Posted by: Peter Zelinski 7. April 2015

Welcome to Machining, Kris

Modern Machine Shop recently devoted a cover story to the idea of hiring employees for personal strengths rather than manufacturing skills. The skills can be taught, but character and a good fit with the culture of the company cannot. Bob Bussey, manufacturing director of Excelsior Marking, sent me an email recently to say he had read that article and taken it to heart.

“I hired someone who knew nothing about machining,” he wrote. “He’s been employed with us over two months now and is doing very well operating a Haas Mini Mill,” one of five CNC machines in the shop. Mr. Bussey said the idea that a person with desire but lacking machining skills could begin to succeed in machining made sense to him, because he himself began to learn about manufacturing in his father’s tool and template shop when he was completely unskilled at 14 years old.

The new employee Excelsior hired and began to train is Kris Porter. Mr. Porter had previously worked in warehousing and for an insulation company. He also had worked near to skilled manufacturing with a previous employer, initially helping with preventative maintenance, then being moved into a role of tool crib superintendent.

However, given the lack of credentials or direct experience in CNC machining, Mr. Bussey had to evaluate this prospective hire according to other criteria. He says these are some of the valuable traits he saw in Mr. Porter before hiring him or just after he began to work:

  1. He is friendly, Mr. Bussey says—not argumentative or convinced he’s right.
  2. He wants to learn.
  3. He is teachable. Company leaders saw this in his first week on the job, when he took interest in a Basics of Machining class they had him take through Mastercam University. Excelsior has also supplied him with a self-study mathematics book, which he has been using to develop the math skills pertinent to his job.
  4. In the efficiency of his performance at the machine, he shows regular improvement.
  5. He is flexible about working overtime.
  6. He is also grateful for the opportunity. To Mr. Bussey, this means a lot. He values manufacturing and wants to share it with those who see the same value in it he does.

The biggest factor that led to Mr. Porter’s new job was Mr. Porter. But to read the article that contributed to his opportunity, go here.


Posted by: Steve Kline, Jr. 6. April 2015

March MBI Highest Since June 2014

With a reading of 52.6, the Gardner Business Index showed that the metalworking industry grew for the 15th consecutive month and the 17th time in 18 months. With the increase in the index in March, the metalworking industry has returned to the uptrend that started in September 2014. While the index has been climbing in recent months, compared with one year ago the index has contracted for three straight months. So, the metalworking industry is growing but not as fast as it was at the beginning of 2014.

New orders and production increased for the 18th month in a row. The index for both was substantially higher this month compared with last month and near its highest point in almost a year. Yet, backlogs contracted for the 12th straight month. The backlog index does seem to have stabilized in recent months though. Compared with one year ago, the backlog index has contracted for three consecutive months. And, the annual rate of change peaked almost eight months ago, which means growth in capacity utilization has probably seen its peak for a while. The rate of hiring picked up significantly in March as the index reached its highest level since November. Exports contracted at a similar rate compared with last month due to the relatively strong dollar. Supplier deliveries continued to lengthen, but they did so at nearly the slowest rate in a year.

While material prices continued to increase, the rate of increase continued to decline. In March, material prices increased at their slowest rate since October 2010. Prices received were flat in March, which was the first time they did not increase since April 2014. Future business expectations improved slightly month. The index is about 5 percent above its historical average.

Plants with 20-49, 100-249, and 250 or more employees recorded a significant improvement in business conditions in March. The largest facilities are still growing significantly faster than the rest of the industry though. Shops with 50-99 employees have seen consistently strong growth since the end of 2013. Shops with 19 or employees remained mired in contraction. They have recorded only two months of growth since March 2012.

Five of the six regions expanded in March. The West, North Central – East, North Central – west, and Northeast regions saw very similar growth rates this month. For the second month in a row expansion was minimal in the Southeast. The South Central has contracted for four months in a row. In the last three months, the index for the South Central has been below 40.

Future capital spending plans contracted 19.4 percent compared with March 2014. This was the sixth straight month of contraction compared with one year ago. The annual rate of change contracted for the fourth month in a row.

More economic news from Gardner Business Media can be found here.

