As the holidays approach, and work begins to wind down, the excitement of time off to enjoy family and friends, share great meals and exchanging gifts begins to build. It’s a time to reflect on the year, love on others, and give thanks for the abundance of life. As I reflect on my nearly 25 years in the machining trade, I’m struck by how much our essential industry means to the modern world and Christmas, Hanukkah, and any modern holiday. Bear with me as I (geek out and) go deep into why I believe this so deeply.
As you browse through the aisles of any local toy store, or surf Amazon or your favorite online toy retailer, you may recognize that most modern toys are largely made of plastic. Every one of those toys and all their plastic parts were almost certainly made on injection molding machines. Those machines use complex molds to receive molten plastic and form them into the shapes the toy designers envisioned. Those molds are highly complex machined parts, usually machined from solid steel. The molding machines themselves are almost entirely made from machined and fabricated parts. If you can look at the underside, or inside of any plastic part, you’ll often notice circular patterns snaking around the surface - machining marks from the cutters which carved away the metal to produce the mold.
If you are going high-tech this Christmas and gifting the latest iPhone or Android model to a loved one, those phone cases and many internal parts are directly carved out of solid chunks of aluminum or stainless steel. Thousands of CNC machines work 24/7 in factories all over the world making precision machined parts that are accurate to tolerances many times smaller than a human hair to make any modern electronic device sold today.
If you buy something a bit more homemade, a wood craft or handmade jewelry from a local merchant, I can assure you that machining was essential for the creation of those goods as well. The wooden crafts were made with tools, handheld, or machinery, which were built almost entirely of machined parts. The pliers used by the jewelry artist to lovingly bend wire into shape, were cast and finish-machined to make them work precisely. The wire itself was drawn on machines as well, made entirely of, you know what…machined parts.
If you are the type to give experiences rather than physical gifts, good for you! But the experiences your receiver will enjoy are nearly guaranteed to be impossible without machined parts. The hot-air balloon ride could never happen without the huge weaving looms that made the balloon fabric, the machines that wove the ropes which hold the basket, and of course the burner and fuel tank which lift you into the air. What do all these items have in common? They all require machining in order to be made.
For many, the season is celebrated by getting out of the house and enjoying a hike up a local mountain, or hitting the ski slopes. None of you would make it out the door without the benefit of machining. The rubber soles on your hiking boots were molded in a machined mold, and the leather processed on large machines. Same with your ski boots, the hiking or ski poles, and even your coat. None could be made without the benefit of equipment made up almost entirely of precision machined parts.
If gifts or experiences aren’t your style, and a thoughtfully written letter or card is your vehicle for expressing love, I’m excited to tell you it would be impossible without machining! The paper you chose is made on large paper rollers which are large machined cylinders. The pen you craft your loving note with couldn’t have been made without machining and the tiny precision parts needed to make your pen work so perfectly.
Any holiday meal you enjoy will be a marvel of the modern supply chain. Processing foods grown or raised on farms around the world. These farms run on machines, the food is transported on machines, processed on machines, packaged on machines and delivered to your local store and your home via machines. None of this modern equipment could be manufactured without machining. Just one more example of how the holidays would be impossible without the machining industry.
I could go on indefinitely, because every modern product in existence today starts with metal and machining in one way or another. Machining is absolutely a bedrock of our world economy. I encourage you to think about it for a few minutes. Most people don’t stop to think about how products are made these days. They just enjoy the benefits of highly engineered, expertly crafted, and remarkably inexpensive products, all made on incredibly complex machines which are marvels of modern engineering and precision manufacturing. These amazing products are designed by engineers, programmed by CNC programmers, machined by experienced machinists, inspected by skilled inspectors, and they’re all supported by an entire industry of professionals who love coming to work to turn raw materials into the precision products that are essential to our modern world. Most of these professionals work at small and medium sized manufacturing companies that are, more often than not, family run businesses.
So I might make a bold suggestion. Google “CNC machine shops near me” and call up a local machine shop near you - there are nearly guaranteed to be many to choose from. Go visit them, bring your kids to share with them the wonders of modern manufacturing, and help them understand how critically important this industry is to modern life, and their lives. Thank the owners and everyone who works there - and maybe even bring a small gift as a token of gratitude for their efforts running one of the hardest businesses in the world… a gift which would be impossible without other shops just like theirs.
Have you shelved physical inventory counting till year-end? Cycling through all that needs to be done?
Are you racking your brain on how to get it completed? Well you can count on us for some helpful tips & tricks!
Puns aside, I know many of you are facing year-end physical inventory counts in the coming weeks, and this is a great time to share some best practices. I’ve found pre-planning in three key areas can help make this process run smoothly and be a success for all involved!
Depending on the size of your inventory and the level of detail you need to capture in your counts, organizing resources in advance of a physical inventory count is key! Pre-planning on your part will not only make the count go smoothly, but also will make the process more efficient & enjoyable for those involved.
Logistics of the Count
Thinking through the logistics involved in a physical inventory count ensures you have all the tools you need to the day of. Here’s a few areas to focus on as you prep:
Make it fun! And say thank you
“Inventory counting is fun!”, said no one... EVER! BUT you can make the event more enjoyable for the team by considering the following:
By: Paul Van Metre
[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]There are few more potentially challenging things an organization can go through than an ERP implementation, especially when it includes a total digital transformation, moving to a 100% paperless workflow. Challenging experiences tend to bring out the best, or worst, in people. We’ve been through hundreds of implementations at ProShop. Some were so fast and easy it nearly seemed effortless, finishing in a few weeks. Others were major challenges but did eventually make it to the finish line after much time and heartache. Unfortunately, we’re sad to say that a few stalled out mid-process and failed completely. What’s the difference between them? Based on our years of experience, it comes down to the customer's team and their company's Emotional Intelligence. Our team, evolving product, and improving processes are relatively constant; so the primary variable is the customer.
