Miles Free

As Director of Technology and Industry Research for PMPA, Miles brings 38 years of hands-on experience in areas of manufacturing, quality and steelmaking. He helps answer "HOW?","WITH WHAT?" and "REALLY?"

Posted by: Miles Free 21. April 2016

Some OEM Customers Lack Insight into Market Demand

Ryan Kutz of PMPA member company Aztalan Engineering asks, “Since a better portion of our customers have adopted lean, just-in-time (JIT) or quick-response manufacturing practices where inventory is dock to stock and stock levels are managed daily, making inventory almost none existent, is there any evidence of this in the year-to-year trend? Are sales figures becoming even closer to real time with manufacturing orders?”

Ryan asks this in response to the blog post, “February Precision Machining Shipments Level With January.”

Ryan, we agree with your premise that most of our industry’s customers have adopted programs such as lean, JIT, quick-response manufacturing, and other dock-to-production (as opposed to dock-to-stock) programs. These programs are designed to reduce cost of possession for the OEM. However, we see these as being essentially a blunt instrument used to beat the supplier rather than as a means to truly coordinate supply-chain effectiveness. We feel that despite these programs, our OEM customers lack valid insight into market demand, causing inventories to rise and then their orders to our shops to plunge, concurrently. Take a look at the following chart from Dr. Ken Mayland that shows total business sales versus total business inventories:

These indicators tracked closely in 2014, but not so much in 2015.

This graph shows that in the first three quarters of 2014, our customers had a great handle on their demand and their orders and inventories tracked closely.

From the fourth quarter of 2014 forward, however, the percent change in total business inventories continued to remain in the positive year over year, while the percentage change in total sales year over year plummeted through end of Q1 2015, when they “leveled off” at around -2 to -3 percent.

I think we err when we overestimate the power of lean, JIT and quick-response manufacturing in the hands of our customers. These tools seem to be a blunt instrument, at best.

In reply to Ryan’s question, “Are sales figures becoming even closer to real time with manufacturing orders,” the graph above seems to show the change in sales and in inventories are converging at the end of 2015 and 2016 year to date.

My conclusion is that it doesn’t matter how fine a resolution our customers have in their lean, JIT, or quick-response manufacturing processes and procedures, if their ability to forecast is so poor, especially when the market declines.

Lousy forecasting by some OEM customers beats lean and JIT every time, leaving the OEM’s supply chain bloated with inventory and starving for releases.

Thanks for the great query, Ryan.

Originally posted on blog.

Posted by: Miles Free 14. April 2016

Upset Testing for Steel

This photo shows how upset testing works.

Mechanical properties of a given steel under compression compare closely with its tensile properties. An “upset” can be performed to determine how the steel will perform under compressive load.

A brittle steel under compression will ultimately fail by breaking along cleavage lines at an angle approximately 30 degrees from the axis of pressure being applied.

A more ductile steel flattens out, rather than cleaving, showing vertical cracks around the outer circumference. This ductile steel will not break, but will continue to flatten as more stress (load or force) is applied.

This compression or upset test is helpful for assuring that steel will successfully cold work. It can also be used to determine the extent of seams, laps or other surface imperfections on the surface of the bar. That’s what I used to do when we were producing drawn wire for cold-heading applications.


Originally posted on blog.


Posted by: Miles Free 8. April 2016

A Member’s View of a PMPA Washington, D.C. Trip

Advocating for positive change.

Mike Reader, president of Precision Plus, shares his take on PMPA’s recent two-day Capitol Hill fly-in.

On Tuesday, March 15, I flew to our nation’s capital to join almost a dozen other business leaders from our trade association, Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA), for two days of work on the Hill. The purpose of the trip was to continue our engagement with elected officials in order to keep them aware of legislative and regulatory matters impacting our ability to compete globally. As always, the pace is fast and the time passes far too quickly to accomplish all we set out to do.

For those of you who have not been to Washington, D.C. to participate in our political process, let me share a few observations. Every American citizen should make the trip at least once to experience the madness of it all. It is like a giant anthill that has just been attacked by small children. Every special interest group on the planet is there lobbying for their cause. How anyone gets anything done in the midst of the chaos is unknown to me. More than likely, not enough does get done. While I was not interested in the political process for many years, it became clear to me during the Great Recession that we must all get involved or be silent about the consequences others have imposed upon us.

