resource allocation

Taking a Closer Look at Inventory in Your Forging Operation

June 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,

As most manufacturing executives know, inventory is one of the eight deadly wastes of lean manufacturing. Unfortunately, many metal-cutting companies tend to either ignore inventory or intentionally stock up on material “just in case.”

But there is a reason lean experts consider inventory as deadly. Excess inventory is costly in more ways than one: it requires space, equipment, measurement, and management, not to mention the initial cash expenditure.

Perhaps the greatest danger of surplus inventory, however, is that it often hides other forms of waste and inefficiencies existing within your forging and metal-cutting operations. As an archived article from Modern Machine Shop explains, inventory provides the perfect mask for a host of workflow problems. “With enough inventory, we do not need to be concerned with problems; in fact, we probably will not even know they exist,” the article says. “After all, with lots of inventory, who needs to worry about long vendor delivery times, critical machine breakdowns, long equipment setup times, production schedules not being met, absenteeism or even quality problems that lead to low production yields?”

Of course, that is exactly why managers need to take a closer look at their inventory. According to an editorial from IndustryWeek, inventory optimization can “unearth huge process improvement opportunities that will impact both the balance sheet and the income statement in a positive way.” Below are just a few of the process improvement opportunities the author says may be hiding underneath your raw material and work-in-process inventory:

In most cases, digging deeper into your inventory will reveal a list of process areas in need of improvement. The question then becomes: What can managers do to keep their inventory low? While there are several ways to accomplish inventory optimization, below are three simple strategies to consider:




Regardless of the strategies you adopt, the bottom line is that inventory management should be a priority. Even if you are consistently filling customer orders, that doesn’t mean you doing it efficiently. By taking a closer look at what lies underneath piles of inventory, forging operations can save costs, improve productivity, and finally get to the root of some operational issues that may have been there all along.

resource allocation

Creating a Culture of Quality in Your Industrial Metal Cutting Organization

June 15, 2015 / , , , , , , ,

In any manufacturing environment, managers are faced with the challenge of balancing speed with quality. However, with today’s demanding market, this challenge is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. As metal-cutting leaders try to balance customer requests for faster turnaround and tighter tolerances, they must take strategic steps to ensure that productivity gains do not come at the expense of quality.

For example, according to a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, many metal-cutting companies are undergoing ISO 9001 certification to both maintain and improve their internal quality standards. In most cases, ISO certification is used to strengthen existing quality programs by making it a formal, documented procedure. As described in the white paper, this has become a best practice among many industrial metal-cutting companies, with some shops showing quality improvements up to 30 percent after going through ISO certification.

However, some experts are saying that too many companies rely on certifications as a quality “quick fix” instead of focusing on laying the foundational elements of a strong quality program. In a recent editorial in Quality magazine, industry expert Jim Stone explains:

“Most organizations concentrate on the ‘merit badge’ subjects (certificates, awards, trophies) of quality before they build a culture. This impatient approach doesn’t lay the proper foundation so it tends to produce a ‘flavor of the month’ cycle, which accomplishes little but keeps everyone extremely busy with non-essential tasks. Few people seem to be concerned that very little gets accomplished as long as they are getting ‘badges.’”

According to Stone, a successful quality program begins with creating a culture of quality. This requires managers to intentionally incorporate quality into the day-to-day work activities of an operation, and, more importantly, it requires them to nurture that culture continuously. Only then can companies have a quality program that produces reliable results.

To build a quality culture, Stone recommends that managers implement the following four components:

  1. Policy. A company’s quality policy should be straightforward, such as, “We will deliver defect-free products and services to our customers and co-workers on time.” This eliminates any misconceptions that it is acceptable to do otherwise.
  2. Education. This component aims to keep everyone on the same page by providing a  common language. Many companies utilize quality guru Philip B. Crosby’s “Absolutes of Quality Management” as a starting point.
  3. Requirement. The requirements describe the work of the organization from needs down to the actual work transactions. The goal is to ensure that customer needs are being described by acts that produce useful and reliable outputs.
  4. Insistence.  This last component requires managers to show by example that the policy, education, and requirements are taken seriously. Communication and consistency are key.

Once these four elements are implemented and followed, Stone says that organizations can then use the “merit badge” components that are valuable when implemented on top of a sound philosophical base.