We try very hard to only bring on great fit customers to our ecosystem. We’d rather not sell ProShop to a company unless we can nearly guarantee that they will love it, and it’ll be a great fit for them. We'd rather you keep your money if you’re not a great fit, both from an objective and subjective perspective. Here’s what we mean by that.
The cultural health, or lack thereof, is where we’ve seen the most dramatic differences in results with our clients. Here’s a list of key qualities for an organization to have in order to be successful in implementing an ERP System. If your company is going to be going through an ERP change, or any major organizational change, check to see how you compare to these cultural qualities:
Committed - 100% corporate alignment on the mission! The message is, “We’re doing this and everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction.”
Aligned - Assist employees in understanding the benefits, goals, and purpose for implementing an ERP. Help them understand how their contribution will have a positive impact on the company. Once your team fully embraces the wisdom of this change, naysayers and saboteurs won't be able to drag the team down.
Organized - Have a well defined list of roles. The roles should define everyone’s responsibility and expectations for getting tasks done correctly on an agreed timeline.
Open to Change - Things are gonna change! That’s the whole point. Don’t dig in your heels and refuse to be open minded. Have a positive outlook on change to the point that it’s infectious! Be open to listening to new ideas, workflow processes, etc. Nothing stops an implementation dead in its tracks faster than the phrase “we’ve always done it that way.”
Curious - Even though you’ve been in business for years, you don’t know everything - I promise you that! You are going to learn a lot of new things and being curious instead of closed minded will serve you and the process well.
Humble - Be humble in how you approach interactions and be confident that you have things to learn from others, and vice versa.
Decisive - When things do change, decisions will have to be made. Make them thoughtfully and quickly. You can always change later. Don’t let ‘paralysis by analysis’ stop the progress.
Collaborative - This is a team effort, with everyone on your team, your ERP partner, and others. Come to each interaction with a mindset of open collaboration. Implementation is not a spectator’s sport, it takes teamwork and diving in headfirst into the process.
Kind - When difficult situations arise, bring kindness to your communication. Name a situation that was better served with anger vs kindness...it doesn’t exist.
Non-Confrontational - Goes hand in hand with kindness. Some people seem to seek out confrontation. They have less fun and have more challenges than those who are collaborative and seek harmony in their interactions.
Proactive - If you see something that might cause a problem in the future, speak up. Your perspective matters and actively sharing it and collaborating on solutions is awesome.
Realistic - This is the hard stuff that you and your team are going through. There will be things that won’t be fun about implementing a new ERP System. Having realistic expectations and the understanding that everyone is doing their best is really important. Often the “Ah Ha” moments will come later in the process when you understand better how everything ties together.
Lean Mindset - This one is quite practical. You have tons of waste in your current process - guaranteed! If you have a belief in eliminating waste through lean processes, that will help you make decisions, with all of the above qualities in mind.
I’m a firm believer that everyone always does their best, given their knowledge, the situation, and where they’re at in life. Everyone has past experiences in their life that range from amazing to traumatic. It’s our life experiences and how we’ve incorporated them, grown from them, and evolved from them that defines how we show up as ourselves today. There is no right or wrong way to show up in the world,but there are ways that will be more effective than others. My wife taught me a great question to ask yourself when faced with how to respond to a situation: “What is the most effective way to get the outcome I say I desire?” When you can step back, see the forest through the trees and ask yourself that question, and ask it of your company as well, that will generally serve you well to work through the difficult changes in an organization.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text][/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Author: Paul Van Metre
[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]When our shop was about 6 years old, we went through a massive Lean Manufacturing transformation. We went all in - Kaizen events, 5S, Kaizen Newspapers, Value Stream Mapping events, and more. One of the most impactful things we did was the change to one-piece-flow for nearly all our jobs for the subsequent 11 years (and still to this day with the new owner). In a low volume, high mix CNC job shop like we were, the process is perhaps a bit different than what is traditionally thought of. However, the impacts were huge and it worked really well for our shop.
It eliminates a ton of different wastes:
Wait a minute... is that all 7 of them as defined by the Toyota Production System?? You bet! Flow processes can reduce or eliminate all 7 wastes.
We called the process Bar-to-Box. Here is how it worked:
That’s the process. Bar-to-Box during the machine cycle. We designed the process to make sure it can fit in the machine cycle. Sometimes that means machining multiple parts at once, which can make sense if it’s a small part and we can machine a strip of them to optimize cycle time and tool changes as well. It’s also more fun for the machinist who gets to see finished parts every cycle, stay more engaged in a variety of tasks, and feel more ownership of the parts they are making.
Here are 5 key benefits of doing a one-piece-flow. (There are many others as well):
A few other thoughts to help this work.
How can ProShop help?
In the part module where the routings are defined, it’s possible to outline a flow process by linking operations together so ProShop understands that the operations are part of a flow process. When this is done, ProShop will schedule those operations and resources together at the same time and will understand that completely finished parts are being created with each “takt” time. This makes it much easier to schedule this and have everyone understand what is going on.
