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One Key Investment that May Impact the Future of Industrial Metal-Cutting

November 1, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Key Considerations for Bringing Mobility to Your Forging Operation

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


As smart phones and other mobile devices become ubiquitous among consumers, it’s not surprising that mobile technologies are starting to be used increasingly in the manufacturing world. Although manufacturing hasn’t gone totally mobile, a growing number of shops are deploying some form of mobile technology to improve efficiency and communication on the shop floor.

Slow to Adopt
There is no question that manufacturing has lagged other business sectors in adopting mobile technology. However, this is not to say that plant managers don’t want to go mobile. In an interview with Design News, David Krebs, executive vice president of VDC Research, says that the interest is there, but issues like budgetary constraints, security concerns, and a lack of IT resources are holding back a lot of manufacturers.

“In addition, many existing manufacturing environments are not conducive to wireless technologies and its infrastructure,” Krebs tells Design News. “Low penetration of WiFi in manufacturing environments and the difficulty of wirelessly interfacing with shop-floor equipment also represent gating issues.”

However, most experts agree that the tide is starting to change as technologies advance and the Industrial Internet of Things becomes more prevalent. In fact, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, mobility was the top technology priority among industrial manufacturing CEOs in 2015. Specifically, the survey found that industrial manufacturers regarded mobile technologies as a strategic way to engage with customers.

Key Trends
Other reports confirm that interest is growing among manufacturers. “Given mobile’s role in improving information flows, it is not surprising that 78 percent of manufacturing companies agree that mobile solutions provide their company with a competitive advantage,” writes Matthew Hopkins, an analyst at VDC Research. “This advantage is demonstrated by tangible use-cases, such as predictive maintenance, workforce management, and energy management, which yield real returns on investment (ROI). Companies’ quick to realize these benefits have embraced mobility for some processes, such as inventory management, in large numbers.”

Last year, VDC conducted a survey among technology influencers at manufacturing companies and found that 36% of organizations actively used mobility solutions to support business initiatives. The survey also revealed the following key trends:

Going Mobile
If mobility is something you want to bring into your forging operation but you aren’t sure where to start, LNS Research, a consultancy based in Cambridge, MA, lists nine key ways companies are using mobile devices in manufacturing environments. Below are the top-three uses (You can read the full list of nine here.):

  1. Dashboards. Solutions providers have been offering performance dashboarding apps for a few years now, and many are taking it a step further by delivering role-based information that has been analyzed and contextualized for the specific personnel based on their information needs (i.e., a plant manager versus an operator or quality manager).
  2. Quality Auditing. In the past, quality auditing in remote locations typically involved some form of paper. Today, on-site and off-site auditing is typically done within a smartphone or tablet application, offering better integrity of information and allowing audits to be standardized across multiple locations.
  3. Corrective Actions. Today, most solutions providers offer some form of mobile app to support interactions with the corrective action process. These apps typically leverage the native capabilities of mobile phones and tablets, such as GPS/location services, voice/visual recording, and more.

If mobility isn’t on your radar yet, you may want to reconsider. Your shop may be missing out on some prime opportunities for cost savings or efficiency gains. As stated in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, proactive leaders are focused on making positive changes in their operations so they can quickly respond to changing customer demands. In other words, today’s forges can’t afford to be reactive to trends. According to Mike Roberts of LNS Research: “If you’re not on the path to using mobile apps to better manage your production operations, you’re seriously at risk of being stuck in the past.”

To read more about bringing mobility into your forging operation, check out the article “7 Tips for Taking Your Operation Mobile,” published by American Machinist.

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How to Optimize Metal Service Center Operations with Operator Accountability

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Minimum Quantity Lubrication a Good Choice for Your Machine Shop?

September 20, 2016 / , , , , , , , , ,


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:

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:

  1. MQL does not have comparable chip evacuation abilities to those of wet machining.
  2. 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.
  3. MQL still produces a very fine mist, which can be more difficult to filter.
  4. 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.

