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.
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.
Interest is high in CNC machining as a career path. At least, it is far higher than it once was. I’ve seen this repeatedly in recent facilities I’ve visited. Illinois manufacturing association TMA came close to ending its training efforts altogether in recent years, but now has a newly opened instructional facility seeing surging enrollment. And across the border in Wisconsin, the impressive Moraine Park Technical College has a healthy machining program (to the extent that this institution’s struggle now is to draw students into remaining underserved fields, such as HVAC). In the metalworking industry, outreach efforts aimed at attracting young people seem to have had an impact.
But one thing these outreach efforts often lack is a specific way forward. If a young person becomes interested in machining—say, if a teenager in high school or junior high has this interest—then what should he or she prepare to do to follow this interest and proceed into this career?
I think this document created by Matt Schowalter, who is a machining group lead at Gauthier Biomedical in Grafton, Wisconsin, serves as a useful complement to that outreach. In it, Mr. Schowalter describes his own machining career path and the steps he took, and he advises aspiring machining professionals in the steps they might take to follow a similar path. He created the document entirely out of his enthusiasm for his work and his desire to help others thrive in the same career. The link above is to a PDF download, or find a version he posted on LinkedIn.
Daniel Miller is the instructor at a new Heidenhain training facility where students receive hands-on instruction with company’s CNC on a five-axis machining center.
Soon, many builders selling machine tools with a Heidenhain control will offer vouchers for a week of free CNC instruction at the control maker’s Chicago-area U.S. headquarters. This voucher program is in development, the company says, and an important element of the program is already in place. I recently paid a visit to the company’s newly opened training facility in Schaumburg, Illinois, where students acquire hands-on experience with the control by running a five-axis Hermle machining center.
Getting new users familiar and comfortable with the CNC is only part of the goal of the company’s training, Heidenhain says. The company’s CNC is unfamiliar to many shops, so helping new users quickly adapt is certainly a benefit. However, the much larger benefit the company sees is in making sure that users are aware of the extent of what the control can do.
Leaving powerful control capabilities unused is too common, says company CNC training instructor Daniel Miller. He says he recently visited a shop machining blisks where he observed that the shop was accepting an unnecessarily light depth of cut because of chatter. He taught staff members there how to use the Active Chatter Control (ACC) feature of their CNC, which manipulates the machine’s feed drives to produce damping, thereby reducing the effect of chatter at frequencies up to 100 Hz. Thanks to this feature, the shop was able to increase its depth of cut and increase its productivity. Heidenhain did not make a new sale in order to bring about this success, because it involved applying a control capability the shop already owned.
A similar recent story involved a mold shop owner, Mr. Miller says. The shop owner recognized the value of ACC when he happened to be walking by a live demonstration of it at a trade show. The difference in cutting performance when the capability was turned on and off was audible, and he followed the sound to investigate. In his case, he did not have this capability on his own machine, but the shop was a Heidenhain user. He had the capability added as soon as understood the value.
Mr. Miller says a similar, related feature of the CNC is Adaptive Feedrate Control. This capability monitors spindle load and adapts the feedrate override accordingly. When used in conjunction with trochoidal milling, for example, it speeds the milling pass significantly, because all of the air cutting within each loop of the trochoidal path can be taken at a user-specified override of perhaps 150 percent, reducing cycle time.
The hands-on basic training course with the Heidenhain control in the new facility lasts 4.5 days. The company will offer an advanced course for experienced users as well, and the new facility also provides a setting for customized training for companies in search of this. The latest example is a medical device maker that has asked Heidenhain and Mr. Miller to train its machining staff in more advanced use of machine tool probing for machine verification and on-machine inspection.