Of course, most managers are wondering whether or not it is worth investing such a large amount of time, energy, and resources in creating quality-first culture. While the theoretical benefits of high quality are obvious (i.e., fewer errors and higher customer satisfaction), data suggests that there is, in fact, a measurable cost advantage to building a culture of quality.

According to research  cited in the Harvard Business Review, a company with a highly developed culture of quality spends, on average, $350 million less annually fixing mistakes than a company with a poorly developed one. In addition, the research found that many of the traditional strategies used to increase quality (i.e., monetary incentives and training) have little effect. Instead, the results revealed that companies that “take a grassroots, peer-driven approach develop a culture of quality, resulting in employees who make fewer mistakes—and the companies spend far less time and money correcting mistakes,” according to the HBR article.

So is it worth it to build a quality of culture within your metal-cutting organization? Based on Stone’s suggestions and industry research, perhaps the better question is: What will it cost you if you don’t?

resource allocation

Smart Manufacturing Boosts Productivity for Industrial Metal Cutting Companies

June 1, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,

With market demand finally on the rise, industrial metal cutting companies need to keep up. However, there is only so much managers can optimize through traditional lean practices and proven technology. While automation has helped create new efficiencies across many industries, including metal cutting, most experts believe the factory of the future lies in “smart” manufacturing.

As reported in this blog post from LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), “smart” manufacturing technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and real-time data are poised to transform the way manufacturers improve operational efficiency and productivity. In fact, according to an IDC Manufacturing Insights survey, manufacturers expect IoT to lower operational costs, increase the potential to retain and attract customers, improve service and support, and further differentiate themselves from the competition. [LINK].

Traditionally, monitoring shop floor operations in real-time has been cost prohibitive. However, with the prevalent availability of new technology, a growing number of manufacturers are investing in hardware adapters and software upgrades, with hopes of a big return.

As this Fabricating & Metalworking article points out, the potential return on investment is huge. For example, only 5 percent of the estimated 64-million computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines around the world are currently connected to the industrial Internet. However, if the remaining machines were connected and started reporting data, they could contribute a staggering $15 trillion to the global GDP by 2030, according to research by GE.

But can “smart” and connected manufacturing facilities really drive performance—and, —ultimately, drive profits—for industrial metal cutting companies? In the Fabricating & Metalworking article, author David McPahil says, “yes.” According to McPahil, “smart” manufacturers have seen positive results in key performance indicators like overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Below are several ways connectivity can positively affect the three ratios used to calculate OEE:

It’s important to note that getting “smart” doesn’t always require brand new, high-tech equipment. As described in a recent white paper from LIT, one metal service center developed an internal software system to automatically track the number of square inches processed by its existing sawing equipment. At any point, the manager can go to a computer screen, click on particular band saw or circular saw, and see how many square inches each saw is currently processing and has processed in the past. This allows the service center to easily track trends and quickly detect problem areas.

Of course, upgrading to a “smart” manufacturing operation does require some investment, but it often has a high return. If you haven’t already made the jump to add connectivity to your industrial metal-cutting operation, it may be worth looking into—and soon. As many “smart” companies have discovered, the results are both measurable and promising.

resource allocation

Industrial Metal Companies Turn Sustainability into Business Strategy

May 1, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,

It’s no secret that any edge you can carve out against the competition in today’s challenging market will help you take the lead as a top performer. As this case study from the LENOX Institute of Technology points out, continuous improvement and best practices, including ongoing training, preventative maintenance, and ISO certification, are necessary to take the number-one spot as an industrial metal-cutting company.

While traditional operational methods are proven methods to increasing your operational success, others are moving to the forefront. Enter sustainability—the latest initiative metal companies are paying closer attention to—and for warranted reasons.

London-based sheet metal company Harlow Group, for example, recently worked with the Institute for Manufacturing Education and Consultancy Services to enhance its operational performance by improving both its energy usage and environmental impact. Using the association’s Practical & Innovative Solutions for Manufacturing Sustainability program, the company reviewed its operation to identify new opportunities that resulted in significant savings, including:

Kenwal Steel Corp. saved 93 percent in energy when it replaced 369 metal halide lights with high-efficiency, maintenance-free LED lights, reports Modern Machine Shop. This, the article states, not only increased the overall lighting quality of the facility, it also reduced the total number of fixtures by 60 percent. The company also saw a return on its investment of 124 percent in less than a year by using an intelligent system that automatically turned off lights, dimmed aisle lighting in low-traffic areas, and scheduled automatic changes to the lighting behavior based on usage patterns.

