August 10, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, employee incentives, Employee Morale, human capital, lean manufacturing, LIT, operator training, productivity, resource allocation
Continuous improvement and lean manufacturing are certainly not new concepts to today’s fabricators. The numerous benefits of “getting lean” have been widely accepted, which means that most shops have already undergone some type of improvement initiative. In many cases, understanding the benefits of lean manufacturing is not the challenge. The real challenge is making the initiative stick long enough to produce results.
Unfortunately, that is often not the case. Using a hypothetical example, an article from The Fabricator explains that it is not uncommon for a fabrication company to go through four or five different improvement initiatives, none of which end up successful. The problem, the article states, is that engineers and managers may make changes to the way employees do their work, but they really don’t spend enough time helping operators and other employees understand why or how to do it. Even if everyone is often willing to take on the lean transformation, managers need to teach everyone the “what, why, and how” behind the lean principles.
In addition, there are often employees that are hesitant to embrace improvement initiatives like lean manufacturing. Some may even actively fight against it, even while performing their assigned lean tasks.
The goal for any manager should be to not only get workers to adopt lean principles, but to fully embrace them. Getting everyone—from the top down—is the only way a shop will start seeing results. As explained in the eBook, Five Performance-Boost Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations, for lean to be successful, “it must permeate the business silos and receive universal backing amongst senior management and employees.”
How can managers accomplish this? A recent article from IndustryWeek offers four ways fabricators can get even the toughest employees on board with lean initiatives:
- Don’t Gloss Over the Fact that Challenging Times Lie Ahead. Instead of minimizing potentially negative consequences of the looming change, state flat out that some individuals will face more adversity than others. Much of this has to start from the top. The unknown intimidates, frustrates, and creates emotional insecurity. If leadership communicates and exhibits its vision, then change becomes the catalyst for improvement.
- Evaluate Current Staffing. Lean management is not synonymous with layoffs. However, some team members are not open to working in a lean culture. They may not agree with lean philosophies, nor do they want to better understand these principles. If you retain these individuals as company culture evolves around them, you are not benefiting them by allowing them to continue working for a lean company. Consider respectfully transitioning recalcitrant team members out of their positions.
- Pre-plan Team Communications. Use rich communication mediums to announce change. Face-to-face communication cannot be overvalued as a means to convey positivity, commitment, and optimism. An “all hands” meeting is an appropriate venue for the initial announcement. Do not make a habit of distracting teams from their primary responsibilities with frequent updates.
- Highlight Empowerment Versus the Increase in Responsibilities. Team members accustomed to traditional workplace cultures will not readily evaluate their own actions and suggest process improvements. This type of self-evaluation may be completely foreign to them. Initially, many team members will find the concept of increased responsibility daunting rather than empowering. To teach lean thinking, strive to make lean ambassadors out of the organization’s influence drivers. Focus on those who can deliver change and who will become not only the informal leader on the floor, but also the industrial athlete of the cell.
While changing processes is certainly a huge part of any lean manufacturing journey, getting people to accept, embrace, and understand the changes is the first and most important step a shop can take. As many fabricators have discovered, missing this critical step could mean the difference between seeing results and hitting another dead end.
July 15, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, resource allocation, strategic planning
As we reported in last month’s blog, “Machine Outlook for 2017 and Beyond,” market conditions continue to look good for machine shops and other industrial metal-cutting operations. Even in a good market, however, industry leaders know it is important to continue to watch costs. Any edge you can carve out against the competition is beneficial.
According to the brief, “Resource Allocation Strategies for Leading Industrial Metal-Cutting Organizations,” this may require companies to think a little outside the box. “In the spirit of continuous improvement, best-in-class managers need to explore all of the ways they can save their operation time and money,” the brief states.
One way shops are reducing costs is adopting more sustainable manufacturing practices. Whether implementing strategic energy plans or adopting a few environmentally friendly practices, today’s industrial manufacturers are finding that “going green” can provide bottom-line savings.
As reported here by Modern Machine Shop, manufacturing consumes the equivalent of 3.6 billion barrels of crude oil every year—1/5 of all energy consumed in the U.S. Additionally, depending on the manufacturing process, energy can encompass as much as 50 percent of the cost of production. Based on these numbers, it seems reasonable to argue that not only do manufacturers have a social responsibility to reduce their energy usage, but they could save some money by doing so.
