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Viewpoints: Invest Intelligently to Improve Productivity

Chris Kaiser






The current economic crunch is forcing all of us to take a closer look at our processes, and find ways to operate more efficiently to stay profitable. When business is strong, we are too busy to step back and evaluate our processes and applications. This has always seemed like flawed logic to me, but I suppose I can understand it. After all, if we are operating at or near full capacity, there's not exactly an abundance of extra time to look at things on a grander scale.

Well, for most of us in manufacturing, that excuse is gone. While a few key industries promise more growth opportunity than most others, our industry overall is experiencing a considerable decline. Current manufacturing reports indicate sales are down more than 40% in recent months.

Companies must look for ways to cut expenses and lower costs. This includes critical evaluations of suppliers. The suppliers that will perform best in this tightened economy are those that can deliver the highest value to their customers. Factors that will maximize a supplier's value to its customers include product quality, performance, service, and customer support.

For manufacturers, the hidden advantage of this economic slowdown is the availability of time to take a deep breath, step back, and analyze production processes. Standing idle is the biggest mistake that a company can make right now. Be proactive, identify the soft spots that are hurting your bottom line, and implement changes now. Results will be immediate, and will have a positive impact on the remaining workload while putting you ahead of the curve for the next economic upturn. Minor changes in tooling and setup can often deliver significant improvements immediately.

Tooling is one area that's easy to evaluate and change, yet it's often overlooked. I've spent years visiting and observing companies of all sizes. One thing I see over and over is how much of an impact a simple tooling switch can have on cost per part. Many companies purchase tooling based solely on price. Doing so can be a costly mistake in the long run.

Take toolholders, for example. Toolholders are available at nearly any price point, so why not save a few dollars and purchase a less expensive option? This is the logic too many companies employ when making purchasing decisions. It's a big mistake, because it fails to consider the bigger picture of overall cost.

Higher quality and precision are often reflected by toolholders at higher price points. Although premium toolholders have a higher cost per unit, they can deliver dramatic cost savings in the long run. A low-cost-per-unit toolholder, for example, will result in higher annual tool costs because it delivers shorter tool life. Premium toolholders will deliver better run-out and optimize tool performance, accuracy, part quality, and tool life.

Companies can also significantly improve production by evaluating and adjusting the setup process. Many machines cut less than 50% of the time. For the rest of the time, they sit idle while operators set up tools or refixture new parts inside the machine. The negative effects of this downtime are far reaching, impacting part costs and delivery schedules.

For example, consider a shop running four CNC mills for two shifts per day at a shop rate of $80/hr. If each operator takes only one hour per shift on each machine for tool setup, the shop is losing about $640 per day to spindle downtime, or $160,000 per year.

Using a tool presetter for offline adjustments and tool setup will result in more chips and higher profits. With a presetter, operators don't have to waste valuable time touching off tools or making trial cuts. They can preset tools for the next operation, or reset tools after changing inserts while the machine continues to run. Putting in place zero-pointlocating systems on machine tables or tombstones will improve part changeover times up to 90%. These changes will immediately lead to drastic time savings, and therefore to higher revenues.

In today's economy, manufacturers have to stay competitive by identifying and eliminating all bottlenecks. There are many simple and economical solutions that can reduce manual operations and get companies operating at peak efficiencies. The challenge to each of us is to figure out where time is being wasted, and make the improvements that will set our company ahead of the competition when the economy turns around.


This article was first published in the July 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 7/1/2009

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