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Operational Excellence

Attacking Value Added Manufacturing Activities for Competitive Advantage

By Bob Torrani, Director, Advanced Manufacturing Center, CCAT

New England has a strong legacy of Continuous Improvement (CI). It dates back to the late 1970s when Productivity Inc., currently headquartered in Shelton Connecticut, began promoting lean and Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) to help manufacturers become more competitive. The Machine That Changed the World, first published in 1990 by Womack & Jones, documented MIT's five-year International Motor Vehicle Program study of the lean production management system. In the early 1990s, Art Byrne's legendary transformation of the Wiremold company was later documented as a case study in the Womack & Jones book Lean Thinking in 1996. Lean Thinking also noted Pratt & Whitney's launch of a robust systems improvement methodology, which is now UTC's global operating system ACE (Achieving Competitive Excellence). 

The NVA Factor
For manufacturers just beginning their lean journey it is typical that 95 percent of what they do is non-value-added (NVA).  An activity is considered value-added (VA) if the customer is willing to pay for the output of that activity.  For manufacturing operations, this is typically just the physical transformation of material to create the features and functionality the customer needs. Non-value-added is everything else that is done in "support" of this transformation, e.g., moving material, finding tools, and set-up of the process. 

Working with organizations like the MassMEP and Connstep, progressive manufacturers have successfully reduced their non-value-added activities.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) web site defines the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) network as the "catalyst for strengthening American manufacturing – accelerating its ongoing transformation into a more efficient and powerful engine of innovation driving economic growth and job creation."  Successful transformations have designed and implemented CI programs – Lean, 6-sigma, or other methodologies – that help the business grow at a rate greater than or equal to the productivity improvement that is being realized; thus, creating rather than eliminating jobs.  This approach ensures that workers are not threatened (i.e., fear of job loss) by the CI program and will continue to seek ways to increase productivity. 

While CI by definition is an endless process, the many manufacturers that took an early lead and have been making productivity gains by CI methods for years are finding it difficult to keep the competitive gap from closing as global competitors adopt the same methods.  For these progressive manufacturers that have successfully reduced their non-value-added activities, the value-added component is a more significant percentage of the total and warrants attention. For these progressive manufacturers, technology insertion is now the needed competitive discriminator.

Technology Insertion for Manufacturers
Technology Insertion (TI) enables manufacturers to increase productivity and create a competitive advantage beyond that bolstered by CI programs alone. The basis of TI for small to medium-size manufacturers (SMMs) is process technology assessment and validation outside of the normal production cycle and then turn-key transition to production once the improved process is demonstrated to work. The innovative technology is developed in parallel with on-going production and only when proven robust, it is inserted into the production process.

The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) understands that manufacturers, especially those classified as SMMs, are continually challenged by their customers to be faster, better, and cheaper; focused on meeting aggressive cost targets and ensuring on-time delivery of 100 percent quality products.  These SMMs are fully consumed with day-to-day production demands and have little time to explore new technologies or try state-of-the-art methods.  In fact, they are generally risk adverse, not wanting to disrupt production for fear of missing a delivery or scraping a high value part.  This understanding led to the establishment of CCAT's Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC).

The CCAT AMC, a national resource for manufacturers, is at the heart of TI. The AMC continually acquires state-of-the-art equipment & advanced manufacturing software and develops people that know how to use both.  Current capabilities address 5-axis precision machining, advanced laser processing (including hole drilling/shaping, welding, coating removal, and additive manufacturing), and metrology.  The AMC enables technology evaluation, parallel process development/validation, and turn-key transition to production at SMMs to provide them increased productivity. 

Machining projects conducted at the AMC have helped manufacturers solve difficult production problems and improve efficiency. An example is the machining cycle time reduction project conducted for AeroCision (Chester). This project reduced the machining time of a stainless steel part from 37 minutes to 11 minutes.  AeroCision's president, Andrew Gibson, noted that the part was a "money loser" and now is a "money maker" for his company. Another project with Flanagan Industries (Glastonbury) enabled them to bid a new job more aggressively and secure a major production order that might otherwise have been placed with a supplier outside of the region.

Overall, the twenty projects completed thus far have consistently demonstrated increased material removal rates between 25 and 70 percent, while tool life was extended between 300 and 1200 percent, and lower power (both overall kWh and peak demand) was consumed. The optimized machining process is first verified by simulation, then validated on machines in the AMC, and only then transitioned to production at the SMM with on-site support from CCAT engineers.

Beyond machining, the AMC has advanced metrology and additive manufacturing capabilities. For metrology, an affordable, easy to use structured light scanning system was developed. This system is used for non-contact inspection (both on and off machines) and for reverse engineering part geometry. The additive manufacturing capability, powdered metal deposition with a laser, is unique to the region.

If you are a Massachusetts company and would like to learn more about increasing your Value Add and Process Improvement, please contact John Killam at johnk@massmep.org.

Bob Torrani is Director, Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) at the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, Inc. (CCAT). For more information about the AMC, contact Bob at rtorrani@ccat.us, 860.282.4223.

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