London-based sheet metal company Harlow Group, for example, was able to reduce electrical costs by approximately $38,000 per year after installing a new heating system, low-energy lighting, and implementing a formal shut-down policy for heavy equipment.
To help your machine shop begin the move toward sustainability, an article from ThomasNet.com describes three key steps:
- Analyze Your Current Organization’s Environmental Impact. Start by analyzing your energy usage. Determine how energy sources are used in your production processes and how they might influence the environment. It is also important to look at your operation’s water usage and the types of materials you are using on the shop floor. Are they recyclable or hazardous? How necessary are they to the production process?
- Reduce Waste Where You Can. Once you understand where your organization stands, you can take steps towards a more environmentally friendly facility. Fortunately, these steps don’t have to be giant strides; you can start small and make incremental, strategic improvements.
- Find Ways To Leverage Renewable Energy. Leveraging renewable energy is one of the best ways to create a more sustainable facility. Renewable energy options are plentiful, and they include sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. In addition to saving on raw energy costs, you may also be able to take advantage of tax incentives, depending on the state you live in.
For some more specific actions your shop can take, check out this list of energy-saving tips from Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center, which includes ideas such as avoiding peak energy rate periods and checking for compressed air system leaks. You may also want to read this article from Canadian Metalworking that discusses eco-friendly coolants and coolant recycling.
Does your shop consider sustainability as a bottom-line operating principle? If so, what new practices can you adopt to keep your industrial metal-cutting company at the leading edge?
May 20, 2017 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, industry news, LIT, operator training, predictive management, resource allocation, strategic planning
The year started out on a high note for machine shops, and current reports suggest the upward trend will continue throughout 2017. How should machine shops respond?
A Bright Picture
The new year meant good things for machine shops and other industrial metalworking companies. According to the Gardner Business Index, the metalworking industry grew in January for the first time since March 2015, reaching its highest point since May 2014.
That momentum has continued throughout the year. Both February and March registered growth, with the Index hitting its highest points since March 2012. Growth continued in April as well, although at a slightly slower rate. However, as Steven Kline, director of market Intelligence at Gardner Business Media, states here, “Expansion is still the greatest it has been in three years.”
Customer segments are also experiencing growth. According to Kline’s report, power generation was the fastest growing industry in April, growing for the second time in three months. Twelve other industries recorded strong growth as well. Industrial motors/hydraulics/mechanical components grew at an accelerated rate for the fourth month in a row; aerospace continued its streak of growth at six months; and job shops and oil/gas-field/mining machinery also grew in April.
Other economic indicators point to good news. As reported here by Cliff Waldman, chief economist at the MAPI Foundation, manufacturing employment has now increased for five consecutive months, with an average of 14,200 new jobs gained per month. “Overall, this is the most convincing evidence that the broad manufacturing picture is starting to show some real improvement from years of weakness,” Waldman states.
Getting Smart for the Future
Yes, the near-term picture looks bright for machine shops. However, industry leaders can’t rest on their laurels and need to be sure they are prepared for where the market is heading. Perhaps the biggest trend happening within manufacturing is what many call the “fourth industrial revolution.” As explained in a previously published blog, the fourth industrial revolution (also called “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.
Companies like EVS Metal, a precision metal fabricator headquartered in Riverdale, NJ, have already started thinking about what this means for their operation and how they can adapt. From a practical standpoint, shops 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.
However, according to an article from Production Machining, companies need to more than just invest in technology. Matthew Kirchner, managing Director, Profit 360, explains here that manufacturers that wish to capitalize on the coming revolution will require a new level of knowledge, aptitude, and disciplines in the following four areas:
- Understanding throughput: The ability to understand a basic throughput equation, and how throughput is affected by machine speed, setup time, white time between operations, first pass yield and the like is fundamental to succeeding in a cyber-physical plant.
- Jacks of all trades: The lines between departments become increasingly grey as information and manufacturing technology connect and integrate them. The manufacturing operation of the future requires team members that can work fluidly across myriad industrial equipment and technology.
