So many problems in fabrication begin at the very start of the process chain: quoting. As Ludlow explained, LMI quotes are based on data from past manufacturing jobs. The laser cutting data comes from XML files exported from Plant Manager, which has helped them build a library of exact processing times. If a part is complex, engineers may run the 3-D model through bend simulation to ensure tooling is available or needs to be purchased and to make sure the part can indeed be made without colliding with tools or the backgauge.
LMI also scrutinized data entry in quality assurance. Until recently a typical QA procedure at LMI went as follows: A worker delivered the part to quality for inspection. The QA person created the inspection file, performed the inspection, and then manually entered the data on the Excel sheet. When the QA tech typed in those numbers manually, the company’s portable CMM sat idle, not adding value.
So today LMI is working to eliminate all that data entry. Before a job is sent to the floor, an engineer in the front office exports the original CAD file to Faro’s CAM2 Measure software, which creates an inspection file that identifies all the part geometries that require inspection, “auto-ballooning” the drawing to identify all the inspection points. All this happens before the order hits the floor. Now when a part arrives in QA, the technician simply calls up the file and takes the measurements (see Figure 7).
“We’re taking the mundane data-entry portion of the quality role and building intelligence into the process upfront,” O’Leary said. “It does take a little more time upfront, but it cuts down the time in QA significantly, when we’re trying to get the part through production.”
Scheduling and Going Paperless
The company recently adopted OmegaCube Technologies’ enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and, at this writing, is moving toward a near-paperless environment, opting for 4- by 6-in. “move tickets” that accompany each work order. When a worker scans the ticket, the ERP platform brings up all the information about a job on the screen in front of him. This can include visual work instructions, videos, and the 3-D model (see Figure 8). A worker can print blueprints on a shared printer, if necessary. But for the most part, LMI is saying goodbye to the paper traveler.
“You can attach any file format to the job,” O’Leary said, “and you can view it, as long as the computer you’re working on has the application.”
The ERP works in concert with Plant Manager. The shop uses the ERP to schedule jobs based on the due date; then Plant Manager takes that schedule; looks out a specified number of days; and automatically nests parts based on available capacity, machine capability, grain direction requirements, and desired material utilization. Moreover, operators no longer need to manually log jobs into the ERP once they reach the laser. Once a program is executed, an XML file is sent back to the ERP to process all of the labor and material transactions.
Part revisions make up another issue that prolongs non-value-added time. Say a customer changes a material thickness requirement after a portion of the job has already been cut on the laser. If the customer says the parts are still usable, what then? The shop still could process the material, but it would need to make sure everything downstream can account for both the old and new material thickness. This includes available tooling at the press brake, fixtures at the welding cells, and inspection programs and data in QA. All this opens the door for more variation and a lot of confusion. Is it worth keeping the WIP, or to simplify things, should it just be scrapped?
Here, software has helped organize the situation. If a customer changes an order midstream, the ERP notes it and updates the work order to reflect the latest information. But if the customer says the already produced WIP is usable, then the software creates a separate work order that maintains all the previous job information at that particular revision level. This has helped reduce scrap rate and ensure LMI reprocesses only what is necessary for the job.