January 25, 2016 / best practices, blade failure, blade life, blade selection, bottlenecks, cost per cut, operator training, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, root cause analysis, workflow process
For any metal-cutting operation, blade life is critical. Premature blade failure not only results in increased tooling costs, it can also increase downtime, rework, and scrap—all of which eat into the bottom line.
For forges that cut and process metal, however, blade life is even more crucial. The scale that forms on forged metal pieces can quickly deteriorate blade life, which makes blade selection extremely important. In most cases, forges require aggressive bandsaw blades with varied tooth geometries that can get underneath any scale buildup (i.e., carbide-tipped blades).
While choosing the right blade is a good start, blade life also relies on a variety of other variables, including proper cutting speeds, feed rates, blade tension, lubrication, and break-in procedures. As an article form Fabricating & Metalworking explains, “Saws are very much like the people who use them: they don’t react well to heat, shock, abrasion, stress, and tension.” Far too often, managers and operators ignore these critical factors and, as a result, experience premature blade failure and end up going through far more blades than necessary.
To help forges extend the life of their band saw blades, below are a few troubleshooting tips from the reference guide, “User Error or Machine Error?”, from the LENOX Institute of Technology. By understanding some common blade issues and their root causes, operators can reduce and, hopefully, eliminate premature blade failure.
Issue #1: Heavy Even Wear On Tips and Corners Of Teeth
The wear on teeth is smooth across the tips and the corners of set teeth have become rounded.
- Improper break-in procedure
- Excessive band speed for the type of material being cut. This generates a high tooth tip temperature resulting in accelerated tooth wear.
- Low feed rate causes teeth to rub instead of penetrate. This is most common on work hardened materials such as stainless and tool steels.
- Hard materials being cut such as “Flame Cut Edge” or abrasive materials such as ” Fiber Reinforced Composites”
- Insufficient sawing fluid due to inadequate supply, improper ratio, and/or improper application
Issue #2: Wear On Both Sides Of Teeth
The side of teeth on both sides of band have heavy wear markings.
- Broken, worn or missing back-up guides allowing teeth to contact side guides
- Improper side guides for band width
- Backing the band out of an incomplete cut
Issue #3: Wear On One Side Of Teeth
Only one side of teeth has heavy wear markings.
- Worn wheel flange, allowing side of teeth to contact wheel surface or improper tracking on flangeless wheel
- Loose or improperly positioned side guides
- Blade not perpendicular to cut
- Blade rubbing against cut surface on return stroke of machine head
- The teeth rubbing against a part of the machine such as chip brush assembly, guards, etc.
Issue #4: Chipped Or Broken Teeth
A scattered type of tooth breakage on tips and corners of the teeth.
- Improper break-in procedure
- Improper blade selection for application
- Handling damage due to improper opening of folded band
- Improper positioning or clamping of material
- Excessive feed rate or feed pressure
- Hitting hard spots or hard scale in material
Issue #5: Body Breakage Or Cracks From Back Edge
The fracture originates from the back edge of band. The origin of the fracture is indicated by a flat area on the fracture surface.
- Excessive back-up guide “preload” will cause back edge to work harden which results in cracking
- Excessive feed rate
- Improper band tracking – back edge rubbing heavy on wheel flange
- Worn or defective back-up guides
- Improper band tension
- Notches in back edge from handling damage
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?
January 5, 2016 / best practices, continuous improvement, Cost Management, industry news, KPIs, operations metrics, performance metrics, predictive management, preventative maintenance, productivity, quality, strategic planning, workflow process
The economic uncertainty from 2015 is unfortunately spilling over into 2016. As reported in a recent IndustryWeek article, the head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde said “global growth in 2016 will be disappointing and patchy” due to rising interest rates in the U.S. and a slowdown in China, among other reasons.
The most recent metal service center shipments confirm the gloomy forecast. According to data from the Metal Service Center Institute, service center shipments of both steel and aluminum were down—albeit at slower rates—in November compared to both the previous month and year prior.
Given current economic conditions, it’s not surprising that metal service centers are using metrics and data to improve their operations—the only aspects of their businesses they can control. As reported in a white paper from LENOX Institute of Technology, market leaders know that proactive—not reactive—improvement is the key to being successful in today’s market.