- Networking and control systems: Manufacturing technology will evolve relatively quickly to where every device has its own IP address. This will create what has been called a “hyper-connected Smart System of Systems” where endless streams of data are collected. A working understanding of this interconnectivity will be necessary.
- Inform-Actionable Data: The challenge of the manufacturer will not be a lack of data, but too much of it. Collecting, scrubbing, discerning, and analyzing this information will be fundamental to our ability to improve performance and process. Thus, industrial maintenance, factory automation, IT, and accounting will no longer be individual members of different departments or teams. Instead, they will become members of the same team whose charter is to drive enterprise-wide performance improvements using the tools now afforded them by the advent of cyber-physical systems.
Equipped for Success
As machine shops move into the second half of the year, the key will be to not only make the most of current market conditions, but to also strategically prepare for the future. Like any trend, it will take a while for the fourth industrial revolution to fully materialize. However, many experts are saying that industry leaders are embracing this next generation of manufacturing and, more importantly, are starting to make investments. Is your shop in a position to do the same?
March 20, 2017 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, human capital, industry news, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, optimization, performance metrics, preventative maintenance, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
As we reported in a previous blog, capital spending among machine shops and other metalworking companies has been down for the last several years. This has been largely due to an unstable marketplace and low business confidence among shop owners. The good news is that industry reports suggest a rebound in the near future.
However, this dip in spending has caused many shops to take a closer look at the value of their existing equipment. When new equipment isn’t in the cards—and even if it is—it is important for today’s managers to understand the total cost of running their metal-cutting equipment and, even more so, what their total worth is from an operations standpoint.
Below are just a few ways shops can be sure they are looking at the value—not just the cost—of their existing equipment:
- Look at profitability, not just productivity. As explained here, overall equipment efficiency (OEE) is a critical metric that measures the percentage of production time that is truly productive. It takes into account all six types of loss, resulting in a measure of productive manufacturing time. According to a recent article from Modern Machine Shop, OEE is helpful, but it may not be enough on its own. “Managers have to balance decisions about maximizing the part-making capability of their equipment with decisions about the money-making potential of this equipment,” the article states. “OEE ratings alone provide an incomplete picture.” The article goes on to describe a measurement called Financial OEE (FOEE), a trademarked name for a new feature of a communications platform from Memex, which accounts for profitability. As stated in the article, “FOEE helps a shop understand how machine performance is helping (or hurting) profitability. This insight provides guidance—and incentive-to focus on the most appropriate productivity improvement efforts.” More specifically, FOEE is the current-state hourly profit divided by a value representing a world-class level of profit. This ratio compares what profit a company made with what profit could have been made at world-class levels. This information can help shops see the financial value of improving the machine’s performance. To read more about this metric, check out the full article here in Modern Machine Shop.
- See existing equipment as an asset. A common struggle among many shops is finding enough working capital to invest in new equipment. To help fight this battle, a recent article from Canadian Metalworking discusses how shops can use the value of existing equipment on the floor. “An asset-based lender, one who has experience in the manufacturing industry, will recognize that a good, brand-named machine tool that has been paid for in full, is an asset that can be leveraged,” the article states. “The equipment is used to provide collateral for financing new machinery, or as a resource to raise working capital to cover the additional costs of product development using existing equipment.” This does require the shop to have a full understanding of how existing equipment is evaluated and how it can be leveraged. To read some tips on properly evaluating and grading your machinery, click here for the complete article.
- Consider the value of maintenance. It’s a pretty simple fact: Equipment that isn’t running is pretty much worthless. This seems obvious, but many shops still put preventative maintenance (PM) and other housekeeping tasks on the back burner in an effort to stay productive. The irony is that this usually ends up hurting productivity in the long run. As stated in the brief, Cost Management Strategies for Industrial Metal-cutting Organizations, there are several aspects of equipment maintenance that contribute to overall costs. “From an operations standpoint, managers can keep costs under control by making sure metal-cutting equipment is operating as optimally as possible,” the brief states. This includes ensuring that equipment is running at the proper settings and that fluids are adequate. Closely monitoring blade life and maintenance reports are also critical. Perhaps the most important consideration is a strong preventative maintenance program. Programs can be as detailed as a shop feels is necessary, but a few checkpoints are outlined here in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology. If limited personnel is the issue, check out this blog about getting equipment operators involved in daily PM tasks.