In this example below, we can see that all the operations are being flowed with Operation 65 and it takes 26 minutes to complete that full flow including the bandsaw, 2 CNC machines, and the assembly bench. Astute viewers will also notice that we’re doing this flow at a 25% labor target, or about 6.5 minutes of labor which is the longest manual segment of time in this flow process. This enables nearly 20 minutes of free time per cycle for the operator to run some other machines or do other value-added activities somewhere else. So essentially, we’re making a part every 26 minutes even though it has 46 minutes of cutting time, and only using 6.5 minutes of labor. Also, we get finished and inspected parts off each time, that can start shipping to the customer or to an outside process right away.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="6272" img_size="full" add_caption="yes" alignment="center" onclick="link_image" el_class="Part Flow Process"][vc_column_text]There are certain situations where a flow like this is more difficult or impossible. However, with a bit of creativity and brainstorming it’s remarkable how many parts can be made into a flow process with an amazing amount of upside in terms of cost, quality, and lead time improvements, and waste reduction.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Author: Paul Van Metre
[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]In a machine shop, you’re only making money when your spindles are cutting chips. Any time a machine is sitting idle, it’s a liability, not an asset. It’s costing you money, not making you money. So any shop’s priority should be to keep the spindles turning as often as possible. Despite the importance of this, far too many shops don’t put simple processes in place to keep those spindles turning as often as possible. There are numerous ways to increase spindle uptime, and one important way is by using offline tool presetters.
When making precision machined parts, one of the most important variables is knowing the length (and diameter) of your cutting tools relative to each other and to the machine and program coordinate system - and therefore your raw material. The traditional way to establish these measurements is to load the tool/holder combination into the machine and touch off the length of the tool to a vice surface, or some other known datum. People use everything from a piece of paper, or brass shim stock, dowel pin, to inexpensive contact based measuring devices. While these methods seem very inexpensive, they are in fact the most expensive way possible to measure tools, for two main reasons:
Let’s explore these a bit further. As already mentioned, a machine is only making money when it’s cutting chips. In a typical VMC, in a typical job shop, the average spindle uptime is only around 25% as it is. When setting up a new job, any time that detracts from getting your first good part out of the machine is considered setup time, and isn’t making you money. If a typical manually set tool takes 2 minutes to measure, and the typical part takes 20 tools, then 40 minutes is wasted making manual tool length measurements. If the typical machine is changed over twice per day, that’s over an hour of time that you aren’t cutting chips and making money. Rounding down, in a shop with 10 machines, that’s 10 hours per day, or 2000 hours per year if you only work 5 days a week. At a conservative shop rate of $75/hr, that’s $150,000 of potential revenue that will never be realized because your spindles aren’t turning. And that is only considering the time spent to touch off tools. Next comes the prove-out process which is potentially much longer. When tools are not accurately measured, the prove-out process and dialing in your tools to get a first good part can take significantly longer, wasting time and material. And the lower volumes your jobs are, the more crucial it is to make this process as short as possible. Assuming your setup takes 25% longer with poorly measured tools, and the average setup takes 2 hours, there is another 30 minutes per job wasted which is another $150k in down time per year. Now, those numbers are very generic and the situation isn’t the same in all shops. Some shops run the same job for days or weeks at a time, and some jobs take far fewer tools than others, and some have in-machine tool probes which are faster, so the effect is less. But, while machines with in-machine tool probes are typically faster and more accurate than manually setting the tools machine-side, they still have to be set while the machine is sitting idle not making chips. That is another reason off-line presetting can help drive down costs. Regardless of the specific numbers in your shop, the cost of in-machine tool setting is significant compared to the cost of implementing offline tool presetting.
The cost of offline presetters varies enormously. An entry level machine can cost under $10,000 and more automated machines with lots of bells and whistles, can cost as much as a CNC machine. And often the software used to manage them is a considerable percentage of the cost. What type of presetter makes sense for a shop depends on many factors, including the volume of tool setting that is needed, the tolerances being held on the parts, and many others. Your local representative, and the internet can provide you with many options to consider.
How does ProShop help with this?
ProShop has modules to help manage both the entire tooling library for consumable tooling, and tool assemblies that we call RTAs or Rotating Tool Assemblies. When a job is won, the tooling demand is reflected in the purchasing module to be purchased if current inventory isn’t sufficient to cover the demand. Once the job is ready to be kitted (ideally before the machine is ready), employees can pull the required tools from inventory and transfer them digitally to a tool caddy, along with the tool length offsets that have been measured with an offline tool presetter via the Workcells module. When a tool is measured in the presetter, a serial output can be sent into ProShop where the length is recorded. Once all the tools for a job have been measured and recorded, the preset tools are ready to be loaded into the CNC machine, ProShop can generate an offset file that can be transferred into the machine control. Having the offsets loaded digitally dramatically reduces data entry time and the (extremely) high potential for manual typing errors which can lead to catastrophic results.
Building this workflow directly into ProShop, rather than working with spreadsheets or different off the shelf software packages offers numerous advantages. Clients who embrace this workflow have seen significant improvements in setup time reduction (often 25% or more), reduced spindle down time, reductions in UPS Red shipping charges, and much more.
If you realize that your shop spends too much time with the spindles sitting idle, we encourage you to research tool presetters. And we’d be very happy to talk with you to see if ProShop can be a part of that solution to keep those spindles turning more often.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="5575" img_size="full" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Author: Paul Van Metre
[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="4418" img_size="full" alignment="center"][vc_column_text]How many times has it happened in your shop that you go to set-up a job, only to realize that you’re missing a special tap? Or maybe a thread gage, or a custom ground tool? Or anything else you might not normally need. Or even the material - which you definitely normally need!?!
For many shops this is a weekly or even daily occurrence. It wreaks havoc on your schedule, your on-time delivery score with your customers, and the profitability of your jobs. You may need to pull the setup off the machine and put on a different job. Or you overnight a special tool for early AM delivery so you can get back on the job as soon as possible. And the machine sits and waits for hours, waiting for that $20 tap which costs $60 to ship overnight. The downtime on your spindle will never be recovered, the $60 shipping fee is straight out of your profit margin, and you’re now a day behind schedule which means you might be late to your customer. Or you’ll have to pay a $100 expedite fee to your anodizer to make up the difference. In short, it’s a bad situation.
