Single-Source Support Streamlining

June 01, 2010

The following article by MAG outlines how you can reduce the total cost of machine tool ownership by utilizing single-source support services.


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Durable goods manufacturers can face major strategic conflicts between Lean practices, downsizing, concentration on core competencies, and transformation of machine maintenance from reactionary to preventive/predictive and ultimately to proactive. While real-world data demonstrates that proactive maintenance can produce huge cost savings, minimize machine downtime and lost production, and enable higher process control and overall equipment efficiency (OEE), the transition can appear daunting using internal (and increasing limited) resources. Progressive companies are finding a solution in outsourcing machine service and support to a single, expert organization that addresses all aspects of optimizing the capital equipment investment.

Specialists can help your manufacturing management discover and deal with the root causes of chronic problem areas, for instance. The big picture goes beyond the “keep it up and running” factors, however, and includes long-term decisions regarding machine rebuilds and upgrades, and relocation of equipment. The result of this “cradle to grave” approach can simultaneously minimize the total cost of ownership while maximizing life cycle ROI.  
Companies in the aerospace/aircraft industry, for instance, are working diligently to reduce their vendor lists. They are beginning to enter into far-reaching agreements that place all machine support services for a given process/component with a single outside company; a single-source service/support partner. Lockheed Martin has contracted with our firm for global service and support of machining equipment and systems at all its major plant locations around the world. The agreement is comprehensive in scope, providing for interactive diagnostic help, preventive maintenance, field service, training, replacement and spare parts, productivity improvements, machine rebuilding, and even machine and system relocation and setup. 

When a single-source supplier can take responsibility for a part machining process, from application engineering all the way to reassignment or disposal of the machines, there are many efficiencies that make a tangible contribution to the overall objective of reducing the cost per part. Savings can be realized from greater operational and maintenance efficiencies to purchasing/management cost reduction.

Harder to quantify, but still very real, is the benefit of having a group of front-line people from a single source understand your business objectives and production program goals. By integrating these people into your current process and process evolution, your manufacturing staff gets the benefit of proactive advice, the expediency of established relationships, and the efficiency of having the outside source already equipped with comprehensive records on specific machines and systems. If that source is involved with multiple activities, the information at their fingertips can include certifications, preventive maintenance records, evaluations of the machines, as well as general machine specifications. Contrast this to a supplier that is brought in only occasionally to provide one service “by the book” and then leave.

The broader the awareness of customer requirements, and of the people within the customer plant, the better the equipment can be taken care of. If a service/support partner knows your future production plans, they know what level of proactive maintenance or upgrade is appropriate for a given machine. They can also offer advice on future relocation issues. Using the same single-source supplier across all manufacturing operations enables sharing of best practices for continuous improvement and optimal efficiencies. Here are some of the specific areas where a total machine life-cycle partner can be an advantage, beginning with front-end support for your part/process development.

Application Support: The company that is going to stick with you to assist during the life of your machining equipment may be the best company to help you optimize your process decisions and machine selection on the front end. Reducing in-process inventory, setup times, and piece/part costs are common objectives.

Job costing and time studies, process development and improvement, cycle-time reduction strategies, cutting tool evaluation and workholding development—all are services that machine tool experts can provide. Stand-alone machines or a cellular approach, this is another strategic question to be examined. Has expansion been planned for? After the system has been procured, using an outside source for CNC programming, CpK and PpK acceptance runoffs, and setup for SPC analysis can get production for a new process up and running faster.

Broader Training: A full-service support company can provide personnel training beyond mere machine operation and maintenance procedures for a specific machine. Individualized, online training that can be flexible around work schedules lets production people increase their knowledge and the value they bring to the job.

Onsite and Remote Service Support: Having on-site maintenance support from your service/support source is obviously an advantage when an unexpected equipment problem arises, saving the time and expense it takes for a technician to travel to the location. But the next best thing is interactive tech-support. Using video, voice and data communications over a standard phone line, problems can be diagnosed by experts immediately, remotely. The strange sound of that errant ballscrew, for instance, can be scrutinized by a technician hundreds of miles away. No internet service provider is needed. Service is faster, downtime less, equipment availability and utilization higher, with costs lower.

