Category “Lean Automation”

Lean Ammunition Manufacturing Part I

February 4, 2015 by MarkC

Mid-way through my high school years my dad bought a new 1974 Chevy Vega.  It was his attempt to buy a small fuel efficient vehicle.  For my brother and me it was an imaginary sports car.  It was a fun car; however it was disappointing to find out that at 40,000 miles it was ready for the scrapyard.  It was an era when auto makers were more interested in selling cars then providing quality.  In the end, our Vega’s aluminum bore – 4 cylinder engine burned more oil than gas, doors sagged, the clutch slipped, wheel bearings whined, and many interior components stopped working all together.  Fact is, it was not uncommon for cars of that period to reach the end of their life before 100,000 miles.

The Vega, and other cars of the day, was a product of a highly refined mass production system.  From its inception by Henry Ford in the early 1900’s, mass production served the auto industry and consumer well.  Low manufacturing costs made it possible for nearly every household in America to own a car.  The downside was not every household owned a high quality, reliable car.

At the end of WWII Toyota lacked the required capital to support the growing post war car market.  One unique problem was their shortage of stamping presses in the body works group.  At that time automakers typically had dedicated presses with a single die, avoiding complex changeovers.   Toyota’s lack of capital prohibited this investment.   Toyota leaders focused their efforts, during the fifties, on developing basic single minute exchange of die (SMED) techniques used today.  They were able to reduce changeover times for a high tonnage press from days to minutes.  Fast changeovers quickly lead to releasing small lots.  Small lots meant low inventory and low inventory brought about the early discovery of defects, making it possible for Toyota to establish their “stop the line” policy when defects are discovered.  In essence, lean operated on the tenants of simplicity, elimination of waste and continuous improvement.

From 1950 to 1979, consumers added quality and reliability to their car buying checklists when buying small, fuel efficient cars.  By 1980, shortly after the Vega went out of production, 25% of the global market shifted from American to Japanese automakers.   American automakers were compelled to change or die, and “Lean Manufacturing” was the catalyst.   Ultimately lean offered a dramatic quality improvement.   A revolution in America soon began as auto makers quickly embraced lean manufacturing techniques.

Today the ammunition industry is ready for a similar revolution.

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Ammo Loader Video is Here

April 10, 2014 by Nick

Here is the first look at the Setpoint Ammo Loader machine.  Watch this video for a quick overview of the loader, from the feeding of each individual component to the quick caliber changeover capability.  Read more about Setpoint’s ammunition manufacturing equipment.

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Tie Rod Frame vs. C-Frame

April 9, 2014 by Nick

Winner: Tie Rod Frame

Tie Rod Press with Dial TableIn the past, the C-frame press design made it easier to feed in product or change dies. The downside of the C-frame is deflection – where the frame will bend outward under the pressure of the load – which
will cause deformities in your part, and ultimately lead to inconsistent and erroneous parts. In our ammunition case manufacturing equipment we need absolute precision and a lot of force. So we needed a better solution.

The result is the development of a modular H-frame frame press. The H-frame consists of blocks, tie-rods and spacers. With this press we are able to achieve .001 shut height accuracy with 20 ton’s force; and due to it’s modular design we are able to mount the press to an automated dial table and index parts through it.  Now, with the ability to run parts through an H-frame press we can produce precision parts with high tonnage and minimal deflection in an automated application.



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Setpoint Introduction Video

April 9, 2014 by Nick

Check out our new introduction to Setpoint video.

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Setpoint used Picatinny Mounting System for 10 Minute Tooling Changeovers

December 18, 2013 by Setpoint

In the military, soldiers need to be able to change optics, lights, and accessories on their firearms quickly and efficiently. In manufacturing, we should be able to change tooling on our production machines quickly as well to give them maximum flexibility, but that is seldom the case. By drawing inspiration from firearms, Setpoint is making tooling changes simpler and faster than most of us would have ever imagined.

Setpoint has a revolutionary ammunition loading machine that combines speed, capability, usability, and versatility with tooling changeovers that are ultra-fast. Some ammunition producers avoid changeovers because they’re slow and complicated, and it’s easier to have multiple machines than to change the tooling. Setpoint’s lean approach maximizes flexibility, so quick and simple changeovers were a requirement for our system.

