March 5, 2016 / best practices, blade life, blade selection, continuous improvement, cost per cut, LIT, operations metrics, operator training, ROI, strategic planning
For any manufacturing company, cost reduction has always been—and will likely always be—a top priority. However, like many other business strategies, managers are starting to look at cost management holistically. Instead of simply looking at price tags and cost reduction, today’s managers are looking at long-term return on investment and optimization.
This type of “holistic” approach to cost management is being adopted by several large manufacturers, including food giant General Mills, but it can also be applied on the shop floor of any industrial metal-cutting operation. One specific way metal service centers can apply this concept is by measuring “cost per cut.”
Instead of simply looking at the cost of a blade or even how many cuts a blade performs, “cost per cut” measures the total cost it takes for a shop to perform a cut, including raw material, blade, machine and operator costs. This metric gives service centers a better indication of overall production profitability.
A good analysis of cost per cut should include the following:
- total cuts per blade
- expected blade life
- the number of cuts required for the finished good
- labor and training costs
- utility and other overheard costs to truly optimize cutting operations
Of course, the question for many companies is not how to measure cost per cut, but rather, how they can reduce their cost per cut. Tools like the spreadsheet calculator, “ROI Analysis of Making Improvements to Cost Per Cut,” can be helpful in making that determination. The tool takes into consideration all equipment and factors beyond mechanics that can improve cost per cut rates and a shop’s bottom line.
Another optimization tool, SAWCALC, may also be helpful. The free, web-based software program recommends the correct band saw blade and sawing parameters based on material composition, size, shape and machine model, feed speed, as well as blade and tooth specifications that can streamline sawing processes and extend blade life.
One practical way service centers can reduce cost per cut is to consider investing in a coated saw blade. According to an article from Canadian Industrial Machinery, coating can extend blade life by 100 percent or more and slice cutting time in half, depending on the blade material, coating, and the material being cut.
Although coatings can add a premium of 30 to 50 percent to the cost of a blade, there are instances when the upfront cost can pay off. “You need a reason like a challenging material, a need for extra performance, or a machine that is creating a bottleneck and needs to produce more parts,” Daniel Fernandes, brand manager for band saw blades at LENOX, explains in the CIM article. “Upgrade to a coated blade and you can pump more jobs through the same equipment. You’ll get more out of your overhead costs and your labor.”
Another service center, featured here in a case study, was able to improve its cost per cut by re-adjusting its sawing parameters, increasing its operator training, and upgrading some of its blades. In one instance, the service center was able to reduce cut time by 40 percent.
Is a new, upgraded blade always the answer? Of course not, but optimization should always be the goal. This is why metrics like cost per cut are so important. By focusing more on reducing the true cost of each cut—and not just the price tag of a blade—managers can optimize their metal-cutting operations and, hopefully, see the results in the bottom line.
How has your service center improved cost per cut? What tools have helped you optimize your operations?
February 20, 2016 / Cost Management, customer delivery, customer service, LIT, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning, workflow process
The question of whether or not to automate is a difficult decision for any operations manager. As we covered here a previously published blog, the challenge is not only ensuring a good return on investment, but also figuring out how to effectively balance the allocation of technology and process automation with shop floor personnel.
In most cases, deciding whether or not to automate is neither a simple nor straight forward process and requires strategy, careful consideration, and a little bit of risk. This is especially true for low-volume/high-mix machine shops. While research has shown that many small manufacturers still believe that automation is reserved for mass production operations, more and more low-volume shops are finding that automation can work for them as well.
According to an article from Canadian Industrial Machinery, just-in-time manufacturing has made automation in low-volume/high-mix a growing trend. “Automation is suitable even for job shops, where the shop owner often doesn’t know what jobs will be running from week to week until an order request arrives,” CIM reports. The key, the article states, is investing in a flexible automation system that can be set up and changed over quickly.
As listed in the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Today’s Machine Shop Metal Cutting Operations, today’s shops have at their disposal a number of automated metal-cutting options, including:
- Semi-automatic or automatic saws
- Equipment with programmable workstations for repeat jobs
- Saw models equipped with robotic attachments, complete with a camera and modem system that will notify plant manager immediately if there’s a malfunction
- Automatic feeder systems that will take material out of the storing mechanism, place it on the saw, and stack it on a skid after it is cut
Another more advanced automation trend that is starting to show up in low-volume shops is collaborative robotics. In fact, ABI Research estimates that the collaborative robotics sector will increase roughly tenfold between 2015 and 2020. The robotic systems, which are designed to work safely in close proximity and cooperatively with human coworkers, are said to save space and money, as well as permit more flexible manufacturing practices.
