January 10, 2014 / customer delivery, quality
Delivering on time and without error have always been the two key principles of customer service. However, most fabricators would agree that “on-time” now means “in half the time” it took just 5 years ago. Quick turnaround is not a trend—it is the new reality.
While automation and lean manufacturing strategies are helping fabricators complete jobs faster, it is important that shops don’t forget the other side of the delivery equation—quality. Maintaining accuracy is critical to gaining and maintaining customers, especially as they continue to demand tighter and tighter tolerances. Slow and steady may no longer win the race, but neither does fast and sloppy.
Today’s managers need to have a balanced focus on both efficiency and excellence. If your shop is sacrificing one to achieve the other, it is time to take a closer look at your operations. Below are a few strategies that can help keep your processes balanced:
- Schedule Ahead. A recent white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) suggests that forecasting and production scheduling are important strategies for both meeting delivery requests and maintaining quality. This not only ensures that orders are filled on time, it also creates an organized, controlled production environment that is less prone to errors. According to the paper, managers may want to consider appointing certain staff members to focus solely on production planning. Schedules can be completed up to a month in advance and should leave some “flex” time for parts inspection and to account for last-minute orders.
- Standardize Processes. Standardization is one of the key aspects of lean manufacturing. However, experts believe it is often the “missing link” within many so-called “lean factories.” By taking the time to standardize manufacturing processes, fabricators can keep production moving smoothly while also maintaining consistency. This is especially true for shops that run multiple shifts. In a metal-cutting operation, for example, managers can create standardized cut charts so operators know the right blade to use for every process and type of job. Procedure checklists, sign-off sheets, and training reference documents are additional tools managers can use to maintain quality throughout the production process.
- Consider ISO Certification. One way to ensure that quality is under control is to have your facility undergo ISO 9001 certification. This has certainly helped Metal Cutting Service, an industrial metal cutting specialty shop based in City of Industry, CA. The company, featured in a series of LIT case studies, estimates that quality has improved 20 to 30% since the company became ISO certified. From process control to increased sales, studies have shown several reasons to consider certification. However, as with any strategic decision, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. In fact, according to a recent column in Quality Digest, ISO registration needs to be a top-down commitment to be successful.
December 10, 2013 / continuous improvement, quality, training
Over the last few years, the industrial metal-cutting industry has invested heavily in technology to ramp up productivity. While this is certainly moving industrial metal-cutting forward, it has also exacerbated the workforce challenge that has been threatening the industry for years. As confirmed by a joint report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, skilled production workers are one of the largest workforce segments facing retirement in the near future, which will clearly have an impact on the number of experienced workers on the shop floor. This does not bode well for an industry that just ramped up its need for advanced skills.
The good news is that the solution is quite clear: You need to invest in your workers. While having the right tools for the job is important, it is perhaps even more critical to have people with the right skills operating those machines. In a band saw cutting environment, for example, an operator running a saw at the wrong speed and feed settings will drastically reduce blade life, increase the chances of maintenance issues, and create potential quality issues, all of which add up to wasted time and money—the exact opposite of productivity.
The only way to increase skills is to provide training. Unfortunately, this is not always as simple as it sounds. A good training program should provide new employees with a solid foundation, while also making sure seasoned employees know the latest techniques. Below are some suggestions that will help take your training program—and your workforce—to the next level.
- Create a Formal Training Program. If you don’t already have a formal training program in place for new employees, it’s time to implement one. Having a seasoned operator casually show someone the ropes creates a casual attitude toward the job at hand. A formal, organized approach will stress the importance of quality and will also make it easier to hold operators accountable. A recent editorial in Modern Machine Shop magazine provides a good overview of how to develop a formal training program. The article focuses on CNC training, but the general principles could certainly be applied to any production area of a machine shop.
- Define Training as an Ongoing Process. As highlighted in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, operator training needs to be ongoing. This is especially important in a machine shop, where there can be multiple shifts and an unequal level of talent on the shop floor. By instituting regular operator training, managers can level the shop floor talent and add consistency to production procedures. This also encourages a spirit of continuous improvement among experienced operators who often resist change.
- Make Training Part of your Quality System. While instituting formal training programs can be challenging, the real challenge is making them actually work. According to the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Today’s Machine Shop Metal Cutting Operations, many industrial metal-cutting shops have found that the only time training programs became effective is when shop management merged training with their quality control initiatives and auditing processes. This elevates training from a well-intentioned priority to a standard operating procedure that is both effective and measurable.
December 5, 2013 / customer delivery, planning, quality
Like all segments of the industrial metal-cutting industry, forges must respond quickly to changes in the marketplace. This is even more so the case in recent years. While projections from the Forging Industry Association and IHS Global Insights expect the forging industry to pick up again in 2014, a few rough years have heightened competition not only among forges, but also with companies that offer alternatives to forged components. And that competition isn’t just within the U.S. According to a global industry report from ResearchMoz, an Albany, N.Y.-based market research firm, there has been an upward trend in the outsourcing of forged parts to low-cost countries.
This means that meeting customer demands for both speed and quality are essential, especially if you can’t compete on cost. The harsh reality is that today’s customers expect parts to be finished in half the time they took five years ago—with zero errors. The challenge for operations managers is finding strategies that balance excellence and efficiency, making sure that one doesn’t come at the cost of the other.
In some cases, this will require the use of advanced measurement tools and other technologies that optimize production. However, a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology suggests several other ways forging operations can ensure they are meeting deadlines and maintaining a high level of quality. Below are a few highlights from the paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal:
- Planning Ahead is Key. Taking the time to forecast can provide an operation with a wealth of benefits, from faster customer delivery and higher efficiency to improved employee morale and a reduction in errors. In one instance, an industrial metal-cutting company was able to reduce its scrap rate to less than 1.5 percent and increase annual sales up to 20 percent after implementing a production schedule that planned out orders six to eight weeks in advance.
- Monitor Inbound Material Quality. Product liability and traceability continue to be huge concerns for industrial metal-cutting companies, and mix-ups can be both expensive and dangerous. Operations managers have to be sure they are tracking the quality and accuracy of the material coming from the supplier. In other words, inbound quality control is just as critical as outbound quality control. By confirming what is coming in the door, forges can confidently supply products that are both accurate and fail-safe.
- Faster Is Not Always Better. This is especially true in an industrial metal-cutting environment. In band sawing, for example, too high of a band speed or very hard metals produce excessive heat, resulting in reduced blade life and poor quality cuts. The scale found on most forged parts only magnifies this issue and can dull blades even faster. Setting the proper band speed and feed rates takes a certain finesse, and it is important that operators are aware that what appear to be short-term gains can cause setbacks in the long run. To help control this, some metal-cutting companies are using automation to “lock in” cutting parameters. In many cases, supply chain partners can also help with education to ensure that operators are trained on proper equipment settings.