Coil Processing
Monday | 01 May, 2006 | 7:34 am

Finding the hidden costs

By Lauren Duensing

Mistakes come at a high price in every industry. An operation's hidden problems add up quickly and begin to affect the bottom line.

Using computer technology, AMS Controls Inc., Maryland Heights, Mo., helps roll forming companies uncover these hidden issues and improve the quality of their finished products while reducing the cost of their processes. Its electronic controls are designed and engineered to meet the needs of roll forming operations, including blank-fed and coil-fed machines, tube mills, cut-to-length machines and extrusion lines.

In the paper, "Staying on Target through Effective Shop Floor Control," Rick Wilhelm, vice president of sales and marketing for AMS, noted that most roll formers produce at a rate far below their potential. Many companies expand capacity by enlarging their facilities, which is probably not the best use of a company's resources. Wilhelm also cited a 1999 study by Rohm and Haas Corp. that determined that developing the existing capacity of equipment and facilities was 10 times less expensive than building new capacity. Rather, Wilhelm recommends a company seek out the "hidden roll formers" it already has.

An easy place to start improving efficiency is ensuring that the correct product is shipped to the customer. AMS' solutions help companies do this by minimizing the number of data entry points in the manufacturing process, which eliminates the opportunity to introduce an error. In addition, computer technology can increase the running time of a machine and increase the footage produced per hour.

According to AMS, roll forming companies handle the flow of data in the following way:

  • An order is taken by a salesperson.
  • The cut list is keyed into an office computer by a clerk.
  • The computer prints out a work order that describes quantities, lengths, profile and material.
  • A machine operator keys quantities and lengths into the roll former length controller.
  • A machine operator manually labels the finished product.
  • A machine operator fills out an operator's log that shows the order run, inventory coil used and amount of material used.
  • An office clerk updates inventory and generates invoices based on an operator's log.

In this process there are five steps involving manual data entry, allowing five opportunities for employees to make mistakes.


Add technology to the equation
By introducing computer controls into an operation, AMS eliminates human error by cutting down on the number of times data needs to be entered. AMS is currently converting the controls on all the roll forming lines at Metal Sales Manufacturing Corp. to an electronic system. "We're installing our XL200 Series controller, and we're also installing Eclipse production management software in all the plants," says Wilhelm. "That allows Metal Sales to download orders directly to the line, eliminating the paper associated with order entry. Once the order is entered at the sales function, no one has to re-enter any of the information. It transfers automatically down to the line without an opportunity for errors.

"And that's just on the front end," Wilhelm adds. "The key to this shop floor management system is to provide the information that allows Metal Sales to do ongoing improvements and tracking scrap, downtime and productivity by line, by operator and by shift--and doing it all in real time. The advantage of real time over the end of the shift is that in real time you're getting information at a point in time where you can actually do something about it, when you can affect the outcome, opposed to just determining what happened later."

Prior to the installation, which is expected to be completed by fiscal year 2006-2007, Metal Sales had a paper system that exposed it to human error. As Wilhelm points out, "An alert human can enter data with 99 percent accuracy, but that 1 percent of error can have expensive consequences. For example, short shipping only one building panel can cause expensive delays at a job site and incur back charges and hefty expenses in shipping and handling one piece. That doesn't even take into account the impression it makes on the customer."

In addition, the system provides Metal Sales' customer service representatives with all the information they need "to track orders and provide customers with a detailed account of exactly where its orders are at any time," Wilhelm says. This allows Metal Sales to continue to provide its customers with the service they've come to expect.

"One of the reasons we decided to do this is because it enhances the quality of our products," says Jennifer Thompson, director of marketing for Metal Sales. "Our customers come first, so we've invested a great deal in the quality of our end product. It also allows us to be more efficient. The value of that to our customer is priceless."

User-friendly controls
The training after the installation is fairly easy because the controls are user friendly, Wilhelm notes. "When our guys go out and do the installations, they'll do operator training on the last day they are there." At Metal Sales, AMS is doing preliminary training on the software end of it, as well as in the office where the training focuses on scheduling. "We'll do operator training on the floor in conjunction with the installation, and we have scheduled follow-up training to expand that scope so Metal Sales can take full advantage of all the things the new software can provide."

Metal Sales is too early in the installation to disclose numbers on its improved efficiency, but Wilhelm is confident from experience that Metal Sales will see significant gains. "If you're doing a lot of individual orders and a lot of downloading or order entry in the line, you're going to experience somewhere in the neighborhood of a 40 percent increase in uptime just from the downloading. "

From big to small
AMS has a wide variety of clients, from large shops like Metal Sales, with about 100 lines, to small operations with one line, and it can supply control systems for any roll forming equipment, regardless of the manufacturer. Before installing the controls, Metal Sales pulled together a strategy meeting to discuss the capital expenditure, and Wilhelm came in later to look at the systems and provide input. "We say 'these are the control systems that you've got here, this is what we would provide and this is the payback.' We help from initial concept through sizing the systems and justification," he says.

"One of the things we tell people is the first thing they're going to notice is their scrap is going to go up. And it's not that they're making any more scrap, it's just that they're now accounting for all of it. As long as the scrap is invisible, you have to go out at the end of the month and adjust your inventory because the steel isn't there. You're missing coils of steel, and you write that off to yield at the end of the month."

Once a company begins tracking all of its movements, it can begin to solve the problem of the hidden costs. "Our controllers are tracking all of the information and know everything that is going on," says Wilhelm. "If you're making an extra cover sheet for your product, they'll tell you that." The control systems can show companies where their steel went and why, for example, if steel was rejected for surface difficulties. "You can track productivity," Wilhelm says, "including if a line has to be run slower with coiled steel from certain suppliers. All of the information and all of the data is there. Now you just have to access it. As soon as it becomes visible, you can address what is actually causing the problem." MM

By Lauren Duensing, from the May 2006 issue of Modern Metals.

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