As this new year begins, I would like to sincerely thank all readers who have taken time to during the past year to read this column. I understand that time management has never been so critical, and I am pleased that so many can a find a few moments during their busy schedule to read and interact with questions.
As our economy evolves with new governments, lower currency and increasing labour costs, the cost of consumable production inputs have never been so important. In order to combat the rising cost of manufacturing in this country, it is critical that manufacturers seek ‘value added’ products and services, which will promote production efficiency and quality of finished products.
My explanation of ‘Tools to add value’ will be laid out in a series of six columns, which will focus and expand on the topics listed below. The end goal, is a broader perspective of the overall production process as it relates to cutting tools, and a better understanding of all the factors that contribute to the ‘real cost’ of tooling in your operation.
TOOLING COST ANALYSIS
Before we can truly understand the cost of any production input, it is critical that a cost analysis structure is carefully laid out, to determine actual tooling cost currently being incurred by the operation. In order to capture the complete picture, we need to consider other production costs affected by tooling performance and other factors in the production process.
For example, performance of cutting tools will inevitably have a direct impact on final finishing cost per unit. Poor tooling performance can be a catalyst for dramatically increased finishing costs, which generally account for a much higher percentage of total production costs.
Labour is another high percentage production cost, which can be positively or negatively affected by tooling design and performance. Premature tool wear will cause machine operators to spend more time changing tools, or the operation will be forced to incur the cost of poor cut quality or machine efficiency.
The purpose of such detailed cost analysis is to identify areas in the production process that are affected by tooling. We recognise that exact cost figures are difficult to determine given the amount of variables, but the simple act of identifying variables will allow decision makers to make informed decisions about cutting tool purchases.
PRODUCTION EFFICIENCY TOOLS
Machine design engineers are constantly striving to increase output by increasing feed rates and machine performance to increase value for the machine owners. This increase in output must always be done without sacrificing the quality of the end product; therefore, tooling designs are a critical component of the machine to ensure cut quality does not suffer at higher feed rates.
Premium tooling products are obviously a critical part of increasing production efficiency, but so is the efficiency of communication between production staff and suppliers who are responsible to provide product support. A qualified tooling support specialist can not only recommend tooling products, but can also help determine proper machine parameters to optimize tool performance and longevity. Take advantage of the value added knowledge and experience of your suppliers, and facilitate good communication with all the stakeholders in the process.
LABOUR REDUCTION TOOLS
Tooling design and quality can obviously affect the amount of labour required to achieve the end goal of quality products. Labour is generally used to change cutting tools once the cutting edge has failed and usually compensate in some way if the cutting tool does not perform properly. So the purchase decision to buy quality tooling products will lead to labour cost reduction.
There are a number of automatic tool adjustment systems on the market, which are designed to decrease the amount of labour required to achieve profile accuracy. Traditional adjustment of tooling was generally done using manual shims, which can be very labour intensive, but modern systems can provide quick accurate adjustments with minimal labour cost or labour loss due to downtime.
INVENTORY MANAGEMENT TOOLS
There are currently a wide range of inventory management systems available in the wood industry, ranging from ‘RFID micro chips’ imbedded in the tool body, to simple etching procedures on tools to indicate critical information. The cost of each system varies greatly, but all are aimed at the same goal of reducing tooling cost through effective inventory organization.
Many of these systems are generally used as a part of a broader inventory management system for the entire company’s consumable products. If they seem excessive for your operation, there are simple ‘barcodes’ that can be etched on the shank of router tools or the plate of saw blades. This barcode can be read by a generic scanner linked to a PC, and the information can be automatically scanned into an Excel document. The Excel documents can be laid out in any number of ways to meet the requirements of the manufacturers and suppliers involved.
Tool manufacturers all have capability to etch on all their products, which makes ‘custom etching’ possible in most situations. Therefore, a simple request to your tooling supplier to etch the blades with specific names, codes or departments, can be a simple but effective way to start the inventory management process with minimal investment.
Like any organizational system, effective implementation is the key to realizing the value of the system. Employees must be willing to ‘buy in’ to every step of the implementation process and truly believe their efforts will make their job easier in the long run. Therefore, it is critical that management understand the skill set and desire of the employees before deciding on any particular system.
Tooling manufacturers can produce cutting edge geometry that will provide premium cut quality; however, most applications still require some level of sanding before going to the finishing department. To achieve the best result, tooling and sanding technology decisions must be made in conjunction.
Profile sanding companies manufacture sanding heads in a variety of grits, which will match tooling profile exactly. There is numerous quality sanding head options on the market, which can be used on tenoners or CNC routers to automate the final finishing process. In order to optimize the performance of sanding heads, it is critical that the profile matches perfectly, otherwise sanding heads will be taking too much of a chip load causing increased sanding disc consumption. The key to success in this operation is good communication between tool and sanding head manufacturers to ensure the same DXF file is used as a starting point. If done properly, the combination of cutting tools and sanding heads will provide premium surface finish will minimal labour cost, adding substantial value to the operation.
Tooling products are a small part of a larger production process involving, machines, software, finishing tools and labour. Although tooling costs generally account for a small percentage of total production cost, the importance of tooling decisions should not be underestimated. Cutting tools can dramatically affect other components of the production chain and have a substantial impact on the quality of the end product. Any product evaluation of such an important part of the process should always be done with overall value in mind. Consult with your tooling supply professionals and explore as many options as possible for your specific production requirements.