Peter Zelinski has been a writer and editor for Modern Machine Shop for more than a decade. One of the aspects of this work that he enjoys the most is visiting machining facilities to learn about the manufacturing technology, systems and strategies they have adopted, and the successes they’ve realized as a result. Pete earned his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Cincinnati, and he first learned about machining by running and programming machine tools in a metalworking laboratory within GE Aircraft Engines. Follow Pete on Twitter at Z_Axis_MMS.
I’ve noticed how some shops here and there have improved their lighting, recognizing that both the accuracy and the psychology of the shop stand to improve with better ambient light.
3V Precision has arguably taken the next step, giving thought to ambient sound. In this Tacoma, Washington, job shop, there are no competing radios at different toolboxes, or boomboxes struggling to be heard over the machines. Instead, a sound system appropriate to the shop’s noise and acoustics has been installed with speakers mounted high above the machines. Two of those speakers are visible in this photo. As the machine tools run here, upbeat music playing through them can be heard at a level that does not seem loud, but nevertheless comes through clearly enough to sing along.
The music is selected by shop owner Peter Boucher, and he keeps it light. Read more about Mr. Boucher, 3V Precision and this shop’s attention to employees.
CAM developer Delcam and cutting tool supplier Technicut produced this brief video illustrating the highlights of a machining cycle that generated a blisk from an 804-mm diameter disk of titanium 6-4 in 35 hours. The two companies say that cycle time is less than half of what would be required to machine this same part with conventional methods. In the cycle shown, several factors contributed to that productivity:
Roughing is performed in stages throughout the process. Lower sections of blades are left in their rough state to maintain stiffness while the upper portion is being machined.
Tool paths specific to blisk machining programmed in Delcam’s PowerMill use barrel cutters from Technicut for semi-finishing and finishing. Offering a larger radius at the cutting surface than ballnose cutters, barrel cutters achieve the same cusp height between passes as a ballnose tool with a stepdown that can be three to four times as large.
Initial rough machining operations between the blades use Technicut’s Titan X-Treme Ripper end mill not only to remove material quickly but also to relieve stresses in the material introduced by forging.
Blisks—one-piece bladed disks—are increasingly used in turbine engines in place of individual blades machined separately and fixed into a hub. The completed blisk in this video has 31 blades, each 84 mm long with a root radius of 4 mm and scallop height of 10 microns.
What is the next important step for your machining facility? How will you improve your shop’s process or prospects in the coming year?
Based on steps that other machining facilities have taken, and based on ideas we’ve recently explored in MMS, here are 10 possibilities for you to consider:
1. Automate (particularly with a robot).
Say “automation,” and the picture of a robot is probably what comes to mind. Automation is, of course, a much bigger idea than this, and there are different and simpler ways to realize a more automated process than robotic automation. That said, a robot is among the most powerful and versatile automation tools. This year, take another look at automation, and take another look at a robot in particular. Two small makers of motorcycle parts are showing how to achieve flexible responses to surges in demand through robotic automation.
2. Put performance on display.
Let the employees on the shop floor see exactly the same production metrics that the facility’s managers are watching. One way to do this is with a monitor displaying the performance in real time. Just making the metrics public and visible often leads to direct and measurable improvement in those numbers.
3. Rework your shifts.
Coordinating work across three shifts per day can be complex, and the third shift is often incomplete because it is so hard to staff. A variety of benefits can come from replacing the system of three eight-hour shifts in a five-day workweek with two 10-hour shifts in a four-day week.
4. Size up your software.
Inefficient equipment is easy to spot. Inefficiencies resulting from software limitations are harder to notice. Hardest of all to see are the inefficiencies resulting from software that the shop lacks altogether. Many machining facilities have been surprised to discover the value and impact of software improvements, particularly the adoption of ERP.
5. Look to additive manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing has the potential to transform part designs, lead times and supply chains. In metals, the capability is challenging and costly—it might not be time yet for your shop to invest in additive manufacturing. However, it is time to be aware of this technology and its emerging promise for the industries you serve.
6. Use a 3D printer.
Once you buy a 3D printer, even a small and relatively inexpensive one, it can be difficult not to use it. The freedom it gives the shop to generate customized, functional objects can provide the answer to many nagging shopfloor problems that previously went unaddressed. That was what this shop discovered.