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Three Simple Strategies for Metal Service Center Business Focused on Growth

September 5, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


The manufacturing industry is experiencing a roller coaster market, making it difficult for metal service centers to know when to grow or scale production. As reported in here in IndustryWeek, the Institute for Supply Management’s index recently registered the steepest manufacturing drop since January 2014. The August index dropped to 49.4, marking the first contraction for U.S. manufacturing in six months. New orders in August also declined 7.8% compared to July—the first drop since December 2015—according to the August 2016 Manufacturing ISM Report on Business.

In addition, data from the Metal Service Center Institute (MSCI) shows that U.S. service center steel shipments in July declined by 15.2% compared to July 2015, while shipments of aluminum decreased by 14.8%. In response to lagging shipments, steel and aluminum inventories also decreased in July by 14.5% and 1.3%, respectively, from July a year ago.

The uncertain outlook is causing industrial manufacturers to adjust and carefully manage costs. According to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), only 35% of industrial manufacturers were optimistic about the U.S. economy in the year ahead, down from 69% last year. Despite the slowdown, however, manufacturers continue to invest in growth opportunities, with 80% of respondents planning to increase operational spending and 52% planning on new product or service introductions this year.

Despite current market challenges, many companies are finding that a moderate market can be an ideal time to revisit their growth strategy. In fact, as reported here, research from McKinsey & Company found that transitions between growth phases often predict a company’s success or failure. “Companies that are growing at a slow or normal clip have more time to consider their options and make wise decisions,” the article states. “Rapid growth may be desirable, but slow and steady does indeed seem to win the race.”

The fact is that while business growth may seem impossible right now, there are still simple ways to keep your company headed in the right direction. An article from ThomasNet provides three simple steps manufacturers can take to help them grow their business:

  1. Choose a goal. You can’t grow your business without knowing what you want and need to grow. Will you grow by gaining new customers or doing more business with current customers? Do you want to expand into new product segments? Decide what the best opportunity is for your business and focus there.
  2. Build your credit. Deciding to partner with a company—either on the supplier or customer side—requires due diligence. If a potential customer ran a business credit report for your business, what would it show? Tracking and regularly checking your credit file will help ensure your company’s image is attractive to future business partners and creates credibility. This will also enable you to easily pay increased or unexpected expenses as you grow such as additional payroll for new employees, or loans for new equipment or warehouse space.
  3. Spread the word. Once you’ve decided to grow, let people know and get the word out. Add a listing to online business directories and build your online presence to drum up new orders.

This is also a good time to lean on your supply chain. As cited in the eBook, Five Performance-Boosting Best Practices for Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Organization, a report from Tompkins Supply Chain Consortium found that 80% of supply chain professionals report the supply chain is an enabler of business strategy. In addition, a majority of companies felt the supply chain is a source of business value and a competitive advantage, leading the Consortium to conclude that “the importance of an integrated supply chain and overall business strategy cannot be ignored.” Identify your strategic suppliers, position them to add value, and see where they can help you grow your business.

While there is a lot to consider when deciding whether or not to expand your business, employing a few basic strategies can help put you on a path to steady growth, even if it is slow moving. As many service centers are finding, today’s market conditions offer a unique opportunity for companies to re-evaluate and improve, not only to survive current market conditions but also to position themselves for growth when the demand rebounds.

Are you thinking about growing your metal service center? What strategies are you employing?

ROI

Automation ROI for Industrial Metal-Cutting Companies

September 1, 2016 / , , , , , , , ,


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.)

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?

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Making Mobile Technology Work for Your Metal Service Center

July 5, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


Mobile technology is impacting every industry, including the manufacturing and the industrial metal-cutting segments. In fact, VDC Research estimates that the number of mobile connections in global factories is expected to double by 2017, reports Business Solutions magazine.

Manufacturing leaders are integrating mobile technology into their production processes and procedures to gain better communication, collaboration, and responsiveness. In addition, manufacturing environments with hazardous conditions are forecast to use mobile apps more to improve worker safety and productivity. As metal service centers hold safety as a top priority, mobile technology can help reduce incidents while optimizing overall productivity.

