3D Printing and Manufacturing: How rapid prototyping might change the world.

3D printing, or rapid prototyping, moves out of scifi and into reality.

“Computer, give me a ham sandwich.”

We may not be too far away from that as the technology of rapid prototyping is moving into the food industry.  Today, 3D printing is being used to create custom parts that can have remarkable strength and functionality.  The fully-assembled part can actually be made with tolerances around 2-thousandths of an inch and with moving parts already assembled.

In the food industry, it is simply a matter of time until multiple combinations of ingredients and formulas are created to produce food on-demand.  However, the complexity of organic systems is still out of reach for the industry today and the complex reactions that occur during cooking would be difficult to model in a prototyping machine.

But what are some examples of ways we can leverage this technology today.

  1. Visualizing floor layouts.  Today 3D modeling is already accomplished on computer screens, enabling an individual to conduct a virtual tour of a facility before it is even constructed.  But what if you could create a scale model of the plant, with equipment already installed and scaled fork trucks, pallets, and people to visualize the workings of the plant within hours?  Literally, it is possible to build a model overnight, while you sleep.  This could alter how we go about creating a visual factory and could assist Industrial Engineers with plant layout and Operations people with new equipment installations and safety evaluations before a plant is even under construction.  It could save thousands of dollars in post-construction tweaking of a plant.
  2. Changepart construction and design.  Before new packaging can hit the market, a major time constraint is the design and construction of changeparts for the packaging equipment.  Rapid prototyping would allow the package to be made in a day, a physical sample sent to the equipment manufacturer, changeparts to be designed almost immediately, and then those changeparts printed the next day to try a dry fit to the package and the equipment.  This could shave weeks, if not months, from a new package timeline to market.
  3. Reducing equipment downtime.  Metal prototyping is a possibility with this technology as well.  A new part can be made overnight or even right in the shop.  Depending on the part complexity and where it must be shipped from, it might be a faster, cheaper alternative to have the part printed when it is needed if it can be done locally.
  4. Reducing parts inventory.  Some parts have to be purchased in quantities that can be a bit ridiculous at times.  If parts aren’t needed very often, they can be printed on-demand, reducing on-hand inventory and freeing up space in your parts room.

I’m sure I missed many of the ways this technology can help the manufacturing environment.  There are engineering and new product testing that are a given for this type of technology.  The 3D printing world is already starting to invade the food industry by printing out chocolate and sugar candy.

Now, how about that sandwich?

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Justifying Your Rebuilds – How to talk to Accountants

Rebuild

Equipment rebuilds can be expensive.  However, that is a cost of doing business.  Sometimes they can be capitalized and other times they can’t, it depends on your accounting rules and whether or not you are increasing the life of the machine beyond its original design.  If the rebuilds are routine maintenance, you generally have to expense those items, and that can be hard to put in the budget.  If the rebuild will increase the machine life and you can capitalize it, it always helps to show a savings or increase in performance to help get the capital approved.  Either way, it is valuable to show people what you save when you complete a rebuild.

The other consideration is to determine if the rebuild is worth the money.  If you don’t see any significant improvement in the machine after the rebuild and the machine cost isn’t considerably high, why rebuild it?  Just replace it.  That can be the solution sometimes.

I have attached a worksheet that takes into account some of the simple things that can be used to calculate the value of a rebuild.  Often times we forget to include the labor portion of downtime or even the additional income that can be generated on the machine if it is capacity constrained.  Those are some of the things considered in this worksheet.

Rebuild Justification

I haven’t locked it, so feel free to modify the worksheet for your own use.  I would be interested in the feedback of anyone that tries this out.  I am always open for suggestions and improvements.  If anyone has created something similar or has a different resource, please feel free to comment with those as well.

Leading Operational Change

 

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I read an interesting post on maintenancephoenix.com about change management and reactive vs proactive maintenance.  The article, by Ricky Smith, was thought-provoking.  He talks about culture change in the organization and how to determine if you are in a reactive or proactive organization.

As leaders, regardless of department or function, it is our duty to create and build the right culture.  Below are 5 tips on how to do this in an operational setting.

