Bryco Before and After

Within a two-month period, this Chicago-area contract shop reorganized the shopfloor, implemented new procedures and eliminated employee toolboxes. Here are the benefits the shop has seen.
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The day has the same number of hours that it ever did, but Bryco Machine now does more with that time. Since this contract machine shop in Tinley Park, Illinois, committed to lean manufacturing, setups that used to take 8 hours now take 2 hours.

The shop also has the same amount of space that it did before, but Bryco now does more with that space. A new layout, organized around a leaner workflow, freed up enough space for the shop to add four new machines.

This shop focuses on high-value turning work for CNC Swiss-type lathes and other turn-mill machines. Company President Bryon Bettinardi says each of these machines delivers an average of $300,000 in sales. That means that with four new machines, lean manufacturing has already let the shop generate $1.2 million in additional sales out of its existing space and location.

Even better, there is still space left over for even more machines, he says. The shop is more ready for additional growth than it has been in a long time.

The Move

Mr. Bettinardi says floorspace was the issue that drove this shop to commit to lean. The shop had grown the way almost any job shop grows—by adding machines and workstations as needed, and sticking them wherever space allows. Over the years, this led to a muddled layout that wasted space and wasted employees’ time in ways that never even became fully apparent to the shop until the lean process was in place.

Bryco’s management was certainly aware of lean manufacturing, and always considered it a good idea, particularly as the shop began to win more of the sorts of repeat jobs that could benefit most from leaner processes. However, when the shop had more new machines on order than it could fit within the crowded facility, lean stopped being merely a good idea and became an urgent idea. Working with consultants from the Chicago Manufacturing Center, the shop quickly developed and implemented a leaner process, focusing the most immediate attention on a more efficient layout.

The move to this new layout happened at the end of 2007. Similar machines were moved together, related workstations were moved together, and material stocks were moved closer to the machines they fed.

Altogether, the move took about 3 weeks and cost $150,000.

“A bargain,” Mr. Bettinardi says.

Quality And Deburring

The savings from having a more logical layout went beyond what the company could have predicted, because it never realized the extent to which the old layout wasted effort and time.

An example relates to quality. In the past, the deburring area was at the opposite end of the shop from the quality area. Today, the two areas are together. Deburring employees and quality employees now can see one another through a window in a shared wall.

Does this matter? It might seem as though the move would not make all that much difference because the walk across the shop is not all that long. However, whom an employee talks to depends on where that employee is stationed.

At Bryco, as in other shops, deburring personnel play an important role. They make the final decisions about when a part is “done” and ready for inspection or shipping. In the past, a deburring employee who had a question over a matter like whether a part’s finish was acceptable might not have risked the walk across the shop just to verify a seemingly obvious question. But now, questions such as this can easily be answered as often and as quickly as they come up. Since the move to lean that brought these two areas together, the amount of rework in deburring has strikingly decreased.

The Toolbox Transition

By January, the commitment to lean manufacturing was fully implemented. It involved more than just the move. It also involved changes in the way shop personnel thought about various steps in their daily work. In fact, perhaps the most dramatic change did not involve equipment relocation at all. As part of the commitment to achieving a less wasteful process, the shop concluded that individual toolboxes had to go.

That realization came from the shop floor as much as it came from the office. Shopfloor personnel were part of the team that analyzed the shop’s processes and implemented leaner ones. It was clear that a portion of the shop’s long setup times resulted from employees sifting through their own personal toolboxes in search of the tools they needed. Having a separate toolbox for every employee also multiplied the shop’s inventory costs because of all of the “invisible” inventory hidden in every individual box. Therefore, 30 toolboxes have been replaced by eight standardized setup carts.

The eight carts belong to the shop instead of to any employee. Two versions of the carts correspond to the Swiss-type side of the shop and the turn-mill side of the shop. Employees carefully designed these carts, equipping them with standardized sets of all of the tools they determined to be essential, and using foam pockets in the drawers to establish a standard place for every tool. These standardized cart designs were one of the most important engineering achievements on the shop’s journey to lean.

