In large, complex manufacturing operations, even small errors can result in scrapping thousands of parts before anyone notices a problem. At Advanced Green Components (AGC), insufficient management of cutting tools and indirect materials made such errors all the more likely. The CribMaster inventory management system from WinWare (Marietta, Georgia) helped the company reduce scrap, downtime, and most importantly, costs.
AGC produces forgings and machined rings that are used in the manufacture of bearings. Founded in 2002 as a joint venture between Sanyo Special Steel, Showa Seiko and the Timken Company, the company operates out of a 117,000-square-foot facility in Winchester, Kentucky. The shop floor is home to a number of hot and cold forming presses and blanking lines as well as 28 production lines, each containing four to five CNC machine tools.
Part numbers at AGC are numerous, and the CNC production lines are continually changed over to increase production as needed on any given job. Moreover, many machines in these lines use multiple tools for every operation, each performing a unique function to complete a given part. Whether planned or unplanned, retooling a production line to accommodate a new part is a detailed and often lengthy process that interrupts workflow, says Keith Kegley, AGC’s senior production analyst.
As if retooling weren’t complex enough, line operators faced a host of challenges with every change-over before the company implemented the CribMaster system. Retrieving needed materials necessitated a lengthy walk to the tool crib, extending the downtime required for each change-over. Once there, things didn’t get any easier, Mr. Kegley says. Inside, the operator had to sort through metal cabinets with drawers—only some of which were labeled—containing an assortment of insert boxes, spare parts and other maintenance, repair and operating inventory. Standard procedure was akin to a grab-bag, as the operator would simply take two or three boxes and hope one was the correct size. And although AGC had security procedures in place for the tool crib, it wasn’t uncommon to find the gate unlocked or not properly secured.
Compounding these difficulties was the fact that to the human eye, many of the different inserts used at AGC look virtually identical. While the precisely engineered inserts will machine flawless parts if used correctly, using the wrong size could result in scrapping thousands of parts and wasting a considerable amount of raw material and machining time.
To save money, the company employs a reconditioning or regrinding process to prolong the use of special cutting tools used to manufacturer its bearings. However, the haphazard organization of the tool crib undercut this cost-saving measure, Mr. Kegley says. Given the choice of a shiny new tool or a reground one, most machine operators would naturally choose the new tool and leave the remaining regrinds in the back of the drawer.
Seeking a solution to these challenges, AGC consulted with Cutting Tools Inc., a
Louisville, Kentucky-based industrial product distributor and provider of value-added in-
formational services. Brian Davis, territory manager, recommended a customized solution using CribMaster, an inventory management solution for tools and indirect materials.
Mr. Davis’ first step was to bring the tools closer to the machining lines. All the tools and insert boxes previously stored in the cabinet drawers are now securely housed in point-of-use devices driven by CribMaster software. Among the dispensing units used at AGC are the CribMaster ToolBox, a helix-style vending machine, and the CribMaster ToolCube, a modular system with drawers and adjustable storage spaces for individual items. To operate one of these units, employees simply scan an identification badge and select the desired item on a touchscreen. They can then access only the approved quantity of the exact item requested.
Mr. Kegley says the new system provides the flexibility needed to streamline the company’s line change-over procedures and eliminate guesswork with minimal operator training on the software. After entering the line number, the operator uses a simple "drill-down" procedure to obtain the right insert. This involves selecting the part number, the operation and the slide in the machine for a given line. "When the product is issued, it is absolutely, without a doubt, the correct insert to machine that part," Mr. Kegley says.
Mr. Davis also helped the company implement a customized, value-added solution for managing reground cutting tools. AGC uses the regrinding process a maximum of three times on each tool. Tools returned after regrinding are identified in the system as different versions of the same cutter, a procedure otherwise known as "item morphing." This ensures that regrinds are cycled into use before brand new tools to provide additional cost savings.
With CribMaster’s ability to generate custom reports of tool costs and usage by line, the company can identify potential maintenance issues that otherwise might not be detected by line operators, Mr. Kegley says. For example, if one line shows higher tool costs than another, that could be an early warning of a malfunctioning machine that needs repair.
AGC’s experience demonstrates the importance of maintaining an orderly, efficient flow of needed items. By using the CribMaster systems to get a handle on its management of cutting tools and other indirect materials, the shop can produce quality bearing parts with greater efficiency and lower cost.