When it comes to metrics, more and more companies believe key performance indicators (KPIs) are the best means for gathering quantifiable and traceable measurements because they are tied directly to business strategy. In fact, KPIs are so popular that the University of Tennessee’s Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC) started an initiative called “Six Metric Areas to Best Practices” to help companies focus on the right metrics and align them to their organization.
As reported by Plant Services, Tennessee’s RMC initiative focuses on three guidelines:
- Work on what matters. There can be hundreds of KPIs, but only a few of them can dramatically improve an initiative. Make sure these KPIs are aligned with the company’s business goals and strategy. Tasks should be explicit and all actions should support a larger goal.
- Data should be industry specific. While using an average is a good place to start when determining improvement goals, it is important to look at industry specific data to ensure those goals remain realistic. Averages provide a guideline, but specific data provides meaning and context as to what is attainable or not, depending on market, costs and other industry related factors.
- Use benchmarks. Other data, according to industry, should act as a guideline and provide focus for ongoing improvements. RMC plans to publish competitive gaps and summarize results for participating companies.
As part of its initiative, RMC has also identified six universal KPIs that all companies, regardless of industry, should consider adopting. These include the following:
- Percent Reactive Maintenance, including data on predictive, preventive, and capital projects
- Maintenance Cost/Replacement Asset Value, expressed as a percent
- Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), including availability, performance, and quality
- Inventory Turns for both overall product and maintenance, repairs and operations (MRO) spare parts
- Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)
If your service center isn’t already using some of the above KPIs, now is the time to consider identifying at least a few, if not all, of them. If the process feels overwhelming, do some research, ask for help, and start measuring. In today’s uncertain economy, manufacturers can’t afford to ignore the operational areas that need improvement. As they say, you can’t improve what you can’t measure.
Are you using KPIs to optimize your operations? What metrics have resulted in the most improvement for your metal service center?
December 10, 2015 / best practices, continuous improvement, customer delivery, lean manufacturing, optimization, productivity, strategic planning, supply chain, workflow process
With the rise of online retail giant Amazon, nearly anything—from batteries to furniture (and more)—can be delivered to front doors across America within the same day of ordering. With free two-day shipping and even the introduction of drone deliveries, consumers are increasingly becoming used to clicking and receiving.
In fact, there’s a name for this focus on responsiveness. It’s called the “Amazon Effect,” and according to manufacturing consultant Lisa Anderson, this mentality is creeping its way into manufacturing. For example, one of her clients, a building product manufacturer, ships out a product within 24 hours as a worse case scenario, while another ships within two days.
Industrial metal-cutting companies and fabricators are no exception to this trend. Customers are now expecting orders to be completed in half the time they were just 5 years ago. Like all manufacturers, today‘s fabricators are faced with doing more (increased demand) with less (efficient resource allocation) as quickly as possible.
As reported in the LENOX Institute of Technology white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Fabricators’ Metal Cutting Operations, customer service and delivery continue to be a top challenge for fabricators as they attempt to balance quality with speed. Forecasts and schedules can help fabricators estimate delivery times, but when it comes to improving response time, the proof is usually in the process.
To get orders out the door faster, managers need to take the time to evaluate their processes and observe where and how product travels on the shop floor. A recent article from manufacturing.net provides four key areas fabricators should focus on:
- Rethink the manufacturing footprint. While ordering raw materials offshore helps save costs, it can extend lead times from 30 days to more than 180 days. To deliver faster, consider bringing operations back stateside. Talent can be recruited with new facilities or by relocating operations to maintain a competitive advantage.
- The right product for the right customer. To ensure you have the right product for the right customer at the right price, fabricators need to reduce complexity in their operations. Start by cleaning inventory and assessing SKUs to determine which ones should stay in the portfolio. Then, work with customers and stakeholders to assess the impact of new launches and discontinued products. Tracking customer schedules, including exceptions to lead time, order minimums and costs will help provide customer profitability. Equipped with knowing which customers and products create the most value, fabricating operations can then reduce the number of suppliers to better manage materials flow and delivery.
- Improve material flow and inventory accuracy. Simplify operations and reduce inventory to shorten lead times. Keep inventory organized so it’s easy to find when needed and easy to see when it’s time to reorder.
