Like all companies, sheet metal fabrication and machine shops deal with numerous problems. The issues may include maintaining excellent product quality, staying reasonably priced, matching common production standards, and staying abreast of proficiency and technical knowledge, to name a few.
These same issues can apply to rapid prototyping services as well. Decimet Sales Inc. in Rogers, Minn., provides rapid prototyping as part of its metal fabrication and machine shop offerings. Rapid prototyping is a fabricating or machining method that makes use of CAD specialists along with specialized CNC machines or fabrication equipment to build a physical part in a quicker timeframe.
One of the frustrations that shops that perform rapid prototyping must try to overcome is manufacturing inefficiencies. When customers need a prototype constructed expeditiously, long-run production projects may be put on hold to make room for the new project. When that takes place, scheduling issues arise as well as the time and costs associated with setup. Irritation levels escalate when the people operating the machinery must pause their long-run productivity, retool the machining or fabrication apparatus and get it set up again for the prototype work. After all that is accomplished, they must tear it down and set it back up again to complete the long-run projects.
Accommodating these situations can be a long, drawn-out and stressful situation because now the long-run work may not be completed on time or on budget. Quality, workmanship and delivery times may also suffer. Adding insult to injury, other customer jobs in the queue might not be finished on time or on budget, which devolves into a deterioration of customer satisfaction, a decrease in sales volume and lower margins.
A quick answer
What can a sheet metal fabrication or CNC machine shop do to escape these frustrating issues? At Decimet Sales, the answer was the creation of a rapid response cell (RRC), which was set up as a separate workcell comprised of designated equipment and workers used for short-run jobs and prototype work that allows long-run projects to continue to run uninterrupted.
Decimet’s reasons for wanting the RRC were multi-faceted. First, it was set up as a response to major scheduling problems in the fabrication department, which frequently had to pause long-run projects to provide means for the prototypes and short-run jobs to be finished. Second, the RRC was put in place to eliminate the additional time and costs needed to tear down a machine to make it ready for prototype and short-run work. The company needed to discover a way to do both types of jobs smoothly and simultaneously while continuing to be cost-conscious in both types of production.
Prior to the RRC, there were situations in which Decimet was unable to count on definite start and end times because of the continual interruptions being caused by prototype work, re-working and short-run jobs. Those situations began making delivery dates unmanageable and chaotic. It was difficult to satisfy all of its customers to the standard that the company wanted to maintain.
As scheduling conflicts escalated, managers, owners, engineers and personnel at Decimet gathered as a team to brainstorm ideas as to how to productively correct the conflicts and not cause more later down the road. Several ideas emerged from every area of the company and in short order, the company came to acknowledge that establishing the RRC was its first and best choice.
Two RRCs are set up in specialized sections of Decimet – one in the fabrication shop and one in the machine shop. Jobs that have a due date of
less than one week are less than 50 pieces or have parts that need re-working are routed to a RRC using a distinctive designation in the project order number. Worker hours are priced the same as other work centers, providing customers another reason to utilize the RRC. If there are no RRC work orders, the cell performs at normal production. The RRC is also utilized for checking procedures, one-off projects, verifying various manufacturing methods and employee testing.
The fabrication RRC employs a Miller TIG welding machine. With its 400-amp AC/DC, pulse, waveform and frequency adjustments as well as water-cooled torch and wireless foot pedal, the welding machine can manage any prototype work that comes through the cell. The fabrication RRC also employs a 60-ton AccuPress 7606 press brake, a Haeger PEM machine and a 3-kW Mazak Optiplex Champion Fiber laser cutting machine.
The machining RRC utilizes a Haas high-speed milling machine; a Mazak twin-spindle, twin-turret lathe; small stand grinders; a drill press; and a large inspection table, which all work together for machining prototype jobs.
Each RRC employs two full-time operators that manage the cells continually, and more can be called on, as necessary. The RRCs are also situated close to the shipping department, which helps in expediting the shipping procedure. With this design, dedicated machinery and specialized manpower, the RRCs are fully outfitted to complete and ship fast-turnaround and prototype work.
Since the setup of the RRCs, Decimet has been experiencing rapid growth. The company eliminated all of the distractions and disruptions in long-run production. Customers are now exceptionally happy because they have been getting prototype jobs faster. As a result, they are allocating much more prototype, metal fabrication and CNC machining jobs to Decimet.
“Tension levels have declined tremendously,” says Troy Brake, operation manager at Decimet. “Everything is operating more smoothly because of the added RRC visibility.”
Now, when the workforce notices the RRC prefix in the job number, they naturally deliver it to the RRC and relax knowing that they can go on with their normal, long-run production work without forfeiting time and quality.
Decimet now has the equipment and manpower that can be dedicated to the RRC method of production as well as the means to maximize work efficiencies. Long-run projects do not need to be paused to allow for prototype jobs. Prototype jobs can be accomplished quickly due to dedicated RRC equipment and manpower. In a nutshell, RRC equates to more production in less time: a win-win for everybody.