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Cutting-tool productivity ... essential for survival.

For those of us in the business of manufacturing and marketing cutting tools worldwide, the words Cutting Tool Productivity have a double meaning.

The first thought that comes to mind is the quest for higher productivity in the manufacture and distribution of cutting tools by our own organization. The second meaning is the achievement of higher productivity by those who use the cutting tools we produce.

With the publicity given to productivity improvement during the recent recession, this is a good time to review both sides of this subject with candor. While productivity generally infers more advanced machinery, it invariably involves people with know-how and the determination to put it to work. Both people and machines must be utilized if real gains are to be achieved.

Internal improvements

Change is never easy in an industry where a productivity improvement of five percent is considered good. We've found that management commitment is the first part of such a program. Peer pressure in an enlightened work force can make a significant difference. Everyone must be willing to pull together.

While we have been spending significant amounts for new CNC machine tools, we have also made substantial strides in our "people-oriented" systems. The commitment between our people and the lates technology has resulted in the winning combination of increased productivity while maintaining the standard of quality on which Weldon has built its reputation. Once we know why and how our operations can be improved, then our people can work more efficiently.

For example, our Hertlein machines with programmable controllers turn down bar stock into blanks for many lines of rotating tools.

Our Huffman grinders are CNC programmed to grind all flute and cutting surfaces of a tool in one chucking. These machines have from five to eight axes simultaneously under control of computers. They represent the state-of-the-art of grinding machine tools available to our industry. One of the big advantages of operating in a CNC mode is the ability to finish those surfaces in one setup, and at the same time maintain the integrity of geometry in the finished tool. The increase in productivity comes from reduced handling and reduced loading and unloading time. In addition, there is a reduction in the number of setups required to change over the grinders from one tool shape or size to another.

Simply spending millions of dollars to purchase and install the latest in machine tools was not a guarantee that our productivity goals would be met. It was necessary to program this equipment to meet our product designs and to maintain our methods of achieving our historical quality levels. Our engineering people have done an excellent job at this. Our production staff faced the challenge of rethinking our routings and operations, which ensured both the accurace and productivity advantages this equipment can produce.

Another challenge concerned developing new product lines outside industrial applications, such as the consumer/do it yourself markets. This was a departure from the nearly total specialization in industrial applications of metalcutting tools we have marketed for years. Everything from the metallurgy to the quality control requirements had to be studied so that we were producing a product that fit the intended application. The result was that we are able to offer a better product that is competitive in these new markets.

The challenges will always be there. We will continue to meet them by becoming a more productive company than ever before.

Results of the effort

Evaluation of our program for productivity improvement must be considered in light of the fact that we are an old-line company in a mature industry. In such a situation, significant gains generally produce single-digit improvement percentages.

We are proud that in 1984 our productivity gain was a substantial 47 percent over the benchmark measurements made at the start of the program!

Having accomplished many of our goals, we see that pace slowing. But a continuing awareness, complemented by a positive attitude from our people, that we can do better indicates that a higher figure is attainable.

We are people-oriented company and can certainly say that a combination of committed workers and modern equipment can produce results that seemed beyond our reach. To be competitive worldwide requires the challenge and commitment from everyone.

Customer-oriented support

Our company philosophy has been successful for us in gaining internal support and a strong sense of unity in meeting our goals. This support is now being channeled to our customers' requirements as well, to assist them in maximizing their return on tooling investments using our cutting tools. We can measure their productivity in different terms for different objectives. Some customers are more concerned with tool life: How many slots can be made by that end mill? How many times can it be reground? Others calculate metal-removal rate and compare in.sup.3./min of Tool A with that of Tool B. Still others concentrate on speed to maximize output in terms of parts produced per minute or hour. The more sophisticated users add machine costs, tool costs, and labor costs to their overhead factors to determine which is the best of the alternatives available.

As manufacturers of tools we must be able to help our customers evaluate their productivity performance by whatever methods they choose to measure it. We should be able to suggest different tool specifications that will do a better job for a particular application. We may even suggest different ways to evaluate performance as being more suited to the objectives our customer is trying to reach.

Some who ignore metal-removal rate are well advised to inquire about this method of measurement. As an example of this, we have helped customers attain 4.6 in.sup.3./min on jobs that were running at 1.9. This is a 2.42 times metal-removal rate, a 242-percent gain in productivity.

Performance is certainly affected by the geometry of the tool. This may encompass factors such as cutting edge, rake, relief, diameter, number of teeth, shank style, and size. The material being cut obviously makes a large difference too. So does the material from which the cutting tool is made.

Weldon has committed resources to a research and development program with complete testing labs to determine the efficiency of our tools when cutting many different kinds of workpieces under various conditions. While fixturing and material variations may required different values of speeds and feeds for each lot processed, it is prudent to start each new setup with values that are based on previously tested data.

Customers are sometimes reluctant to ask for productivity help. While few would admit to having problems on such matters, many seem to be complacent to the extent that they fear tampering with something that works . . . why bother? . . . it is good enough as it is! Our measure of that situation leads us to the conclusion that there is at least a 25-percent improvement in end-mill productivity for any metalworking manufacturer in the country.

Like most productivity-improvement activities, this takes a willingness and commitment on the part of the people involved to seek change. They must have an open mind to new proposals, study their data, conduct experimental runs, and evaluate their results.

Simply, change along with the principles of analysis does produce increased productivity.

Toolmaking perspective

Our company has a proud history of design and development of quality cutting tools. Our reputation is particularly strong in end mills. Carl Bergstrom put the helix on the end mill in 1918. We introduced the Crest-Kut configuration on the end mill 18 years ago. Innovations are best cultivated in a company that routinely devotes resources to R&D and is equipped to test the ideas of its people before putting them on the market.

Organizations that have achieved success in their chosen fields must strike a sensible balance between the continuation of proven practices and products that have built that success, and the changing of those concepts to a higher level.

On the one hand, there is the normal desire to reap all the rewards of past efforts by letting good things go on as they have in the past. On the other hand, complacency toward new (and often untried) ideas can lead to loss of leadership. The tipping of this balance must reflect a management commitment to CHANGE as the only way to assure a sound future for the organization.

Steadfast commitment

Management's determination must not be easily shaken. Your 40-year veterans may know all about your present methods, and be steeped in the memory of ideas that were tried and failed. They may take the attitude that any suggestion for change will produce negative results. Some will even guarantee an idea won't work. Often those are the ideas that work the best.

International markets of recent years have taught us that the companies that do nothing to make improvements are vulnerable to attack by someone, somewhere in the world, who is willing to take the risks of new methods and comes onto the market with a better buy. Without a program to achieve higher productivity, each company is looking forward to a very limited future.

These facts of life must be communicated to all the people on the payroll. The job security of each individual is dependent on the survival of their company in the marketplace, which is in turn dependent on making the necessary productivity improvements to stay competitive. This is too serious a matter to take lightly.

In our case, it would be make little sense to provide productivity improvement know-how to our customers and not improve our own productivity when manufacturing cutting tools. We cannot continue the former unless we are supported by the latter.

Outside forces

Shakeouts in an industry make opportunities for survivors. Certainly our reputation for quality helped us increase our share of market in a period when some competitors were closing their doors. Such market conditions, present an opportunity for improvements that enable us to produce our same quality product at a higher value because of lower cost. Sound margins will be necessary for survival in the next down cycle. We are talking about better equipment and people systems to make our products consistently the very best.

For information on getting higher productivity with end mills, circle E31.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Briggs, George O.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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