CNC machining and metal fabricating shops manage a multitude of organizational issues, like maintaining quality productivity, keeping prices competitive, meeting industry-standard delivery times, staying up to date with training and technology, to suggest a few. Some machine shops like Decimet Sales Inc. in Rogers, Minn., near Minneapolis, provide rapid prototyping services – fast-machining or fabricating that makes use of CAD professionals and high-tech machining or metal fabricating capabilities to build a physical part in an accelerated timeframe.
One issue that rapid prototyping shops deal with is production inefficiencies. When customers need a prototype manufactured on a short lead time, long-run production projects may be interrupted to make way for the rapid prototyping work. When that occurs, set-up time and costs for the prototyping work increase, as do the scheduling conflicts. Irritation rises because operators have to set aside the long-run production projects, tear down the machining or fabrication apparatus, and get everything set up for the prototyping project.
After that the prototype is complete, they must retool again to finish the long-run production. And all this labor and stress lingers because of the necessity to resume the long-run production project and complete it on-time and on-budget. Quality, workmanship, and delivery times may be affected throughout.
Furthermore, other customer jobs in the queue may not be finished on-time or on-budget. These issues may undermine customer satisfaction, reduce sales volumes, or erode margins.
Resolving the conflicts – What can a CNC machining or sheet metal fabricating shop do to avoid those frustrating conflicts? At DSI, we created a self-sufficient work cell with dedicated equipment and operators for short-run production and prototyping work, so long-run jobs continue uninterrupted.
The Rapid Response Cell (RRC) was a response to extensive scheduling issues because at DSI we had to pause long-run work to take on prototypes and short-run work. In addition, we needed to get rid of the additional time and costs necessary to re-tool a machine to prepare it for the short-run work. We really wanted to find a way to accomplish both types of jobs smoothly and simultaneously, and to remain competitive in both production types.
Furthermore, before the Rapid Response Cell, we experienced cases that kept us from scheduling accurate start and end dates due to the constant interruptions prompted by prototyping, re-work, and short-run production. Those conditions were causing unmanageable and chaotic delivery dates. It was very difficult to satisfy our customers according to the standard we set for ourselves.
As scheduling conflicts increased, DSI owners, managers, engineers, and operators worked together as a unit, proposing solutions for fixing the issues efficiently – and without causing new ones to emerge. Several good ideas were shared from each department of the business and as a consequence we recognized that the RRC was the best choice available to us.
Setting up the Rapid Response Cell – The RRC is arranged in a specialized area: one cell in the machine shop and one in the fab shop. Work that involves less than 50 pieces, re-work parts, or projects that have a due date of less than one week are sent to the RRC using a specific prefix in the job number.
Workforce hours are valued the same as at the other cells, giving clients another reason to engage the RRC. When no RRC work orders are open, the cell runs as part of a normal production program.
The RRC is also used to conduct experimental projects, one-piece-flow projects, testing different manufacturing methods, or for operator testing.
The machining RRC employs a VF-2 SS Haas high speed milling machine, a Mazak twin-spindle, twin-turret, high-speed lathe with live tools, small stand grinders, a small drill press, and a large inspection table. All these perform very well for prototyping jobs in the machining department.
The fabrication RRC employs a Miller TIG welder, a state-of-the-art machine with 400-amp AC/DC, pulse, wave form, and frequency adjustments, wireless foot pedal and water-cooled torch, the welding machine can manage any metal fabrication prototype job that comes into the shop.
The fabrication RRC also uses a 60-ton AccuPress press brake, a PEM machine, and a 3,000-W Mazak Optiplex Champion fiber laser-cutting machine.
The RRCs have two full-time employees continuously manning the cells, and additional operators can be appointed as required. Both RRCs are situated close to the shipping area, which helps to accelerate the delivery process. With this arrangement, dedicated machines, and specialized manpower, our RRCs are perfectly set up to complete and ship any quick-turnaround work.
Increasing efficiency – Because of the Rapid Response Cell, Decimet Sales is realizing rapid growth and success. We have done away with the distractions and interruptions in long-run projects. Customers are exceptionally pleased that they have been getting their prototyping jobs faster, and awarding additional prototype, machining, and metal fabrication jobs to DSI.
"Stress levels have decreased immensely," according to Troy Brake, DSI’s operation manager. "Everything is operating more efficiently and smoothly because of the high RRC visibility."
Now, when the operators notice the RRC prefix in the work number, they merely route it to the RRC knowing that they can proceed with their normal, long-run production jobs without forfeiting time and/or quality.
"We probably should have set up the RRC six months earlier," Troy added. "DSI would have achieved quicker growth."
Decimet Sales has equipment and skilled workers that can be assigned to Rapid Response Cell production, and it has the method to maximize work efficiencies. Long-run production jobs no longer need to be stopped to allow for prototyping jobs. Fast prototyping jobs can be completed quickly due to dedicated RRC machines and skilled workers. Stress levels have decreased, along with scheduling problems. The RRC is equivalent to higher production levels and increased efficiency, in less time and that means a win-win for everyone.