Category “Process Improvement”

Modular Design Provides Versatility

October 8, 2014 by Nick

Several months ago, we talked about the modular H-frame press we developed that allows a dial table to index parts through it.  In our ammunition case manufacturing line, we need to perform high tonnage pressing processes on small brass tubes to create a primer pocket and stamp the head and we need to automatically feed the brass tubes through the press.  Because of the need for extreme consistency in each part we knew a C-frame press would not work due to deformities caused by deflection.  Our pocket and head machine is up and running so we thought we would show you our modular H-frame press in action so you can see  just how they work.

Our pocket and head machine uses two linear actuators powered by a servo motor that provide 20 tons of force each.  Setpoint’s modular press frame allows a dial table to index parts through the press giving us the speed and ease of feeding that is typical of a C-frame press, without the deformities caused by deflection under the heavy load required to press and stamp the brass case.  The result is a case line that produces match grade quality brass every time, no more inspecting for quality level.

Our press is not only for ammunition case manufacturing.  Setpoint is able to utilize this press for any manufacturing application that requires quick feeding, high tonnage pressing and precision made parts.

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Ammo Priming Machine Video has landed

August 29, 2014 by Nick

Watch this video for a quick overview of our ammo priming machine, from feeding primers and cases to seating the primers into the cases.  Not shown in the video is optional equipment to crimp and waterproof the primer to produce mil-spec cases that are ready to receive powder and a bullet in our loading machine.  Learn more about Setpoint’s ammunition manufacturing equipment.

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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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My first big project

August 28, 2013 by Raleigh

Here I am, an early college grad stepping out into the big kid world and working for Setpoint Systems. Right off the bat I was assigned to work on a brand new project for the company. This new project was unlike anything Setpoint had ever done before. Everything about this project was brand new. Luckily I was put under the wing of Steve our senior Applications Engineer. He helped me take this seemingly complex machine and break it down into bite sized chunks which could be easily handled.

After months of design work and drafting, most of the parts had made their way into our shop. It didn’t take long until the machine was partially thrown together. Obviously the machine wasn’t perfect right away, and parts needed revising. There were also delays on critical components. It almost felt like waiting for Christmas, though instead of Santa Claus I had to beg purchasing & receiving for my goodies. The big day finally came and the unit made its triumphant entrance onto the set with loads of damage due to shipping problem, and on top of that the power which we had anticipated to work for the unit would not work… And the wait continued.

Meanwhile Brad our CEO had his eye on my little project. He of course noticed that all the parts for my machine were finally in and only one thing remained, when would the machine run. On Tuesday, Brad decided to mosey on over to my desk and ask me a very simple question.

“Raleigh, when am I going to see this machine run?”

Of course being somewhat blindsided by his presence and question, I fumbled around a little bit.

“Give me 30 minutes and I’ll tell you when this machine will be up and running.” was my response.

So I dashed about, trying to get a hold of any of my key players. First off I needed to make sure that the power to my machine was finally wired. Luckily the wiring had just been finished the afternoon before. Next I needed to see if I could get some programming and assembly time. Luck was on my side, and I was also able to get their help. After I got confirmation from these two, I approached Brad at 30 minutes on the dot.

“Brad I can get this machine up and running on Friday.”

“By lunch on Friday?” Brad inquired.

“Yes, by lunch on Friday.” I responded.

So for the next two days I buckled down and got to work. It must’ve been a good week, because luck remained on my side. During the whole assembly/debug process no bugs were encountered. Thursday evening eventually came around and I had the machine cycling. I made sure to check, double check, and triple check every little sub assembly that I had on the machine. The reason being was that if any part were broken we were facing a minimum 5 week lead time to receive a brand new part. Of course I didn’t want my first designed and assembled machine to break such valuable tooling on its very first run. I finally developed the confidence and showed Steve the working machine.

“Well let’s throw a part in the machine and see if it actually works.” Steve said.

He then began to call up all the bigwigs. It wasn’t long before there was quite the little crowd gathered around my machine. There was now only one thing left to do, drop a part into the machine. Hesitantly I dropped my hopefully lucky part into the apparatus, and placed my fingers on the go switches. It felt like my stomach was up in my throat. It felt like eternity as my machine went through its processes. Finally the machine’s cycle came to an end and it appeared as if it had successfully made it from point A to B without any hang-ups. Mark our president reached into the bin and pulled out one well transformed part. The adrenaline kicked in, and I could feel my hands shaking, it was so exciting!

