Lean approaches and cost effective machining of critical features
By Steve Dicke, Vice President of Marketing, Connecticut Spring & Stamping
"While I don’t profess to have seen 2014 trends by gazing into a crystal ball, I do feel confident about naming a few developments that will affect the spring and stamping industry this year – and on into the foreseeable future. Here are the top five trends I see:
· Expanding assembly capabilities to support customers seeking to reduce their vendor base.
· Supplementing machining capabilities to be able to Swiss machine complicated small parts from bar stock at reduced costs.
· Moving towards providing clean room environments.
· Continuing lean initiatives to decrease waste and become even more efficient.
· Broadened apprenticeship programs to train skilled manufacturing workers to replace an aging workforce.
Customers looking for vendors to do more
In my experience, customers and prospects are looking to reduce their vendor base, improve the vendors’ value, minimize account management, and increase their leverage. As part of this trend, we are getting more and more requests for diversified products, sub-assembly and assembly capabilities, in large part from medical device customers looking to increase their business while minimizing capital expenditures and limiting labor force growth.
Expanding machining capabilities
The need to expand machining capabilities is a big focus of spring and stamping companies looking to support their customers by reducing costs and logistical complexities. For example, CSS, which has been machining critical features into stamped parts for years, has significantly expanded in-house machining capabilities by adding Tsugami CNC machines where we fixture stampings and then machine critical surfaces, multi-axis CNC Swiss machining equipment, and fineblanking.
The Tsugami 5-axis CNC Swiss machining equipment is a bar-fed automatic lathe that uses single point tooling to produce intricate finished parts with virtually no requirements for grinding or other secondary operations. The parts drop off the machine complete. We have been focusing on parts that are 1-inch or smaller in diameter, but the machine can also be used for very long applications in medical devices.
Another example is triple-action fineblanking presses, which produce completely leveled parts with clean, right-angled cut surfaces and no torn or chipped edges. We see them as a great tool for economically producing highly complex, ready-to-install multifunctional parts in medical and firearms applications. They facilitate designs with improved functionality and great finishes that require only minimal secondary operations. What’s more, they produce parts that are typically 30-40 percent cheaper than a part that is stamped and machined – with some parts as much as 75 percent cheaper, depending upon part configuration.
Quality management certifications
One more trend that is definitely on the near horizon for those producing parts for the medical device industry is the move towards adopting more stringent quality standards, like the ISO 13485 standard for quality management for design and manufacturing of medical devices.
Many in the industry have already participated in aerospace industry quality initiatives and our company made the decision to obtain the ISO 13485 certification to show our commitment to producing parts to the high quality standards required by the medical market.
After going through a rigorous 10-ten day on-site audit, CSS, we recently received ISO 13485 certification for the manufacture of spring, wire forms, stampings and tooling, as well as assembly of springs, stampings and purchased components for the medical device industry. I definitely see the certification for assembly functions as eventually leading to the need for clean rooms.
Lean manufacturing to reduce waste and increase production
Lean manufacturing is certainly not a new trend in 2014, but I have to say it is alive and well, as manufacturing firms continue to look for ways to reduce waste and increase production.
Lean implementation approaches abound, both top-down and bottom-up, and I think more and more manufacturers are trying different ways to make lean relevant to their operations. At CSS, we had been working on leaning our processes for years, but in 2010 we opted to move towards an approach known as self-directed work teams (SDWTs), to get an increased level of commitment to reduce internal wastes and costs. The SDWTs are continually developing ideas for wringing waste from manufacturing and other processes.
The groups are also deeply involved in redesigning floor plans and equipment layout to create the optimum production flow for a new manufacturing facility under construction. As the groups gain confidence and success, I think they will help keep the lean trend moving in a positive way.
Lack of skilled manufacturing workers
Last, but certainly not least, I would be remiss if I did not make mention of a troubling trend that has been around for a long time – the lack of skilled manufacturing workers and the failure of the vocational educational system to produce a crop of workers for the thriving US precision manufacturing sector.
Training for skilled manufacturing positions is extremely important to the future of manufacturing in the United States, yet in many states it has fallen by the wayside. Well-paid manufacturing jobs requiring manual skills are out there, and as the skilled workforce ages, it is becoming more and more difficult to fill critical positions with trained employees.
Largely due to the decline in state-supported manufacturing sciences programs at local colleges and technical schools to train technical workers, CSS had to replace formerly state-funded training with its own in-house apprenticeship program to be able to meet our capacity and continue to grow.
We developed a program tailored to the skill sets required for tool and die makers and spring coilers. A diverse group of eleven people are currently enrolled in the program, which recently graduated its first two fully qualified employees.
While a successful in-house program definitely offers a pipeline of skilled workers key to growth and expansion, and helps CSS attract and retain skilled employees, the 2014 trend I’d like to see is states going back to providing educational services, so companies can focus on what they do best – hiring and manufacturing."