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Preventative Maintenance Tips for Forges that Cut and Process Metal

August 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , , , ,


While some downtime is inevitable, more and more forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies are discovering that proper maintenance and proactive care of equipment can significantly reduce its occurrence.

The problem is that maintenance departments are typically busy putting out fires, which pushes anything “preventative” to the side. Why take the time to stop a potential problem when there are enough real problems happening right now?

However, as stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, proactively addressing maintenance issues allows managers to reduce costs, increase blade and tooling life, and, most importantly, avoid costly mistakes. “With a simple check-list, operators can enhance their knowledge base and positively affect performance on the shop floor,” the eBook states.

What does this look like in practice? According to the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, operators can conduct daily preventative maintenance (PM) checks in less than 10 minutes. Programs can be as detailed as a manager feels is necessary, but in a band saw environment, the following are a few key checkpoints to include:

Although many shops conduct PM checks at the start of each shift, there are several ways managers can schedule their PM procedures. In a recent blog, maintenance software provider SM Global offers four possible PM schedules:

  1. Date based: Schedule PM checks every X amount of days, weeks or months. So, for example, you can have a maintenance task scheduled every 5 business days, on every Friday, the second Monday of every third month, every January on the first Wednesday and so on.
  2. Meter based: There are two different meter types. In one, you schedule maintenance every time a meter reading increases or decreases by a certain amount. For example, an oil change when a meter reading increases by 3000 miles. The second type is a batch meter. You schedule maintenance after an equipment processes X number of units. For example, replace a bearing every time the equipment produces 500 widgets.
  3. Alarm based: You schedule a maintenance task every time an alarm condition happens. For example, an alarm could be excessive vibration on a machine. You can schedule a PM check on the machine when this alarm occurs.
  4. Relative to another task: Start a new maintenance task when another task completes. For example, order more coolant every time you clean your fluid/lubricant reservoir and screen (typically every 3 months).

If your metal forging operation doesn’t have a current PM program in place, you may want to consider working closely with your equipment and tooling supply partners to set up daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual PM schedules. In addition to helping you create checklists, many provide complimentary annual or bi-annual PM check-ups, which can provide more in-depth equipment diagnostics.

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Reducing Operator Error in Your Machine Shop

August 15, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , ,


A top goal of every operations manager is to reduce error on the shop floor, whether it be mechanical error or human error. While 0% error rates are pretty hard to achieve, the reality is that even a small percentage of error can quickly add up.

An article from Competitive Production puts this into perspective:

“If things are done correctly 99 percent of the time, that equates to two unsafe landings at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport each day; 16,000 pieces of lost mail each hour; 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions each year; or 500 incorrect surgical procedures completed each week. In manufacturing, the slightest of errors, for example one-tenth of a percent, can have a significant impact on a company’s financial performance and profitability.”

When it comes to band sawing, error remains a top concern for managers. As Matthew Lacroix of LENOX explains here, fabricators and other metal-cutting shops have three main areas of concern regarding their band saw processes. “The top frustrations that we repeatedly hear from fabricators are machine downtime, blade failure, and operator error,” he tells Canadian Metalworking. “In each case, there are steps they can take within their own organizations to manage the problems.”

The white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, provides a few steps managers can take to reduce error in their band saw department:

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Strategies to Help Metal Service Centers Keep Safety First

August 5, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , ,


Safety is one of those issues that every manufacturer knows is important, yet as evidenced by the unending list of OSHA fines, it is pretty clear that it often slips through the cracks. Even big name companies like Exxon can fall short.

Put simply, your manufacturing operation can never be too safe. Like any other process or initiative, safety should be approached with continuous improvement in mind. This means that service centers, as well as any other manufacturing operation, need to continually reevaluate their safety procedures and processes to look for areas for improvement.

The manufacturing industry as a whole is promoting this type of mentality, knowing that “safety first” needs to be more than just an underlying principle. It needs to be an ongoing, active practice. The Metals Service Center Institute (MSCI), for example, recently teamed up with the National Safety Council to offer ongoing, relevant safety tools and resources to its members. “Advocating for an industry-wide safety culture is a critical part of all that we do at MSCI,” said M. Robert Weidner, III, MSCI president & CEO. (You can access MSCI’s resources here.)

To help service centers keep safety at the forefront, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) has researched some best practices being used by industry leaders. Read below to discover some safety strategies and the additional benefits they can bring to your service center:

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How Gemba Visits Can Benefit Your Metal Forge

July 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , ,


Like most industrial manufacturing segments, metal forges have embraced lean manufacturing and the benefits it can bring. Although not every operation has the resources to undergo a total lean transformation, industry leaders like Jorgensen Forge have adopted simple lean tools and practices to eliminate waste, lower costs, and improve customer responsiveness.

