Having graduated from Purdue University with an ME degree, I have been working in manufacturing for 15 years – 10 of those dedicated to heat treat. I immediately loved this industry, striking a balance working both on equipment and from a desk. I have worked for a commercial heat treater and a supplier, viewing the industry from both perspectives. I have visited both simple family-owned and high-tech facilities. When inquiring why either did things a certain way, I was met with the same answer: “Not sure. That is just how we have always done it.”
Customers and accreditations are constantly evolving and improving how we operate. At the same time there seems to be a national changing of the guard. Nearly every facility I visit has an owner or employee planning their retirement and navigating that transition to the next generation; exciting me as the next generation becomes involved in company decisions.
These individuals seem to not be satisfied with “that is just how we have always done it,” and they are willing to invest their own time to revolutionize the industry. During this Information Age, the future lies with understanding the difference between data and information – and more importantly doing something about it! Many companies record an extraordinary amount of data but fail to convert this into easily accessible information. The answer lies within both equipment and software used to capture, display and report data.
Facilities historically maintained separate charting, quality and often enterprise resource planning systems. Each functioned independently, with users alternating between multiple systems. I recently collaborated with several companies working to marry these systems. Others want information to be available 24/7. We provided team leaders with wireless tablets to view production activity and built notifications to text them of process deviation. I am excited thinking these efforts have (hopefully) barely scratched the surface of this technology.
Understanding realistic utilization is a goal for most management. One customer had a very reliable system calculating their equipment efficiency, which displayed time in or out of production per shift, week or month. While many may be envious of such a system, one of their young engineers saw room for improvement. He believed these numbers were helpful, but he needed to evaluate beyond binary terms to truly improve his efficiency.
His goal was to understand not just utilization but the cause for being out of production. For a year, he tried “postmortem” to answer this question. Every evening, he would evaluate charts and talk with operators, documenting what happened between loads. He expected there was an easier way and asked for help.
Over the next year, we developed a solution to simplify this approach and improve accuracy while minimizing extra work for the operators. Before starting a cycle, operators would quickly select from a list what had occurred since the previous cycle (maintenance, TUS, waiting on parts, etc.).
At the end of the first month, he ran a report and saw the largest contributor to downtime was a lack of baskets and fixturing. His ability to think “outside of the box” and our partnership allowed him to transform data into information. After receiving new fixturing, he immediately increased throughput on the production floor. Over the next few months, reporting allowed for improvements to pyrometry and maintenance, which streamlined planned downtime and increased productivity.
I am lucky to be part of an industry that has so many experienced, knowledgeable members willing to share what they have learned with my generation. I am also excited to be part of a generation ushering in ideas changing the way we heat treat parts.