What other factors contribute to the value of your metal-cutting equipment?
February 20, 2017 / agility, best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, Cost Management, customer delivery, industry news, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, quality, resource allocation, skills gap, strategic planning
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:
- upfront costs against overall operating and maintenance costs
- long-term productivity of a machine and its intended use
- equipment and blade life, as well as cost per cut
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.
November 1, 2016 / continuous improvement, industry news, maintaining talent, operator training, resource allocation, ROI, skills gap, strategic planning
Although recent reports paint a brighter picture of U.S. industrial manufacturing, many companies are still unsure of what the future will bring—and how to prepare for it.
The first half of 2016 didn’t start off strong for industrial manufacturing. Industrial production was essentially unchanged in the first quarter of 2016 and then fell at a 1% annual rate in the second quarter. However, conditions made a turn in the right direction in third quarter when industrial production rose at an annual rate of 1.8 percent—the first quarterly increase since the third quarter of 2015.
Recent data continue to show good overall conditions. The Institute for Supply Management’s Report On Business, for example, states that activity in the manufacturing sector expanded in October, and the overall economy grew for the 89th consecutive month. Specifically, the October PMI registered 51.9 percent (a reading of 50 or higher indicates growth), an increase from the September reading of 51.5 percent.
Unfortunately, ISM’s report wasn’t all good news, especially for the metals sector. Just like in September, both the Primary Metals and Fabricated Metal Products sectors reported contraction in October, although one survey respondent from the Fabricated Metals Products sector stated, “Business is much better.”
With the year drawing to close, what does all of this mean for industrial metal-cutting companies? As executives evaluate performance and look to strategize for the future, the question of whether or not to invest in information and technology advancements will likely be at the forefront of discussion. With terms like “machine-to-machine communication” and “Internet of Things” flying around, many companies are trying to discern whether or not these ideas are truly worth the investment, or if they are nothing more than “buzz words.”
As stated in the white paper, Tackling the Top 5 Challenges In Today’s Metal-Cutting Industry, today’s uncertain market requires managers to carefully and strategically determine whether or not allocating resources to automation and technology will offer a true return on investment. Based on some recent reports from industry experts, technological investments are not only worth it, but necessary for future success, regardless of economic conditions.
A recent article from PwC put it this way:
“Manufacturing may be facing some headwinds, but it’s undeniably in the midst of a technological renaissance that is transforming the look, systems, and processes of the modern factory. Despite the risks — and despite recent history — industrial manufacturing companies cannot afford to ignore these advances. By embracing them now, they can improve productivity in their own plants, compete against rivals, and maintain an edge with customers who are seeking their own gains from innovation.”
Of course, this type of transition is easier said than done. There is a lot to consider before companies start planning, strategizing, and investing in what many are calling “Manufacturing 4.0.” To help give companies a little perspective, the Manufacturing Leadership Council has identified six critical Issues facing the manufacturing industry as it undertakes the journey toward an information-based future. Described in detail here, these issues include the following:
- Factories of the Future. Large and small manufacturers, in both process and discrete manufacturing, must now understand and embrace the potential of new and evolving production models, materials and technologies along the journey towards Manufacturing 4.0 to help them create more autonomous, flexible, connected, automated, intelligent, reconfigurable, and sustainable factories and production models for the future.
- The Integrated Manufacturing Enterprise. To maximize the potential of Manufacturing 4.0, manufacturers of all sizes need to actively transform traditional, inhibitive functional silos to create more integrated, cross-functional, collaborative enterprise structures, both within and beyond their organizations. These structures must be supported by new digital thread technologies that stretch across the value chain from ideation, to product end of use.
- Innovation in Manufacturing. Manufacturers must now successfully develop and manage rapid, continuous, collaborative, and often disruptive innovation processes across the enterprise to drive growth, new products and services, operational efficiencies, and competitive success in the world of Manufacturing 4.0.
- Transformative Technologies. Manufacturers must learn how to identify, adopt, and scale the most promising M4.0-enabling technologies in order to achieve greater agility and competitiveness and to drive innovative new business models and better customer experiences.