One lean manufacturing tool that continues to gain popularity among operations managers is “going to the Gemba” or taking a “Gemba walk.” This practical lean tool gives management a clear view of what is happening on the plant floor and, more importantly, reveals areas for possible improvement. As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, “Gemba” is the Japanese term for “actual place,” but has been redefined by lean thinkers as the place where value-creating work actually occurs. In a manufacturing environment, this is typically the shop floor. Many lean experts advise manufacturing executives to make time to visit this place—known as taking a “Gemba walk”—so they can see their operation from the front lines.

There are several ways managers can “go to the Gemba.” According to a Target Online article from the Association of Manufacturing Excellence, there are three types of Gemba visits:

  1. Leadership Gemba Visits. In these visits, the focus is on the culture, developing trust, learning more about the operations, and finding ways to improve the working conditions of the team members. These Gemba visits are typically conducted by managers and executives (individually or in pairs). They don’t usually have an agenda or follow a prescribed process. The leader simply goes to the Gemba to engage with the team members in a meaningful way and searches for opportunities to make their work less frustrating and more fulfilling.
  2. Leader Standard Work Gemba Walks. These Gemba walks typically have an agenda or a theme and occur on a regular cadence. These are structured and can be done individually or in groups. Many management teams have standard processes for visiting team huddles, checking hour-by-hour charts, doing 5S audits, or doing safety observations. Others visit the Gemba with a specific theme in mind for the walk, such as reviewing autonomous maintenance practices, learning about kaizen activities, discussing safety procedures, reviewing visual management practices, etc.
  3. Problem-Solving Gemba Visits. Typically, the purpose of a problem-solving Gemba visit is to go to the source of a problem in order to observe it first-hand, talk to those closest to the problem, and determine if countermeasures are needed while working to determine the root cause of the problem. This is also a great opportunity for leaders to talk to team members about the problem-solving process and root cause analysis.

Why are Gemba visits so important? This article from The Leadership Network lists a few ways Gemba visits can be beneficial:

  1. First-hand knowledge is the highest form of information. A regular Gemba walk will give managers transparent and unmediated knowledge that is needed to challenge and validate assumptions made by data.
  2. Perspective is gained through experience. A regular Gemba walk allows managers to understand the challenges employees need to overcome on a daily basis to deliver the results that are being promised in the boardroom.
  3. Both people and process matter equally. A regular Gemba walk will help develop a culture that fixes the problems in a process and not one that blames the people performing the process.

If Gemba visits aren’t currently part of your management strategy, perhaps it is time to explore the ways in which it could improve your operation. To read more about this lean manufacturing tool, check out the slideshare presentation, Gemba 101, or read this overview article from iSixSigma.

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Developing Strong Talent in Your Fabrication Shop

July 10, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , ,


Historically, the trend has been for metal companies to put process over people. The manufacturing industry’s shortage of workers with the necessary skills (also known as the “skills gap”), however, is forcing companies to allocate resources back to their workforce.

For many companies, this means changing the way they train and maintain talent, whether that means beefing up training programs or rethinking their hiring tactics. Rockwell Automation, for example, is working to recruit military veterans and leverage their unique skill sets. “We’ve been able to develop a truly groundbreaking program that will help solve a challenge critical to fueling the future growth of the manufacturing sector,” Blake Moret CEO of Rockwell Automation, states here in a press release. “Military veterans possess a unique combination of technical savvy and core work skills that makes them well-positioned for careers in today’s advanced manufacturing environments.”

Companies are also reevaluating how they are maintaining their talent. As lean manufacturing expert Jamie Flinchbaugh says here in IndustryWeek, you can’t “just hire talent and then leave it alone.” Continuous improvement applies to all areas of an operation, including training and maintaining talent.

According to Flinchbaugh, when it comes to building a strong team, manufacturers should consider the following:

  1. Put the right talent in the right place. Hiring is part of this, but so is organizational design. Too often Flinchbaugh says he sees organizations reward talent by taking them out of the place they perform the best. That’s like taking your best hitter on the team and making them a team coach before their retirement as a reward. So top salespeople become sales managers, and top engineers become engineering managers. Is that the best use of their talent?
  2. Talent is responsible for its own improvement. Your talent should hold the primary responsibility for their own development. A lean thinker should be encouraged to improve their talent in any skill that matters, whether personal or professional.
  3. Coach and train. Making the development of talent a core part of your business means integrating it into your management systems. This is not something to delegate to human resources. The hardest part of this is how you leverage your top talent. While not everyone is suited to coaching and training, leveraging your top talent to build more talent is the long-term play.

