Unearthing OEE

A longtime Texas stamping company uses data capture and reporting to unearth inefficiencies


Industrial Tool & Die, now known as ITD Precision (ITD), was founded in 1946 by Fred Tofte, who had worked as a machinist on the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M. After the war, Tofte moved back to Houston where his family owned boilerwork businesses with origins as far back as the 19th century. Shortly after returning home, he launched his own business making small tooling, jigs, fixtures and lab equipment in his garage.

In 1967, when Tofte started to produce his own stampings, he moved to a slightly larger facility with a few more employees and then later, another larger facility with even more employees. And so, the impressive growth began.

Today, the company has 130 employees working in two facilities, serving a variety of industries, such as oil and gas, HVAC, construction and other segments supporting the energy sectors. It also has customers in automotive safety, producing metal stampings for seatbelts and airbags.

The company’s main shop and headquarters is located in Houston, which houses a fleet of manual and automated press lines plus the bulk of the company’s tooling knowledge. Because of those resources, the Houston location handles the lion’s share of stampings. A second facility located in Harlingen, Texas, focuses on automated and manual assemblies, resistance welding, heat treating, e-coating, insert moldings and more – the value-add side of ITD’s operations.

Of ITD’s 130 employees, 35 percent have been with the company for 10 years or more while a staggering 31 employees have a tenure of 20 years or more. Another handful of employees has been with the company for more than 30 years. Currently, Toft’s grandson, Mike Tofte Jr., is at the helm as the third generation of ownership, which explains the family-like environment that the longtime employees clearly appreciate.

Fred Tofte, founder of ITD Precision, opened his company in 1946 in Houston where his family had owned boilerwork businesses for decades before.

A new era

After growing the business to become one of the premier producers of custom metal stampings in the Houston area, Tofte retired in 1981 and passed the baton to his sons Mike and Bill, who previously served as the president and vice president, respectively. In the 1990s, under their leadership, ITD invested in DiPro die protection systems from Wintriss Controls Group LLC to monitor its fleet of stamping presses and carry on the quality legacy their father had established.

Later, ITD added Wintriss SmartPac press automation controls to its presses, offering intuitive touchscreen programming to operators. These monitoring sensors and smart machine interfaces served as the beginning of ITD’s journey toward production optimization via data capture and analysis.

While the Wintriss equipment offered company leadership insight on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), Cory Swartz, production engineer at ITD, says human error sometimes got in the way of collecting the information they needed with the accuracy it required. Documenting the information gathered from the equipment was also quite time-consuming.

“Human beings aren’t perfect, so it wasn’t necessarily uncommon for an operator to make a mistake when documenting machine data, like downtime or setup times,” he explains. “Think about how common it could be to jot down inaccurate setup times. Operators would estimate their start time at 1:00 and end time at 1:15, which could be close, but over time, a few minutes here and there really add up.”

To address these inaccuracies, ITD looked to Wintriss once again and was introduced to ShopFloorConnect, OEE, data collection and production monitoring software that gathers machine data to offer near real-time data capture. Not only could ShopFloorConnect aid the company in achieving more accurate and timely press machine information, it would also remove the need to manually input the data.

ITD Precision began its digital journey by installing DiPro cie protection systems and SmartPac press automation controls on its press equipment, which was later followed by ShopFloorConnect, OEE, data collection and production monitoring software.

“Before we invested in ShopFloorConnect, nearly everything we tracked required manual input,” Swartz says. “Back when the data was handwritten, it had to be entered into a database and then entered again into our ERP system. That chain of manual data entry opened the door so many times to transposing numbers or introducing other errors, and it also made it easy to fudge the data.”

But ShopFloorConnect doesn’t just remove the need to manually input data. It’s capable of producing standard and custom reports based on the acquired data while also producing email and text alerts according to certain codes for faster troubleshooting responses. Operators can also be alerted at their machine if something needs to change prior to a job being completed.

“We also use ShopFloorConnect to schedule jobs for both plants from a single location, which allows for remote scheduling and tracking by various team members even when they aren’t on-site,” Swartz says. “In years past, this was handled by hit-or-miss phone tag.”

Early wins

More accurate and timely data entry was an early gamechanger for ITD. Swartz says that not having to shuffle paper around or deal with “those old pencil-whipped” reports saved the company immense amounts of time right out of the gate. But those benefits don’t even scratch the surface of what the company was able to achieve with the new software.

ShopFloorConnect is a modern software system that offers users the ability to customize their dashboards and reports to view and analyze the data collected from their press equipment.

“Tracking downtime was an early win,” Swartz says. “One of the key insights we learned from that was with regard to tooling. In days past, we’d hear things like, “this tool is a real pain.” In some cases, those opinions were true, and the reporting from ShopFloorConnect validated the need to invest in newer tooling or talk to a customer to invest in new tooling for their parts.

“The thing with the tooling was that it was always an operator’s opinion versus a press line supervisor’s opinion versus the tooling engineer’s opinion with all of them at odds about what was a hassle and what wasn’t,” he adds. “The reports, however, are black and white. For example, we could tell that on one particular tool, we lost two hours of time making adjustments and changes. It helped us look for ways to change our tooling maintenance habits, maybe re-engineer a tool or fully invest in new tooling.”

One of the downtime reports served as a top 10 list of ITD’s tooling violators, which staff referred to as the CDPR or “the crappy die performance report.” That CDPR was used to justify necessities like improving a tool that could be quite costly.