Picatinny Mounting System

Our engineer Aaron Stampick developed an idea to use the Picatinny mounting system used by the firearms industry for a solution. Picatinny rails and mounts allow any scope, light, or other accessory that is built to the Picatinny Military Specifications to fit together properly and consistently. The system is inexpensive, readily available, standardized, and accurate.  Many manufacturers of Picatinny rail-based optics mounts advertise that their products return within 1/60 of a degree of the original mounting orientation.

Picatinny Mounting System

Setpoint’s new machine uses Picatinny mounts with a cammed throw lever so that tooling changes take seconds and require no tools. Repurposing an existing technology provided a fast, simple, reliable, and very cost-effective solution to ultra-quick-change tooling. Setpoint continues to find more ways to utilize the Picatinny mounting system, allowing quick-change tooling throughout the entire loading machine.

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Cycle Time vs Throughput

October 16, 2013 by Clark

Over the years we have built thousands of custom equipment solutions for a wide range of manufacturers, spanning a wide range of industries. Each time we engage in a new project, we have to address the issue of machine cycle time. This is the primary number by which customs gauge the overall Return On Investment (ROI), of a capital piece of equipment.

The tendency is to try and push a machine to produce at a higher rate of production, therefore, increasing the company’s overall throughput and reduce the overall time it takes to realize the return on the investment of that piece of equipment.

The primary issue with this philosophy, is that throughput is only one part of the overall equation necessary to understand the true value or ROI that a specific piece of machinery may offer.

The following example illustrates this specific issue:

Cycle Time vs Throughput Chart


Even though machine #1 runs at a higher PPM (Part Per Minute) due to the lower OA, the #2 machine actually out performs it, even though the machine’s cycle time is almost 17% less PPM.

We have found that machines run best at a specific cycle rate. Once you push the machine’s cycle time over the threshold of capability, you start to see a drastic drop in overall machine uptime and thus overall throughput. This phenomenon is similar to a Formula 1 race car performance. These cars are pushed so close to the edge of technology and speed that a high percentage of the time, they don’t actually finish the race they started.

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The Discipline of Sustaining Lean Principles

July 13, 2012 by Roger

You and your company have just taken the big leap into the alluring land of lean manufacturing. You’ve spent some big money on developing your plan, training your people, redesigning your workstations, and implementing Kaizan, kanban and quality improvement programs. Now you can just sit back and watch it all happen in a ‘lean manner’ while the money rolls in, right? Ummmmm, no……that’s not quite how it works. Once you’ve got your lean system in place, the real work has just begun. Sustaining all of the newly implemented rules, guidelines and procedures over the long run is where you’ll really earn your keep. Or not earn your keep, such as the case may be.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen companies spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars converting their world over to a lean environment only to have it stumble and sometimes even fail during the first year or two of implementation. Why does this happen? Well, sometimes it’s the oldest reason in the book: human nature. Just because the physical tools, policies and procedures are in place for a lean manufacturing paradise doesn’t mean that it’s just going to chug on to victory on its own. Before that’ll happen you’ll need to make sure that you’ve got this tricky human nature part fully covered (if that’s even possible).

The most preventable failures that I’ve encountered on lean implementation efforts over the years have all been directly attributable to a lack of discipline in sustaining the program and its procedures. Oftentimes people and companies can quickly become less than diligent in following the core principles and guidelines of their lean manufacturing plan, and their products and profits almost always pay the price when this happens. If you think about it this way, it’s actually quite simple: How can you expect to consistently control the quality of your product if your processes are inconsistent? How can you expect consistent performance from your team if you don’t consistently maintain their working environment? If you set the rules and then nobody follows them, are they really even rules? This sort of nasty bug can debilitate an infant lean company in the blink off an eye.

During the first year of a lean implementation program there is invariably a large amount of pain and discomfort for the people working within the system. Some of it is real and tangible pain, as new skill requirements and streamlined processes usually require all personnel to “step up their game a notch”. And some of it is classic imaginary pain of the “who moved my cheese?” variety that humans often experience when faced with change. Whether it be real or imagined, when this pain becomes more and more palpable for the rank and file team members, newly implemented processes can often become compromised.