In a metal-working environment, it is also critical that operators and other employees feel valued. While the idea of empowering employees sounds a bit cliché, a growing number of managers are finding that operators who take ownership of their process or work area are invaluable. According to the brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” operator “buy-in” can positively affect all aspects of an industrial metal-cutting operation, including quality, productivity, and in the end, the bottom line. Similarly, when employees feel disconnected, those same business areas can be negatively affected. Strategies such as collecting feedback, goal setting, and incentives are good ways to encourage employee ownership from the start.

As the skills gap has proven, investing in talent is just as important as investing in technology and process. Metal-cutting companies—not to mention the manufacturing industry at large—can’t afford to neglect one of its greatest assets. In the end, building and cultivating high-quality talent is necessary for building and cultivating high-quality services and products.

 

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Apprenticeships May Help Your Service Center Fill Skills Gaps

March 5, 2017 / , , , , , , , ,


Data from the U.S. Labor Department continues to show that the skills gap is real. As reported here by the Wall Street Journal, the number of open manufacturing jobs has been rising since 2009, and 2016 registered the highest number in the past 15 years.

Why does this continue to be an issue? According to the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, there are several layers to the current workforce challenge. First, skilled production workers are one of the largest workforce segments facing retirement in the near term, which will have an impact on the number of experienced workers on the shop floor.

Meanwhile, the current talent pool isn’t what it should be. Streamlined production lines and more process automation have changed the nature of manufacturing work, and the incoming generation of workers either isn’t interested in working anywhere near a production line or lacks the necessary skills and technical knowledge.

The question continues to be, then, how can companies fill the gap? While the issue is too complex for one “sure-fire” solution, many believe that training and, more specifically, apprenticeship programs are an effective way for companies to fill their employee pipeline and build their team’s skill set.

An article from IndustryWeek argues that while colleges may turn out students that may know things, manufacturing companies need students that can do things. This is why apprenticeships are key. “Perfectly positioned at the intersection between knowledge and training, apprenticeship programs are ideal talent incubators,” the article states. “The positive outcomes of skills training are many: stronger communities, a skilled and confident workforce and an increase in the number of career opportunities for our young people.”

The U.S. Department of Labor defines apprenticeships as “an employer-driven, ‘learn while you earn’ model that combines on-the-job training, provided by the employer that hires the apprentice, with job-related instruction in curricula tied to the attainment of national skills standards,” according to its web site.

With hands-on jobs like metal-cutting, it’s hard to argue against the benefits of on-the-job training. However, the problem is that many companies don’t want to pay for it. The apprenticeship model typically involves progressive increases in an apprentice’s skills and wages, which can be viewed as costly to organizations, especially if they are afraid employees will take their skills elsewhere.

The good news is that there are several new initiatives out there that are trying to alleviate that cost by joining the industry and government together. Below are two examples:

While apprenticeship programs aren’t by any means a new idea, they could be exactly what manufacturing needs—again. For an industry that has spent a lot of the last few decades focusing on process and efficiency, it’s time to place the focus back on people. By investing time and resources into building a highly skilled workforce, you are ultimately investing in your company’s long-term success.

How is your company building a skilled workforce? Could an apprenticeship program help close the skills gaps in your operation? 

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Capital Spending to Increase as Machine Shops Seek Productivity

February 20, 2017 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Thanks to an unstable marketplace, capital spending among machine shops and other metalworking companies has been down for the last several years. However, new reports suggest a rebound in the near future.

According to data from Gardner Business Intelligence (GBI), machine tool consumption peaked at $7.5 billion in 2014, and then contracted 3 percent in 2015 and 7 percent in 2016. Based on GBI’s Capital Spending Survey, projected total machine tool consumption in 2017 will be down an additional 1 percent. However, as reported here by Modern Machine Shop, the survey also shows that demand for core machine tools will increase in 2017 by 9 percent. In addition, GBI’s new econometric model for machine tool unit orders indicates that the rate of contraction in overall machine tool demand bottomed in July 2016 and will improve through the end of 2017.

Steven Cline, Jr., director of Market Intelligence at GBI, says the driving force behind the projected rebound is the need for increased productivity. “Shops need to increase productivity in order to remain competitive in a global manufacturing marketplace and to counteract the much-talked-about skills gap,” Cline writes in Modern Machine Shop. “More and more shops are turning to lights-out and/or unattended machining to achieve this increase in productivity, but new equipment, including machine tools, workholding and automation, is needed to run lights-out.”