Sustainability is also imperative to business operations for Studer AG, according to another Modern Machine Shop report. In fact, the Swiss-based machine tool builder has established a four-step process that any industrial metal-cutting company can use to optimize machine design and performance. The process includes the following:

  1. Component Optimization. Choose components that can be produced and assembled with less energy. This includes machine structures and onboard subsystems that use low energy levels to operate.
  2. Standby Management. Keep subsystems in stand-by mode until needed. Much like Harlow Group, implement a shut-down mode for heavy equipment that’s not in use.
  3. Process Optimization. Like continuous improvement exercises, assess your overall processes and implement new techniques or technologies that can increase efficiency while reducing energy.
  4. Energy Evaluation for Customer Quotation. This optional step makes the call to include any energy savings and the associated costs and/or any regulatory compliance in customer-facing documentation. The idea here is to communicate the proactive energy-saving measures, which sometimes means the difference from winning or losing a bid.

Using sustainability as a strategy for success is one with very real implications—and savings—if done right. Do you consider sustainability as a bottom-line operating principle? If so, how are you using sustainability as a business strategy? What changes have you implemented to keep your industrial metal-cutting company at the leading edge?

resource allocation

One Way Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Can Stay Competitive in 2015

April 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As reported in the 2015 Industrial Metal Cutting Outlook from the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT), many manufacturing executives expect 2015 to be a solid year. A survey of executives conducted by Prime Advantage, for example, shows that the vast majority of small and midsized industrial manufacturers anticipate revenues to increase or match 2014. For metals companies, industries such as automotive, commercial construction, and energy are expected to drive growth.

Mixed Forecasts
It comes as no surprise, then, that analysts expect growth in the ball and roller bearing segment as well. With the economy poised for recovery, research firm IBISWorld says that demand for downstream markets like automotive will rebound, which will bolster demand for ball bearings. A separate study from Grand View Research echoes these sentiments, forecasting that the global bearings market will reach $117.27 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5% from 2014 to 2020.

Industry leaders, however, seem to have some concerns. In late January, The Timken Company, a bearing manufacturer based in North Canton, OH, said it was viewing its markets “slightly more cautiously than 2014.” Specifically, the company said that “new business wins combined with modest market growth are expected to result in approximately 4% organic growth, but that will largely be offset by the impact of currency.”

Earlier this month, SKF, a global bearing maker based in Sweden, forecast flat second quarter demand for its business. SKF CEO Alrik Danielson said that while there are some positive signs for growth in Europe, they were “not robust enough to merit a more positive outlook,” Reuters reports. He also said there was still a lot of uncertainty about what the market would do in the next quarter.

Using Connectivity to Stay Competitive
The fact is that the last several years have made it difficult for any company to be anything but cautious. However, regardless of where the market lands, the goal for manufacturers should still be continuous improvement. To be competitive, especially on a global scale, companies need to stay focused on efficiency so that they can be agile enough to respond to whatever 2015 brings.

Of course, there are several ways to attack continuous improvement. Traditional lean tools are always effective; however, more and more manufacturers are literally working smarter by using technology. According to the Prime Advantage survey, many industrial manufacturers are leveraging digital tools, additive manufacturing, and other technological advancements to operate more efficiently.

A separate report from agrees, adding that manufacturers that want to stay competitive in an ever-changing global market cannot underestimate the value of connectivity. According to the article, leading manufacturers started in 2014 to put buzz words like the industrial Internet of things (IIoT), machine to machine (M2M), and “big data”  into practice. To be successful in 2015, the author suggests that the trend needs to continue.

How? The article states that manufacturers need to start by creating a fully connected framework for top asset performance and strategic data analysis. This framework should include three important processes:

(For a more in-depth explanation of these steps, you can view the full article here.)