High-mix/low-volume electronics manufacturer Scott Fetzer Electrical Group (SFEG), for example, has benefited from collaborative robotics. According to a recent article from Fabricating & Metalworking, the robots helped the manufacturer optimize production by 20 percent. SFEG used the robots to take over monotonous and potentially hazardous tasks from employees, who were then reallocated to more rewarding jobs.
“One of our biggest challenges is that we’re a high mix-low volume producer, most of our lines don’t run all the time, so trying to find a way to put robots on the line in the traditional sense was a very big challenge,” Matthew Bush, SFEG’s director of operations, tells Fabricating & Metalworking. “We wanted to build a mobile, flexible robot force. The only way we would accomplish this was with a collaborative robot.” (You can read the full article here.)
Of course, shops don’t have to invest in high-tech robotics to automate their metal-cutting operations. Thanks to software advancements, there are plenty of other tasks that can be automated as well.
As described in another white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, one metal-cutting company developed a software system that connects the sawing equipment to its order-tracking system. Historically, employees would input order information into the company’s system, print out a report, and deliver it to the operator. The operator would then have to reenter the data into the sawing equipment. By creating a communication bridge between the saw and the computer system, the company no longer needs to enter the same data twice. This has not only reduced the chance of human error, it has also eliminated an unnecessary production step.
Is automation a good option for your machine shop? That is a question only you can answer, but the good news is there is a growing number of options available for low-volume operations. In the end, the deciding factor should really boil down to one key question: Will it help you better serve your customers?
February 15, 2016 / benchmark study, best practices, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, ROI, strategic planning
In general, growth is good in business. It means more customers, more orders and, typically, more profit. Growth also typically indicates a healthy market, a stable economy, and increased market demand.
In today’s uncertain market, however, industrial metal-cutting companies are finding that growth might not be possible, and in some cases, shouldn’t even be the goal.
According to the Metal Service Center Institute, December metal shipments and inventory levels for both steel and aluminum declined 11.4% and 21.7%, respectively, from December 2014. In addition, the Institute for Supply Management’s January Purchasing Managers Index rating of 48.2% indicates a contracting manufacturing industry for the fourth consecutive month. (A reading above 50 indicates expansion; below 50 indicates contraction).
This has left many industrial metal-cutting companies unsure about how to grow while balancing fluctuating demand, raw material costs, and shop floor process and machinery improvements. A recent survey conducted by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Intl., for example, concluded that small and medium-sized job shops and fabricators are “facing a lot of headwind and uncertainty,” according to a report from The Fabricator. While most of the survey respondents believe their companies will grow in 2016, only 39% were positive and a significant 23% said conditions aren’t getting any better.
The reality is that based on current conditions, growth in the traditional sense probably isn’t going to happen in 2016 for many manufacturers. In fact, according to the article, “Achieving Smart Growth: A Guide for U.S. Manufacturers” from manufacturing.net, growth may not be the healthy—or profitable—path to take.
Before trying to achieve growth of any kind, the article states that manufacturing executives should ask themselves a few key questions:
- Is there an ideal size for my business so as not to compete with current business while avoiding administrative costs?
- What is my greatest profit opportunity? Is it expanding sales or increasing efficiency?
- How do I ensure increased sales that lead to higher profitability?
- How long is growth sustainable and are we prepared for slowdowns?
- What will help manage cash flow during ups and downs?
Once companies answer these questions, the article states that “smart growth” is possible. What is “smart,” however, will look different at every manufacturer, depending on its unique circumstances. For example, a “smart” path for one company could mean maintaining their current size and optimizing operations, while another manufacturer might want to consider making some larger investments to achieve bottom-line growth in the future.
The manufacturing.net article says regardless of the circumstances, there are three key principles all companies should follow for “smart growth”:
- Plan. This includes defining objectives, planning how to achieve growth, and identifying risks. Managers should review their plans quarterly and change as needed.
- Invest. This includes looking for profit-generating opportunities for your business. Whether it’s through technology or training, managers should actively find new ways to improve the status quo.
