For over 10 years, Torm Metall has been operating in mechanical metalworking. About 30% of the company’s production is shipped outside of Estonia, primarily to Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Latvia, and Norway. Its main emphasis today is on the manufacture of custom-made products, which requires the ability to handle complex details.
Manufacturing businesses are stranded in today’s competitive economy: efficiency must be increased, it’s just a matter of understanding how and in what ways.
At the beginning of 2016, Torm Metall set out to analyse bottlenecks in its manufacturing process. Sensors were attached to two laser cutting tables and a water cutting table, which measured how much the lasers were used in comparison with the amount of work time planned. The goal was to achieve an overview of the tables’ efficiency, to find bottlenecks, and to make decisions based on the data that would help to reduce stoppages.
Measuring and analysing efficiency gives a numerical picture of how the work tables are used during work time by registering lags and their causes. This, in turn, allows conclusions to be made on whether a production stop was caused by a technical fault or something else that interrupts the work of the desk. In this way, problems can start to be solved starting in the right place, and solutions can be found to increase efficiency.
Torm Metall decided to use the solution offered by Evocon, which measures and visualises the OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) of the work stations. OEE is not measured now, just a part of it (OEE consists of three parts) – in other words, the actual work time of the machines is measured, and the causes of downtime determined.
Feedback from the work station operators is very important in these solutions. For that purpose, there are separate computers or touch screens near the work stations where problems can be documented. Analysis of the error notifications, in turn, allows the company to decide whether the setup of tools or a certain machine can help boost the efficiency of production or if the tight spot is connected to the broader organisation of the production process (i.e. changing the location of the tools on the production floor, changing the order of operations, etc.).
In the case of Torm Metall, a good indicator is tracking the work of the shot blasting machine. The analysis of the reasons for stoppages determined that a lot of time was being spent on the loading and unloading of details, which meant that the machine was idle for up to several hours a day. So a worker was added to the line who helped load and unload the material and the efficiency of the process rose quite quickly from 35% to 60–70%.
The explanation is a vital part of the implementation of an IT solution. As a rule, every new thing is scary and without justification for the new way of doing things, defiance, confusion, and misunderstanding can arise. But if there is a reason for the change, everyone’s thinking can move in the same direction.
In the case of Torm Metall, the tool being used to help them find weak points requires the measuring of work processes. But to the workers, it can feel as if they are being measured and evaluated. So it is common that explanations have to be made multiple times to assure the workers that the goal of the update is to find weaknesses in the work process, not to check on the employees.
For the upgrade to serve the business, it’s also very important to have the priorities firmly in place; otherwise, energy can start going towards a problem that may not be very useful to solve. An increase of 5% efficiency in one department can mean more for a business than a 20% increase in another. However, this demands the gathering of data and the analysis of numbers and background information to understand the results that a given action will produce. Thus there is the tendency to pick the low-hanging fruit that is fast and close, then plan for the next steps. If you start at the wrong end, you may not get the result that you hope for.
After the bottleneck has been mapped, the input and suggestions of the operators who come into contact with the machine every day should be considered when choosing and implementing an IT solution. This sort of engagement and gathering of information about production ensures that the investment being made realises dividends for the company.
Results and benefits
Digital technologies are advancing rapidly. If businesses do not take advantage of their opportunities and keep their finger on this pulse, then they’ll already be left behind tomorrow. It’s important, then, to be constantly considering what can be done better, faster, and with higher quality. Today, Torm Metall has 12 stations where the efficiency of the work is being constantly monitored. Shortly, they plan to integrate the solution with the company’s ERP system.
For Torm Metall, lean management philosophy is very important in improving efficiency and finding bottlenecks: in all their units, from the machine operators to the management, key indicators are displayed. This way, constant monitoring and analysis of production are carried out. This helps maintain focus and to ensure that the established goals are being met, or whether something needs to change.