Posted by: Peter Zelinski 3. April 2015

3D Printing and the Promise of Custom Fit

On a trip to buy new shoes several years ago, I lucked into getting what proved to be the best-fitting pair of shoes I’ve ever owned. I wish I had bought two pair. The shoes are wearing out now, and the company that made them has long since abandoned this shoe design that proved to fit so well to my (apparently distinctive) foot geometry.

I don’t know how long it will be until 3D printing solves this problem for me, in the form of some company able to generate economical custom shoes tailored to individual feet. But news from EOS describes a step in that direction. For elite runners, shoe maker New Balance collects biometric data to design runner-specific shoe spike plates that are produced through 3D printing.

For ear buds, at least, the challenge of achieving custom fit has been solved. Read how this company can use 3D printing to tailor a pair of ear buds to the unique shape of your ear.

Posted by: Derek Korn 2. April 2015

Improving Lighting Quality, Lowering Lighting Costs

These before and after shots show the difference in lighting quality at Kenwal’s production facility since adding an intelligent LED lighting system.

Kenwal Steel Corp. in Dearborn, Michigan, isn’t a company we’d profile in the magazine. It’s a flat-rolled steel distributor, not a machine shop. However, the concepts it is applying in terms of improving lighting conditions in its facility and lowering lighting costs could be leveraged by a machine shop.

When Kenwal management was confronted with the need to replace aging 1,000-watt metal halide fixtures within its production facility, they reached out to Total Source LED to evaluate their options. The team initially evaluated both T5 fluorescent and LED lighting options. However, they were reluctant to replace the facility’s 369 metal halide fixtures with 6-lamp T5 fluorescents, which would result in more than 2,200 lamps to maintain. Instead, the team turned their attention toward high-efficiency, maintenance-free LED lighting alternatives, deciding to install an Intelligent LED Lighting System from Digital Lumens. This system resulted in a 93-percent savings in annual lighting-related energy costs, an investment payback period of less than one year with a return on investment (ROI) of more than 124 percent, reduced fixture counts by more than 60 percent, and higher lighting quality and illumination levels throughout the facility.

The team also recognized that intelligent LEDs (with integrated controls, wireless networking and sensors in every fixture) would have a significant impact on their budgets in a rising utility rate environment. This is because, in addition to wattage-based savings, the Intelligent Lighting System would enable them to:

  • Automatically turn off lighting within its massive steel storage area when overhead crane operators were not actively picking stock for its pickling operations and instantly back on when needed.
  • Leverage the independently rotatable and dimmable light bars within each fixture to direct lighting to work surfaces within the production area, eliminating the need to over-light space while providing better lighting for inspection operations.
  • Dim aisle lighting to 20 percent in lower-traffic areas when employees were not present, reducing energy usage while providing background and security lighting.
  • Leverage daylight from open bay doors in the facility’s shipping and receiving areas via integrated daylight-harvesting sensors in each fixture.
  • Schedule automatic changes to lighting behaviors, such as shorter timeout settings and increased dimming factors during weekends and holidays when employees typically aren’t present within the facility.

For any timeframe needed, the Kenwal team now also has access to a wide range of energy usage and occupancy data, which is accessed through the system’s LightRules lighting management software. Data that are visually depicted on interactive maps of the mill facility that can also be used to change fixture settings and behaviors enables management to:

  • Quickly report, down to the kWh, how much energy is used by fixture, zone or facility, and document the efficiency savings.
  • Observe when peak usage occurs in different areas of the facility and change settings such as fixture timeout delays to match actual operating conditions.
  • Track occupancy patterns, enabling the optimization of lighting to support high-transit, -occupancy or -usage areas, and vice versa.
  • Collect other energy management and operational efficiency metrics.

“Tracking a wide variety of decision-making metrics surrounding lighting and energy use is the secret to achieving upwards of 90 percent energy savings over T5 and metal halide fixtures,” said Ron Cimino, CEO of Total Source LED.

Posted by: Peter Zelinski 1. April 2015

Video: Additive Manufacturing and the Gun Fallacy

Adrian Bowyer makes an excellent point in this video. One of the more sensational objections to the spread of additive manufacturing technology is the fact that it can be used to print guns. However, CNC machine tools can be used to make guns, too, and they are actually better at it. The video above is part of a series of videos from the Science Museum debunking misconceptions about 3D printing.


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