By Tom Morris
Demonstrating and documenting cost savings has become essential for making a change on the shop floor. This is true for abrasives,
which are highly commoditized products.
Metal fabricators usually focus on cost per unit
when purchasing these types of products, rather
than how many units are used or how those costs
can tie up more time in labor-intensive operations.
Even when fabricators accept that time equals
money, they may need hard numbers to be able to
make the best decision. Firm estimates based on
real data help fabricators see the bigger picture, including labor costs, instead of relying solely on the
cost of the abrasives.
The approach also puts a focus on safety. High-er-cost abrasives are designed to remove material
more aggressively than cheaper abrasives. They and
the power tool do the majority of the work, helping
to reduce operator fatigue over the course of a shift
(see Figure 1).
The best way for a fabricator to document cost
savings when comparing abrasive products is to
conduct comparative tests both in a laboratory and
on the shop floor using its own equipment. The process should be administered by experts trained to
carefully differentiate between cutting, grinding,
and rust removal applications to ensure that the
test results are meaningful while remaining customized for the fabricator.
Some fabricators, however, may not be ready to
engage in that sort of productivity investigation.
Fortunately, they can still take small steps that lead
to a thorough cost-savings effort.
Step 1: A Bucket Program
A fabricator looking to do an informal analysis of
abrasive use and related costs might want to consider a bucket program.
Rather than simply taking the word of an abrasives sales representative about typical or average
savings that might be achieved with a certain disc,
the fabricator places a bucket on the shop floor and
operators are asked to discard all their used abrasives in the bucket (see Figure 2). After a month, an
expert performs a site analysis to visually analyze
how operators are using their abrasive products,
note the challenges, and evaluate ways of saving
the fabricator money. Evaluators are able to make
recommendations for potential process improvements and explain where the fabricator is literally
throwing away money.
The analysis typically uncovers issues such as flap
discs that show evidence of improper wear or 5-inch
grinding wheels discarded when they are only worn
to about 4 in., rather than the allowable 3 in. They
may find glazed up, cut up, or broken wheels.
A bucket program offers a way to advise fabrica-
Step 2: A Safety Seminar
tors on equipment and abrasive changes that could
lead to cost savings. Examples include revealing
that the wheel being used is not right for the job at
hand or switching to a different tool could improve
the surface finish and reduce the amount of time
spent on a particular operation.
Safety is always a concern for metal fabricating
shops. Safety training can also serve as the next
step toward a more formal evaluation of abrasive
usage in the shop.
Safety seminars complement mechanical finishing activities in a shop. All fabricators have to do
is look at the visual evidence in the bucket from
Step 1: They will find a great deal of broken product. When used improperly, cutoff wheels are quite
prone to breakage (see Figure 3), which poses serious safety issues. These wheels are turning at about
180 miles per hour right in front of an operator’s
face. Cutting wheels are usually among the most
dangerous products used in the shop, and some
shops even forbid their use altogether because they
are perceived as too dangerous when misused.
A safety seminar can include operator training on
the proper use of cutoff wheels to prevent injuries.
It may even result in the recommendation to use a
product that is safer for the given operation depending on the type and thickness of the material being
cut. As such, a safety seminar can provide another
way to increase productivity and possibly reduce expenses related to associated health and legal costs
tied to injuries on the job and lost man-hours.
Step 3: A Productivity Program
After a fabricator has seen the visual evidence of
just what is consumed during a month’s worth of
mechanical finishing activity and explored the importance of maintaining worker safety, the shop is
likely to be more open to a formal investigation of
new abrasive products. This often leads to the request for a more formal productivity analysis from
an abrasives product vendor.
In this type of program, abrasive products are tested against each other in an industrial environment.
The goal is to determine just how much money
3 steps to optimize
a finishing operation
Some small investigatory steps can help to reduce
operational costs and boost production efficiency
By letting the grinding disc and the power tool do the
work, the tool operator can go about his job in a much
more relaxed way.
These discs, which were retrieved from a throw-away
bucket at a fab shop, were discarded before they were
completely used up.