This situation is a prime example of a shop that doesn’t have the systems in place to eliminate this problem from happening. And it results in a frequent reactive situation, rather than being proactive. But it’s very common because it’s a complicated process to manage and ERP software tools don’t help with this level of detail. But, with ProShop, it’s entirely avoidable.
ProShop ERP was designed and built on the shop floor of a job shop for 17 years. We dealt with these types of problems every day. We processed thousands of jobs per year and every one of them had the potential to go sideways, be late, and lose money. So we built software solutions to help eliminate those potential problems. One critical tool we call the Pre-Processing Checklist. This is a checklist that helps employees make sure they’re doing the things they need to do, and allows everyone else to know what the status is of the checklist. It’s designed to be checked off, at various stages, by different people, before a job is ready to be processed on a manufacturing workstation.
The checklist is made of several color-coded sections:
As the work gets completed and checked off, the color codes on each job update, as does the schedule for those jobs. It’s easy for people to see the latest status and make good decisions about job scheduling. In the image below, the fact that the job circled in red is scheduled to go on the machine tomorrow, but the bar is pink, is a major problem. It indicates that the CNC programming process isn’t done yet, nor is the job prepped for the machine. The setup is not likely to go well, and it’s plainly visible to anyone looking at the schedule so action can be taken.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="4413" img_size="full"][vc_column_text]Just as importantly, the items on the checklist are customizable, based on the type of job you’re processing. For example, a repeat production job should have a much smaller list of items to do, than a brand new production job you’re running for the first time. There is no program to be done or fixtures to be made.
Here is an example checklist for a first run job:[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="4414" img_size="full"][vc_column_text]Here is an example checklist for a repeat job:[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="4415" img_size="full"][vc_column_text]We don’t want to introduce items to be checked off, just for the sake of checking boxes. The objective is to just do the minimum amount that is necessary and prudent to ensure success and efficiency for the type of job being processed. In addition to the customization by work order type, the entire checklist is configurable for any type of job that can be imagined.
By getting into the habit of using this Pre-Processing Checklist, and becoming more proactive rather than reactive with job preparation, ProShop customers see dramatic improvements in setup time, as well as reductions in those fees needed to respond to last-minute changes. Customers have reported reductions in setup of 25-50% and reductions in UPS Red charges and outside process expedite fees of over 90%. Often more than covering the entire subscription costs for ProShop. With the cost savings typically realized, as well as the reduction in stress from eliminating last-minute fire drills, the Pre-Processing Checklist becomes a beloved feature that shops rely on every day to make their jobs easier and more profitable.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="5575" img_size="full" alignment="center"][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Author: Paul Van Metre
[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]As I write this post, the Coronavirus is sweeping the world. Schools, borders, events, gatherings and workplaces are being closed at a rapid pace. It’s an uncertain and ever changing situation. Some of the concerns I’ve heard shop owners share this week include how to best keep their employees safe, and mitigate the risks to their business as this pandemic unfolds.
For companies who primarily do “digital” work, like Microsoft, who recently asked employees to work from home, the impact is significant, but manageable. For manufacturing companies, this is a less feasible scenario. In a machine shop for example, you still need people to run the machines, inspect parts and ship product. You need to quote new jobs, and keep your business running.
For companies with a traditional installed client/server ERP system, this is particularly difficult. For some, it may be possible to have office workers work from home and connect remotely using VPN and RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol). But that isn’t typically practical as most don’t have the IT infrastructure in place, or installed software on remote computers from home. There is also the issue of the paper-based workflow being an obstacle. Job travelers need to be printed, and people within the office often don’t know they have something to work on until the traveler is placed on their desk. Hardly compatible with a work-from-home situation. And managing the on-premise infrastructure is another obstacle. If your server goes down or needs maintenance, it will require your IT staff, or remote IT provider to address it.
I have the unique vantage point to see many different shops before they implement ProShop ERP. I spoke with a shop owner last week who uses an installed ERP system. His estimator had been home sick with a common cold, so they had not been estimating jobs for nearly a week since the estimator could not connect to their ERP system. This will lead to a drop off of new orders within the next week or two, and a drop off of shipments and revenue several weeks later.
Fortunately, users of ProShop ERP, with its built-in digital workflows, have the added benefit of minimizing negative impact from a “social distancing” event, or any need for remote work, for that matter. Here are just a few ways ProShop makes a difference.
When trying to contain the spread of diseases like COVID-19, or even just the common seasonal flu, the advice from experts says, more social distancing that is implemented, the better off your company will be. If office workers can get their jobs done from home, the company is better off. Out in the shop, there are greater distances between employees, and there is likely less of a chance of spreading an illness from one employee to another. And because there is no job traveler to contend with in ProShop, the only thing moving around the shop is the parts themselves and using gloves and other precautions to keep parts washed and clean is easy. Even last-minute customer changes, triggered by a remote office employee, will instantly propagate throughout the system without a need to reprint any job information.
One of the biggest unknowns with this new situation is how it will affect the economy, and your order book. It’s entirely possible that a recession will follow and shops will be looking to cut costs, get more work done with fewer staff, and ultimately look to find new customers to replace those who have canceled orders or are just ordering less in general. ProShop can help here too. Our clients report an average throughput improvement of 20-35% on the factory floor, with the same number of staff. And they can often reduce overhead hours by a significant percentage as well. We’ve had customers with just as little as 4-10 office staff be able to reduce overhead functions by 1-2 full time people by either redirecting them to more value added roles, or allowing attrition to reduce overhead costs. Here is a case study of a 35 person shop who freed up 3 full time overhead staff with a move to ProShop.