  1. Set the expectation.  It seems easy, but it isn’t.  Expectations must be realistic.  That is not so simple.  It takes a bit of educated guessing and self-temperment.  Often, as leaders, we expect others to be as capable or more so than ourselves.  That is not always the case.  Don’t underestimate the ability of people, but don’t set the bar so high as to create discouragement.  Remember that there is a limiting factor to the progress that can be made, find that and then set the pace.
  2. Create the game plan.  Here is strategy.  Don’t confuse strategy with goals.  Strategy is the route that you plan to get to the destination.  Jim Collins has had some great books and one of the lines that has stuck with me is the “20-Mile March” from his book Great by Choice.  Pick your march.
  3. Don’t be a flavor of the month.  You can’t be a fad (read more here).  Once this happens you lose all credibility.  Trying to recover from a lackluster start is just as bad as never starting.  Don’t let up and keep your strategy in view.  Even when times get rough, continue your march to make sure that you can gain what is needed.  If you said you would shut down the line once a week for maintenance, do it…even if the schedule is tight.  It will be worth it in the long run.
  4. Get the team on board.  Make sure your teams are supporting the change.  There can’t be any undercutting of the program behind closed doors.  Encourage your team to vent to you if they are frustrated with where the change is going, but make sure they don’t vent to anyone else.  The team must have a united front everywhere in the organization.  If not, this is poison to the change process.  It is painful to do it, but you may have to cut loose those that aren’t supporting your culture change.  One rotten apple can spoil the whole bunch.
  5. Celebrate success.  Celebrate your accomplishments.  As milestones are achieved, make sure that people know you are proud of them.  Don’t celebrate if you don’t succeed something, that makes it superficial when you do celebrate for just cause.  Culture change is a long road and these celebrations keep people motivated along the way.

Change is never easy.  In any organization where deadlines and customer demands are put before everything else, you can never accomplish your own goals.  We tell people that they need time for themselves, so do companies.  Treat your company right and your customers will notice.

Survival of the Most Adaptable

be like water

I read an interesting blog post about the responsibilities of companies to change their views of the phrase “survival of the fittest”.  This article is about corporate social responsibility and the ways that we interact with nature.  While I think it is a great post, I would like to talk about the same concept, but on a level that is more for the manufacturing middle-management folks.

Let’s interpret the phrase “survival of the fittest” to be “the best at adapting”.  In business that means flexibility, versatility, and nimbleness.  But how can we influence these factors when we are a cog in the big business machine?

  1. Strategic development of a process model that allows for smaller runs and higher flexibility.  As an Operations Leader, you have the ability to influence how you design your department.  Most companies are looking for the big runs, fewer changeovers, and highest volume.  But what if you could create a section of your department that is specialized at small runs, reduced inventory, and high-speed turnaround?  Could you provide a service to customers at a premium?  Could you handle frequent changeovers as a matter of course?  Check out QRM.  This methodology might be able to help you get started with something.
  2. Stop focusing on reducing changeover time and start focusing on eliminating minor stops.  Let’s look at a typical production line.  If you run a product for 16 hours with equipment speeds of 20 cases/minute you should see 19,200 cases at the end of that time.  But it takes you 20 hours to run that amount.  Then you have to perform a 2-hour changeover to the next product.  Most companies want to reduce changeover time because that is downtime where you are making zero units.  But the changeover has to happen.  Even if you cut the changeover time in half you only saved 1 hour.  But it took you an extra 4 hours to run the product.  Cut that in half and you save 2 hours.  Minor stops on a line can result in huge hits on efficiency.  Quicker runs equal more capacity for new volume.
  3. Slow down to speed up.  It sounds like taboo, but Maintenance groups will tell you that if you run your car at 9000 rpm you won’t get as far as if you run it at 3000 rpm.  But that is exactly what we do to our production equipment.  We run it to the max and shorten its life and Mean-Time Between Failure (MTBF).  This not only increases downtime and Maintenance costs, but it also reduces the machine’s availability for more volume.  Conduct a constraint analysis on your line and set the limiting machine to at least 10% below its maximum rate.  You will see a smoother run and a more predictable life of the equipment.  Remember, it is about cases out of the door, not units per minute off of the filler.
  4. Set goals for management and supervisors that reward flexibility.  It is a difficult thing to do, but try setting department KPIs around how you manage the department, not how much volume you push through the door.  You may have to create a set of KPIs that you track internally and still publish the ones that upper management wants to see.  Think about how the behaviors of your team will benefit your business and create metrics around those behaviors.  It will take some thought, but you will have a better performing system out of the deal.