As reported in the news brief, “Strategies for Training and Maintaining Talent in Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” industrial metal-cutting companies have spent the last few years investing a lot of time and resources into their workforce. This has helped boost productivity and address some of the skills gaps, but the GBI survey suggests that shops are seeking a balance that requires investments in both human capital and equipment.

For example, Speedy Metals, an online industrial metal supply company and processor, recently upgraded its band saws to improve efficiency. “We had been searching for a reasonably priced, high-production band saw to add to our saw department and boost our production,” Bob Bensen, operations manager, tells Modern Metals. “We needed a reliable band saw that was going to stand up to the rigors of our fast-paced environment.”

Bensen went on to say that the new band saw, which has nesting capabilities and allows his operators to cut a variety of metals, has improved productivity. This, he adds, has given Speedy Metals a competitive edge and allows his company to continuously offer same-day shipping on quality parts and customized saw cuts that meet the closest tolerances.

Similarly, metal-cutting companies like Aerodyne Alloys are investing in new metal-cutting tools to further improve efficiency. Working with hard-to-cut metals like Inconel 718 and Hastelloy X, the metal service center decided to upgrade from bi-metal blades to carbide-tipped blades to get higher performance out of its band saws. After upgrading to a carbide blade, Aerodyne was able to tackle hard, nickel-based alloys, while also improving cutting time on easier to cut materials like stainless steel. According to a case study, this helped improve operational efficiencies at Aerodyne by up to 20 percent.

Of course, not all capital investments offer a good return. If your shop is considering investing in new equipment or tools this year, be sure to measure cost against productivity. According to the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job, managers need to weigh the following:

There is no question: Staying competitive in today’s market is tough. Demands for high quality and quick turnaround continue to increase, while cost pressures and issues like the skills gap remain. How will your shop respond? As the GBI survey suggests, it may be time to consider making some capital investments to ensure that your team is fully equipped to meet demands.

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Three Ways Fabricators Can Build Stronger Supplier Partnerships

February 10, 2017 / , , , , , ,


For most fabricators, supplier relationships are the building blocks of success. While there are still some companies that base their supply chain on price, as customer expectations for both quality and delivery continue to increase, many industry leaders are taking the time to form strong supplier relationships that are built on a lot more than an affordable product or service. In many cases, suppliers are becoming strategic partners.

Data confirms this trend. As reported in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, a survey conducted by Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium found that 80 percent of supply chain professionals believe that the supply chain is an enabler of business strategy. “A majority of companies also felt that the supply chain is a source of business value and competitive advantage,” the eBook states.

How can you form strong supplier relationships that provide real value? The eBook offers three best practices:

1. Schedule on-site visits. Like any relationship, communication is key. Expect your prospective supplier to assume a “partner” role from day one by focusing more on service than on the sale of the product. To facilitate this relationship, start by asking for an on-site needs assessment. This gives you the opportunity to discuss your business goals in person, as well as providing the vendor with a full overview of your operation.

2. Include training in your purchase agreement. Most suppliers should be willing to provide some level of value-add training as part of the purchase agreement. This is especially important when it comes to your equipment and tooling providers. No one knows your production equipment better than the people who designed it, and they should be willing to share that expertise with you.

3. Expect thought leadership and self-service tools. Industry-leading partners should be able to support your business by providing informational and educational materials, as well as practical tools and services. You can and should rely on your supplier to be an industry thought leader that provides a steady stream of valuable industry trends data, operational strategies, and technical product information.

Of course, maintaining strong supplier relationships doesn’t come without its challenges. According to the 2017 Manufacturing Outlook Survey conducted by ASQ, 83 percent of manufacturers experienced problems with suppliers last year. However, only a third felt concern that those issues would spill over into 2017. In addition, 66 percent of those surveyed said they are working with current suppliers to fix previous concerns—an indication that the majority of manufacturers see the value of working closely with existing suppliers to address challenges they face. As an article from Supply Chain Drive notes, “…a consistent cycling of suppliers can harm long-term performance as relationships take time to cement.”

ASQ does warn, however, that manufacturers should be prepared for those moments when suppliers don’t come through. The key is to openly communicate with existing suppliers to determine any potential risks and, more importantly, to have back-up plans—and back-up suppliers—to alleviate supply chain disruptions. Ultimately, the goal for any manufacturer should be to turn vendor relationships into strategic partnerships. By taking the time to build trust and value into the supply chain, suppliers can become an integral part of your business strategy and, more importantly, your shop’s success.

In what ways can your fabrication shop get more out of its supplier relationships? 