Not everyone was immediately convinced. The toolbox is—of course—a personal part of a machinist’s life. Family photos get affixed to a toolbox. Not only that, the machinist who knows where to find everything in his own toolbox can be justifiably concerned whether the move to a smaller number of generic carts really will allow him to get what he needs just as confidently as he can obtain it today.

Dennis Gilhooley Jr. is Bryco’s vice president. He says he handled machinists’ concerns in this way: Anyone who wanted to keep his toolbox was free to do so. The condition was that the toolbox reside in his office. Mr. Gilhooley wanted to know if a machinist had to go to his toolbox for some tool that could not otherwise be obtained, so that this tool could be added to the standard carts.

Within a few weeks, he says, his office was free of any toolboxes. Eight was enough—these setup carts did make tooling accessible enough that operators had the tools they needed.

Still, every process improvement also reveals the way that improvement should have been done. In retrospect, Bryco discovered that the setup carts should have been color-coded. In the future, they probably will be. Time is still sometimes lost on the confusion about which tool goes to which cart, and coloring each tool to match a specific, individual cart would easily solve this problem.

Family Business

Not all of the shop’s setup time delays came from the toolboxes, however. Even more of the setup delay had to do with extreme setup changeovers. This was particularly true on the turn-mill machines.

On the shop’s Swiss-type machines (from Marubeni Citizen-Cincom), the impact of setup is not so great. These machines run larger batches, and tooling needs are generally similar from job to job.

However, the turn-mill machines (from Eurotech) can accommodate a much larger variety of workpieces. Here, switching from one part number to another can involve time-consuming changes to both the cutters and the workholding.

That is why Bryco’s leaner process now assigns part families to these particular machines. Within the same part family, the shop can switch from one part number to another without changing so much of the work zone.

Bryco identified 13 distinct part families among its recurring turn-mill parts. Mr. Gilhooley says the most efficient solution would have been to give each part family its own machine—if only the shop had 13 of these machines. Instead, the shop has eight, and at least one of these has to be kept free for short-run, unexpected jobs. Therefore, most of the machines were assigned multiple part families. Machine number six, for example, is now dedicated to part families “6A” and “6B”—two unrelated and dissimilar groups of parts.

Therefore, the reduction in setup time is not altogether complete. It can still be necessary to completely changeover a machine for a different part family, by means of a setup that looks much more like the 8-hour setups of before (though not quite that long now) rather than the 2-hour setups the shop has now achieved.

However, those long setups are no longer commonplace, and that is key. Most setups now involve only minor adjustments to shift from one part to a related part, and the shop can schedule jobs so that work remains “in the family” in this way for as long as possible. Long setups may not have been eliminated, but the more organized process dramatically reduces how many long setups the shop has to bear.

Dedicating parts to machines brings another benefit, too—it makes the process easy to improve, so that further gains from lean continue to be realized. When sources of variation have been eliminated, the variables that do remain become much easier to optimize.

An example relates to the cost of cutting tools. On one part family in particular, cutting tool price increases began to affect the economics of the part, and the shop did not want to have to pass along the increase. The shop therefore began to experiment with how to control the tooling cost. Having a single, fixed machine running a single, fixed process provided an excellent test bed for experimentation—something the shop rarely had before. The shop was free to play with the relatively few variables that still remained, adjusting the speed, feed rate, depth of cut, tool entry and clamping. None of these changes significantly improved the cost of the part. However, changing the brand of coolant finally did it.

This was a surprise. The shop thought it had long since found and decided on a high-quality coolant. However, for this particular job, changing the coolant brand increased tool life by more than 80 percent.

“It was the last thing we tried,” Mr. Gilhooley says. Without lean manufacturing, they never would have tried it.

That is, without lean, they would never have gotten to the point where they had eliminated everything but the coolant. There would always have been too much else going on, too much “noise” in the process, too many ongoing variations. Lean manufacturing is, in a sense, controlled manufacturing. Lean eliminates waste by removing the sources of variation from areas of the process where unpredictability results in inventory cost, lost time or other sources of expense. Lean is about systematic control. And Bryco discovered that once a large part of its process has been bought under control, bringing that same control to other parts of the process became that much easier to do.


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