In this final installment of our series “North American Forging is Advanced Manufacturing,” we will explore “above-the-shop-floor operations.” In a modern business enterprise, these operations can be continuously improved to reduce overhead and general and administrative costs while supporting the operations on the shop floor. We will examine a large forge (Weber Metals) and a small forge (Ulven Forge) that, despite their respective sizes, still encounter the same business issues above the shop floor.
Step by STEP Improvement
Over the decades, Weber Metals (WM) of Paramount, Calif., has been a leader in aerospace forging, providing the best in large open- and closed-die forgings for demanding applications within aircraft and space systems. The company has implemented a variety of cost-saving, quality-improving and lead-time-reducing initiatives on the shop floor to keep pace with the demands of the aerospace industry. In recent years, Weber Metals examined and improved its operations between its front lobby and its back shop operations – namely the front office.
Through a series of kaizen events focused on time- and cost-consuming white-collar processes, the company improved the quality and reduced the cost of these activities. For example, starting with the customer, they tackled their quoting process. Prior to the kaizen event, pricing a quote took at least an hour. With a new Quote Tracking system populated with real-time metal pricing data, tooling information and machine-utilization information, the firm can provide accurate quotes in one to two minutes. Of course, this is also aided by solid customer-provided data such as that embedded in product data, namely STEP files and accurate order quantities. STEP (STP or STE) files are standardized graphic file exchange formats that enable the interpretation of files between different graphic-design software formats.
Building on the improved quoting system, WM reduced quote entry time by 80% while reducing errors and delays in material ordering and part shipping. As work on the shop floor ebbs and flows, staff was required to reschedule operations every week, thereby consuming 18 hours of the master scheduler’s time. With a complete, digital view of the shop floor and machine utilization, rescheduling and rebalancing of the shop floor occurs in less than an hour, providing improved asset utilization, optimized crew sizing and scheduling, and improved throughput with reduced lead times. An added benefit is WM’s ability to improve energy consumption to match energy availability in southern California, not just between day and night but hour by hour throughout the day, especially in the heat of the summer.
And while all of these improvements have occurred above the shop floor, the operators can digitally track metal as it flows in from suppliers and flows out to customers. The integration of bar codes into digital travelers enables 100% visibility and traceability. This is especially important for high-performance aerospace parts, which the ultimate customer traces from the mill at the beginning of the part’s life cycle to its end when it is recycled for future applications.
To achieve these remarkable results, WM invoked Plex Systems Enterprise Resource Planning System, which can be sized for nearly any size enterprise.
Lean Manufacturing Applied to the Front Office
Formal planning systems are obviously useful to large operations, but they can be effectively used by small forges as well. A case in point is Ulven Forging (UF) of Hubbard, Ore. In this family-owned forge, the demands of improved above-the-shop-floor operations are the same. UF took a different approach to front-office improvements.
Over the years, UF addressed select operations based on system improvements identified by the associates with costs offset by research and development programs funded by the Defense Logistics Agency and manufacturing extension partnerships. Like WM and all other forges, UF used to spend a lot of time (and money) quoting jobs.
Working with The Ohio State University through the DLA PRO-FAST Program, UF endeavored to not only map its process but also to measure it. One immediate observation of the data was the number of quotes not rewarded with an actual contract with a customer. Further analysis showed that some companies submitting RFQs just did not order from UF, so they began responding with a no bid and suggestion of an alternative supplier. This immediately eliminated the need to formulate a quote while saving quote time and effort for other higher-probability prospects. In addition, the quoting process was streamlined to reduce the quoting time from hours to minutes with an improvement in quote accuracy and quality.
All of these improvements were the result of adapting lean manufacturing practices to the front office. In parallel with those lean activities in the front office, UF applied other lean concepts on the shop floor to improve product flow.
Ulven Forging also has been involved in the Oregon State University MECOP (multiple engineering cooperative program) Engineering Internship program for five years. The students are exceptional and bring new perspectives and new ways of solving problems. The projects the interns work on always use a lean approach, and this is the reason for the exceptional results that are achieved. UF intern Ryan Bell created a 3D virtual map of the entire facility including utilities and equipment. The map allows UF to evaluate work-cell layouts, process flows and future equipment addition locations (Figures 1a and 1b).
Jordan Reed, UF’s first intern, has served the entire North American forging industry by chairing the FIA Plant Engineering Committee for the past two years. Not only has UF benefited from direct integration of lean concepts through its associates, but the company shares pre-competitive experiences with other forges, helping the industry improve as well.
Ulven Forging has extensive manufacturing capabilities that include closed- and open-die forging, pressing, upsetting, bending, manual machining and CNC machining. With the extensive collection of manufacturing equipment, scheduling was always a challenge. UF implemented a fully integrated ERP system, Epicor, in 2014. With the use of Epicor, the time to schedule jobs has dropped from an average of eight days to an average of one day.
As we complete this series on “North American Forging is Advanced Manufacturing,” we can quickly remember that forging today meets many of the definitions of advanced manufacturing. You can review previous articles online at www.FORGEmag.com.
But the real message is that forgings are expected to operate in demanding applications requiring guaranteed strength, toughness and durability. To meet these requirements, the forging industry uses sophisticated tools, modern techniques, and smart and enthusiastic talent to design, tool, forge and finish the best metallic parts around the world.
To achieve this capability, forging needs to be – and is – advanced manufacturing.
Preparing this series of articles is clearly a team effort between SCRA Applied R&D, Scientific Forming Technologies Corp. (SFTC) and FORGE Magazine. Jon Tirpak, the executive director of the Forging Industry Association – Department of Defense Manufacturing Consortium, and John Walters of SFTC appreciate the support received from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) through its Manufacturing Technology Program – PRO-FAST.
Co-author John Walters is vice president of Scientific Forming Technologies Corporation, Columbus, Ohio. He may be reached at 614-451-8330 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Co-author Jon D. Tirpak is the executive director of FDMC and FAST program manager. He is also immediate past president of ASM International. He may be reached at 843-760-4346 or email@example.com. Co-author Mike Ulven is vice president of Ulven Forging Inc., Hubbard, Ore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Co-author Al McCormack is vice president, sales & supply chain, for Weber Metals, Paramount, Calif.