A Year of Improvement?
In the end, the forecast for 2015 is no more certain than any annual forecast. Even the most educated analyst knows that there is no crystal ball to accurately gauge how the market will fare. There are just too many factors at play. However, by regularly measuring, monitoring, and managing your operation’s performance, ball and roller bearing manufacturers can more accurately gauge how their operations will fare.

Will 2015 be the year your operation improved? That is perhaps the only factor today’s manufacturing executives can control.

resource allocation

How Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Can Strategically Approach Cost Management

March 30, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cost is and always will be a top concern for every manufacturer, no matter how great their efficiency efforts. The reality is that everything that happens in a manufacturing operation carries a cost, regardless of whether or not it has a price tag attached to it. This is why so many industry leaders now approach cost strategically. Instead of looking for short-term savings, today’s managers are making cost decisions based on big-picture goals and long-term benefits.

For example, in a high-production metal-cutting environment, it is tempting to run circular saw blades as fast as possible to increase productivity and meet a tight deadline. However, according to the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Face in Industrial Metal Cutting, the true value of a saw blade goes far beyond its cutting time or price tag. This is especially true in a high-production operation, where there is no time to constantly change out blades. To get the best return on investment, metal-cutting leaders know that it pays for operators to focus on prolonging blade life. By running blades at proper speed and feed settings, as well as maintaining adequate lubrication during the cutting process, manufacturers can get the most out of their blades and, in turn, save on tooling costs, maintenance costs, and the cost of unexpected downtime.

Like any strategic endeavor, cost management can be used as a competitive advantage. In an article recently published by IndustryWeek, Bill Moore, a senior vice president at ball and roller bearing manufacturer SKF USA Inc., echoes this sentiment and states that executives can use parts and components de-costing programs to make their factories more competitive. When done strategically, Moore says that parts and components de-costing can yield strong results, with measureable improvements seen within 90 days and major savings within 24 to 36 months.

Here are two of Moore’s strategies:

Moore’s methods suggest that successful cost management in today’s marketplace requires managers to look at cost from a high level before making any decisions. In other words, gone are the days of “quick fixes.” By taking the time to approach cost strategically, ball and roller bearing manufacturers can make improvements that have a long-term—and more importantly, sustainable—impact on the bottom line.

resource allocation

Alternative Lubrication Option for Forges that Cut and Process Metal

March 25, 2015 / , , , , , , , ,

Every industrial metalworker knows that lubrication is an essential part of the forging process. As this article from Forging magazine explains, selecting the right die lubricant can directly impact the quality of a finished part, and many times, it is essential to achieving process efficiency and cost-effectiveness. This means taking into account the type of forging (i.e., hot or cold), as well as the type of material (i.e., nonferrous or ferrous).

However, if you are a forge that also cuts metal, it is important to remember that lubrication selection is just as important to your metal-cutting operation as it is to your forging operations. In band saws, for example, failure to maintain proper coolant levels can lead to decreased blade life and premature and uneven wear of band wheels, according to a white paper, Tackling the Top 5 Operating Challenges in Industrial Metal Cutting. This not only leads to increased maintenance and tooling costs, but can snowball into other costly problems such as unplanned downtime, poor quality, missed delivery dates, and unhappy customers.

If optimization is your goal, then it pays to carefully address the lubrication needs for every operation under your roof, including metal cutting. One lubrication choice that many metal-cutting operations are starting to use 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 most commonly used in precision circular saw operations, but it can also be used in band sawing as well. In most cases, metal-cutting companies use this type of coolant for both cost and sustainability reasons. Below are just a few of the key benefits to using MQL over traditional flood or “wet” coolants:

It is important to note that MQL application is a more sensitive process than flood cooling. Mist must be aimed precisely at the tool to be effective. Fluid selection, equipment, and material type also play key roles in proper MQL application.

To learn more about MQL, including equipment needs, fluid types, and a few “rules of thumb,” click here to download The MQL Handbook. You may also want to check out this educational video from Modern Machine Shop.

resource allocation

Best Practices for High Production Circular Sawing Operations

March 15, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In a mature manufacturing operation like circular sawing, it is easy for managers and lead operators to rely on trusted and proven techniques. Unfortunately, today’s competitive market has upped the ante, which is why so many operations have stopped depending solely on tribal knowledge and are now embracing continuous improvement and the changes that come along with it.