- Continuously improve. Lean manufacturing and an efficient process is the foundation of improving response time. Simplifying production from supply chain to delivery all adds up to shorter lead times.
Out of the four strategies offered in the article, the last strategy is probably the most important. While continuous improvement has long been touted as a best practice, it shouldn’t be overlooked. It takes time to constantly improve, but lean tools and other improvements strategies are almost always worth the effort. According to an article from Industry Week, one manufacturer cut lead-time in half—from 10.5 days down to 5 days—by taking the time to conduct a value stream map exercise. Specifically, the team mapped out each area of operations and was able to optimize production from receiving to shipping.
In a hectic fabricating environment, it’s easy to push product through and forget about the process. However, with today’s on-demand mentality, manufacturers can’t afford to miss any opportunity to improve response time. By evaluating and rethinking some of the key areas of their operation, fabricators can optimize their processes and, in turn, better meet the demands of their customers.
When was the last time you re-evaluated your fabrication processes?
October 15, 2015 / benchmarking, best practices, Cost Management, KPIs, lean manufacturing, LIT, operations metrics, performance metrics, preventative maintenance, strategic planning, workflow process
If there is one “go-to” answer for solving a company’s productivity issues, most experts point to lean manufacturing. The lean movement is, as one author put it here, “our current silver bullet.”
At this point, most manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon and have incorporated at least some lean principles into their operation. Some companies like A.M. Castle, a metal service center featured in a recent case study, have undergone complete lean transformations, while others have adopted basic lean tools like 5S.
However, even with the growing popularity of lean manufacturing and its countless success stories, the reality is that not every lean journey is smooth. In fact, according to research from management consulting firm Quality for Business Success, Inc. (QBS), many are actually quite bumpy. After conducting 200 interviews with managers and lean champions from 71 different companies engaged in lean implementations, QBS found that many managers experienced “false starts” and felt overwhelmed by the learning curve. “Many managers we spoke with find themselves ‘drowning in a sea of half-understood tools and techniques,’” the firm states in a white paper. “Others, unaware of their narrow interpretation of lean, boast successful implementations when they’ve actually barely scratched the surface.”
To help companies achieve successful lean implementations, QBS outlined the most common missteps companies make in the process in a white paper. Below are the top 15 pitfalls managers should avoid:
- Thinking of 5S as something you do to an area
- Imposing 5S top-down, with limited involvement bottom-up
- Equating waste reduction with cost cutting
- Remaining aloof to the larger global end-to-end value stream
- Assuming your Future State Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is nothing more than your Current State VSM with the identified improvement opportunities corrected or addressed.
- Equating visual workplace with top-down visual communication
- Viewing Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) as an improvement initiative that exclusively relates to engineering and maintenance personnel
- Using overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) to evaluate operations rather than as an improvement gauge
- Equating Standard Work with procedures
- Engaging in “industrial tourism” and thinking you are benchmarking
- Pursuing a one-size-fits-all solution to production planning and control
- Forgetting to reduce supermarket inventories once established
- Preconditioning continuous flow to waste elimination
- Believing you will achieve a lean transformation applying lean tools
- Betting your strategy on lean
To read more about these common missteps, you can download the full QBS white paper, The 15 Most Common Mistakes in Lean Implementations, here.
What has been your experience with lean manufacturing? Have you made one or more of these missteps?
September 25, 2015 / LIT, material costs, product liability, quality, root cause analysis, supplier relationships, supply chain, workflow process
When most managers think about quality, they tend to think about their internal operations and the competency of their employees. Quality control is largely based on the processes that managers have put in place to ensure that tolerances are met, cosmetic expectations are achieved, and errors are kept to a minimum.
However, it is important for managers to remember that quality begins with the supply chain. According to the white paper, Top 5 Operating Challenges for Forges That Cut and Process Metal, operations managers need to be sure they are tracking the quality and accuracy of the material coming from the supplier. Product liability and traceability continue to be huge concerns for forges and other metal-cutting companies, and raw material mix-ups can be both expensive and dangerous. Even major organizations like Boeing and NASA have learned this lesson the hard way.
Put simply: thorough inbound inspection processes are just as critical as outbound quality processes. By taking the time to confirm what is coming in the door, forges can confidently supply products that are both accurate and fail-safe.
