Although laser welding is a well-established manufacturing solution, many sheetmetal fabricators have been hesitant to implement the process at their shop.
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Process improvement encompasses a wide range of tools, techniques and strategies. When properly deployed, shop-floor data collection and monitoring systems can help factory-floor managers leverage key data metrics including overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and total effective equipment performance (TEEP) that measure machine uptime and pinpoint bottlenecks or other problems in order to improve machining performance.
Lasers — well-established tools in the manufacture of medical devices—are continuing to break ground by producing smaller, more precise and more functional parts thanks to faster pulse speeds at lower cost, new applications and the marriage of laser processing to Swiss-style machining.
Cutting tool maker Shape-Master Tool Co. (Kirkland, IL) needed to expand its tool grinding capability beyond that of its conventional machines or run the risk of losing work to the competition.
Lean manufacturing principles and automation systems can coexist, although many lean purists contend that lean goals conflict with using automation. Smart applications of automation, however, can result in deployment of systems that are both automated and lean, with flexible manufacturing systems that can be easily reconfigured as factory operations change.
Many industries have been making parts with micron dimensions for some time, but in the last few years, the market for miniaturization has expanded. The demand is not only for small parts, but also for small complex features on larger parts. This is due chiefly to the switch to modules in which the functions of several parts or subsystems are not handled by a single complex unit.
Taiichi Ohno is often quoted as declaring: “Without a standard, there can be no improvement.” The principles of lean do not work well when everyone is allowed to choose their own work method or work sequence in which to do a job: the outcome is unpredictable; flow and pull are impossible. This reduces throughput and the carefully crafted process develops unanticipated outcomes.
Common misperceptions about lean manufacturing and automation systems lead many manufacturing managers to dismiss the use of automation in a lean setting.
When additive manufacturing first hit the market, some said it would eventually be the death of traditional, or subtractive, CNC machining. More than 30 years later, new machines are showing additive manufacturing as it really is—a complementary technology.
From producing lithium-ion batteries to processing sheetmetal, new laser welding systems are “pushing the envelope” of light absorption, beam control, speed and programming flexibility.