Efficiency, Cost Effectiveness Critical Success Factors
Kanban in the Toolroom
When we caught up with machining manager Toby Walsman, six dies occupied his toolroom benches—two new dies and four undergoing development to handle engineering changes handed down by customers. While ensuring that production dies stay in the presses as much as possible, with minimal time spent on a toolroom bench for maintenance, Walsman has been focused in recent years on ensuring that the BT&D toolroom operates at optimum efficiency and productivity— and profitability. In his journey to building a lean toolroom, Walsman explains how he and his team have perfected a routing system that tracks and controls all die details moving through the toolroom.
“We built a tracking system using Excel and a kanban pull system to manage production,” Walsman says. “When we build a new die, we review the tool carefully and look at each station, and then determine the inventory of spare die components we should maintain in our crib. We consider the volume of parts the die will stamp, type of material, etc. Then we build up the spare-parts inventory we think we’ll need and plug the data into the kanban system, which also is used to track die-maintenance activity in the toolroom. This inventory management and control of our spare die components then triggers, from the Excel database, the release of purchase orders for the toolroom.
“Now we keep precise records and know how much money we’re spending on spare die details, and also track scrap and rework from our machining operations,” continues Walsman. “And with goals and measures in place, we can work knowledgably to improve efficiency and productivity, and ultimately reduce our costs.”
New Technology— from Design to Production
To achieve those goals, Walsman and his team have instituted several changes to their operations. For starters, the firm invested in Surfcam CAD-CAM software and in AutoForm die-design and manufacturing software. BT&D engineers use AutoForm to perform stamp and draw simulations, evaluate die-design iterations and minimize the trial-and-error die-design and build process.
“We’re focused on helping our customers move new tools into production as quickly as possible,” says Walsman, noting that the company used to outsource die simulation and virtual tryout before bringing it inhouse in 2010. “With upfront design support using AutoForm, we can identify trouble areas and catch problems in design before the tool is detailed.
“Simulation inhouse also helps our toolroom operate more efficiently,” continues Walsman. “The need to rework details has been dramatically reduced.”
In the shop, several new CNC machining centers have automated the company’s tool and die manufacturing operations. Machine-tool supplier of choice: Southwestern Industries, Inc., Rancho Dominguez, CA, which markets a line of machines designed for tool, die and mold shops. BT&D started upgrading its toolroom four years ago by adding Southwestern Industries’ Trak FHM CNC knee mills, CNC lathes and ProtoTrak SMX conversational controls. “Conversational controls allow our operators to do most of the programming,” Walsman says—“no need for experienced G-Code operators.”
The shop now is home to three Trak knee mills—the latest a 7.5-hp (model FHM7)
Along with his new lineup of CNC machines—including two 10-hp 17-in.-swing CNC lathes—Walsman also switched machining lubricants, in 2009. The new coolant of choice: a semi-synthetic coolant called Syn-Plus, provided by Solutions Plus Inc., Amelia, OH. Walsman credits the coolant not only with prolonging tool life—by as much as 20 percent—but also with allowing operators to increase machining speeds and feeds in many cases.
“Also,” he adds, “in the past we had problems with bacteria and mold in our sumps. Now that problem has virtually been eliminated.”
Better Cutting Tools
Cutting tools also have received attention in Walsman’s toolroom, where new solid-carbide ball mills from Niagara Cutter, Inc., have been credited with significantly decreasing machining time and increasing milling-machine throughput. The toolroom has been using the new mills—3⁄8- to 1-in.-dia.—since October 2010 and operators find them more durable than other carbides they’ve used. “Material finish is better,” adds Walsman, “and we’re experiencing major reductions in polishing time.
“For example,” he continues, “we machine a particular style of draw-die punch on a regular basis, from hardened D2 (60-62 Rc). We used to spend 18 hr. milling that punch, and then another 3 to 4 hr. polishing. With the Niagara mill, that same punch takes 12 hr. to machine, and 1 hr. for polishing.”
With all of these technology upgrades as well as tight control over die-detail inventory and production, Walsman finds that toolroom efficiency and productivity are climbing daily. “We’re able to set realistic goals for machining time for each task,” he says, “and goals for improving, and then carry on an open dialog with our machinists to recruit their efforts to help us achieve those goals. While performance (from the pressroom) is king here, in the toolroom we want to make sure we’re as efficient as possible while supporting our production crews.” MF
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