The most successful way to ensure inbound quality is to devise a standard operating procedure (SOP). If you don’t already have one in place, an archived article on alloy verification from thefabricator.com provides a good starting point. According to the article, a good SOP should include the following six components:
- positive material identification (PMI)
- inspection frequency
- test methods
- acceptance criteria
- marking and documentation
- resolution of discrepancies
(For a detailed explanation of these six components, check out the full article here.)
If you already have a standardized inbound quality process in place, another article from Quality Magazine suggests ten ways manufacturers can optimize this critical procedure. Below are a few best practices that will likely apply to your forging operation:
- Share inspection plans with suppliers. Be upfront and honest with suppliers about what features you plan to inspect at incoming inspection. A good supplier will incorporate inspections in their control plan to verify those features. Sharing the inspection criteria will build a sense of teamwork between the customer and the supplier, and drive defect detection upstream to the supplier.
- Understand your supplier’s measurement system in depth. Where practical, “accept” based on the supplier measurement data. The supplier is the expert in the type of component they produce. In many instances, they will have a superior measurement system (i.e., equipment that is able to measure more precisely). Use your measurement system to confirm supplier data.
- Ensure only confirmed nonconforming parts are returned to suppliers. Alpha risk, also known as producer’s risk or Type I error, refers to the situation where conforming parts are rejected. Oftentimes suppliers report “no problem found” after analyzing a rejected shipment. Install a double check system where an engineer or senior inspector confirms the out-of-tolerance condition. Doing so will eliminate unnecessary shipping costs, line downtime, and reinspection associated with returning conforming parts to the vendor.
- Incoming inspection is to protect the customer, both internal and external customer. This is the fundamental purpose of the incoming inspection process. Reinforce the importance of this purpose. Doing so will create an environment where quality is more than just an activity. It will become part of the organization’s culture
In the end, quality starts well before a piece of material even makes its way to the shop floor. Don’t underestimate the value of verification—or the cost of assumption. By implementing, enforcing, and optimizing inbound quality inspection processes, managers can stand behind every product that comes in—and goes out—their doors.
July 25, 2015 / best practices, continuous improvement, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, quality, workflow process
While keeping a clean shop may sound more like a slap on the wrist than a business strategy, many industry leaders are finding that implementing and following strong organizational procedures can enhance workflow, reduce safety instances, and improve quality. In fact, according to an article from Plant Engineering, experts say that a clean shop is one of the five signs of a reliable plant. Top performers, the article states, treat clutter as “unacceptable” and consider the tasks required to keep a plant clean “part of routine business.”
To create and maintain an organized workspace, many industrial metal-cutting companies use a lean manufacturing method known as 5S. Often called the “housekeeping tool,” 5S is used to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results. It is often the first lean manufacturing initiative companies implement.
In summary, 5S methodology includes the following five pillars:
- Sort – put things in order by removing what is not needed and keeping what is
- Straighten – place things where they can be easily reached when needed
- Shine – keep things clean; no trash or dirt in the workplace
- Standardize – maintain cleanliness and make this a standard practice
- Sustain – ensure commitment to the process
Each of the five S’s are designed to work in tandem with each other to create a clean, standardized, and, hence, efficient and effective workplace. By having everything in its place, an operator should essentially be able to turn more metal with less time wasted spent looking for tools and material. This reduces downtime and other process bottlenecks.
However, as this iSixSigma article states, a successful 5S program is more than following a checklist. “5S is more than a form or a procedure – it is a discipline that needs to be understood, embraced, implemented and continually measured by the workforce for the program to be effective and add value,” the article points out. “If used properly, this is a powerful improvement tool that is simple and inexpensive.”
An article from IndustryWeek says that effective 5S programs should be about more than keeping a clean shop. “A 5S system is not a housekeeping program, it is a problem prevention and problem identification system,” the article states. In fact, the article states to be successful, 5S should always be used in conjunction with the “5Y”—the root cause analysis system of asking why five times. So, for example, if 5S reveals that a bolt is out of place, the process should be to ask why continually until team finds the root cause and take action, according to the article.