When a dramatic process change happens, some experienced personnel tend to think along the lines of “well, this new step is a pain in the butt. I think I’ll leave that part out of our process. This is much more efficient if we do it the old way.” And sometimes, on some specific processes, they may even be technically correct. The old way may be faster and/or more efficient. But what are often lost during these “process adaptations on the fly” are steps that were implemented by a manufacturing engineer in order to support or integrate with another part of the lean process. A step that may seem meaningless, redundant or irrelevant to one phase of a process may actually be critical to another phase. If given too much latitude, well-meaning employees have been known to “tweak” the new process so much that it actually damages the lean implementation effort. And within a year, they’re back to doing everything the old way. After all, who wants to spend every day looking for their cheese, right?

I ran across a good example of this phenomenon a few years ago while working on a new production line at a company that was new to the concepts of lean thinking. The customer had brought us in to consult on lean process development, as well as to build some new lean workstations for the assembly of their product. One of the workstations had a complex set of chemical dispensers that would digitally measure very precise amounts of certain compounds to get an exact mixture of a volatile component. The whole idea of this workstation was to take the inconsistent human element out of the mixing process, thereby making the compounds more consistent.

Once the compounds were metered and dispensed, a high-resolution scale would cross-check the weight to the amount that was metered. The new process required exact weights every time, or the logic would shut down the machine and reject the batch. The process was very reliable, and the logic appeared foolproof. The workstation was quickly put into service with the highest of hopes for instant process quality improvement. After the first week of production, it appeared that the new process was a raging success. The precision dispensing and weighing of the materials was delivering a more consistent performing compound than the customer had ever produced previously. Everyone was ecstatic.

Within a few weeks, things began to change. The product slipped back to similar levels of inconsistency that had been measured from the old process. The ‘great solution’ had belly-flopped, and nobody understood why. After a lengthy investigation it was discovered that the lead operator (who, not coincidentally was always considered the old process “expert”) had decided that he could tell with his eye what mixtures were required better than any fancy dispensers and scales could ever know. From the very beginning this well-meaning expert had felt that the machine-mixed compound was incorrectly configured. “It just wasn’t the right color”, is what he later told us. So after a week or so of painfully watching the ‘incorrect’ new compound ship out, he took matters into his own hands. After a machine-mixed batch of the compound was completed, our expert would carry it to a workbench and mix in additional amounts of components to get the color of the compound back to what he considered correct. Once again, consistency met an agonizing death at the brutal hands of the human well-meaner. Unfortunately, it’s an all too common tale.

How can you and your company avoid this sort of disastrous outcome? Setup your lean practices in great detail from day one. Document the procedures that you expect your team to follow and then stick to the established procedures faithfully. Enforce equal faithfulness to the procedures from everyone on the team. If you have a commitment to complete a 5S walkthrough of your shop every day at quitting time, then make sure you do it EVERY SINGLE DAY. If your lean plan calls for a Quality Improvement meeting every week, then make sure you hold that meeting EVERY SINGLE WEEK. This level of discipline in the system is extremely important for management people to embrace. As soon as team members see someone from the leadership team slack off on the procedures, they automatically give themselves permission to do the same. Be careful what examples you set. Don’t let apathy or “expertise” destroy all your hard work. It’s a very slippery slope when we start picking and choosing which procedures we feel like following and which we don’t.

So am I saying that every lean process ever invented should be locked in stone and never changed or evolved? No, of course not. Constant process improvement and enhancement are a big part of a developing lean organization. But changes and improvements must be made systematically. All potentially impacted areas of the process must be represented and considered before any changes are actually implemented. The changes must be well-documented, properly published in all applicable manuals or work orders, and presented to the team in a formal training environment. If you deploy your process enhancements in this manner every time, everyone on the team will always implement the changes in the same way. This will give the much sought-after consistency a fighting chance at a sustained life. If you count on ‘word of mouth’ training to officially deploy your changes, your precious consistency will surely be compromised.

Once you and your company make it down that long road of lean implementation, don’t let your guard down! There is no such thing as ‘arrived’ in the lean world. It’s a constant journey that needs to be navigated carefully at all times. Remain diligent and disciplined and your product and company will consistently reap the benefits that come from a great plan that’s been well-executed. Stick to the plan.

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An Industry Stuck in the Past

July 29, 2010 by Clark

Over the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to visit an industry that has some of the largest manufacturing facilities in the United States. There were five distinct things about each one of the facilities that I noticed the second I walked out onto the manufacturing floor:

  1. The equipment was very old, typically 1940’s vintage
  2. The equipment was very dirty and well worn
  3. The air smelled of machine lubrication
  4. The sound level in each facility was very loud and the floor shook as the machines processed their components
  5. There were massive amounts of inventory everywhere representing the many different stages of the process

With my background in manufacturing and lean automated equipment, I was overwhelmed at the opportunity for improvement and waste elimination associated with this industry.