When it comes to adding new customers to backfill work, ProShop becomes one of the most effective sales tools a shop has. Watch this short video of a shop in Chicago who has to pry their customers away from the conference room after giving them a ProShop demo. Buyers and audit teams are “blown away” by the capability in ProShop.
This article from Modern Machine Shop outlines another ProShop customer who won a considerable statement of work with a customer as a result of their ProShop implementation. And consider how much more confidence a customer will have in your company when you show them how you can manage their work when your team can work remotely during unusual times like this.
With our proven 9 step implementation process being entirely performed remotely, you and your team don’t need to travel, or have our team visit to be up and running on ProShop in just a few short weeks. Watch this video to see how a client discusses just how fast and easy the implementation process was.
Can an ERP system like ProShop help give your shop a competitive edge over your competitor in the best of times? Absolutely. And it can become a crucial tool during challenging times like the one we face today. If your company is considering how to handle this current situation while still maintaining a high level of efficiency, we’d love to discuss how ProShop can help. Contact us or book a demo today. Thank you. Be safe. And good luck out there![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image="5574" img_size="full" alignment="center" onclick="custom_link" link="https://pages.services/adionsystems.com/erp-buyers-guide/?ts=1592939305780"][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Author: Paul Van Metre
[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image="4240" img_size="full"][vc_column_text]Written By: Colin Gilchrist, Applications Engineer, Selway Machine Tool Company
The following story is based on an experience I had giving advice to a client last year before I joined Selway Machine Tool Company as an Applications Engineer. I wanted to share some of the insights that I’ve learned about data, and how important data has become to manufacturing companies. I hope to help you learn about the concept of Product Data Management, help you identify what kind of PDM is currently in use at your company, and hopefully present a compelling story about a shop who solved many of their own data issues by implementing ProShop ERP.
Data has become an integral part of the lifeblood for almost every company on the planet by 2020. Imagine your manufacturing company as a human body. Like a body; your company is made up of many systems.
You would be forgiven for thinking that the lifeblood of your company is made solely of money; it is an easy assumption to make. In our imagining, money is more like food to your business. Following this analogy along, money - like food in your body - allows your business to grow. But like food, the money your company makes is also consumed: some money flows to you, some flows to your employees, and money also flows out to your vendors/suppliers. Your company is seeking out money - without cashflow; no business can survive - but money doesn’t ‘flow through your business’ directly.
Here is what I mean by that; although you pay your workers a wage, you do not give them instructions written on money. Nor do you load paper bills into a machine to make parts. What does flow through your company, at every level; is information. Data is another term for this information, and data is tied to everything that flows through your business. Records are kept of all kinds of things, and the best systems allow you to tie that data together to drive good decision making. Good internal communication and access to accurate and timely data, allows everyone in the company to make the best decisions possible.
Data in the context of this discussion then; is simply digital information, and data is the lifeblood of your business. For a great many businesses; this information flow (or the lack of it), governs how much more money you can earn.
I can see it now; every manager, shop owner, programmer, and machinist – all collectively rolling their eyes at me in unison – every single one of them convinced that Material and Machines are the lifeblood of their businesses, and convinced that I am misguided in my zeal to put data on a pedestal…
It is true that material also flows through your shop – in fact – the material and the information are intrinsically linked together. In other words; there is information that is tied to each batch of raw material at the start of the job. Although this step (receiving material) may be the start of the ‘part flow through the shop’, it is not the true beginning – or birth – of that job. The true start of that job may be a conversation, a napkin sketch, or a large RFQ (Request for Quote) package with hundreds of pages that form an assembly you are asked to submit a bid on.
My point is that data is there at the start of every job. That data must now be reviewed by at least one person - and often a team of people - in your company. After review and internal approval is given, a quotation or estimate must be generated and sent to the customer. There is typically more digital communication, which ultimately culminates in your customer finally placing an order. Once an order is placed, you may get started by simply ordering material. (In very small shops; you might be tasked with doing every step of the whole process yourself). But that information; what kind of material, what size/shape, how many, and how soon, all needs to be passed on to the material vendor. That information must be communicated somehow (email, fax, U.S. Mail, etc.). Sure, it can be as simple as a phone call, but in-person phone conversations are hard to track. E-mail chains provide a powerful bit of evidence when a disagreement arises, or there are problems with an incoming material order.
For many larger companies, there are many steps to go through before you eventually place the order for material. Often there will be a Production Planning meeting, where an Operations Plan is developed. Tooling and/or Fixtures need to be engineered, machined, and/or purchased. Time needs to be allocated in the Production Schedule for the existing machines, or a new machine solution might need to be purchased. All of these steps require the exchange of information. The end result is typically the generation of a Job Order, which then is used to plan and execute the machining of this job. In many shops the information that is recorded for a job is done manually.
As a Job progresses through your shop, the amount of data stored increases at each step of the journey. As a new operation is completed on the job, and an operator signs-off on each manufacturing operation, that ‘part data record’ is continually growing. The amount of information that is tied to an individual part grow almost exponentially, with part/process complexity. As the size of an assembly grows; so too do the individual data records for each part, process, and sub-assembly. Many shops still record this “Part Data” manually. They are stamping, signing, and dating every operation and step in the Job Order/Manufacturing Plan.
How many of you have scrapped a part due to one of these factors?
Consider what steps have to take place, in the average aerospace company, in order to turn a “block of raw metal”, into “finished aerospace component of low complexity”. Let’s take a quick mental journey through the process of winning the bid on our fictional aerospace component. We’ll call this fictional part “Support Flange 0123-45-6789-001 REV C”.
