By Tim Heston
You get what you pay for, right? Those working in metal fabrication, or for that matter any- where else, probably wish it were that simple.
In reality, customers want more for a lower price in
less time. Modern technology married with continuous improvement aims to satisfy this demand.
The goal is to shorten the time between getting
the order and shipping the product using the same
resources, increasing a fabricator’s sellable capacity. If a job just sits there, stalled as work-in-process
for days or weeks at a time—because a machine is
down, an operator takes forever to set up, someone
called in sick or just didn’t show up—there’s a problem. In theory, lean and other improvement methods spur people to scrutinize processes (not people—i.e., no finger-pointing), map them, and find
ways to make everything flow. No longer should
jobs just sit there.
Setup taking forever because you can’t find the
tools or materials? Try a little 5S and documenting
standard work procedures. Machine’s not cutting
material as it should? Better preventive maintenance practices could help or, if it’s a material issue,
better purchasing practices.
Problem is, all this seems so out of an individual
employee’s reach, and it’s di;icult to know where to
start. Big ine;iciencies sometimes lie hidden, while
obvious problems seem as if they’re impossible to
change. Ultimately, the status quo stays the status
Industrial Sales & Manufacturing (ISM), an Erie,
Pa.-based contract fabrication and machining operation, found a way to overcome this conundrum.
First it adopted an improvement method called
2 Second Lean™, which, as the name implies, focuses on small, daily improvements. The method tackles lean manufacturing the same way one would eat
an elephant: one bite at a time.
Second, the company is ramping up a machine
monitoring initiative, linking machinery and enterprise resource planning. It’s tracking uptime and
other characteristics of some of the shop’s most
complex processes, with the hope of eventually
connecting all 165 machine work centers.
Manufacturing in Erie
Jim Rutkowski Jr. remembers Erie as a manufacturing powerhouse in the 1970s and 1980s. But he also
knows that Erie’s manufacturing presence today is
nothing to sni; at.
“Manufacturing is 14 percent of our economy [in
Erie County],” he said. “Few areas can say that these
Rutkowski’s father started as a dra;sman before
becoming a manufacturer’s representative. “He
couldn’t find shops to make his products, so he start-
ed making products out of his garage.”
His father launched ISM 50 years ago in a garage
not much larger than a Chevy Mustang. That garage
shop is now a $18.5 million contract manufacturer
employing about 160 people in three facilities total-
ing 125,000 square feet.
The company isn’t a custom fabricator with a small
machine shop to support the sheet metal work. It in-
stead o;ers extensive milling and turning services,
including five flexible machining systems with 155
tombstone pallets. It also has manual and robotic
welding, laser cutting, pipe and tube fabrication,
press brake bending, a powder coat line, and more.
“You name it, we do it,” said Rutkowski, now general manager at ISM. “We’re a manufacturer’s bu;et.”
Implementing Lean in Seconds
It’s 10 o’clock at IMS, break time. But instead of
people heading outside for a smoke or to the break
room, groups huddle for 10 minutes. IMS calls it
“the scrum.” During this time workers talk about
small improvements that could be made.
As a guide, they use 2 Second Lean, a book by Paul
Akers, an entrepreneur who runs a woodworking
tool company called FastCap (for more, visit https://
paulakers.net). It’s a method that Akers recom-
mends his readers ramp up gradually. “Start slow
and consistent,” Akers stated in a recent video blog.
“If you make it a huge, big fanfare, people will think
it’s the flavor of the month.”
He covers the basics of lean manufacturing, includ-
ing shop floor organization and cleanliness, as well
as one-piece flow. He describes value-adding versus
non-value-adding activity in human terms, like the
“wasted” motion we all do emptying a dishwasher.
“Most of us are shocked at the amount of non-val-
ue-adding activity (walking, reaching, opening, and
closing) compared to the value-adding activity (get-
ting the dishes and silverware in the cabinets and
drawers),” he writes. “The actual value-adding time
is a millisecond compared to all the waste.”
It’s a helpful analogy, particularly for someone
who operates fabrication machinery. Consider this
hypothetical example. Two press brake operators,
one on a small electric (or hybrid hydraulic-electric)
machine and another on an older hydraulic press
brake, are bending brackets. The bend sequence
they use is identical, di;icult to improve upon, and
yet the operator on the electric brake continually
outpaces the hydraulic brake operator.
the internet of things
IMS makes significant use of robotic welding,
and it’s one of the first processes the company
is choosing to monitor. Photo courtesy of IMS.
Photo credit: Getty Images