How SF&E Cut Industry Lead Times in Half
Stainless Foundry & Engineering (SF&E) is halfway through a multi-year initiative to overhaul our sand and investment foundry processes, employee roles, and equipment. The goal: offer our customers lead times under 4 weeks, which is less than half of the 10-week industry average. The first phase of SF&E’s Throughput Improvement Project was completed six months ago, and has already reduced lead times to between 4 and 6 weeks.
Lead times are important because our customers need to forecast their own inventory, production, and delivery needs around them. A drastically reduced lead time could be critical; manufacturers can eliminate inventory guess work, react more quickly to customer demand, get to market faster, and, ultimately, increase the profitability of their products.
To accomplish this goal, SF&E had to rethink how parts move through the operating process on the foundry floor. The first phase of the Throughput Improvement Process focused on moving from a batch mentality to a single piece flow.
Phase One: Reduce Bottlenecks
The SF&E operations team conducted an audit of equipment, people, and processes to determine areas they could impact most. The operations team found two main bottlenecks. First, parts were moving through the operating process in a batch, so each step took an extended period of time. Second, the primary and secondary operations were sharing equipment, so batches were often stuck sitting in a queue. In addition, the production floor was setup to group similar pieces of equipment, so batches had to be moved all over the shop floor.
The operations team flipped this model on its head. Instead of batches, SF&E now focuses on smaller lot sizes determined by what would fit in a furnace and the product family it belongs to. Equipment is now grouped into cells where employees have been cross-trained to perform multiple operations. In the prior setup, each employee only focused on one skillset.
Instead of batches sitting in a queue for 1 to 2 days, waiting for each step in the operation, each small lot completes 2 to 3 operations per day. In six months, SF&E has seen a significant reduction in work in process (WIP) inventory and achieved a 15% reduction in shop order lead time. SF&E is preparing to begin Phase Two, which will involve the addition of more equipment.
Phase Two: Make Room for More
Now that the linear production process is running smoothly, SF&E is ready to remove the last hurdle to a 4 week lead time – equipment sharing. The team will introduce additional blast equipment to officially separate the primary cells from the finishing cells.
The additional blast equipment will be placed near heat treat and the shipping dock, where product will receive final blast, inspection, packaging, and then be shipped to our customers. By creating this finishing cell, each part takes only one trip through the value stream, and the travel distance between each step is minimal. Phase Two consists of a first in, first out mentality.
Additional equipment, a consecutive value stream, and a commitment to 4 week lead times has another benefit. Once the finishing cell is complete at the end of 2019, SF&E will double its foundry capacity for blasting and cleaning room operations. With the addition of a second shift to its melting and molding departments, SF&E is positioned to take on each customer’s next new challenge.
In 2020, and beyond, SF&E will implement additional cells and concepts in the sand foundry. Additional phases will be focused on improving lead time for high specification work. SF&E is committed to responsiveness and driving shorter customer lead times.
At SF&E, we understand our customers are competing in a market that is driven by lead time, availability, quality, and price. Please reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know how we can support you.