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Approaching the manufacturing process with automated parts sorting improves efficiencies factory-wide

The “status quo” is typically fine for most people, and given that humans are resistant to change, the decision makers behind manufacturing are prone to the same complacency. They easily fall into their habitual ways of performing daily tasks and turn a blind eye to the value of a new approach. But technology is in a constant state of flux, as are market demands. These are the two main factors that challenge the status quo and force manufacturers to look to new ways of approaching production.

Another big motivator for stepping away from the status quo involves workplace safety. According to OSHA, the direct cost of workplace-related musculoskeletal disorders ranges from $15 billion to $18 billion per year. Add in indirect costs and that number soars to $45 billion. Ohio State University’s study on the matter found that back injury-related workers’ comp claims run $40,000 to $80,000 per employee. These numbers give credence to the act of investing in safety, not only for the health of the workers, but also for the cost advantages of higher throughput.

MC Machinery’s ASTES software includes a sorting feature that can prepare parts for the next step in the manufacturing process, improving workflow.

For companies like MC Machinery Systems Inc., regularly assessing the needs of manufacturers puts it in a position where the team there can make fact-based research and development decisions that add value to the products that hit the market, such as the company’s Advanced Swiss Technology Engineered Solution (ASTES) parts sorting software. While ASTES definitely helps to keep workers safe, it also offers a production advantage that frees up serious bottlenecks.

Defining costs

Jason Legrand, automation specialist at MC Machinery, says the company spent the last year developing a better perspective regarding customer needs, asking questions about how the solutions it delivers can impact the entire manufacturing process rather than just portions of the manufacturing workflow. He says the “entire process” approach has been a hot topic in manufacturing philosophy as of late, and MC Machinery has positioned ASTES as a solution to various issues manufacturers face today.

“The material has a definite cost,” Legrand begins, addressing how most manufacturers approach where they’re spending money. “But people tend to take the costs of the rest of the processes and split them up.”

Legrand says splitting up those costs is in no way accurate. When a fabricator lumps together the costs of all of the other processes, often times, downtime between processes is not accounted for.

“You have to include wait time as a cost, in part because a pile of parts waiting to move on to the next operation takes up floor space,” he continues. “It also, of course, slows down the overall speed of manufacturing.”

Manufacturers have to consider that there is a definite per-minute cost associated with every step of the process. Where ASTES can really make a difference is preparing the parts for more fluid subsequent downstream operations.

“Are they kitted properly and are they oriented properly?” Legrand says. “Are the parts stacked with the other correct parts? A lot of parts preparation can be addressed with automated parts sorting.”

For example, material costs can range upwards of 30 percent of the overall manufacturing cost, but Legrand says research shows that the majority of additional costs come after subsequent downstream operations. Therefore, anything that can be done during the blanking process, which includes sorting and stacking parts, to ease workflow issues down the line will minimize production cost. One example of how something seemingly small can be a become a big issue is in regard to grain; as fabricators know, when bending metal, it’s important that the grain orientation is correct because when metal is bent against the grain or perpendicular to the grain, cracking can occur.

Utilizing ASTES, users can take advantage of the material optimization feature, which ensures that parts are rotated in the nest in a manner that will not cause issues in bending, which is incredibly beneficial as problems in bending create further problems in welding and assembly.

“You can specify what parts you want stacked in a different area in a different way,” Legrand says.

Material optimization features in MC Machinery’s ASTES software can help manufacturers reduce scrap while improving de-nesting and sorting processes.

Manufacturing speed

Faster, higher power part forming solutions hitting the market are often met with excitement. From advanced laser cutting to robotic welding, a lot of fanfare is involved when new tech drops. But as more manufacturers become invested in “manufacturing velocity” or the speed at which they can make products, they know the devil is in the details, and they’ve got to look for the devil in places other than the high-dollar part cutting/welding/forming solutions.

For example, Legrand’s team took an in-depth look into manufacturing and found processes such as cutting, finishing, forming, welding, painting, assembling and shipping represent a fraction of the time used compared to the wait times in between. The typical cutting process, for instance, only makes up around 1.5 percent of the total manufacturing time.

Another issue impacting velocity involves de-nesting. A new speedy laser can plow through metal and create a pallet full of cut parts faster than ever before. But it might take three people 2.5 hours to de-nest, sort and stack the parts. While the fancy new laser can create a cut quality that leaves no need for secondary work, a bottleneck remains in the approach to de-nesting.

Hiring more workers to de-nest parts won’t necessarily take care of the problem.

“How heavy are the parts?” Legrand will ask customers. “How many part numbers do you have? And what about human error – what if they stack the parts wrong? Can they optimize stacking for the next operation? After all, we’re talking about achieving overall manufacturing velocity.”

With the ASTES de-nesting and sorting solution, the job that took three people 2.5 hours would only take 37 min. And all the parts are arranged perfectly for the next step in the process.

“The ASTES never calls in sick and you don’t need to give it vacation,” Legrand says. “It’s a real-world solution to any mistake a human being would make during that process.”

MC Machinery Systems Inc.

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