- Fund. Managers need to find a balance between cash and credit. Relying on cash keeps interest costs away and demands financial discipline. However, relying solely on it can limit a company’s ability to grow when opportunities arise.
As reported in a benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology, many of today’s metal-cutting companies exist because of their ability to survive even the toughest market conditions. However, best-in-class operations know they cannot afford to rest on their laurels. By developing a tactical, healthy “smart growth” strategy, industrial metal-cutting companies can continue to find opportunity, identify areas of improvement, and achieve long-term success, even in uncertain times.
Do you have a “smart growth” plan for 2016? What strategies are you using to ensure success?
February 5, 2016 / best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, Cost Management, LIT, productivity, resource allocation, ROI, strategic planning, workflow process
Many technologies have helped advance the manufacturing industry to where it stands today. From the Industrial Revolution in the late 17th Century and Ford’s assembly line for its Model T to robotic automation and the Industrial Internet of Things, new applications and advanced software solutions enable the manufacturing industry to adapt. One such technology—the industrial vending machine—is currently helping the industrial metal cutting industry adapt as well.
Industrial vending machines are based on the traditional machines you know and love, but instead of providing a quick snack, they distribute metal cutting parts, tools, and other consumable supplies (e.g., safety gloves, goggles, metal-cutting blades). The key benefit is streamlined inventory control—the machines keep track of the person or department requesting the part and the time and frequency of requests, in addition to monitoring inventory levels. This can eliminate the need for storage rooms or tool “cribs,” as well as the necessary staff needed to manage them.
With metal cutting companies facing diverse economic conditions and shifting shipment levels, industrial vending machines can help service centers increase operational efficiency and productivity. As reported in this white paper by the LENOX Institute of Technology, resource allocation and efficiency are top operating challenges for metal service centers. Industrial vending machines can help resolve both, while also saving costs.
Below are a few benefits of industrial vending:
- Automate ordering, receiving, stocking, and maintaining inventory
- High inventory visibility (i.e., reduce stock-outs and obsolete inventory)
- Reduce consumption, hoarding, and theft
- Control employee and department spending
- Improve job costing, inventory forecasting, and demand planning
- Reduce operator travel time and other non-value added activities
- Access control by item, department, employee, job, machine, etc.
Several metal-cutting companies are already reaping the rewards of what industrial vending can bring first-hand. The following are just two examples:
- CNC Manufacturing increased productivity and decreased tool inventory by installing industry vending machines at its shop in Coatesville, PA, according to a case study. The precision part maker not only reduced tool inventory by 80 percent but also eliminated costly manufacturing redundancies, which ultimately improved efficiency.Before CNC installed vending units, the company was working in a disorganized shop, had challenges meeting rigid delivery dates, and was fighting a constant battle to keep parts in stock and on hand. After installing vending units, CNC’s tool usage was completely controlled, which helped free-up money to invest in new machine technology and additional operators.
- Transfer Tool Products experienced a 15-percent decrease in overall tooling inventory after installing industrial vending machines at its shop in Grand Haven, Mich. According to Modern Machine Shop, the Grand Haven, MI-based company, which makes metal precision parts, needed a way to organize and manage its tools and supplies to ensure efficient production.Previous to installing the industrial vending machines, Transfer Tool had no way to track what employee took what part and why they did so. Now, however, the company can track tools but also, and more importantly, track patterns that can identify employee training issues or efficiency bottlenecks with the vending machines. For instance, the vending system saw one worker continually ordered gloves. When asked why, the company realized the worker thought he needed to replace his gloves daily and were able to provide additional training.
As service centers and other manufacturing operations look to save money and improve efficiency, industrial vending machines are quickly gaining popularity. While they have been more common in larger manufacturing operations over the last few years, smaller shops and service centers are starting to realize that automated inventory control is a fairly simple way to eliminate paperwork, save floor space, streamline purchasing, improve workflow, and, ultimately, save costs.
Could industrial vending machines be an option for your metal service center?
January 20, 2016 / agility, best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, Employee Morale, industry news, Output, productivity, quality, ROI, Safety, workflow process
As smart phones and other mobile devices become ubiquitous among consumers, it’s not surprising that mobile technologies are also finding their way onto the shop floor. In fact, according to PwC’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, mobility is the top technology priority among industrial manufacturing CEOs.