“Decisions like that can be quite subjective, so if you don’t have the data, you have to go through trial and error to figure it out,” Swartz says. “It goes back to the tool that operators would describe as ‘beat up’ or ‘not fun to run.’”

ITD Precision is known in the Houston area as one of Texas’ premier producers of metal stampings, primarily from the progressive dies that the company designs and manufacturers in-house.

Fortunately, with data to work from, subjectivity is no longer in play when trying to determine whether a tool is beat up or not. And Swartz says “it goes both ways.” With the ability to print, filter and analyze the ShopFloorConnect reports, ITD discovered that some tools “that we thought ran great, really didn’t and weren’t profitable. You just don’t know until you look at the data.”

Creative reporting

ITD serves as a great example of how ShopFloorConnect users can see quick benefits, but it’s the company’s longer term achievements that are especially noteworthy. And while Swartz says there was a little bit of a learning curve, the issues were minimal and easily overcome with the help of the Wintriss team.

“ShopFloorConnect has a lot of canned reports and filter options that we take advantage of,” he says. “You can filter by all of your machines, groups of machines, one machine, date range, etc. With all of those options, Wintriss was happy to walk us through the process of producing some of the more custom reports that we needed. But then, after running a report a couple of times, it became second nature.”

ITD leverages a variety of ShopFloorConnect reports, including downtime summaries, uptime efficiencies by machine or tool number, average changeover time reports and the event log, which Swartz says he uses when there are excessive downtimes or “numbers that look fishy.” The company also uses a variety of custom reports, including one for its operator performance reviews.

“The report is a mixture of downtime and OEE by operator instead of machine or tool,” he explains. “Our employee evaluations used to be based on how the supervisor or manager felt about their performance – it was kind of opinion based. But today, we use these reports to get tangible performance records in a more efficient and accurate manner.

“Think of the guy that’s running around all the time, the one that always looks so busy,” he adds. “Well, it might actually be the slow guy that’s more productive. Using these reports helps us validate that.”

Initially, the company provided operators with up to 30 downtime reasons from which to choose. After some evaluation, it was realized that eliminating some of the downtime reasons by merging them together could make the operators’ job easier. In doing so, troubleshooting response times by maintenance or a supervisor were greatly reduced.

“If a machine shows a specific downtime code, certain parties get a text or email, so we can go see what’s going on,” he says. “That has driven our ability to make immediate improvements.”

Employee data

At one point, ITD was even inspired to totally rework the number of employees on the shop floor. Company leadership realized that, on occasion, one operator would oversee another operator’s machine if they had to step away. They questioned whether one operator could oversee two machines for longer periods of time.

“Some of these machines are located back-to-back, so when we realized that an operator could oversee two machines for 5 min., it made us wonder whether they could do it for 30 min.,” Swartz says. “It motivated us to look at the part mix on machines, problem tools and so forth to figure out where we could juggle our schedule to have just one operator running two presses.”

This exercise had ITD looking at historical uptime data for one operator per machine, looking at where tooling improvements needed to be made while also looking at part inspection reports to see what was possible at different frequencies with proper die protection and tonnage monitoring.

“When we made those improvements, we were able to leverage one operator for two machines,” Swartz explains, “and we only saw a half a percent drop in uptime. And that’s all while reducing our labor costs. We’re not eliminating those folks’ jobs, though. They’re able to be shifted over to other, equally important tasks. Depending on production demand and part mix on our night shifts, they’re going to be able to do the same thing.”

These improvements also led ITD to change its break times and leadership structure on the pressroom floor. The company was able to go from one supervisor that was at a desk most of the time to two active leads assisting with setups and troubleshooting on the floor. And instead of everyone going to break at the same time, there are now three break times, which allows more machines to stay up and running throughout the day.

Further benefits included the ways in which corporate, plant and department measurables were relayed to executives. Prior to adopting ShopFloorConnect, relaying information to company leadership was a heavy lift. To produce a report, some information had to be pulled from one system with supporting information to be pulled from another system, which all had to be filtered and generated as a complete report. “It was kind of ridiculous, but now it’s so easy,” Swartz says.

What started with humble beginnings in Fred Tofte’s garage has now become a 130-employee operation in two facilities with customers in automotive safety, oil and gas, HVAC, construction and other segments supporting the energy sectors.

Swartz uses the example of the vice president that wanted to see certain reports at certain times, which now is a breeze to set up in ShopFloorConnect. “We can set it up, pick the delivery time and date and the format that they want, like Excel, PDF or Word. Then, when they come in every morning, it’s in their inbox,” he says.

“When we first started off, we used a lot of reports and set up several custom reports,” Swartz explains. “But, from the info that we’ve gleaned, we’ve been able to scale back on our reporting. We’ve made so many improvements – improvements to tooling, training, maintenance schedules, etc. – that we don’t have to produce so many reports anymore. We know what to look for.”

Swartz concludes saying that the ability to see performance in near real time, remotely schedule 30 machines across two plants, and track tooling history and machine downtime with a few keystrokes has been so valuable for ITD. “The knowledge gained from the data collected saves us incalculable amounts of time, effort and energy – as well as dollars invested in making improvements,” he says. “As the old adage goes: If you don’t know where you are, how can you tell where you’re going?”

ITD Precision

Wintriss Controls Group LLC

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