Monday, November 21, 2011

It’s Probably Time to Refine Your Manufacturing Processes

By Ken Bellinger
Project Manager for Seco’s Nafta CET (Component Engineered Tooling) Group

Seco is an innovation-driven company; we’re always working to advance our cutting tool technology. With that said, we’re also very customer focused as we work with manufacturers every day to help them maximize their efforts. One of the ways in which we connect with customers is through our Component Engineered Tooling, or CET, group. 

Specializing in project management from conception to completion, CET provides extensive assistance in creating or refining manufacturing processes to ensure our customers meet the highest levels of productivity, efficiency and cost effectiveness.

While most of our customers have engineering resources in place, their focus is typically on new components instead of existing production processes. It’s an “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” situation because the time and resources just aren’t there to continuously re-evaluate older processes that appear to be “ok.”

Manufacturers, however, need to be careful because as cutting tool technology advances things might not always be what they seem. In fact what may come across as “ok” could be a drag on a company’s productivity levels—and ultimately their bottom line. For example, an older machining method might significantly benefit from today’s high feed and pocketing strategies.

Not too long ago, we worked with an aerospace component manufacturer who had not altered their production process in 10 years. However, they realized it was time to optimize their efforts and looked to us for advice. As we analyzed their processes and future goals, we discovered quickly they were losing massive amounts of valuable productivity time with an antiquated, 35-hour machining process.

Because the manufacturer did not have any 3D models that would allow us to review the programming, we worked with a third-party technology partner to create both a rough part and a finished part in a 3D format. From there, another partner surfaced the component and then we checked the finished model against the original blueprint. This process allowed us to verify that the component specs were indeed still accurate a decade later. Even with this information, we recommended that the manufacturer start over with a clean slate.   

We implemented several new tactics that enabled them to streamline their efforts and reduce their processing time to about 16 hours, which included taking an unwanted lathe out of the process. We also removed their manual reaming operations after heat treat, which weren’t included in the original 35-hour processing time. We did this by performing pre-heat treat rough machining and finished machining everything else after heat treat—basically a “reprocess” of the aerospace component.

If you have a long-term contract to build a specific component, we recommend evaluating your production process about every five years, particularly if you need more capacity or throughput to achieve more profitability. However, you must justify the decisions you make, especially if new equipment is involved. After all, tooling portion and strategy is a much easier switch than going from two, 10-year-old machines to a new machine that costs $500,000.

For those who need help in evaluating their production processes, Seco can assist by performing a Product Cost Analysis, or PCA, that enables the measurement, control and management of manufacturing methods. Seco’s PCA will identify areas of cost reduction and productivity gains to help maximize the profit on any process within a customer’s machining facility. We’ve found that customers who use our PCA typically benefit from a total cost savings of up to 25% and productivity increases of up to 35%, regardless of industry sector.                                                                                                                                                    

Our customers are at the center of everything we do at Seco, and we are committed to developing the tools, processes and services necessary for them to succeed in today’s competitive manufacturing landscape. If you have questions about the CET group, please feel free to contact me. After all, my job is to help you find ways to save money and increase your profitability.

About the Author
Ken Bellinger is the Component Engineered Tooling Manager at Seco. His responsibilities include new project management, process engineering, technology partner development and overseeing the CET department, which includes six process engineers, two OEM technical specialists and a project coordinator. When he is not helping customers improve their manufacturing processes, Ken spends his spare time hunting, ATV riding or boating. 

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