MMS Blog

By: Wayne Chaneski 24. April 2019

Making Manufacturing Improvements Stick

Ever wonder why some improvements stick, while others seem to achieve short-term gains, but then lose momentum and ultimately fall apart? As someone who strives to help companies make things better, I think about this a lot. There are, indeed, many things that can have an impact on an improvement effort’s success including “real” employment involvement throughout the process: a clear understanding of the improvement’s objectives by all involved; a cross-functional, team-based approach to planning and implementing the improvement; meaningful metrics to show if things have really gotten better; some type of reward for those responsible for a successful outcome; and even recognition of the need to follow up on results and make adjustments when necessary. Whereas all these factors are important, I have found that management participation is a factor critical to making an improvement stick. Participation should not be confused with support. Support can be done remotely and often with little more effort than a few words of encouragement and appreciation. However, participation requires visible, meaningful involvement and a willingness to take on tasks that may not be considered part of a manager’s normal responsibilities. It may even require a manager to leave his or her comfort zone for a time and become a contributing member of the improvement team.

I have witnessed management participation in a variety of improvement efforts. During 5S workplace organization kaizen events, I have seen managers drive fork trucks, cut foam to make shadow boards for tools and supplies, print labels for storage locations and tape floor areas to show what should and should not be stored in specific locations. In machine setup reduction events, I have seen managers observe and ask questions about the steps involved; pre-stage tooling and material; organize setup carts; and complete the steps in a setup process themselves to see things from that perspective. As part of total productive maintenance (TPM) kaizen events, I have seen managers collect data at the machine and use it to determine how often and effectively a machine runs, offer suggestions to simplify routine maintenance tasks and even paint machines to look new. During department relocation efforts, I have seen managers moving furniture, drawers and cabinets. Also, I have seen managers participate in gemba/waste walks every day to review key metrics and listen/respond to employee ideas and needs. None of these actions require an extraordinary level of skill, and they are certainly within the capabilities of most managers, yet they demonstrate to everyone just how important the effort is. As such, these actions carry great weight. 

The image gallery above, based on Modern Machine Shop magazine’s Modern Equipment Review Spotlight, features a selection of the products we have recently published related to parts finishing with a focus on burr removal and parts cleaning processes. Find more items in the product page of our Parts Cleaning and Deburring Zones.

Swipe through the gallery for details on each product, and follow the caption links for more information.

The increased use of additive manufacturing (AM) in the aerospace and medical markets fosters a growing need to finish the surfaces of additive parts to meet final application requirements. Since the additive manufacturing process is capable of producing components close to near-net shape, there is often little stock that remains for providing final finish. This benefits the overall manufacturing process by reducing waste, but it also means that subsequent finishing processes have limited room for postprocessing errors and inconsistencies. Postprocessing, therefore, needs to be consistent in achieving part tolerances and surface quality. This article will demonstrate that grinding offers an effective option with additive manufacturing when close tolerances and finer finishes are required. When compared with other traditional material removal processes such as milling and turning, grinding typically offers the best surface quality and surface integrity characteristics. In order to gain more insight into finishing for additive manufacturing specifically as it might apply to nickel-based superalloy components used in aerospace, engineers at Norton | Saint-Gobain conducted a finish grinding study on Inconel 718 specimens made additively. The engineers were seeking answers to three pertinent questions:

AM IN718 specimens manufactured using the direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) process were obtained from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing. Figure 1 shows an image of the AM test specimen. After additive manufacturing, these specimens were media blasted and went through stress relief, hot isostatic pressing, solution treatment/anneal and precipitation hardening. Table 1 shows the heat treatment parameters used. The hardness of the specimens measured 40 HRC. The specimens were then ground using a Norton NQX60E24VTX2 grinding wheel on a Magerle MFP-125.50.65 creep-feed grinder located at the Norton | Saint-Gobain Higgins Grinding Technology Center. Figures 2 and 3 show a picture of the test setup.

Baker Industries, a subcontract manufacturer that primarily serves the OEM and Tier-One aerospace and automotive sectors, is located on a vast industrial campus housing several complexes in the sleepy Detroit suburb of Macomb, Michigan. But inside one nondescript building on the corner of campus you’ll find a true metal giant—a five-axis horizontal machining center with a build platform large enough to double as a car pad for a fleet of full-size SUVs. 

Baker Industries invested $3.4 million in the  Emco Mecof PowerMill to expand its capacity to serve its customers’ largest machining projects, typically for the aerospace and automotive sectors. The installation took roughly 11 months from beginning to end, starting with the removal of 1. 2 million pounds of concrete and earth to excavate a 45-by-75-by-7-foot pit. The pit was then filled with nearly 2 million pounds of crushed stone and concrete—the latter of which had to be individually sampled per truckload by inspectors to ensure it was the right consistency. 

For CNC machining fixtures, “automation” means more than just eliminating manual clamping. With a hydraulic workholding system, pressure feedback from strategically placed air orifices can provide a simple, effective means of saving time and ensuring process consistency and reliability. Generally, these systems perform three functions: verifying whether clamps have moved into position, verifying whether parts have been loaded correctly, and verifying whether the right parts have been loaded in the right fixtures.

Self-validating hydraulic workholding can act as a check on human machine tenders. However, if robots are doing the loading, such capability can be essential, says Scott Bower, partner at custom fixture supplier DMT Workholding. “One cost of replacing the human is that you lose judgment, and that’s what these kinds of fixture features replace,” he explains. “They confirm things that you’d normally be counting on an operator to validate.” As for which manufacturers benefit most, “It could be the Ma-and-Pa shop or GM. If they’re running lights out, they have to have this kind of feedback to ensure that they’re making good parts and protecting their equipment.”

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