Your company has been asked by New Space Ventures (NSV) to bid on the delivery of 4 of these critical Support Flanges for their new project. NSV has prepared a Request for Quote (RFQ) for your company, but before they will consider receiving your quotation for these parts, they wish for your company to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). Signing this NDA is a typical starting point - in the process of bidding - for the contract to supply parts, and involves the transfer of data back-and-forth between companies. Skipping ahead, let’s say that your processes and prices quoted were accepted by NSV for the delivery of these 4 Support Flanges. Moreover, you’ve planned the process and the material has just showed up in your receiving department. Along with that raw material, your team has been hard at work in the background, preparing the manufacturing processes to physically make this part. Tools and/or Holders have been specified, and multiple manufacturing fixtures have been built. CNC Programs have been developed for specific machines, and plans have been drawn up on how to schedule the flow of these parts through your shop. All of these steps are crucial to the pieces of metal being transformed into parts, but the result of sometimes months of effort, is only binary digital data at Bodybuilding and gymnastics - equipment and apparatus germany service provider stuttgart, freiburg and baden-württemberg company avana usa mere de famille grave prize in dp pour son casting - bodybuilding de. this stage. The visual results of all this work can be hard to see until after the cutting begins.
As these “raw material blanks” begin their physical journey through your shop, there is data that must be captured at each step of the process. During Incoming Receiving, someone should be in charge of checking the material (for size and type), and recording the material certifications (for traceability and Product-Lifecycle-Management-Purposes). At every stage of the manufacturing process; data is being both recorded and used to remove material to leave a “finished part behind”. A CNC Program instructs the machine on “which tool to use, and how to move that tool”, in order to remove material only where it isn’t needed. When done within the tolerance limits that were specified by the customer; we may have produced parts that meet the demands of the original RFQ. However, we must also be able to verify that our parts have been produced correctly, which requires us to perform our own “Setup Inspection, In-Process Inspection, and Final Inspection Sequence”, before we can ship our parts to the customer. Our “Part and Lifecycle Data” responsibilities often don’t end, even after we have shipped “good parts” to NSV. Many manufacturing quality systems specify the length of time that a manufacturer must maintain Manufacturing and Quality Data Records after the parts have been delivered. This time-frame can been years - or even decades (in the case of military, jet engine, or space parts) – and should help to frame how the management of data often comes far before, and far after, your parts have been cut, measured, and shipped to the customer.
My discovery of ProShop actually happened by chance. I had a customer ask me to help them find a Software Developer who specializes in the VBA Interface (Visual Basic for Applications) for Microsoft Excel. When I asked them “why they would need an Excel specialist”, I was told it was “to help manage their ‘reporting data’ that was being generated from their current ERP system”. I was a bit intrigued with this, so I decided to probe a little further. I won’t quote the full back-and-forth of the discussion here, as there were several intertwined topics that were discussed, with multiple potential solutions to each topic.
In a nutshell, the customer was generating a report that would list all of the “in-process jobs” that were currently active in the shop. The issue was the difficulty in sorting through over 2,500 ‘active jobs’, and being able to gauge and sort the status of those jobs. He said “for example, I want to run a report to tell me; here are the jobs are due in the next 30 days. Or here are the jobs more than 2 weeks late”. He was frustrated that he was forced to generate this massive report for “every active job” in the company. He was becoming quickly overwhelmed without the ability to filter and sort that data into something useful. While it was possible to use the sorting and filtering tools inside Excel itself, a custom query had to be created and ran for each different type of ‘report’ that the owner wanted to see. Moreover, the report was essentially ‘static’. The process of “dumping a new daily report” took several minutes. And that was in addition to any ‘report filtering’ that may need to be run (custom programming), in order to be able to visualize the data more easily.
It turns out that many ERP systems are great at generating huge amounts of data. Mountains, and mountains of data are generated by most small-to-medium-sized businesses every day. However, most existing ERP systems on the market are not necessarily setup very well to help the average user “make sense of the data that is generated”. That may seem like a weird concept to consider at first. Why wouldn’t these ERP systems make it easy to “do something with the data”, once it has been entered into the system? Shouldn’t this be easy to do out-of-the-box?
It turns out that usually isn’t the case. Although most ERP systems have provisions for creating things like Work Orders, Operations Lists, Job Travelers, BOM’s (Bill-of-Materials), Estimates, and Invoices, things like “data reports” are usually an afterthought, and typically require someone to do bit of custom programming to manipulate the data into a report which “makes sense” to whomever requested the report. What isn’t built into these ERP systems is the ability to ‘Visualize the Data’. Data Visualization is the ability to transform numbers in rows and columns into charts and graphs which help us to spot trends, make comparisons, and identify problems, quickly. The ‘quickly’ part is the most essential aspect of good Data Visualization, and I think ProShop was built with this functionality in mind. There are many different modules in ProShop that not only allow communication; but actively encourage it!
Reporting, Messaging, and Data Visualization all seem like one of those ‘no-brainer’ things that should be easy to pull off. Like it should be “at the touch of a button”. The more I looked into “how do I organize and filter the ERP data”, the more roadblocks I kept running into.
Many manufacturers are attempting to tie their Industry 4.0 data collection to their shop’s ERP systems, with varying degrees of success. I had an experience recently which led me to discover the PDM capabilities of ProShop ERP, from Adion Systems, and how this software can do so much more than just ‘Enterprise Resource Planning’. The PDM Tools available in ProShop allow you to tie all of your shop’s data together, into a single database, accessible through a simple-to-use web browser interface.
One night while I was doing some research for ‘writing a query to mine the ERP database’, I gave a friend of mine a call. I wanted both to pick his brain a little and to vent about how frustrating this ERP nightmare was.
