Steps 6-10 To Peak Performance And Productivity (Part Two of a Two Part Series)

In the first part (found here), we discussed fundamental principles of machining (shops) and challenges along the way. Evolving strategies such as those that leverage data acquisition are becoming more widely known and used, but still many shops – particularly within the High Mix, Low Volume (HMLV) segment – are missing out, at least until now. In steps 1 through 5, we reviewed  budget, process constraints, tool rationalization and workpieces issues including group technology and quality. We conclude the two-part post with the remaining five basics issues to address.


Traditional tool maintenance is reactive. When a tool wears out or breaks, it is replaced. That approach, however, generates costs beyond those of the tool itself, including manufacturing process downtime and possible damage to the workpiece. Preventive tool maintenance is a step beyond reactive maintenance.

The useful lives of even identical tools usually vary above and below an average length of time. Preventive tool maintenance is based on replacing the tool before it reaches its shortest expected working life to be sure that the change is made before the tool wears out too much or breaks. That approach, however, wastes tools with a tool life that is at or above average.

A relatively new approach, based on tool life modeling, uses computer calculation and simulation to provide predictive data on tool deterioration and to indicate when replacement is due. At a somewhat greater expense, use of sensors can further fine-tune the results by tracking tool wear in real time. Use of predictive tool maintenance has the potential to reduce tooling costs by 15 percent, 20 percent or more.


Inventory Management close up

When dealing with the second phase of metalworking production, it is important to note that tool inventory control is different than tool management. Tool management refers to organizing an existing tool inventory and making it available for production. For that task, a variety of automated tool management systems is available. Tool inventory control, on the other hand, is an effort to rationalize and consolidate the number of tools a shop possesses to focus on what is really needed. If tools are not rationalized before being loaded into an automated tool dispenser, the result is simply automated disarray.


In his 1907 book “On the Art of Cutting Metals” American engineer and work analysis pioneer Fredrick Winslow Taylor noted that some of the activities in a workshop, such as milling a surface, clearly add value to a workpiece. On the other hand, he noted that many activities that are necessary for the production of a finished workpiece do not directly add value. These include e.g. fixturing the workpiece on the machine or writing the machining program.

Taylor said that non-value-adding tasks should be completed as fast as possible and in a way that minimize their effects on the total costs of production. Automation can accomplish tasks such as part loading and fixturing and save time and money.

Manufacturers typically believe that the best way to reduce processing time is to increase machining parameters. Most shops do not fully recognize the time consumed by activities such as engineering. A task that can represent as much as 40 percent of the total time for a part to travel from drawing to delivery. Unplanned downtime caused by tool failure, quality issues or chip control problems also may be overlooked. When analyzing work activities and costs, it is essential to consider all the contributors to part production time.


The third phase of metalworking part production, the realization phase, puts into action the tools and strategies selected in phase one and collected in phase two. Rarely if ever does a process work exactly as planned, and it is at this point where optimization of the operations in terms of speed, reliability and other factors is necessary. Additionally, most shops also seek to improve ongoing processes. After carrying out the organisation and rationalization steps of phases one and two, practical optimization enables a shop to find technical and economic benefits in a combination of feed, speed and depth of cut that produces the desired results.


Manufacturers today face a range of relatively new challenges including mandates for sustainability and environmental protection. Intelligent introduction of new technologies and processes enables shops to fulfill the challenges. Dry machining, for example, permits a facility to reduce the use of coolants, which in turn reduces the potential effects of the fluids on the environment as well as the cost of safely disposing them. Growing use of lead-free workpiece materials is aimed at removing the harmful metals from the environment. Improving process parameters and production tooling performance will result in measurable savings in energy expenditures.


As manufacturers of any size utilize the ten simple steps to improve their operations, a fourth phase of the production process involves ongoing internal education. The goal of that education is to ensure shop personnel realize solutions to productivity issues do not always necessitate huge investments, high technology and expanded work forces.

The lessons learned while improving an operation or a family of operations can be reapplied and expanded to include similar situations throughout an entire shop. These lessons can be supplemented with organised education such as the Seco Technical Education Program (STEP), a well-developed and practical program designed to familiarize users with the latest tooling systems and techniques. Combined with practical experience in process analysis and improvement, education is the key to establishing a culture of problem-solving and process improvement that will result in ongoing manufacturing success. To learn more about our educational offering visit our education pages.