional $30K in overtime reduction,” Bryant says. “In 2017, we expect to pick up an additional 15% in production using the DMAIC methodology.”

Of course, the real payoff is what DMAIC can bring to the customer. “The ultimate expected benefit is that customers receive products of the best quality, on-time, and at lowest possible costs,” Bryant says.

Could DMAIC help your industrial metal-cutting organization? To learn more about this Six Sigma continuous improvement tool, click here for a detailed DMAIC roadmap or here for an overview and short video tutorial.

productivity

Non-Residential Construction Industry Continues to Create Demand for Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies

September 15, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , , ,


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.

Cautiously Optimistic
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?

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