In many of the facilities, I noticed lots of manual labor sorting components.  After asking why, the pat answer was, “This is how we ensure a quality part makes it to our customers.”  My immediate thought was, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?”  After probing a bit I found that there were very few, if any, in-process inspections to ensure quality product was coming off the end of the manufacturing line.

The level of NCM (Non Compliant Material) throughout the plants was out of control.  I found bins of parts with NCM tags as old as 2 years in one facility.  Again, “ARE YOU SERIOUS?” popped into my mind.

I’ve spent much of my past 20 years in the Aerospace, Automotive and Medical device industries.  In each of these industries, modern equipment and processes as well as lean manufacturing techniques were employed to ensure the products being produced were of the most high quality and reliability.

So what has kept this industry from stepping up and joining the ranks of world class manufacturers and what can be done to break this cycle of inefficient manufacturing?  I don’t know but am confident that someday, some company will break the mold and embrace lean thinking.  When that happens all the other companies in this industry will have no choice but to follow or be left behind.

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Lean Automation Equipment from Concept to Machine

May 13, 2010 by Kara

Being in marketing has its advantages.  I get to watch our engineers work on complex projects every day and since I am the one that puts movies together, I decided it would be cool to watch them go from a clean sheet design through to the machine being assembled by the shop.  When the engineers started working on a concept for a new machine I took pictures every day of the white boards where they were sketching out their designs.  They start here so that they don’t have to keep going back and changing a model in SolidWorks.  Then when they did start to design on the computer, I had the lead designer take a picture every day of the machine.

It was really cool to see the design changes that resulted in a much more compact design than the original idea that they started out with.  After the machine was fully designed I hooked up a camera to take pictures at intervals throughout the day to watch our assembly crew put each component onto the table and see the machine come to life.

This clip takes a machine from concepts on a white board through design and build of a machine.   I hope you enjoy it.

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Our thoughts on the D’Addario Video

December 28, 2009 by Setpoint

D’Addario, a company from Long Island New York, is in the business of making guitar strings and straps. Under the direction of their CEO, Jim D’Addario, they have seen a lot of changes in the last two years.  They have embraced lean by cutting inventory, stream lining the factory operations, implementing new technology, and saving jobs.  The company has installed automation equipment to help keep the jobs in New York rather than China.  They were featured on CNN, you can view the lean automation video here.

Their lean model is based on Toyota’s waste reduction strategy.  Toyota is known for leading the example in Lean.  The video mentions that “lean relies heavily on automation.”  The terms “lean” and “automation” do not rely on each other.  Lean is known as the practice of reducing waste. Automation may be a choice made by a company to try and become lean, but it’s not required. Automation equipment can be very costly and not as flexible as an organization might hope for. Automation equipment can be justified if the same part is made over and over thousands of times. D’Addario is certainly heading in a good direction if they are seeing progress in reducing their costs, saving the jobs, and creating a more satisfying place to work.  They are able to train someone to do something else as the machine takes their previous role.  Let the machines take the simplistic jobs and allow people to take on more challenging work.

D’Addario’s guitar strap division has managed to keep their business here in Long Island, New York. Under the threat of the current economy and the temptation to send cheap product overseas, D’Addario is working hard to maintain their business.  Peter Morici, an economist from Univ. of Maryland, mentioned in the video that “more can be done in the U.S.”  He is right.  In order to strengthen the dollar and create a strong economy, the American people need to produce more and consume less.  Almost every product you pick up in the store has the Made In China stamp.  We need to be working on getting our products to say Made In the U.S.A.  Every business ought to be looking at their products made in China and work on solutions to bring it back home.  Many companies decide to go with China, because it’s “easier” than automating.  We need to be creative and find solutions to keep the jobs here.  We have plenty of capable American people who are willing to put their minds at work to add real dollars to our economy.  Many companies are doing what they can by becoming leaner without cutting their work force.

D’Addario is on track to continue making progress.  As a company begins the journey of defining their lean system they begin to understand what lean really means and how it’s not just about reducing costs.  Lean is really about creating a better place for people to work.  Employees who feel satisfied and happy about their contributions begin to engage themselves in the success of the company and the quality of its products.  Once an organization understands what lean is, they will come to realize their journey has just begun.

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