To realize the benefits of mobile technology, it is important for manufacturers to consider how, when and where it will be used throughout the operation. An article from Fabricating & Metalworking magazine suggests that manufacturers answer the following questions before they implement any mobile technology on the shop floor:

The answers to these questions will help guide managers toward the technology set-up that will work best for their shops’ specific needs and requirements. For example, an operator in your service center will likely need to move around easily and would benefit from a smaller, hand-held device, whereas, an assembler may be better suited with a full-sized tablet to read detailed drawings and schematics. According to the Fabricating & Metalworking article, tablets or large phones offer both portability and convenience for many tasks and can still be easily placed in a holster or pocket.

There is more than just choosing the right mobile device when it comes to mobile technology, however. To truly optimize production, metal service centers need to also choose and implement the technology so that it truly meets the needs of the operations.

According to Merit Solutions, an IT consulting and development firm, there are four best practices manufacturers should consider when selecting and implementing mobile technology to ensure it benefits the business:

  1. Put problem-solving first. Before deploying mobile technologies within your manufacturing organization, ask what problems you’re trying to solve. Be sure to get feedback from employees on the needs the challenges they face. Their input is valuable and will likely guide you toward the right solution.
  2. Evaluate current infrastructure investments. When considering mobile technology for manufacturing, it’s important to assess what infrastructure already exists. Your current infrastructure will determine whether certain technologies are supported or if they are compatible and will function properly. Knowing your current set-up will also prevent wasting dollars on a duplicate investment or one that is similar to what you already have.
  3. Don’t neglect security. Security is a vital component of any mobile technology solution that prevents hackers from accessing confidential data. Make sure your mobile technology solution has a built-in security feature to help protect your business.
  4. Educate your employees. Mobile technologies will only make a business more efficient and productive if the end users accept and adopt the technology. If employees feel forced to use something they don’t understand, the technology will go unused. Be sure to explain why the service center is implementing the technology and, more importantly, how to use it before it is implemented. Employees should also know the proper security guidelines and adhere to them.

Like any investment, it’s also important to ask how the use of mobile technology could benefit your customers. As advised in the white paper, The Top Five Operating Challenges for Metal Service Centers, a rule of thumb before investing in any technology upgrade is to consider whether or not it enhances customer service. For example, how could it be used to help improve quality or increase delivery time?

While mobile technology can provide benefits such as improved portability and efficiency on the shop floor, implementing the technology so that it truly optimizes your shop’s set-up and production can be challenging. By understanding what your operation needs, how your employees will use mobile technology, and how it can improve customer service, metal service centers can better position themselves to get a full return on their investment.

To read more about using mobile technology on the shop floor, check out the blog post, “Adopting Mobile Technology within Your Industrial Metal-Cutting Operation.”

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Choosing the Right Band Saw Blade for Your Forge

June 25, 2016 / , , , , , ,


In band sawing, forges and other industrial metal-cutting companies typically rely on two types of blades—bi-metal and carbide-tipped blades. Both blade technologies offer more performance and life expectancy than carbon steel blades, and choosing between the two types used to be fairly straightforward. However, advancements in both technologies have made it a little more difficult for companies to make the best blade choice for their operations.

While sawing is just a small part of the forging process, achieving operational excellence requires managers to optimize all aspects of the forging operation. To help forges make the best decision about the “right” blade type for their band-sawing operations, below is a brief overview on both blade types from the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job.

Bi-Metal Blades
Bi-metal blades are a common choice for most metal-cutting applications, especially since they are more affordable than carbide-tipped blades. In bi-metal blade construction, high-speed steel edge material is welded to fatigue resistant spring steel backing, providing a good combination of cutting performance and fatigue life.

Generally speaking, bi-metal blades are sub-divided into the following two categories:

  1. General-purpose blades are often used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon steels, structural steels, and some alloy steels. These blades are also good for switching between different metal types and sizes, as well as from solids to structural pieces. However, some industry experts warn to be judicious when switching between different metal types, sizes and shapes, as subjecting blades to different types of cutting can shorten blade life.
  2. Production-sawing blades tend to be more versatile and are able to cut everything from the easiest-to-cut materials to difficult-to-cut nickel-based alloys. These blades are also ideal for cutting structural pieces and bundles, and they typically offer a long blade life and fast, straight cutting.