Today’s leading operations managers know that being successful requires both innovation and re-evaluation. In other words, they understand that their way may not always be the best way, and that, instead, their aim should be to stay open to a better way. As a recent leadership article from Forbes notes, “Top performers are top performers because they consistently search for ways to make their best even better.”

In a circular sawing operation, this may mean testing a new blade on the shop floor, while other times, it may mean adopting a new management technique. Or, as this article from suggests, it may mean basing your decisions on “real-time data versus institutional memory.”

The point is that bar is always moving, and it would serve most operations well to be open to new ideas and, more importantly, to learn from others. What are other circular sawing operations doing to stay competitive? The LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) interviewed two high production metal-cutting companies and asked them for some of the best practices they are using to stay competitive. Read below to discover a few of the strategies they are using to become industry leaders.

Jet Cutting Service, Inc.
Based out of  a 69,000-sq-ft facility in Bedford Park, IL, the metal processor currently runs 10 circular cold saws and eight band saws and primarily serves steel service centers, machine shops, and some producing mills. When it comes to strategy, vice president Mike Baron focuses on three key strategies:

A.M. Castle & Co.
In addition to distributing a wide range of metal and plastic materials, the leading metal service center also performs simple sawing operations at several of its locations, including its main distribution center in Franklin Park, IL. Glen Sliwa, who is responsible for keeping saw operations up and running, describes three ways the shop stays productive:

To download the full case study, Best Practices of High Production Metal-Cutting Companies, visit LIT’s circular saw resource page.

resource allocation

How Should Ball and Roller Bearing Manufacturers Allocate Resources for their Metal Cutting Operations?

February 28, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Today’s cost-sensitive market makes it difficult for managers to gauge how they should strategically allocate resources within their industrial metal-cutting operations. Is it wise to make high-tech capital investments in an uncertain economy, or would manufacturers be better served to invest in their human capital to close the growing skills gap?

These types of questions can be especially challenging in a mature market like ball and roller bearing manufacturing, where seasoned employees may be resistant to change, both in terms of company culture and technology. However, leaders need to be sure they are making strategic decisions that benefit both the company and their employees, and avoiding the trap of making allocation decisions because “that’s the way they’ve always been done.”

To help ball and roller bearing manufacturers discern how to best allocate resources within their operations, below are some resources that discuss some of the trends and strategies today’s manufacturing leaders are using to get ahead in today’s market:

resource allocation

Optimizing Your Machine Shop’s Precision Circular Sawing Operation

February 20, 2015 / , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When it comes to circular sawing, productivity is always the goal, especially as demand increases. However, industry leaders understand that productivity isn’t about going as fast as possible. In fact, speed can be detrimental to cutting tool life—a fact that not only negatively affects your bottom line, but can also decrease your overall productivity.

The real goal for today’s machine shops should be optimization. This requires operations managers to adopt strategies that allow their shops to achieve the highest possible cutting performance without sacrificing tool life.

As this article from Canadian Metalworking points out, the overall performance of your cutting tool depends on a variety of factors, including speed, feed, depth of cut, and the material being cut. The ability to balance all of these variables is critical for companies that want to be productive and stay competitive in today’s challenging environment.

To help machine shops optimize their precision circular sawing operations, the LENOX Institute of Technology (LIT) created a series of charts that describes some common cutting challenges operators face. For example, here are some tips and tricks operators can use to prolong blade life and keep cutting operations running at peak efficiency levels:

Insufficient blade life

Another critical aspect of optimization is making sure you have the right blade for the job. Advancements in tooth geometries, wear-resistant materials, and blade life can offer significant improvements in productivity and quality that can contribute to the bottom line. In the spirit of continuous improvement, managers should re-evaluate their circular saw blade choices every few years, even if they feel satisfied with current results. Testing new blades and technologies can be a time-consuming endeavor, but if the end result is faster cutting times and lower costs, it can certainly pay off.

The key is for machine shops to run the right tools at the right parameters—an approach that is a lot easier in theory than it is in practice. However, by combining operational tricks and strategic investments, many of today’s shops are finding their “sweet spot” and striking a balancing between cutting speed, quality, and cost. In today’s competitive and growing marketplace, industry leaders understand that optimization can mean the difference between “getting by” and getting ahead.

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

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