- Next-Generation Manufacturing Leadership & the Changing Workforce. Manufacturing 4.0 requires manufacturing leaders and their teams to become more collaborative, innovative, and responsive and to make decisions based on a greater understanding of manufacturing’s role in company strategy. That means leaders must embrace new behaviors, structures, and strategies. And they must transition the talent within their organizations by identifying, attracting, developing and retaining the next generation of people and skills.
- Cybersecurity. In the face of increasing vulnerability to external cyber threats and potential internal disruption, manufacturing companies must identify the most effective cybersecurity processes and technologies and create a culture that will ensure operational continuity, data security, and IP protection.
While the industry still has a way to go before Manufacturing 4.0 becomes mainstream, there is no question that technology is changing the manufacturing landscape. Today’s economic conditions may be uncertain, but industrial metal-cutting companies need to ask themselves if they’re willing to do what it takes to prepare for whatever the future holds.
October 25, 2016 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, predictive management, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
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.
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:
- 61% of manufacturers currently support mobile inventory management
- 44% currently support shop floor control via a mobile device, and 45% of manufacturers noted that they plan to support this capability in the future
- Tablets have been the mobile device of choice (43%) among manufacturers, followed closely by smartphones (38%)
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.):
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
October 1, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, quality, resource allocation, root cause analysis, workflow process
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:
- Define the problem, improvement activity, opportunity for improvement, the project goals, and customer (internal and external) requirements.
- Measure process performance.
- Analyze the process to determine root causes of variation, poor performance (defects).
- Improve process performance by addressing and eliminating the root causes.
- Control the improved process and future process performance.
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:
- Target highest scrap cost by machine and/or cost center
- 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.
September 20, 2016 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, continuous improvement, Cost Management, operator training, preventative maintenance, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
Most metal-cutting professionals agree that lubricants are a critical part of any sawing operation. As explained in the reference guide, User Error or Machine Error?, insufficient sawing fluid can cause a host of metal-cutting issues, from premature blade failure to poor cut quality.
Metal-cutting fluids save maintenance time, improve cut quality, and extend tooling life. However, not all lubricating options are created equally. As this blog post describes, managers have a wide range of lubrication options available to them. And while fluid selection may seem like a small detail, it should be treated like any other operational purchase—with both strategy and cost in mind.
One lubricant choice that many machine shops overlook is Minimum Quantity Lubrication (MQL). This alternative option sprays a very small quantity of lubricant precisely on the cutting surface, eliminating any cutting fluid waste. In fact, many consider it a near-dry process, as less than 2 percent of the fluid adheres to the chips.
MQL is great for smaller saws and for structural applications, but it is also versatile enough to be used in both precision circular sawing and band sawing operations. To help machine shops determine whether or not MQL is a good fit for their operation, below are just a few of its key benefits:
- Lower long-term costs. Although MQL fluids typically cost substantially more per gallon, less than 1/10,000 of the amount of fluid is used. It also eliminates the need to invest in reclamation equipment such as sumps, recyclers, containers, pumps, or filtration devices.
- Less waste. Another major benefit is that MQL is a much more sustainable option. As an article from Fabricating & Metalworking discusses, metal chips produced during MQL machining are much cleaner than conventional approaches. Near-dry chips are easier to recycle and more valuable as a recycled material. Conversely, “wet” processes like flood coolants produce “increased and on-going lifecycle costs in the form of energy consumption, chemical maintenance, water make-up, disposal of used cutting fluids, and then starting the cycle of waste/recovery all over again by replenishing consumed fluids,” the article states.
- Less maintenance. The smaller amount of coolant means that less fluid sticks to the part. This reduces the need to clean parts after cutting. Also, MQL fluids do not have to be diluted with water. Flood coolants, however, have to be mixed with water, and operators need to monitor the concentration as fluid is lost, water evaporates, etc.
Of course, changing over to MQL is not as simple as just plugging in a new lubrication system. Implementation will require some research, training, and upfront investment. In fact, as a recent article from Modern Machine Shop points out, MQL can also present some manufacturing challenges. According to the magazine, operations managers should consider the following before deciding to implement MQL:
- MQL does not have comparable chip evacuation abilities to those of wet machining.