His response; “dude, why don’t you tell him to dump that P.O.S. ERP system, and just get ProShop?” was a light in the dark. I think he could tell by my hesitation that I was unfamiliar with ProShop, which is why I wasn’t sharing his enthusiasm.
“Ugh, not another ERP System! They are all terr…” I began.
“No.” He cut me off abruptly before I could finish my rant.
“ProShop is way different. It is entirely web-based. All users in the company access the same dataset, 100% of the time. It is always live”. I pondered where he was going with this.
“Since all the modules share the same internal database, all the functionality you are talking about to gather and format data is already built into ProShop. I think my favorite thing is how your company communications are also built into the interface. I’ve completely dropped email for all internal communications at our company. The chats in ProShop are logged, and searchable!”. I could tell his excitement was growing. I was reluctantly coming around to at least consider seeing what ProShop was capable of.
I started researching ProShop, and reached out to another user who had recently switched over to ProShop so I could pick his brain. As it turns out; all of the reporting tools that I had struggled to integrated into Excel were already available in ProShop. It was a eureka moment for me, as I discovered that ProShop would not only solve the ‘reporting problem’, but it also solved about a dozen other inter-company issues. These other issues would not have been solved by running a custom report, built by another ‘contractor’, on the existing dataset coming out of their old ERP system.
Although the issue I was trying to solve was specifically; ‘how can we make sense of the ongoing work that is currently flowing through the shop’, it turns out that switching ERP Systems to ProShop ERP, gained the customer far more than just the ‘data visualization and reporting’ that was the original challenge to overcome. When we tallied up the total, ProShop ERP was used to replace four additional ‘Software Systems’ (each with their own maintenance fee), about a two dozen different ‘custom scripts’ that were used across different business systems (accounting, payroll, estimates, invoicing, time tracking, scheduling, quality, purchasing, programming, shipping, and receiving), and the customer was finally able to completely eliminate the generation of new paper documents for all shop processes. By implementing ProShop across the company, it gave the owner much better capabilities to mine the data the company was already generating. Plus, it gave the company the ability to filter data access much more carefully, along with automating and linking together the locations where this part data was stored. In the end, the answer to my customer’s original question: “How do I spot jobs that are late, or due in a certain time-period”, was a somewhat unorthodox approach in some ways. Rather than just answering them - “make an incremental change by generating a custom report” – my solution was to take a look at their entire system and recognizing that a fundamental change in system architecture was my suggestion. Admittedly, there were significant costs involved in making the decision to switch off multiple separate software systems, and implement a system-wide solution like ProShop ERP. I am happy to report that my customer is now able to ask and answer a huge range of questions, and get the answers extremely quickly, which was the original problem that I was asked to solve. In addition, their entire company is now embracing the full range of digital record-keeping and is now communicating internally using the ProShop integrated chat feature.
PDM stands for Product Data Management. PDM is the 'architecture of the data storage system'. Typically, in small-to-medium-sized shops, the structure of this data storage system is: 'create a series of customer-job-part-revision folders, and put the customer data there’. This simple “manually created and maintained” folder-architecture is often just designated to take place in the ‘root of a shared network folder’. Often this uses ‘UNC File Path Naming’. UNC stands for Universal Naming Convention, and is used on your network to define ‘Server Names’ or ‘Server Address Letters’. This will often be referred to colloquially as the “S Drive” or the “T Drive”, or whatever “Alpha-Character is designated to store our critical data, based on some random assignment by our IT person”. This convention may allow your users to “more easily access a particular server”, but it can also often lead to “server address conflicts” down the road.
I would term the state of this PDM as “Unmanaged PDM” or “User-Managed PDM”. This data structure is rarely planned for growth, and all the processes rely on humans following some homegrown process of manually creating nested folders. These processes are ripe for typing errors, people not aware or not caring about following protocol, and simply nothing that truly tracks the location of the data being stored. PDM, in a nutshell then, is the organization, storage, and retrieval of any data that might be tied to a manufacturing process. ProShop essentially gives you a built-in PDM system, since you can store all your CAM Files, Setup Documents, Tool Data, and any other data that needs to be tied to a step in your process of making a part.
Moreover, the process of creating folders, updating file locations, and "looking for where I saved that file", is all non-value-added work. At the end of the time spent, we haven't recorded any metrics about the data being stored. A PDM system also controls, who has access to specific data, who is allowed to edit or update the data, and it keeps a history of revisions, so you can call up a 'specific revision', either for comparison purposes, or to be able to produce 'a part at any specific revision level required'.
ProShop uses a “template-based approach” to allow your IT Department to designate “the permissions which are assigned to folders as they are created. This approach greatly simplifies the process of adding a “new job” to ProShop, as the permissions for read/write/modify access are inherited by the folders from the templates. What does this do for you? It allows you to really “lock down” the access to different parts of the ProShop system, based on what type of user is logged onto the system. The hardest thing I think for people to realize about ProShop is that “everyone in your company should be a ProShop user”. Why is that? Because ProShop includes tools which benefit everyone in the company, and these tools facilitate better communication and decision making. It does this by managing the “PDM Data”, which is tied to every job which flows through your shop.
The reality for most shops is this: you are already doing some form of PDM today, as-in “right now as we speak”. The problem is that this is typically just Unmanaged PDM or User-Managed PDM. All that means is that your company uses a “manual process” to create a “data structure” (folder path on a server), where the “data for a given job is stored”. Because this is a “manual process”, it is ripe for human errors to occur. ProShop eliminates much of these manual processes, and replaces those manual processes with automated systems for managing the storage, access, and retrieval of data by authorized users.
For more information about ProShop ERP, you can visit their website link below, or give ProShop a call at 360-515-7576.