Central to our conversations were these three advocacy issues:

  • Workforce development through training and education to ensure we maintain the most talented workforce on the planet. Our workforce is our greatest asset. However, the majority of skilled employees are aging, and public perception of manufacturing careers needs an adjustment. No longer is the world of manufacturing dark, dirty and dangerous. Today’s world-class manufacturers have state-of-the-art facilities and advanced technology. Changing these outdated stereotypes that have been decades in the making will not happen overnight, but we must start one person at a time. We and our industry partners are promoting tours of manufacturing facilities to showcase what they look like today, as well as the rewarding career opportunities that exist all around us. These are honorable, family supporting professions that helped make America great, and we need to celebrate them. Policymakers, too, must vocalize the deep need for job training reformation and the strengthening of education grants.
  • Tax and regulatory policies that promote domestic business investment, while maintaining good environmental standards. We must come together as a country for an honest conversation about these matters before it is too late. American businesses need a level playing field in order to compete. We are not asking for anything special, just that the 100-pound rucksack be removed so that we can truly compete with those countries that are taking our work with lower tax rates, fewer regulatory burdens, and less worker compensation.
  • We also brainstormed how we can energize our fellow PMPA members to get involved in the conversation, as there is so much at stake for all of us.  I encourage everyone to participate in a PMPA D.C. fly-in event at least one time to see for yourselves how the process works, or not. It is our responsibility to be active and stay current on the issues that matter in our industries. Not doing so will be detrimental to our businesses, as well as our country.

Without common sense agreement on the top two items, we will continue to lose our workforce as jobs and businesses are exported in exchange for cheap taxes, labor and more global pollution. It is time to have this honest, yet respectful, conversation before it is too late.

– Mike Reader, president of Precision Plus


Originally posted on blog.

Posted by: Miles Free 22. March 2016

Getting the Most out of Drills in your Shop


Here are three of my favorite and most shared ideas to get the most from drills in your shop.

  • Keep the drill short.
  • Get the feed rate right.
  • Replace the drill on schedule before it dulls.

Keep the drill short. Drills need a rigid setup. Having extra length can lead to deflection and drill wander. There is a reason that drills for screw machining applications are short—we need the rigidity. I learned this while working as the metallurgist for a steel bar company. I got a call from a customer that my steel wouldn’t drill straight. After a three and a half hour drive to the customer’s shop out of state, I found a narrow diameter drill (maybe 3/16″) being held in a Jacobs chuck the size of my head, being held on a Morse taper the length of my forearm (or maybe a bit longer). Add to that a very short cycle time, and the drill and chuck never got to a repeatable steady location; they were vibrating until they entered into the next workpiece. They could enter that workpiece at a number of different locations based on that vibration and moment arm. We shortened the setup considerably and suddenly the steel that we provided was drilling straight, true and on center.

Get the feed rate right. When I was learning machining, I was taught that the feed rate determines your success in drilling. After years and years in shops like yours, I am convinced that what I was taught is correct. Yes, the wrong speed can burn up a drill. But getting the feed right assures that the chips break up appropriately. They will flow smoothly down the flutes. Proper feed assures that the drill won’t “chip out” on the cutting edge, and also that the drill itself won’t crack or split up the center from too heavy of a feed.

Planned replacement of the drill before it dulls will make you more parts per shift. This is an under-appreciated way of thinking. In most companies, they have a purchasing culture and want to get the most out of a tool before replacing it. In the most profitable companies, they have a “respect the process” culture that focusses on maintaining process control, not maximum tool life. By replacing the drill before it gets dull, they minimize downtime. They minimize the production of defective parts. They minimize the creation of work hardening in the parts produced prior to tool replacement. This means less downtime, more trouble-free uptime and more parts at the end of the shift. Twenty extra minutes of production on a part with a 10-second cycle time is an extra 120 parts at the end of the shift. Shippable, billable, no-anomaly parts.

There are other factors besides feed that influence drilling, I will grant you that. Proper speed, proper coating, proper geometry, effective delivery of coolant—we could create quite a list. But in my experience, the three factors that hold the secret to productive drilling in our precision machining shops are short, rigid setups; proper feed; and planned or scheduled replacement. These three factors are the keys to getting more parts with less trouble out of your shop.


Originally posted on blog.


Posted by: Miles Free 23. February 2016

Automate to Eliminate Non-Value-Added Labor

Photo courtesy of BJ Gear (Denmark).

“When we install this automated line, we can eliminate three jobs.” This is probably the stupidest thing that I have ever overheard. (I was eating lunch at a rest stop on the turnpike home from a recent trip.)

There are at least 600,000 high tech manufacturing jobs currently unfilled in the U.S. and Canada. We know there are about 391,000 baby boomer machinists that will be leaving the workforce in the next few years. Who in their right mind wants to eliminate people, especially when they have proven they can come to work, do the work and add value?

The point of automation isn’t to eliminate jobs. It is to eliminate non-value added labor. The employees have already demonstrated they can add value. Automation should free them up to add even more, higher value-added items to your operations.

I believe that people should be engaged at their highest and best use. Check out Norbert Wiener’s book, “The Human Use of Human Beings.”

The point of automation is to let you elevate your existing talent to their highest and best use. Anything else is “the eighth waste.” 

Automate to elevate. Not to eliminate. Good people are hard enough to find.

Why would you eliminate your great ones?


Originally posted on blog.

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