For many companies, the choice to make their manufacturing operation “mobile” is strategic. As a recent article from Forbes explains, companies are designing mobility into new production strategies, processes, and procedures to gain greater accuracy and speed. “Augmenting existing processes with mobility is delivering solid efficiency gains,” the Forbes article states. “The net result is greater communication, collaboration and responsiveness to customer-driven deadlines and delivery dates than has been possible before.”
Of course, how you choose to use mobility in your operation will truly dictate its impact—both positive and negative. There are still a lot of managers who are hesitant to allow mobile devices on the shop floor, fearing that workers will be distracted and less productive. In some cases, those fears are warranted. One machine shop, featured here in Modern Machine Shop magazine, found that it was beneficial to completely ban cell phone use on the shop floor. While some employees resisted the change at first, the ban allowed the shop to avoid a hike in their insurance premiums, increased productivity, and eventually helped improve employee morale.
There are plenty of other ways, however, that manufacturers are using mobility for their benefit. Kawasaki Motors Manufacturing Corp., featured here in a case study, recently replaced its card-based Kanban system with a more efficient electronic method that could better manage its just-in-time parts system. Using tablets and a custom mobile software application, Kawasaki eliminated the waste of 4,500 Kanban cards per day, which ultimately led to $3,500 in operational savings per day and a quick ROI, the article states.
How can your shop incorporate mobility into your operation? LNS Research, a consultancy based in Cambridge, MA, lists nine key ways companies are using mobile devices in manufacturing environments. Below are the top-five 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 (for example, 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.
- Real-time Alerts. With nearly any type of mobile device, real-time alerts can be set up to streamline notifications based on some type of predetermined parameter.
- Electronic Work Instructions (EWI). Work instructions in general have greatly benefited from the digitization of manufacturing records. Now, thanks to mobile technology, it’s common for shop floor workers to reference EWIs on a tablet or smartphone as they follow a particular process or assemble something.
If mobility is something you want to bring into your shop, but you aren’t sure where to start, check out the feature, “7 Tips for Taking Your Operation Mobile,” published by American Machinist.
If mobility isn’t on your radar, you may want to reconsider. Slowly but surely, industrial manufacturers are finding that there is indeed “an app for that,” which means your shop may be missing out on some prime opportunities for cost savings or efficiency gains. In fact, 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.”
How could mobility help your machine shop function better?
December 1, 2015 / agility, circular sawing, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, optimization, productivity, quality, ROI, strategic planning
Last month, executives from the metal forming, fabricating, and welding industries visited Chicago to walk the aisles of McCormick Place for Fabtech 2015. As to be expected, the trade show featured hundreds of new products and technologies. However, many are saying this year’s show was about more than just the latest gadget.
“A certain excitement permeated this year’s show, and it wasn’t just about this incredibly fast laser, that press brake that eliminates setup time, or that welding power source that connects to the cloud and simplifies welding parameter selection,” writes Tim Heston, senior editor, in a column appearing on thefabricator.com. “It was about how all these technologies and more can work together to make a shop better.”
Indeed, it seems the attitude of Fabtech attendees mirrors what several industrial metal-cutting leaders have found: Investing in new technology isn’t about simply cutting a little faster or reducing set-up time. It is about optimizing processes so that every area of the company can benefit—from shop floor operations and maintenance to quality and finance. As Heston writes: “…a fast laser alone won’t ship a product out the door any faster. Even the smallest shops now are tackling front-office planning, scheduling, and often investing in software to streamline information flow throughout an organization.”
In other words, managers should look at the big picture before adopting any new “groundbreaking” technologies. How will this new technology affect your entire operation? What other processes down the line will be impacted by the benefits of the new technology? Do these other processes need updating as well?
That’s not to say, however, that companies should shy away from investing in new technology. In fact, a recent article from manufacturing.net stresses that cutting-edge technology is critical in today’s marketplace.
“The manufacturing sector is a fast-changing, cut-throat industry,” Martin Hurworth, states in the manufacturing.net article. “Firms who make their living there should be constantly looking to invest in new technologies to make their operations smoother, smarter and swifter, not to mention more cost-effective. In a globalized world, staying at the sharp end has never been more important.”
