By Randy Dennison
Metal fabrication and machine shops, like most businesses face various challenges. These may include the following: keeping quality products competitively priced, meeting industry-standard lead times, staying up to date with knowledge and technology to name a few. Some fabrication and machine shops like Decimet Sales Inc., (DSI) located in the Minneapolis, MN area, offer a service called rapid prototyping. Rapid Prototyping is a fast-fabricating or machining process that utilizes CAD design professionals along with high-speed CNC Machining or metal fabrication equipment to build a physical product in an accelerated timeframe.
One of the issues that rapid prototyping shops deal with is production inefficiencies. When a customer needs a prototype built in a short period of time, long-run production projects may have to be put on hold to make way for the rapid prototype production. When this happens, set-up time for the prototyping work and costs as well as scheduling conflicts increase. Frustrations levels increase because now the machine operators must stop their long-run production, tear down the machines and get them set up for the prototyping work. Then when that is complete, they must tear them down again and set them back up to complete the long-run projects. It is a tedious and stressful situation because now the long-run production project may not be completed on-time or on-budget. Quality and lead times may also suffer. Above that, other customer jobs in the queue may not be completed on-time and on-budget. This translates into a decrease in customer satisfaction, a loss in sales and lower margins.
Short- and Long-Run Production Conflicts
What can a metal fabrication or machine shop do to avoid the conflicts outline above? What we did at DSI was to set up what we call a Rapid Response Cell (RRC). RRC was created to be an independent work cell with dedicated machines and workers used for short-run production and prototype work while long-run production remains uninterrupted.
First, the RRC was set up in response to major scheduling issues in the fabrication shop due to pausing long-run jobs, to allow for prototypes and short-run jobs to be completed. Secondly, we needed to eliminate the added time and expense needed to tear down a machine to make it ready for the short-run production. We really needed to find a way for us to do each type of job smoothly and simultaneously while staying competitive in both types of production.
In addition, before the RRC, there were cases in which we were unable to get accurate start and end dates due to the constant interruptions being caused by prototype, re-work, and short-run jobs. Those issues began causing the scheduled delivery dates to become unmanageable. We were not able to satisfy our customers to the standard that we hold ourselves to.
As scheduling conflicts increased, our managers, owners, engineers, and personnel at DSI came together as a team to brainstorm ideas on how to effectively fix the issues without causing more problems later down the line (which as most people in the manufacturing industry know, can happen). There were several great ideas from all areas of the company and through them we were able to agree that the Rapid Response Cell was our best choice.
The Rapid Response Cell Setup
The RRC is set-up in a specific area of the shop – one in the fab shop and one in the machine shop. Jobs that have a due date of less than 1 week, less than 50 pieces or re-work parts are routed to the RRC using a special prefix in the job number. Labor hours are costed the same as other work centers, giving customers another reason to utilize the RRC. When there are no RRC jobs to do, the cell runs normal production. The RRC can also be used for trial projects, one-piece-flow projects, testing alternative production methods or for employee testing.
The fabrication RRC uses a Miller Dynasty 400 TIG Welder. This is a top-of-the-line flagship TIG welding machine. With 400 AMP AC/DC, pulse, wave form and frequency adjustments, water cooled torch and wireless foot pedal, the welder can handle any fabrication prototyping work that comes through the shop. The cell also uses a 60-ton AccuPress Press Brake, Model 7606 with the Advantage Package, a Haeger Model 618 Plus PEM machine equipped with Auto-feeder, and a 3,000-Watt Mazak Optiplex Champion Model-3015 Fiber Laser Cutter – Bridge Style that utilizes CNC Mazatrol with Flying Optics.
The CNC Machining RRC uses a VF-2 SS Haas high speed milling machine, a Mazak twin spindle, twin turret, high speed lathe with live tools, small stand grinders, a small drill press and a large inspection table. These all work great for machining prototype work.
The RRC has two full-time employees that man the cells continually, and more can be called on as needed. With this dedicated equipment and specialized manpower, our RRCs are fully equipped to complete and ship 1–2-day turnaround projects.
Results of the Rapid Response Cell
Since the setup of the Rapid Response Cell, DSI is experiencing rapid growth. We have eliminated all distractions and disruptions in long-running jobs. Customers are now extremely satisfied because they are receiving their prototype parts faster and awarding more prototype, metal fabrication and machining production work to DSI. “Stress levels have decreased immensely” says Troy Brake, Operation Manager at DSI. “Everything is running more smoothly because of the heightened RRC visibility.” Now when employees see the RRC prefix in the job number, they simply send it to the RRC knowing that they can continue their normal, long-run production jobs without sacrificing time and quality. “We should have implemented the RRC earlier” added Troy. “We would have realized quicker growth and an increase to our bottom line.”
Rapid Response Cell Works
Decimet Sales has the machinery and man-power available that can be dedicated to the RRC type of production. We have the means to maximize production efficiencies. Long-run production jobs no longer need to be put on hold to make way for prototype work. Rapid prototyping jobs can be completed as quickly as possible due to dedicated RRC machinery and workers. Stress levels have been decreased along with scheduling conflicts. In short, RRC means more production in less time and that is a win-win for everyone.
If you need Rapid Prototyping work or short- and long-run production, contact Decimet Sales. We are fully equipped to provide quality and efficient metal and plastic fabrication or machining productivity.