In many shops, programmers, machine operators and maintenance staff work separately. Their relationships are more transactional. The programmer designs, nests and outputs the part programs. The machine operator runs the equipment, and when a machine is down, the maintenance team is asked to fix it. This is routine stuff, but what happens when these roles overlap and people collaborate? Well, the financial benefits can be endless, according to Jadco Mfg. Inc.
Located in Western Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh, Jadco is an ISO 9001:2015-certified production company. The team there fabricates wear plates, liners, pipes and weldments to protect expensive equipment and prevent high-abrasion damage. The company ships wear products all over the world to mining, construction, power generation, steel production and material handling businesses.
Whether it’s a hammer mill screen or a liner for a truck bed, every customer buys Jadco products for the same three reasons: to extend the life of their equipment, increase the return on capital equipment investments and reduce downtime.
Many companies make wear products. In a crowded market, Jadco has set themselves apart for the last 40 years by focusing on chemistry and commercial production of proprietary abrasion-resistant steels. The company also specializes in overlay manufacturing, a welded deposit or hardfacing that covers, reinforces and further strengthens their specialty abrasion-resistant steels. The company’s flagship goods are QT-Plus wear plates and multiple grades of ChromeWeld chromium carbide overlay plates and pipes, but Jadco also offers other steel products as well as repair and general fabrication services.
Jadco’s shop is bustling with a continuous flow of activity. Operations are open around the clock, and the company has graduated to a full-fledged production facility. The shop’s floor is strategically laid out to increase production efficiency and minimize waste. Assembly lines are organized in order of steps, with similar pieces of equipment grouped together in cells. The standardized work limits material handling, and planning minimizes time-consuming machine setups and changeovers.
Continuous improvement activities are always top of mind for an ISO 9001:2015-certified company, so naturally, Jadco is always looking to improve the way they do things. The company is so committed to improvement that they have a designated safety, quality and continuous improvement manager to oversee risk assessments. In the last two years, they have added a process improvement coordinator, who is a trained industrial engineer, that focuses exclusively on analyzing production numbers. Teams participate in routine production meetings as well as quarterly audits to manage key metrics.
With the energy and effort devoted to ongoing improvement, Jadco ensures that products meet certification standards and customer expectations, but that’s only part of the story. Managers must also focus on their people and gain buy-in to a culture of improvement. The Jadco shop alone employs many people and overseeing the welders, fitters, machine operators and maintenance staff is Michael Lewis, operations manager.
Responsible for the people he manages, Lewis needs to set up his team for success. That includes team building. Productive interactions between programmers, machine operators and maintenance staff play a critical role in equipment uptime. The programmers provide accurate part programs. Operators know the process workflow and are responsible for preventive care. The maintenance team is accountable for the physical machinery. The challenge for Lewis, and any manager, is getting the team to work together and be supportive teammates.
The burn cell
Wear products are primarily made from carbon steel plates, which Jadco cuts on CNC cutting machines in their high production facility. They have three cutting tables capable of X-Y and bevel cutting and are fitted with a combination of oxypropylene torches and Hypertherm’s HyPerformance plasma systems. The burn team uses Hypertherm’s ProNest CAD/CAM part nesting software for both oxy and plasma cutting.
Training staff on all four HPR400XD plasma systems, a pair of HPR260XD plasma systems and the ProNest software falls to Lewis. Over the years, he has relied on a myriad of tactics for training. For new employees, he used peer training and a selection of courses from Hypertherm Cutting Institute (HCI), the free eLearning platform. For the more seasoned operators, ongoing education included Hypertherm webinars, both the live and on-demand trainings. This formula worked for nearly a decade, but Lewis started noticing a negative trend.
“Parts were running out of tolerance, and we’re just too busy for that to happen,” Lewis says. He needed to figure out why.
“The basics didn’t get passed on,” he learned. “It ended up like a game of telephone. When the fundamentals seem so obvious, a person can forget to share some basic information. We needed a reset, so everyone was operating with the same information. The right information.”
Lewis went to the source to get training for his burn team — Hypertherm, the maker of their plasma systems and nesting software. “We just needed to learn how to run the machine and make it do what it was designed to do,” Lewis says. “Hypertherm has enough PhDs that have already figured everything out for us.”
Hypertherm’s Bill Sanborn was one of the technical trainers Lewis hired to come onsite and do the two-day training with his team. Sanborn explains why it is important to cross-train staff and get everyone involved.
“The general thinking has been that the machine operator alone is responsible for cut quality, but with today’s technology, more people have a hand in the outcomes,” Sanborn says. “It’s not just the operator’s responsibility, rather it’s the team’s responsibility to make the best product for the customer. The programmer needs to provide the operator with useable part programs and well-coded cutting parameters, while the part quality, system efficiency and level of productivity are a result of how well the machine is maintained. Without having all three roles involved, working together and speaking the same language, success is limited.”
Sanborn, along with Hypertherm’s Colin Parker, worked with Lewis to divide the team into three groups of five people. The ratio of two trainers to five students meant everyone could ask questions and get the answers they needed to be successful. Each training contained the same information, but the groups were picked based on experience levels. This meant newer staff could spend more time on nailing down the basics, while the more experienced workers could get into nuanced discussions.
Another benefit of training smaller groups was that only one of the three cutting tables was needed for the training. That meant Lewis could keep two of the production lines up and running, with less disruption to the day-to-day operations. Sanborn and Parker did more than explain the machinery and processes. They also tested each group with real-world scenarios, such as air leaks, wrong consumables in the torch and a disconnected chopper. Then the group worked together to get the CNC machine back up and running.
“The Hypertherm training was eye opening,” says Branden Vasbinder, a production supervisor that occasionally steps in to run the machines. “For instance, I didn’t know that O-rings need to be lubricated. The training really built my confidence and now I don’t second-guess myself. I know the order of the consumable stack-up, the rate at which each consumable in the stack-up needs to be replaced and just how tight the torch retaining cap needs to be so I don’t over tighten it.”
In the first year after the training, Lewis noticed a 20 percent reduction in annual consumable costs. The savings, close to $35,000, went straight to the company’s bottom line.
However, it was not just understanding how to care for plasma consumables that reduced costs. Because piercing metal wears consumables more than straight cuts, Brandon Beetle, burn supervisor, leveraged ProNest’s Common Line Cutting and Chain Cutting – both software features reduced the number of pierces – to extend consumable life as well as save time and materials. Beetle set up the jobs for the machine operators, picking materials, setting amperages, speed rates, etc., so the operator could focus instead on running the part program and daily maintenance on the machine.
This led to increased uptime for all three cutting tables, but it was not just a focus on routine maintenance that helped. Brandon Durbin from maintenance explains, “Before the training, the operator would just say ‘the machine is down. Fix it.’ Back then, I had to get inside and try to figure it out,” Durbin says. “Now, the operators give me a head start. They tell me, ‘I think it’s a fan issue,’ or ‘look at the auto height sensing.’ The operators are just better at describing the issue now and that saves time.”
Uptime is key for operations managers, but through this process Lewis had a change of perspective.
“We were focused on measuring arc time before, but just keeping the arc on won’t get you better results,” he says. “You can’t tell machine operators to work harder and then ignore everything else. We look at machine uptime holistically now and everyone is recognized for what they can contribute to our success.”