By Colin Gilchrist, Applications Engineer, Selway Machine Tool Company
As an Applications Engineer for Selway (SMTC), I am responsible for pre-and-post sales technical support, answering CNC Applications related questions for our customers, and teaching both onsite and classroom-based training classes for CNC machining, at our machine showroom in Auburn, WA.
SMTC is a Haas Factory Outlet (HFO), and offers sales and service for several different Machine Tool Builders, including: Haas, Matsuura, Hwacheon, Eurotech, Quantum, Mitutoyo, C.R. Onsrud, Fuji, Acer, Clausing, Brenton USA, Marvel, Fastems Factory Automation, Hydmech, Toshiba Machine, Toyoda, and HP 3D Printing Solutions. Selway also offers full machine-tending and lights-out automation solutions, through our subsidiary Trinity Robotics Automation.
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Written by Proshop customer, David Pannell of Faircloth Machine Shop
I will never forget the day that my production manager, who is a friend as well as an employee, and about whom I care a great deal, came into my office and said, “I am dying a little bit every day.” He said this because of the onerous burden that our so-called quality system and so-called ERP software placed on him. I looked him in the face and knew that he meant it.
We were spinning out of control; our diligence and hard work had resulted in more and more business, business that now threatened to overwhelm us and, ironically, destroy us. Non-Conformances? We didn’t even track them. How much time did an employee spend on a job? We just wrote it on a piece of paper. Inspection results? Just sign a piece of paper saying you did them and everything was alright. Job descriptions and routings and document control? Haphazard at best. Re-approving documents? Please!? Tooling and program control? Employee competence and certification? I’m embarrassed to tell you how random, haphazard, and subject to arbitrary discretion the whole business was. Chaos had overtaken my business and was extracting a terrible and daily price.
All this came upon us because we did good work and I had not planned for the future. We suddenly needed a real quality system and we needed it real fast. We cobbled some ersatz monstrosity together using spreadsheets, an existing document control system, and a home-brewed computer system—and it was awful. It was cheap up front, but man did it cost me every single day we used it.
After extensive research and many demos, we bought ProShop believing it to be our best hope to keep our current customers happy, our business growing, and our sanity. But between me and you, it was a wee bit of a culture shock. And by wee bit I mean a lot of culture shock. ProShop has modules for everything from intake to output and it expects everything to be done. I was in charge of a ten-person free-for-all and had to get everyone on board using the software the way it was meant to be used. Ever seen a train take a right turn? You know how malleable and eager to change machinists with 20 years of experience doing it their way are, right? And that brings me to tooling.
As our trainer showed us all of the ProShop functionality during the initial training, we asked about the tooling module. He described it, and the amount of work required seemed overwhelming. Then he explained RTAs (Rotating Tool Assemblies) and it got much, much worse. You can also define your tool holder, pull stud, collet, and out of holder length! This was simply out of the question--too much work for too little benefit. I told my production manager that we would never do tooling in ProShop and would most certainly NEVER, EVER use RTAs.
And then, everything in my shop got better - except tooling. I found this out earlier this year when I had to come out of my office and help a newer machinist set a job up. It was a disaster. We had been doing this job for years, but what tools were we supposed to use? How far were they supposed to stick out of the tool holders? Am I the only one with more than one type of 1/2” endmill in the shop? Which 1/2” endmill is appropriate for this job? Which one was it programmed for? What does it look like? How much does a broken endmill cost? These are not trivial questions. As everyone knows, if an endmill doesn’t stick out far enough you could have a machine crash. If it sticks out too far you could have chatter. Trying to decide these things during a setup wastes time and money. It sows confusion and chaos.
I realized that this bad setup was being repeated, job after job, day after day, week after week, setup after setup across my entire shop and across every job we did. It dawned on me that had I invested in defining tools and RTAs in ProShop, with pictures and unique identifiers, this would not be a problem. It occurred to me that an inexperienced machinist could have done this setup without me at all - if the tools had been defined properly. It occurred to me that I had a choice: I could pay once, up front, to define a job correctly and manage my business well, or I could pay over and over again every time I run a job in longer lead times, non-conforming parts, and frustrated employees, but I could not choose not to pay. I decided to start paying up front.
My planner resisted this change. This was more work for him and he did not like it. He made it clear that he did not like it. But I forced him to start defining all of our tools in ProShop and to document the correct tools in properly formatted RTAs for every repeat job anyway. I had come face to face with the demon of chaos and I was determined to exorcise it from my business.
So this goes on for a while. We do the hard work of getting our tools in ProShop with pictures and accurate descriptions. We key our tool matrix to the ProShop number so that the employee types in the ProShop number to get the correct tool. We make sure every part has accurate tooling called out in the description. And it is a lot of work; I’m not saying it isn’t.
But one day my planner stops by my office to admit that he not only had resisted defining tools in ProShop, but also THAT HE HAD BEEN WRONG. He likes doing it now. Employees know which tool to use so they stopped asking him questions. He got glowing feedback from the employees on the floor about how much easier it was to setup a job. Our setup times have decreased so our throughput per man hour is coming up. People are happier and less frustrated and it feels like we are a professional shop. I wish I had started earlier because I am reaping the benefits of ProShop tool management every day.
The moral of this story is to use the features of the software you bought! ProShop was written to solve problems and it will help you if you actually use it the way it was intended to be used.
I have a guy here who does not like anything—typical dour, cranky old machinist. But he can’t say enough about how much of an improvement defining the tools has been. Seeing him give praise to anything makes you think you are in the twilight zone. And it reinforces that choosing ProShop and going 100% all in, was the right thing to do.
- David Pannell - Faircloth Machine Shop