Like any lean initiative, 5S isn’t a quick fix and won’t solve every operational problem. However, several industry leaders in the industrial metal-cutting space are seeing the benefits of implementing the methodology. A.M. Castle & Co., a metal service center featured in a white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, relies heavily on 5S to keep work areas clean and eliminate waste. Scot Forge, a leading forge featured here in Forging Magazine, also uses the methodology, and has even added a sixth “S” for safety. Finally, Jorgensen Forge, a forge based in Tukwila, WA, says it uses 5S as way to get all of its employees involved in organizing the workplace. The forge also claims the tool helps maintain standardized conditions and procedures, which it feels is “the key to achieving a world-class work environment,” according to its website.
For many companies, 5S is the starting point in their lean manufacturing journey, and hopefully, the beginning of many operational improvements. By taking the time to create and maintain an organized, efficient workspace, companies can set the stage for becoming a world-class operation.
For more information on implementing 5S, check out the article, “How to Get Your 5S Initiative Up and Running.”
June 25, 2015 / bottlenecks, Cost Management, lean manufacturing, material costs, productivity, quality, resource allocation, root cause analysis, workflow process
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:
- Raw Material Inventory: How much of your raw material is only necessary because of quality, extended lead times and delivery performance issues by your suppliers? How often are you having excessive scrap or missed customer deliveries because of supplier problems? These are typically issues where much of the heavy lifting can be done for shop floor people by the materials/sourcing team and a quality engineer. They can significantly better plants by improving flow and eliminating cost and customer issues.
- Work-in-Process Inventory: The level of work in process reflects flow interruptions. Why the interruptions? Perhaps your team doesn’t understand or use proper value stream mapping and line balance engineering. Processes are interrupted because of rework and scrap issues, and these unfavorable numbers can be enormous. How much are you losing on scrap (labor, material, overhead)? And, how much capacity is being wasted as a result?
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:
- Use Remnants. According to the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, many forges and other metal-cutting companies are training operators to use remnant materials first before pulling new material for a job. Industry leaders are finding that picking quality-but-leftover materials from a previous job (often known as “pick for clean”) is an effective way to improve overall system efficiency.
- Rethink Your Storage. One metal fabricator, featured here in thefabricator.com, found that a new inventory rack system was well worth the investment. According to the article, the company estimates value-added output per square foot increased by 220 percent since the completed implementation of the inventory management system.
- Invest in Software. While inventory management and other business system software have historically been too expensive for small- and mid-sized manufacturing operations, the cloud is changing all of that. According to an article from Fabricating & Metalworking, cloud-based software deploys mission critical data (inventory, accounting, capacity, estimating or work order management) in a way that allows smaller metalworking shops to compete on the business side with systems that are affordable and easy to use.
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.
June 5, 2015 / bottlenecks, customer delivery, customer service, industry news, lean manufacturing, LIT, value-added services, workflow process
According to data from the Institute for Supply Management, the May PMI increased 1.3 percent to 52.8, indicating growth and economic expansion in the manufacturing sector for the 29th consecutive month. Of course, this is good news for the manufacturing supply chain, and many service centers are taking steps to position themselves as preferred suppliers. These steps include everything from holding inventory and working directly with mills, to preparing material to custom specifications and upgrading to electronic databases.
Service centers are also continuing to work hard to address the increasing demands for faster turnaround. Although efficiency improvements have been the focus of almost every manufacturer the last several years, data shows that it is still a major challenge for most industrial metal-cutting companies. For example, according to an industry benchmark study from the LENOX Institute of Technology, machine downtime, blade failure, and operator error remain the top-three sources of frustration for industrial metal-cutting operations on the shop floor. In other words, there is still room for improvement.
Mapping it Out
To improve efficiency, many leading companies are using a lean manufacturing tool known as value stream mapping. In fact, one company, featured here in IndustryWeek cut its lead time in half—from 10.5 days down to 5 days—by creating a value stream map.
Value stream mapping, as described by iSixSigma, is a paper and pencil tool that helps managers see and understand the flow of material and information as a product or service makes its way through the value stream. The “map” takes into account not only the activity of the product, but the management and information systems that support the basic process as well. This can be especially helpful when working to reduce cycle time because managers gain insight into both the decision making flow in addition to the process flow.