Preventive Maintenance: Knowing what areas of the machine need preventive maintenance, and what level is cost-effective, is part of the holistic service that a single-source support partner can provide. A supplier that has wide experience with many makes and kinds of machine tools will know the typical service life of various components and potential weak spots or problem areas with certain designs. This can enable closer monitoring, trend tracking, and appropriately scheduled maintenance. Coordinated “ganging” of service to multiple machines can allow significant economies of scale.

Machine/Production Monitoring: Powerful, sophisticated sensors and software can monitor individual machine dynamics and accuracies against deterioration, as well as optimize feedrate and functions.

Trends in production monitoring are moving rapidly from machine-level to process-level intelligence. Real-time Performance Management (RPM) has proven to optimize utilization of equipment for greater manufacturing efficiency, productivity and ROI. Computer-enabled data collection tools are available that identify and resolve out-of-cycle events as they are happening. They can provide interactive, on-demand reporting of production equipment availability, utilization and performance. Figure 1

Freedom eLog™ software is one Web-based reporting tool that records and displays around-the-clock machine activity in an intuitive, easily-actionable format, helping production and maintenance personnel get to the root cause of a specific problem quickly. It is designed to let operators, supervisors and engineers review user-friendly productivity reports online so they can optimize equipment, programs and schedules. Data from Freedom eLog reports also provide insight into leading indicators of potential operating problems, so managers can identify and understand them in time to take preventive action.

Spindle Replacement: Strategies for spindle replacement have become more refined and customer-centric in recent years. For plants operating high-volume automotive component machining systems, the service/support partner can take complete responsibility for spindle inventory and replacement, often working with a third-party spindle reconditioning source for new or rebuilt units. Turnaround time is hours, not days. Smaller volume manufacturers in the aerospace industry, for instance, also can’t afford to let the huge overhead of a giant gantry machine (both physically and financially speaking) sit dormant. Fast response to spindle or gear box replacement needs, or other major repairs, is critical.

Control Retrofits and Mechanical Rebuilds: It makes sense to get the big picture on control upgrade strategy and machine rebuilds from a support partner that is tuned in to your process and production personnel, as well as operator training requirements. The right source can analyze both the benefit to productivity and the impact on operations. What’s the right level of CNC programming capability for your needs and your personnel? What level of accuracy improvements can you expect from a given upgrade of ballscrews or other mechanicals?

Machines Reassigned: As more and more production is moved to first- and second-tier suppliers in the aerospace and other industries, equipment relocation is increasing. Helping you intelligently re-allocate capital equipment is definitely an area where your service/support partner can contribute significantly. The first step is often an evaluation of machines being considered for re-assignment to a new location and/or process.

When a machine’s suitability for a new part-producing role is marginal or in question, you must weigh the cost of bringing it up to spec (with new controls) against the benefit of avoiding requirements for operator retraining by living with the machine and its “known” control. At MAG, we call this in-depth inspection the “Health Check.” It allows you to thoroughly understand the condition of the equipment before you invest in relocating it, and know what it will cost to correct reported faults. When the decision is a “go,” it also allows us to handle relocation on a turnkey basis. We have the parts needed for the repair or upgrade selected and gathered, while the machine is being shipped, so that these parts are waiting at the relocation destination when the machine arrives.

This type of evaluation also identifies the most “bang for the buck” in terms of proactive maintenance or upgrade. Perhaps the ballscrews are sufficient for the time being, and a spindle replacement will be the best productivity “insurance.”

Machine Certification: After relocation or in-plant reassignment, a menu of inspections is important, from X-Y-Z axis alignment metrics to Ball Bar ANSI tests for precision, plus inspections of coolant/lube systems, tool changers and other automation. A 60-point check is common. The goal is to ensure that the machine meets or exceeds OEM specs, and that it will make quality parts per the program/contract requirements and ISO 9000 or other standards. Many manufacturers assign their support partner to twice-yearly recertifications, going hand in hand with preventive maintenance programs.

Summary
As durable goods manufacturing industries consolidate and outsource, production talent and experience tends to slip out the door to early retirement. Consider partnering with a dedicated, single-source service/support partner that can address all aspects of your machining capability and utilization, and work towards minimizing the total cost of ownership, with a constant eye on current and future operations. 

About The Author

Ron Hoffman  is vice president and general manager of MAG Regional Services. Go online to [www.mag-ias.com].