Carbide-Tipped Blades
Like bi-metal blades, carbide-tipped blades are made of at least two different types of material. In most cases, carbide tips are welded to a high-strength alloy back, providing a longer lasting, smoother cutting blade.

Although carbide-tipped blades are typically more expensive than bi-metal blades, shops may elect to trade up to a carbide-tipped blade for three key reasons:

  1. longer life
  2. faster cutting
  3. better finish

The various choices of carbide-tipped blades will cover the machinability spectrum, but they are most often used for hard-to-cut materials like super alloys. High-performance carbide-tipped blades work especially well with hard tool steel that needs to be cut fast. Some high-performance carbide-tipped blades—especially coated versions—can offer extreme cutting rates, while others can perform exceptionally well when cutting super alloys.

Weighing the Options
As explained in the white paper, Top 5 Operating Challenges for Forges that Cut and Process Metal, having the right blade for the job optimizes cut times, cut quality, and blade life, especially when cutting tougher metals like stainless steel and super alloys. This is particularly important in forged materials, which require aggressive blades with varied tooth geometries that can get underneath any scale buildup.

Of course, there will always be instances when the “right” blade choice won’t be clear cut and will require managers to strategically choose between a “good,” “better” and “best” option. For example, bi-metal band saw blades have been traditionally used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon and structural steels, and some alloy steels. However, as featured here in Modern Metals, LENOX offers a carbide-tipped band saw blade that has been designed specifically to cut aluminum and non-ferrous alloys. The new blade has a range of features that are optimized  for aluminum cutting applications, including a specialized grade of carbide on the tip, a multi-chip tooth pattern, and a high rake angle.

Another example is noted in an article from Canadian Industrial Machinery. According to the article, bi-metal blades can be used to cut super alloys; however, as the article explains, cutting speeds will need to be slower and blades will wear out faster than when using carbide blades. “An experienced operator can adjust parameters to cut the occasional super alloy with a bimetal blade, but carbide is the choice to cost-effectively cut large quantities of hard materials,” the article states. “Blade choice comes down to a cost-per-cut situation and what fits with a shop’s operation.”

Making the Right Choice
Indeed, blade selection needs to take into account the total operational costs of running the blade, including maintenance costs and equipment requirements. Case in point: While carbide-tipped blades are more advanced in the right application, they do not perform well with a lot of vibration. Therefore, they can only be used with certain saws. Metal-cutting operations using carbide-tipped blades need to make sure they are using a saw that can run the blade speeds that are required.

In the end, the “right” blade choice requires forges to weigh the following:

By understanding some of the basic features of each blade type and then strategically assessing operational needs and goals, managers can make informed purchasing decisions that will factor into the bottom line and, ultimately, contribute to the shop’s overall success.

ROI

Software Tools Help Fabricators Improve Productivity

May 10, 2016 / , , , , , , , , , ,


As fabricators continue to seek new ways to optimize their operations, many are turning to software. Whether using it to connect the plant floor to the front office, or to measure key performance indicators (KPIs), data shows that more and more fabricators view software as a smart—and necessary—manufacturing tool.

For example, according the “2016 Capital Spending Forecast” from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International, more than 94 percent of survey respondents said their software spending this year would either remain the same or increase. This is significant, especially as more and more reports show that many companies are pulling back on spending this year.

A separate benchmarking survey from Modern Machine Shop shows that leading shops are more likely to utilize advanced software programs in their operations. Specifically, the survey found that top-performing machine shops (referred to as “top shops”) are more apt to utilize software solutions like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and toolpath simulation software in comparison to other shops.

Valuable Solutions
While there are many reasons software is becoming a valuable tool for manufacturers, for fabricators, a lot of it has to do with evolving customer demands. “As more custom fabricators are taking on more design work—beyond just design for manufacturability—engineering and estimating functions become more complex, especially as that work focuses on more subassemblies and full assemblies that call for multilevel bills of material and a multitude of sourced parts,” states a report from thefabricator.com. This, the article continues, is causing shops to invest in better methods of communication, as well as software tools like CAD/CAM, nesting systems, and ERP.