According to Hurworth, strategic technology investment allows companies to improve in three key business activities:
- Sustain Growth and Meet Demand
- Ensure Quality
- Innovate Effectively
Jet Cutting Service has found this to be the case. Last year, the industrial metal-cutting company reached a record-setting 1.1. million cut parts in just one month—310,000 more cut parts than it typically produces on a monthly basis. “I would like to believe that our increase in sales is due to investing in the latest cutting technology, which increases our capacity and production capabilities,” Vice President Mike Baron says in a case study from the LENOX Institute of Technology. “The newer technology also allows us to offer competitive pricing, which has led to many new customers.”
Although Baron admits the financial commitment can be risky, he finds that many technologies are worth the investment. “We need to constantly keep on top of the latest technology out there,” Baron states. “We don’t want to spend extra money, but if it’s going to cut 20 percent quicker than I do now…then we’ll go after it.”
For example, a few years ago, Baron had eight different circular saw blade manufacturers come into his factory to see which blades performed the best. While the process was time-consuming, Baron said it was a huge learning experience for his team and ended up giving him a 20-percent cost savings in the long run.
Will the latest metal-cutting tool or gadget be the answer to all of your operational challenges? Of course not. However, when carefully considered from a strategic, long-term perspective, it could set your company on a growth trajectory you may not have achieved any other way.
What metal-cutting technology investments could positively impact your bottom line?
November 10, 2015 / agility, continuous improvement, Cost Management, customer delivery, customer service, LIT, ROI, value-added services
As the market gets more and more competitive, a growing number of fabricators and other industrial metal-cutting companies are diversifying their services to gain an edge over the competition. For some, this might mean adding a value-added service to benefit existing customers, while for others, it might mean investing in equipment and training to serve new customers.
One specialty that could open up new opportunities is large-part fabrication. For shops that have been focused on smaller segments like home appliances and automotive, large-part fabrication could expand the customer base into areas such as agriculture, commercial construction, and aerospace.
Greiner Industries, for example, has spent the last few years investing in new technology to differentiate itself and has now earned a reputation for taking on extremely large and complex fabrication projects. According to an article from The Fabricator, the Mount Joy, Pa.-based Greiner now has the cutting, drilling, and welding capabilities to take on large railroad girder jobs.
“You have to keep looking for opportunities or areas to explore,” Frank Greiner, founder, told The Fabricator back in 2014. “That will never stop. That’s just part of growing.”
Quality Iron Fabricators, another fabrication shop based in Memphis, TN, is currently working on providing structural steel sections that will be used to build a 161-ft rocket test stand that will be used by NASA, reports Modern Metals. Like Greiner, Quality Iron Fabricators has made investments to better serve large-part customers. Specifically, the fabricator has invested in an integrated fabrication system that includes an automated material handling system and software to connect machines to each other. President Brian Eason tells MM that his company is also looking to revamp its production line to make it even more efficient.
“We always strive to get better at everything we do, and this has been a key part to improving our process,” Eason says in MM.
As both examples demonstrate, moving into large-part fabrication offers great opportunity, but it also requires careful consideration and, usually, some investment. If your fabrication shop is considering large-part fabrication, we have gathered the following considerations based on an article from Canadian Metalworking:
- Choose equipment carefully. Machines designed to handle oversized material can take up a lot of floor space. “When looking for equipment to cut large parts it’s important to make sure that the machine is built rugged enough to support all tools over a large working span,” Brad Williams, national sales manager for Koike, tells Canadian Metalworking. In addition, make sure you choose equipment manufacturers that have a strong track record for building and supplying large format cutting systems.
- Consider automation and material handling solutions. Transporting large parts often requires two or more operators, which can pose safety issues and slow productivity. Automation and material handling systems can save on labor costs, reduce safety incidents, and increase efficiency. For extremely large and heavy parts, overhead crane systems are typically a better option than forklifts.
- Maximize productivity wherever possible. Operators often fatigue when fabricating large parts, especially in processes like bending. Brian Welz, product group manager for TRUMP, tells Canadian Metalworking that production accessories like bending aides can help minimize operator fatigue and maximize productivity.
- Base processes on application. For optimal results, large-part fabricating demands that equipment and cutting processes be defined based on the application requirements, Douglas Shuda at ESAB Welding & Cutting Product, tells Canadian Metalworking. Plate size and material thickness are also important considerations when exploring large-part fabricating.