- MQL is still not well suited for deep-hole drilling, energy-intensive processes such as grinding, special operations like honing and small-hole drilling, or for difficult-to-machine materials such as titanium and nickel-based alloys.
- MQL still produces a very fine mist, which can be more difficult to filter.
- MQL implementation may require changes to the machine tool and processing strategy.
Although MQL may not be suitable for every shop, in many cases, it can offer significant advantages to your business, your employees, and the environment—three major reasons to at least consider using it in your metal-cutting operations.
For more information about what is needed to use MQL, including equipment requirements and some “rules of thumb,” you can download a copy of The MQL Handbook here.
September 1, 2016 / continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, productivity, quality, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning
For years, experts have touted the benefits of automation. The efficiency and quality improvements are perhaps the biggest draw for industrial metal-cutting companies, especially as customer demands for faster turnaround and tighter tolerances continue to increase.
However, automation may not always be the most cost-effective solution. According to the white paper, Tackling the Top 5 Challenges In Today’s Metal-Cutting Industry, in today’s uncertain market, managers need to strategically determine whether or not allocating resources to automation and technology will offer a true return on investment.
“For example, precision circular saws can outpace band saws 3 to 1 when it comes to cutting certain materials; however, band saws are more economical and offer cutting versatility,” the paper explains. “Therefore, managers need to carefully consider their costs, customer base, and long-term goals before upgrading equipment.”
Of course, this leads to several questions: What does that look like in practice? How do others determine whether or not automation is worth the investment? Who is—and isn’t—investing in automation?
Over the summer, the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) released the results of a national survey that attempted to answer those questions and more. According to the Executive Summary, the survey polled U.S. manufacturers, gathering data on the prevalence of actual and planned automation investment, the drivers of and impediments to automation investment, and the criteria for evaluating new automation technologies.
In general, the study found that actual, planned automation investment is high among U.S. manufacturers. The following is a summary of the survey’s major findings: (You can read the full report here.)
- Widespread automation investment suggests a fundamental reshaping of the production landscape that could eventually have implications for most aspects of manufacturing activity. Since the Great Recession, automation investment has been widespread in the U.S. manufacturing sector, with 83% of respondents to a December 2015 national survey having automated some part of their product-producing process in the five years prior to the survey, and 76% indicating that they plan to do so in the three years following the survey.
- Increased global manufacturing integration is raising the pressure for automation investment, as cost minimization with quality maximization looms ever larger as an operating paradigm for U.S. manufacturers. The survey reveals that the two most common criteria used by U.S. manufacturers for evaluating the performance of new automation technologies are whether they lower total production costs and whether they improve product quality.
- As supply chains become increasingly global, it is likely that automation activity by U.S. manufacturing companies will spread around the world. Supply chain pressures are at work in motivating automation activity. Among the top drivers of automation investment by U.S. manufacturing companies are use by competitors, use by customers, and use by suppliers.
- Global macroeconomic pressures that are affecting every manufacturing industry are catalyzing automation investment more than industry-specific factors. While the survey data show that larger manufacturers have a greater propensity to engage in automation investment than smaller manufacturers, there is no significant difference in the incidence of automation investment between major manufacturing subsectors.
According to Cliff Waldman, one of the MAPI analysts who conducted the study, one of the most interesting findings of the survey was automation activity by company size. Specifically, the survey revealed that automation investments increase as firms grow larger. “Among other things, larger companies have greater output over which to spread the cost of investments,” Waldman writes here on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce web site.
Waldman adds, however, that the prevalence of automation activity among small manufacturers is also notable. “By allowing for significant efficiency improvements in at least some aspects of production, it is possible that automation makes it easier for manufacturing entrepreneurs to overcome often significant barriers to entry as well as for small manufacturing companies that might otherwise have exited the market to stay and compete,” he states.
Waldman concludes that automation technology “does not offer a complete solution to lagging productivity,” but he believes that “an effective strategy for the development of a globally competitive manufacturing sector requires attention to the promise of new technologies being implemented worldwide.”
In other words, manufacturers both small and large still have a lot to gain from investing in automation. In fact, this article from manufacturing.net states that automation is one of the top-three investments manufacturers can make this year. Do you agree?