In 2019, Stainless Foundry & Engineering announced that halfway through its multi-year initiative to overhaul sand and investment foundry operations, we had already achieved lead times between 5 and 7 weeks. Now, we are nearing the end of the Throughput Improvement Project, and are achieving – and in some cases beating – a 4-week lead time goal.
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. In Part 1 of this article series, we completed Phase 1 and begun Phase 2. Phase 1 focused on moving from a batch mentality to a single piece flow. Since then, we also completed Phase 2, which entailed the creation of a finishing cell so teams no longer had to share equipment.
Phase 2 Recap: Efficiency and Velocity
We replaced equipment sharing with dedicated equipment, and it is paying off in more ways than one for the SF&E team and our customers. A finishing cell was placed near heat treat and the shipping dock so that product can receive a final blast, inspection, packaging, and then be shipped to our customers.
The new blast machine, straightening press, and cleaning room dedicated to finishing were intended to prevent parts from having to circle back through the primary cell, causing delays. Two immediate side benefits to the finishing cell were; increased throughput in the primary cell as parts did not have to wait in queue to be worked on, and the ability to reduce work in process inventory.
Employees now perform multiple jobs – such as straightening and inspecting parts while other parts are in the blast machine. What was once a 4-person process that involved significant employee idle time, is now a streamlined operation for 2 employees.
Purchasing new blast equipment gave us a healthy jumpstart toward our goal of consistent lead times of under 4 weeks. Our new Gibson Tumble Blast Machine can handle 95 percent of customer investment parts that require a stainless steel finish. Our new Empire Blast Cabinet can handle 30-40 percent of customer aluminum oxide sand castings and it runs in 3 minute cycles. Overall, the new equipment helped SF&E achieve a 66 percent reduction in the blast cycle.
Phase 3: From Weeks to Days
Each phase completed in the Throughput Improvement Project has unveiled more layers of opportunity to reduce lead times. With the sand and investment production lines regularly delivering on a 4-week lead time (which has taken some customers pleasantly by surprise), the SF&E operations team was able to identify two additional areas, test material and high specification parts, that were keeping us from consistently achieving our goal of 4 weeks.
With the reduced work in process inventory on the floor and increased velocity of product through the foundry, it revealed an exorbitant amount of time team members would spend chasing test bars and high specification parts as they zig-zagged throughout the facility, especially if testing failed and needed additional work. Once again, this impacted the lead time for the individual parts, but it was evident that interrupting batches to cater to these parts was causing delays in commercial casting throughput as well.
SF&E operations concluded that co-locating test bar equipment into one area would give test material the single piece flow needed to prevent bottlenecks in commercial casting throughput. And, instead of taking 2-3 weeks to go through the cleaning room, test material could be completed in one day and go straight to the lab for testing.
The majority of SF&E casting work is commercial, so if high specification parts could be eliminated from the commercial production process, the team could drive the velocity of commercial work through the foundry, even faster. In turn, the high specification parts would benefit by cross training, and better dedicated focus on high specification work.
By the end of 2020, high specification parts will also have their own cell with its own dedicated resources. SF&E anticipates this will reduce high specification lead times from 12-14 weeks down to 6-8 weeks. To make this happen, SF&E will also train team members on additional certifications, including Nondestructive Testing (NDT) so they can conduct inspections internally and drastically reduce time spent going back and forth to a certified inspection house.
Ushering in Growth
The Throughput Improvement Project will allow SF&E to double its foundry capacity for blasting and cleaning room operations. This growth is already happening as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are looking for the shorter standard lead times that SF&E is able to provide. So far this year, 25 percent of order volume is new customer work.
We are proud to see positive results from a process we laid out 2 years ago and slowly implemented to make sure we were doing it correctly. Our continuous march to shorter consistent lead times will better support our industry and our customers.
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.