Even if large-part fabrication isn’t a good fit for your shop logistically or economically, perhaps it is time to consider taking on some new capabilities to better serve your customers. According to a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, in addition to higher quality and tighter tolerances, a growing number of customers are asking fabricators to provide value-added services. This provides shops with a prime opportunity to differentiate from the competition.
What new services or capabilities could add value to your existing customer relationships and, more importantly, open the door to new relationships?
October 30, 2015 / best practices, Cost Management, Employee Morale, LIT, maintaining talent, operator training, productivity, quality, ROI, skills gap
After years of focusing on automation and processes, today’s manufacturers are starting to realize the growing importance of allocating resources to the workforce. According to the U.S. News & World Report, it is estimated that more than half a million skilled manufacturing jobs remain unfilled due to the labor skills gap in the U.S., and that number will likely increase as more Americans age out of the workforce. This shortage in skilled production workers—often referred to as the “skills gap”—is forcing managers to rethink how they spend their time and their money.
As explained in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, there are two reasons for the growing skills gap. “First, a large number of workers are facing retirement in the coming years, which will have a significant impact on shop floor experience,” the paper states. “In addition, reports state that by 2020, companies will have up to five generations in the workforce at once. This unbalanced level of skill and experience in a metal-cutting operation can have a significant impact on both
quality and productivity.”
Michael Collins, president of MPC Consulting, feels one of the root causes of today’s workforce challenge is the fact that companies haven’t invested in advanced training, either because they didn’t want to or because they didn’t have the money. “It has been at least 25 years since the alarm was sounded on skills shortages in manufacturing and the threat of retiring baby boomers,” Collins writes in an article published in IndustryWeek. “Just about everyone who follows manufacturing has known about this problem for a long time. So the question is: Why didn’t we invest in advanced skill training before it became a serious problem?”
Collins goes on to suggest that it’s time for manufacturers to learn from their mistakes and to start making changes. Specifically, he lists four ways manufacturers can acquire the highly skilled workers they need. These include the following:
- Invest in training
- Recalculate the ROI of training
- Stop the pursuit of low-cost labor
- Demonstrate that manufacturing jobs are a secure career opportunity
Some industry leaders have already started to make some changes. As we reported here, ball and roller bearing manufacturer Timken Co. is working with Apprenticeship 2000, an apprenticeship partnership located in the Charlotte, NC region, to offer technical career opportunities to high school students and employment after graduation.
Pegasus Manufacturing Inc., a Middletown, CT-based fabricator of tubing and parts for jet engines, is taking advantage of its state’s training and efficiency programs. “Our focus on maintaining the workforce here in Connecticut and adding to it, getting the pipeline out of the technical skills system, making sure we have high caliber folks, is really second to none in the United States and probably worldwide,” Chris DiPentima, the Pegasus CEO, told the Hartford Courant. Since participating in the state-wide programs, Pegasus has added 16 jobs to its payroll in less than a year.
In the end, successfully managing the skills gap will require manufacturing executives to take a hard look at how they are investing in their workforce, whether that means investing money into advanced training programs or investing time into seeking apprenticeship opportunities. Companies that fail to make real, active changes now may find themselves dealing with bigger, bottom-line challenges in the future.
How is your company actively tackling the skills gap?
October 10, 2015 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, Employee Morale, operations metrics, operator training, performance metrics, productivity, quality, ROI
With manufacturing rates on the rise and a strengthening economy, many manufacturers and industrial metal-cutting companies are looking for more ways to drive operational efficiency to deliver products faster, improve quality, and remain competitive.
One way metal fabricators are meeting this challenge is by way of technology—specifically the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IIoT combines machine-to-machine communication and data collection to create “smart” machines that help eliminate inefficiencies on the production floor.
For example, as reported in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, one metal-cutting company developed a software system that eliminated the need for an operator to enter order information into the sawing equipment. By connecting the company’s order-tracking system and sawing equipment, the company no longer has to enter the information twice. This saved time and reduced the chance for error.
Just like CNC communication changed the way many fabricators operate, machine-to-machine communication is expected to do even more. To accomplish integrated communication within their shops, many manufacturers start by adopting a communication standard called MTConnect. This technology enables companies to collect uniform data from various manufacturing and production equipment, including sensors and other hardware, to help increase efficiency, improve processes, and boost productivity. The idea is that with one communication standard in place, manufacturers can monitor all equipment and enable it to communicate and learn from each other. When combined with analytical software that translates raw data into reports and dashboards, MTConnect helps transform a “smart” machine into a “smart” shop.