Although it is easy to become overwhelmed by the terminology, an article from Ryder does a good job of outlining the process in five simple steps:
- Identify product. Determine what product or product groups you will follow. Focus on one product at a time and start with the highest volumes.
- Identify Current Flow. Once you’ve defined the scope, the next step is to create a “current state map,” or a visual representation of how the process (or processes) in the warehouse is operating at the present moment. Key data points such as units per month, shipping frequency/schedules, hours of operations (available time), number of shifts worked, or any pertinent information around customer demand should be gathered before beginning the current state.
- Observe. Get on the floor and walk the entire process through step-by-step. Take notes and compile data such as inventory, cycle times, and number of operators.
- Make the map. Literally map out the process you just witnessed by drawing it out on a board. Include the data you collected and place inventory numbers under each step in the process. This will identify your bottlenecks.
- Create (and implement) a plan. Now that you know what and where your process improvements are, choose one or two to focus and improve on in a set amount of time. Once those are complete, you can prioritize the other bottlenecks to improve lead times.
Taking the Time
In an industry driven on speed, taking two days to participate in a class or complete a value steam mapping exercise may seem like a lot. However, managers need to consider the price of not taking the time. Investing in tools like value stream mapping can help your metal service center operate more efficiently, reduce lead time, and, most importantly, allow you to better serve your customers.
May 30, 2015 / ball and roller bearings, best practices, bottlenecks, continuous improvement, customer delivery, lean manufacturing, LIT, productivity, workflow process
For ball and roller bearing manufacturers, the future looks relatively bright. According to Freedonia Group, global demand for bearings is projected to rise 7.3 percent annually through 2018, with ball and roller bearings driving the growth..
However, even with optimistic forecasts, industry leaders can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Market opportunity only intensifies competition, and ball and bearing manufactures are already fighting against imports from lower-cost countries. Staying profitable in a global market requires manufacturers to constantly seek new ways to both differentiate themselves and minimize costs. This means continuous improvement and optimization are critical.
The Workflow Challenge
To remain competitive, today’s industrial manufacturers need to face their greatest operational challenges head on, starting with improving workflow and eliminating bottlenecks. As stated in the latest white paper from the LENOX Institute of Technology, this is one of the top five challenges ball and roller bearing manufacturers face. Workflow bottlenecks can negatively impact productivity, customer delivery, and ultimately, the bottom line.
Identifying and eliminating bottlenecks is a difficult, but important task for any metal-cutting company striving to be successful. For example, in an article from manufacturing.net, Curt Schmidgall, value stream manager at Winegard, describes how the antennae manufacturer struggled to meet market demand. A lean manufacturing exercise revealed the issue: Product testing at the end of Winegard’s manufacturing process was creating a huge bottleneck. By changing when the testing occurred (during the assembly process versus after the product is built), the company more than doubled its output and was able to meet market demand.
Like Winegard, many companies are using lean manufacturing strategies to reduce bottlenecks and improve workflow. This includes applying the well-known Theory of Constraints, as well as a host of other lean tools. However, don’t get bogged down with the terminology; continuous improvement doesn’t have to be complex to have an impact. While you may not have the extra hours or resources to implement an aggressive lean program, there are some basic strategies managers can use to improve workflow.
In Reliable Plant’s article, “6 Ways to Get Lean in 2015,” three of the six strategies listed are geared specifically toward improving your operation’s workflow. These tactics are good examples of how “lean” can be simple, but effective:
- Reduce motion. Follow your employees and note where they go during the production process. Reduce unnecessary movement and focus on making every other movement efficient. This will help save time and boost production.
- Eliminate wait times. Idle equipment and means wasted time and energy. Walk the shop floor and modify processes to eliminate time spent waiting on order information, material, quality checks, or repairs.
- Assess the floor. Maximize the shop floor for movement and organization. Make work areas, forklift lanes, and storage areas easily identifiable and accessible.
In the end, the pressure to meet customer deadlines can easily take priority in any high-volume manufacturing operation, especially as demand increases. However, manufacturing leaders know that constantly improving their processes and attacking challenges like workflow can make all the difference. By implementing even a few simple lean strategies, ball and roller bearing manufacturers can identify and eliminate bottlenecks, improve productivity, and increase profitability.