Blog 2017

July 2017: Building In Process Reliability


Generally speaking, process reliability is a method used to identify problems or bottlenecks that could offer significant cost reductions. When speaking about a manufactured product, a reliable process could also improve efficiency, quality and peace of mind. This text will focus on process reliability as it pertains to the quality of the finished piece, whether that refers to achieving a tolerance, surface finish, cycle time, etc.

It is extremely advantageous for any production facility to analyze their processes continuously. This can be done easily. Start by asking yourself three questions; How reliable is my manufacturing process? Can I accurately predict the outcome of any given manufacturing process within my facility? What extra pre or post operation tasks are undergone to achieve this level of process reliability?

Lets look a little deeper at those three questions.

How reliable is my process? Do pieces or parts have to be reworked after the final operation? Have customers rejected orders? Rolled Throughput Yield (RTY) is an excellent metric for answering this question. Rolled Throughput Yield is a technique and tool used for process improvement. It is commonly used with the Six Sigma system. RTY is the probability that a process with one or more operations will produce a defect free part. Essentially, how many good pieces or parts come out of a process vs. how many workpieces went into it.

Can I accurately predict the outcome of any given manufacturing process within my facility? Peace of mind? Do you have confidence in the process? Processes that rely on a specific employee with a certain level of “know how” are good examples. If Bob is sick, are you as confident in the work with Steve doing it?

What extra pre or post operation tasks are undergone to achieve this level of process reliability? Are there special tasks that need to happen prior to or after this process to ensure a good part? Complex workpiece preparation, long set up times or heavy cleaning operations could be examples.

More and more facilities will look to implement different degrees of automation and/or “lights out manufacturing”. If you are one of these facilities, the very first step is building a reliable process. One of the simplest places to start is under the machine tool spindle.

It is common for CNC workholding and fixture companies to tote about quick exchange, repeat accuracy, holding power, etc. but I rarely hear them speak about process reliability.

The right workholding can ensure the work will be located precisely and with enough accessibility for utilizing multi-axis machining. Quality fixtures will secure the workpiece against unwanted movement and help reduce vibration. Most importantly, the correct system will also provide longevity and consistency, guaranteeing peace of mind and a reliable process for years to come.


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March 2017: Your Workholding Isn’t Mutually Exclusive


Fixtures and workholding can be intimidating. There are many different styles and types and there is an equally daunting amount of manufacturers and brands. It can feel like the sky is the limit.

Variety is a good thing; however, if you aren’t careful prices can spiral out of control quickly. Set up times can increase, quality can suffer, tool rooms can overflow with obsolete workholding or worse, you could paint yourself into the dreaded “fixture corner”.

The “fixture corner” could relate to a number of different scenarios but it usually results in throwing good money on top of bad. Being stuck with an inefficient process like having to disassemble tooling for a handful of tasks because they require special fixtures or getting locked into a system where needed components or consumables after the initial sale come with long lead times or large price tags are just two examples. What about new customers? What about new products? What about capacity?

For most, modular fixtures are the answer they have been waiting for. Modular fixtures and workholding systems are versatile and usually utilize interchangeable components that can be easily reconfigured to achieve a number of different workholding applications. These systems are often associated with being quick change and/or having high repeat accuracies.

Modular systems are great, but do your homework. A poor modular system can create more issues within your process than it actually solves. Modular systems that are too complex, have too many parts and pieces, have expensive key components or are incompatible with the majority of your other processes, fixtures or workholding should be approached with extreme caution.

This isn’t mutually exclusive. I don’t know of any system that is a “one-stop-shop”. A company may offer solutions for turning but not milling, a handful of production tasks may still require a dedicated or different style fixture, etc. This is really common.

Instead of spending your valuable time looking for a system with a solution for every process, look for a system that allows you to easily adapt your existing processes, make simple modifications to ensure compatibility or even redeploy existing fixtures and workholding.

Look for systems that not only match your corporate requirements now but also provide long term value. Look for systems that help simplify and standardize set up. Look for systems that allow you to seamlessly move from concept to production. Look for variety and systems that complement other fixture types and brands.

Finding the correct workholding system is one of the guaranteed fastest and easiest ways to increase profits, quality and capacity.

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January 2017: Grab That Low Hanging Fruit!


Misconceptions about continuous improvement initiatives can cause manufacturers and machine shops to miss out on valuable opportunities. Oftentimes we envision big, sweeping, scary change. Some predict a complex system that will be difficult to sustain. Other fears include heavy front end costs and a lack of management or employee buy-in.

These concerns are valid and should not be minimized. However, sometimes the best way to start is to simply roll up your sleeves and start picking the “low hanging fruit”.

When I say “low hanging fruit” I mean simple, low cost process improvements that can be overlooked or underestimated. Implementing a simple Kaizen 5S plan can make a big impact with a very small investment. This is especially true of the first three principles: “Sort”, “Set In Order” and “Shine”.

Properly outfitted workstations, clean workstations and work areas and shadow boards are examples of easy, inexpensive ways to increase efficiency. Imagine how much time is wasted walking to borrow calipers, digging for tools or having to move or rearrange materials just to gain access to what is needed for a job.

“Standardization” is the 4th “S” and can have just as much impact as the first three. Standardizing common procedures like NC program headers, documentation trails, maintenance intervals, chip removal or the setup of fixtures and workholding can deliver huge returns, often with little investment. As an example, chip removal fans can be purchased for less than $250. They fully automate and standardize the removal of chips and the cleaning of workpieces and fixtures while offering a fast return on investment.

Crawl before you walk and walk before you run. It’s always a good idea to establish a system of metrics to help prioritize, measure return and determine root causes of bottlenecks. Proper metrics ensure we are allocating the resources properly.

Keep metrics simple and don’t be afraid to ask the people who sell the systems for help. My colleagues and I are happy to offer this service whenever needed.

Once you start picking “low hanging fruit” two things will happen. First, as processes become more efficient, they will shine light on other problem areas. Second, you will get hungry for more results! So go ahead and Grab that Low Hanging Fruit!

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