According to a case study published by Modern Machine Shop, one machine shop’s utilization rate hit 65 percent and above after implementing MTConnect. The shop now has plans to improve to 70 percent with the ultimate goal of 85 percent utilization to be on par with world-class manufacturing.
In addition, Mazak Corp., a machine tool manufacturer, recently used the technology to increase machine tool shipments by 200 per month, reports Canadian Industrial Machinery (CIM). Not only did MTConnect help the Florence, KY-based company achieve its shipment goal, but it also increased productivity by an estimated 20 percent, improved machine utilization 42 percent, reduced operator overtime by 100 hours per month, and decreased outsourced work by 400 hours per month.
While the case for MTConnect may be convincing, Neil Desrosiers, developer of digital solutions for Mazak, admits that integration is a major undertaking. In a recent article from Manufacturing Engineering, Desrosiers offers some tips to shops that are considering adopting MTConnect:
- Connection. A correctly installed Ethernet network is a must and all equipment should be connected to it. A hardwired network usually provides better connection than wireless networks.
- Compliance. Machines must be MTConnect compliant or compatible. Software and hardware adapters may be required. OEMs can provide step-by-step instructions on how to upgrade equipment.
- Software. Third-party monitoring software collects, organizes, and translates data to create custom reports. Ideally, it should also store and archive collected data on a dedicated server or cloud system.
- Goals. Set goals on what information you want to collect, what should be done with that data, and what production metrics you want to achieve.
- Big Brother Effect. Employees may think their every move is being watched. Dispel any myths with upfront and transparent communication and training about the technology.
- Continuously Improve. Once up and running, your job isn’t over. Keep looking for improvements and dig deeper into processes to continuously improve.
Do you think MTConnect is a valuable standard? What technologies have driven your operational efficiencies, and is MTConnect part of that plan?
October 5, 2015 / blade life, Cost Management, industry news, LIT, material costs, operations metrics, ROI, Safety
For years, manufacturers were bombarded with the “green movement.” Everything from conference keynotes and annual reports to football commercials centered on sustainability and the many ways manufacturing leaders were “going green.”
And while the trend has died down in recent years—replaced by buzzwords like “big data” and “connectivity”—the issue is still very relevant. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just implemented a new ozone rule that will affect the metals and larger manufacturing community. Under the new regulation, “facilities may be required to install costly pollution control equipment, limit production, or forgo expansion,” according to an article from industry publication Edge.
The final ruling, which was just published this month, isn’t as strict as many manufacturers feared it would be; however, organizations like the Metal Service Center Institute (MSCI) and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) openly oppose the new directive. “The new ozone standard will inflict pain on companies that build things in America—and destroy job opportunities for American workers,” Jay Timmons, CEO of NAM, said in a press release.
Whether by force or by choice, the point is that sustainability efforts will continue to be important for manufacturers. If you haven’t already started changing the way your metal service center operates, now is the time to make some environmentally conscious changes. Below are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Change Your Bulbs. 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. The change, 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.
- Recycle Fluids. While coolant recycling is certainly good for the environment, some experts claim it can also cut coolant waste disposal costs by up to 90 percent and extend tooling life, as we reported here. It can provide additional benefits as well. Eriez HydroFlow, a manufacturer featured in Fabricating & Metalworking magazine, found that investing in a fluid recycling program paid off through reduced costs, liability and environmental impact, improved workplace safety, and better employee health. To hear more about the company’s experience, you can check out a three-minute testimonial on the company’s YouTube channel.
- Consider Minimum Quantity Lubrication. One “green” coolant choice that many metal-cutting companies 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. Benefits of MQL include less waste, lower long-term costs, and less maintenance. You can read more about this coolant option here.
- Track Consumption. The idea of tracking your carbon footprint is nothing new, but with new technologies and software updates it’s easier than ever to measure everything from water usage and energy consumption to carbon emissions. “Companies that may have been interested in these types of metrics in the past now have an easier way to measure them and make changes,” reiterates a recent article from Quality Magazine. “As technology continues to advance, it may make green manufacturing more common. As leaders from around the world look at ways to reduce carbon pollution, manufacturers should take notice and be prepared to make their operations more energy efficient.”
What changes have you made to make your service center more environmentally friendly?