Manufacturing efficiency: going beyond fast

Uploaded 15 Jun @ 14:20pm

The most recent UK productivity statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in April, reported that in the last three months of 2017, labour productivity grew by 0.7 per cent - a level not seen since before the global financial crisis. In addition, the report goes on to say that manufacturing productivity grew by 2.6 per cent over the previous quarter.
So why is this of interest? Ignoring the issue of its three-month statistical lag, these productivity figures are a constant reminder of how we’re doing as a nation, but more importantly, perhaps, they also provide an indicator of how well the manufacturing sector is performing, as well as some motivation for us to become even better or more efficient.

Productivity is a key driver for all manufacturers, as production efficiency is an essential and integral part of profitability. In manufacturing, time really is money. The quicker a component can be machined, the more competitive the business becomes, which makes it more attractive to prospective customers, assuming that quality and component performance are not compromised in the process.

All this will probably sound familiar and for most manufacturing operations, both in-house and within the subcontract sector it is a way of life, as there is a constant drive for improvement for the reasons already mentioned.

Cutting tool manufacturers, such as M.A. Ford Europe, have played an important part in the dramatic transformation of machining practices and processes over the past five decades to ensure that manufacturing process times and the associated costs are constantly being reduced. In fact our US parent company, M.A. Ford Manufacturing Inc, is celebrating its centenary in 2019, but that’s another story.

It’s probably fair to say that most manufacturing productivity and process improvements have been achieved by removing material faster by virtue of new tooling geometries, substrates, coating technologies and so on, coupled with machine tool advances, that have driven the ‘state of the manufacturing art’.

This is a fundamental part of manufacturing and is one of the reasons why our tooling is used so widely, as we are always pushing our tooling performance to the limit, whether that be metal removal rates, machining strategies, tool life or surface finish, for example.

Manufacturing cost reduction is a constant pressure and around three years ago, a large number of prospective customers we were talking to were looking to change from their existing suppliers to cut tooling costs as a way of improving profitability, rather than looking at methods of improving manufacturing efficiency.

It was at this point that we seemed to adopt the role of ‘machining consultants’ by advising businesses on how to optimise their machining and cutting tool performance to become more cost efficient and productive.

Since then, M.A. Ford Europe’s focus on delivering the best tooling performance led us to introduce new related technologies, as part of our ‘Integrated Manufacturing Solutions’ (IMS) philosophy that can deliver significant performance improvements beyond just increasing cutting speeds and feed rates.

The IMS process now combines M.A. Ford’s high performance solid carbide tooling and Rego-Fix non-pull out tool holders with specialised high-speed machining (HSM) tool path software and BlueSwarf Dashboards anti-vibration analysis to optimise the machining process for virtually any component.

Manufacturing efficiency is not just about high-speed machining, it’s about understanding and overcoming inherent obstacles that limit productivity and cost-effective manufacturing, which we’re able to do. So, is it about working smarter rather than harder? No, it is about both.

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