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Measuring the Cost of Quality in Your Metal Service Center

February 5, 2017 / , , , , , , , ,


Keeping costs low and quality high are the top goals of just about every industrial metal-cutting operation. What’s interesting, however, is that many companies treat these two areas as independent variables. A recent series of articles from IndustryWeek (IW) shows why it is important for managers to look at quality and cost together. More specifically, it recommends that companies quantitatively measure the cost and benefits of quality.

“Tracking the financial impact of any support function is necessary in order to illustrate its value and garner continued support and resources from senior management,” the IW article explains. “This struggle is vitally important for quality management departments that continue to struggle with competing for resources. Once organizations get clarity on the financial impact of quality, the next step is to understand what practices and applications help improve the financial value.”

Unfortunately, this seems to be easier said than done. Based on the results of a 2016 survey conducted by the American Society for Quality (ASQ) and the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), approximately 60 percent of organizations say they don’t know or don’t measure the financial impact of quality. According to a report on the survey’s findings, “this lack of measurement may be attributed to not having a common method for capturing the financial impact.”

Many companies also do not understand the benefits of measuring quality and, instead, simply use it as a means of “compliance” or to keep customers happy. This is especially true in today’s market. As stated in the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, customers continue to expect higher quality and tighter tolerances from their metal-cutting suppliers.

However, the IW article states that quality should be about more than “checking a compliance box” or basic due diligence. “Developing a solid foundation of quality assurance for continuous improvement, risk mitigation, and compliance provide immeasurable value,” the article states. “However, once that solid foundation is established, organizations can then leverage quality for the benefit of the customer and enhance brand image, thus serving as a competitive differentiator.”

In fact, based on ASQ and ASQC’s survey findings, “organizations that leverage quality as a strategic asset were more likely to report higher levels of financial gains from their quality program.” In other words, companies are using quality to drive profitability.

For more information on how to start measuring the cost of quality, click here to access IW’s four-part series. The articles look at the relationship between financial benefits and the following areas:

How are you measuring the financial impact quality has in your service center?

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Quality Comes First for Leading Fabricators

January 10, 2017 / , , , , , ,


Like many industrial metal-cutting companies, fabricators face the constant challenge of balancing speed with quality. Although most managers understand that both are critical, tight schedules and rising customer expectations are making it more and more difficult for companies to keep up.

According to the brief, “Strategies for Improving Customer Service and On-Time Delivery in Industrial Metal Cutting,” managers need to be sure that when push comes to shove, quality comes first. “While speed and agility are certainly key attributes of any leading metal-cutting operation, they cannot come at the expense of accuracy,” the brief states. “In sawing, for example, if an operator increases the speed of the saw to get more cuts per minute without considering the feed setting or the material, the end result will be decreased blade life, possible maintenance issues, and lower quality cuts. In the same way, companies focused solely on speed and delivery without considering the quality aspect of customer service will likely see other areas of their business suffer, including customer retention and costs.”

Leading fabricators understand the benefits of keeping quality high, and many continue to invest in this part of their operations. Madden Bolt, a fabricator based in Houston, TX, recently announced that it has earned its AISC certification from the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC). The goal of the certification, the company states, is to further demonstrate to customers its commitment to delivering quality steel products—a step Madden says only half of the steel fabricators in its category have taken.

According to a company press release, the six-month AISC certification process was worth the effort and directly benefits customers. Specifically, the certification requires Madden Bolt to implement effective procedures that safeguard the specifications and agreements within customer contracts, including a system that would resolve discrepancies or deviations from contract requirements. Madden is also required to ensure that material ordered complies with design and drafting specifications and that the materials are inspected to meet ASTM standards.

Many fabricators are also in the process of undergoing ISO 9001:2015 certification. The quality standard, which was recently updated, is a best practice for many industrial metal-cutting organizations, including Metal Cutting Service, Inc. in City of Industry, CA. David Viel, president of the specialty metal-cutting shop, admits that while it is hard to pinpoint the dollar benefit ISO 9001 certification has brought to his bottom line, it has definitely offered a return on investment. “Our quality, if I had to make an estimate, would be in the range of a 20% to 30% improvement,” he says here in a case study.

Of course, certification is just one way fabricators can invest in quality. There are several technologies available that help industrial metal-cutting companies enforce quality control, such as the inspection tools used by companies featured here and here in Modern Metals.

Regardless of how you decide to ensure quality within your shop, the point is that you put in the time and resources necessary to make it a top priority. In today’s fast-paced market, slow and steady does not win the race, but fast and sloppy doesn’t stand a chance.

In what ways has your fabrication shop invested in maintaining high quality standards? 

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