Upgrading For Success

Sept. 19, 2006
Upgrading equipment doubles output and halves labor costs.

SOR is moving to 24/7 operations.

Four years ago, SOR Inc. decided to upgrade its equipment to reduce outside machining costs. Today they produce twice as many parts with less than half the labor cost per part and no increase in facility size or the number of its employees.

"When we started our upgrade project more than 50 percent of our machining was done outside," said Kelly Anders, shop supervisor. "We wanted to bring that machining back in-house but, just as we started our upgrade, we had a huge increase in sales volume. Today we're doing twice as many parts but still have about 10 percent of our work done outside."

SOR is a global supplier of electronic and electro-mechanical level, pressure, temperature and flow switches and transmitters. They have nine machine operators on the day shift, five on the night shift and one supervisor.

Before the upgrade they were producing about 40,000 parts per month at an average labor cost of about $1.00 per part. Today they produce more than 80,000 parts per month with about $0.42 per part in labor costs.

Over the last four years SOR upgraded all of its equipment and reorganized its staff and processes. The new equipment enables them to run 24 hours a day four days a week and they are looking at using material loaders to enable 24/7 operations. When they first tried to run 24 hours a day they ran for more than three hours unattended in the early morning. Because more than 80 percent of what they machine is 316 stainless steel there were some problems with tooling failures, so they adjusted their shift times to provide two hours of unattended running in the early morning and another hour and a half in the afternoon. Their newest work cell uses a 4-axis horizontal machining center serviced by a 36-palette material loader and is capable of running unattended up to 24 hours a day.

In addition to new machines they switched from using water-soluble oils to synthetic oils, and reduced coolant maintenance from 10 hours every two weeks to less than 10 hours every six months. They also went to high pressure through-the-tool coolant systems that substantially reduced their drilling cycle times.

To get the most from their new equipment they have organized their processes to balance machine workloads. This was facilitated by adding a scheduler/planner who converts sales orders into work orders.

The work orders are batched to create weekly machine loads and then the loads are adjusted as needed. Each machine was chosen to do a specific part or process but all of the machines can run other parts and processes making it easier to balance work loads and keep production up if any of the machines becomes unavailable. Runs range from 50 to 2,000 parts. Most parts are made in several different materials in the same run to reduce setup times. New machines, new coolants and new processes have all contributed to SOR's success but according to Edmund Self, vice president of manufacturing, the real foundation for their success is the quality of their employees.

Anders, the shop supervisor, has been with SOR for 25 years. Most of his operators have been there for more than 10 years. "They are all true machinists," said Anders.

SOR Corp. Lenexa, Kansas
Number of employees — 15 in the machine shop
2006 sales — N/A
Markets served — Oil and gas, chemical, petrochemical and power industries.

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