The good news is that as more manufacturers embrace software, the more tools are being developed—both by software designers and supply chain partners. Like consumers, industrial manufacturers are finding that where there is a need or challenge, there is indeed “an app for that.”

In metal cutting, specifically, there are several tools fabricators can use to help optimize their operations—many of which are free of charge. Below are two in particular that fabricators may find helpful:

Enhance Your Toolbox
Having the right tool for the job has always been a critical part of any metal-cutting operation, but fabricators are finding that it pays to have more than just hardware in their strategic toolbox. While it will never replace the important work machinery and other hardware tools perform on the shop floor, software tools can further optimize cutting operations by measuring important metrics, analyzing job trends, automating certain functions, and educating operators on proper cutting parameters. Although some software programs can be costly in terms of both money and training time, there are plenty of free tools available that can help even the smallest fabrication shop improve their operations.

What software tools are helping your shop optimize operations?

ROI

Choosing the Right Blade for Your Fabrication Shop’s Band Saw Operations

March 10, 2016 / , , , , , , ,


In band-sawing, fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies typically rely on two types of blades—bi-metal and carbide-tipped blades. Both blade technologies offer more performance and life expectancy than carbon steel blades, and choosing between the two types used to be fairly straightforward. However, advancements in both technologies have made it a little more difficult for companies to make the best blade choice for their operations.

For example, bi-metal band saw blades have been traditionally used for easier-to-cut metals such as aluminum and non-ferrous metals, carbon and structural steels, and some alloy steels. However, as featured here in Modern Metals, a new carbide-tipped band saw blade has been introduced by LENOX that has been designed specifically to cut aluminum and non-ferrous alloys. The new blade has a range of features that optimize it for aluminum cutting applications, including a specialized grade of carbide on the tip, a multi-chip tooth pattern, and a high rake angle.

To help metal fabricators make the best decision about the “right” blade type for their band-sawing operations, below is a brief overview on both blade types from the white paper, Selecting the Right Cutting Tools for the Job.

Bi-Metal Blades
Bi-metal blades are a common choice for most metal-cutting applications, especially since they are more affordable than carbide-tipped blades.

Generally speaking, bi-metal blades are sub-divided as either general-purpose blades or production-sawing blades:

Carbide-Tipped Blades
Although carbide-tipped blades are more expensive, machine shops may elect to trade up to a carbide-tipped blade for three key reasons:

The various choices of carbide-tipped blades will cover the machinability spectrum, but they are most often used for hard-to-cut materials like super alloys. High-performance carbide-tipped blades work especially well with hard tool steel that needs to be cut fast. Some high-performance carbide-tipped blades—especially coated versions—can offer extreme cutting rates, while others can perform exceptionally well when cutting super alloys.

Making the Right Choice
Of course, there are instances when the “right” blade choice won’t be clear cut and will require managers to strategically choose between a “good,” “better” and “best” option. For example, as this article from Canadian Industrial Machinery (CIM) explains, bi-metal blades can be used to cut superalloys. However, cutting speeds will need to be slower and blades will wear out faster than when using carbide blades. “An experienced operator can adjust parameters to cut the occasional superalloy with a bimetal blade, but carbide is the choice to cost-effectively cut large quantities of hard materials,” the article states. “Blade choice comes down to a cost-per-cut situation and what fits with a shop’s operation.”

Blade selection also needs to take into account the total operational costs of running the blade, including maintenance costs and equipment requirements. Case in point: While carbide-tipped blades are more advanced in the right application, they do not perform well with a lot of vibration. Therefore, they can only be used with certain saws. Metal-cutting operations using carbide-tipped blades need to make sure they are using a saw that can run the blade speeds that are required. In other words, the saw must have a motor that can push the blade fast enough and one that has a more rigid construction with better vibration dampening to accommodate these types of blades.

In the end, the “right” blade choice requires fabricators to weigh the following:

By understanding some of the basic features of each blade type and then strategically assessing operational needs and goals, managers can make informed purchasing decisions that will help their metal-cutting operations reach their full potential and, ultimately, achieve market success.

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