7. Find the waste.
Non-value-added activity is pervasive in manufacturing. Arguably, there are eight major ways that manufacturing processes routinely waste effort and time. Many of the wasteful steps are invisible, because they are an unexamined part of what the shop does routinely. Walk through your shop and your processes specifically looking for these various types of waste.
8. Bring discipline to devices.
The distraction of employees’ personal devices can be a source of inefficiency. The cameras in those devices poses a security risk in the case of sensitive parts. When this shop owner banned shopfloor cellphone use, he saw measurable productivity gains and received some surprising feedback.
9. Identify the challenge that suggests the next advance.
Challenges often arise gradually. It is easy to accept some slowly growing difficulty as just a chronic problem that has become a bit worse over time. But that growing difficulty might be a sea change. A medical component maker provides a useful illustration in identifying challenges and changing practices to adapt.
A group of independent small shops working together can achieve many of the advantages of a large manufacturer. That is what this coalition of shops discovered, an active and mutually beneficial alliance of shops that even includes some competitors.
11. Bonus idea: Keep reading.
All the links within the 10 ideas above connect to articles and resources published in 2015. Make it a regular habit of reading Modern Machine Shop throughout the coming year to find more ideas like these. Subscribe here or renew your subscription.
Many readers enjoyed the glimpse of how machining centers are used at Taylor Guitars.
I’ve been looking back over the content Modern Machine Shop produced in 2015. A few thoughts related to surprises within this work:
I worked with "The Edge Factor" to produce two videos involving music-industry manufacturers in southern California. This video at DW Drums went as planned, and I thought a lot of good information came out in the talk. Meanwhile, this video at Taylor Guitars did not go as planned, because (for a couple of reasons) I changed my mind about what I wanted us to film, and changed our plans the evening before filming. Because I was close enough to both projects to know which one proceeded calmly and which one was more seat-of-the-pants, I felt better about the DW Drums film. What I did not anticipate is what actually happened, which is that the Taylor video elicited just as much positive response, and in fact probably garnered the more positive response of the two in the initial days just after these videos were posted.
To me, perhaps the most interesting article we published this year is this short item by Mark Albert speculating on the ways that the experience of production might change as people and pieces of equipment all become more digitally interconnected. Mark anticipates the surprises we might see. A capacity he has, and one we all should cultivate, is the ability to step outside the moment in order to imagine where this moment might take us.
The biggest surprise of all for me in 2015 was the spinning off of Additive Manufacturing into its own full-size magazine. When the year began, we did not know we would be doing this. And when we created the new AM website, I would not have guessed that we would find so much to report on related to this topic that we would end up posting new content every working day from the launch of the site through the end of the year.
My wish for you in the coming year is all of the above. That is: Wishing you the chance to change up something you’ve planned in order to set it free it into something better, wishing you insights that transport you beyond the moment you find yourself in, and hoping also that the coming year includes a large positive surprise for you that opens up a healthy new avenue to explore.
I had the pleasure recently of sitting for an interview with Jim Carr and Jason Zenger, hosts of the “Making Chips” podcast. Our conversation appears in episode 49 of this show.
Actually, we did multiple interviews. We also taped a second conversation that will appear in a later episode.
Making Chips is, I believe, the only podcast devoted to metalworking. Both of the hosts of the show are in this business, Mr. Carr as a shop owner and Mr. Zenger as the owner of an industrial supply company selling tooling. Together they launched the podcast back in January, and they’ve remained committed to regularly posting episodes, most of them featuring interviewee guests. The show recently posted its 50th episode—no small accomplishment.
As with a typical podcast, all the show’s episodes can be heard through apps from the likes of iTunes and Stitcher. Episodes are also all available as free downloads on the show’s website.
In the posted episode including me, we focused on characteristics of metalworking business leaders. If I am correctly remembering the gist of our conversation after this, the future episode will focus largely on additive manufacturing.
Let me know if you’re listening? That is, let me know if you are someone who received the episode before you read about it here, because you are a subscriber to the show. In my experience with podcasts, people either are not engaged with this medium or they love it, with few occupying positions in between. I am in the latter category—I listen to podcasts all the time. Part of the pleasure of the "Making Chips" appearance was therefore the simple fun of seeing an episode produced from the inside. In fact, if you have recommendations for other podcasts I should consider following, I’d be interested in that as well.