Tempering Urgency Within Your Shop

Can patience commingle with the pressure to produce in a machine shop? Yes, and the result can be more effective and efficient processes.

Columns From: 9/20/2011 Modern Machine Shop

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Like many businesses, machine shops operate under an atmosphere of urgency. Part programs need to be created quickly so jobs can be released in a timely manner to the shop floor. First-article inspection must to be carried out promptly so necessary adjustments can be made and the production run can proceed. Once a job is completed, machine setups need to be torn down in short order so a new setup can begin for the next job.

These types of things happen at a New-England-area company I recently visited and profiled in this article. The company, Albright Technologies, has to move at a decent clip. A fast pace is necessary because its niche is rapidly creating prototype molds and small batches of tiny silicon parts for medical customers pressured to speed their new products to market.

What I found during my visit, though, is that the sense of urgency within Albright is tempered with a healthy dollop of patience. I found this to be refreshing.

The company machines aluminum and (sometimes) steel molds using end mills with diameters as small as 0.003 inch. Mike Collette, senior tool and die maker, sets up many of the jobs that use those tools. Although he had no prior experience with such small cutters, he’s become adept at manually touching-off tools with tips that he can barely see without magnifying lenses.

Of course, it took time to master this art, and he did break some of the $70 micro tools. Unlike his previous jobs in which there might be hell to pay for mishaps such as that, Albright’s president, David Comeau, was understanding and accepting. He tolerated some breakage during initial setups because he recognizes how challenging the job is. Without the pressure to be perfect right out of the gate, Mike was able to establish an effective approach for touching-off tools. Now, breakage during setup isn’t an issue anymore.

Mike has found ways to do it quicker, too. He used to position a tool 0.050 inch or so away from a workpiece before moving in 0.0001-inch increments to bring the tool in contact with the part. This would take as much as 20 minutes. These days, he starts closer to 0.004 inch away from the workpiece, meaning fewer increments are required prior to contact. In fact, he’s reached the point in which he can tell whether a delicate end mill touched a workpiece on a “hard” tenth or a “light” tenth. (I’ll explain that in next month’s article.)

We’re all under the gun these days, and patience is a virtue that can linger just out of reach. That said, we can get further ahead if we recognize the power of patience and apply it accordingly.

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