I was so excited, not only that my machine worked but also that I was able to keep my word and not only get my machine working on time but to also have it up and running before I promised it to be. I was once told “there’s no shame being on time,” well I know that I feel pretty proud I was able to get my first project running early. I can safely say that this accomplishment would not have been anywhere near possible without the help of my wonderful and talented coworkers.

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The 80-20 Pareto Principle

June 26, 2013 by Clark

Have you heard of the Pareto Principle? It is a term used to describe the 80-20 rule. The 80-20 rule can be applied to every manufacturing process (make to order, make to stock, engineer to order, assemble to order, etc. Applying the 80-20 rule to the 5M’s of manufacturing will maximize your company’s success and profitability.

MAN (Labor)
The 80-20 rule suggests that 20% of our labor contributes 80% of your company’s success. If this is true, your focus needs to be on getting the other 80% of your labor to perform as competently or efficiently as those who are showing to be high level performers.

This could simply be a matter of training to bring skill sets up to par, or managing your labor better so everyone knows what is expected and they are held accountable to perform their assigned tasks on time and to the level of completeness the company expects.

It may be required to implement a better hiring procedure to ensure the labor being hired has the skill set or ability to learn and perform at the level that is expected and ultimately demands.

Methods (Processes)
The 80-20 rule suggests that 20% of your methods and processes are solid and robust while 80% of them may not be providing the level of results you expect or require. If this is the case, your focus might turn toward analyzing the methods and processes used in your company and finding out which methods need to be overhauled or modified to allow a higher percentage of success in your business.

Machines (Equipment)
The 80-20 rule suggests that 20% of your machines are responsible for 80% of the value added content of producing your product. Another possibility is that 20% of your machines are producing 80% of your overall scrap.

In both situations, your goal should be to standardize your machines/equipment, as much as possible to remove any variation in quality, throughput, up time, floor space, etc. Monitoring and tracking the overall performance of each of your machines will allow you to better understand which machines are contributing positively or negatively. Once this is known, your action plan of attack to solve machine issues will be much more guided and effective in making the improvements necessary to realize the continuous improvement you desire.

The 80-20 rule suggests that 20% of your material accounts for 80% of the cost of your product. Or that 20% of your materials cause 80% of your quality defect issues. Another may be that 20% of your material costs 80% of the overall shipping costs for inbound products.

In all of these examples, understanding which materials fall into an 80-20 category will allow you to further investigate what can be done to improve your overall variances in your raw materials.

The 80-20 rule suggests that 20% of your products contribute 80% of your profits or sales or growth. Whatever it is, the goal would be to find ways to increase the sales, production and distribution of your top money making products.

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January 16, 2013 by MarkC

Throughout history, free societies have enjoyed remarkable progress in living standards. In the United States, advances in medicine have improved life expediency from 49 years in 1900, to 77 years at the end of the century. Modern conveniences in our homes such as electricity, indoor plumbing, refrigeration for perishable foods, as well as heating and air-conditioning have brought unforeseen comfort to our lives. Conveniences in travel with cars, aircraft and interstate highways have made it possible to be anywhere in the world in less than a day.

Imagine what someone from the mid-eighteenth century would think if he could observe life today. Aside from his astonishment of the technological advances that provide convenience to life, he would marvel at the availability of the products today. Not just to the wealthy or an exclusive class of aristocracy, these goods and services are available to everyone. As an example, as of year 2000, 92% of the households in America had color televisions.

The instrument making this possible is a free market, and serving as a catalyst are entrepreneurs with new ideas for improved products and services. Of course none of this would be possible without consumers and their continual demand for better, faster and cheaper. Henry Ford’s story provides a good example. Ford didn’t provide a grand revolutionary leap in technology, the model T was a simple car, easy to maintain. His role in history was the development of mass production, making the car affordable for the common man. In some respects his efforts to lower production costs were as dramatic as the invention of the automobile. He did it by developing the assembly line and vertical integration, which in turn dramatically improved labor efficiency. Between 1910 and 1914 Ford was able to reduce the average time to build a Model T from 12.5 hours to 93 minutes, an 800% improvement in productivity.

Productivity is defined as a ratio of production output, compared with a critical input. Typically, but not always, the critical input is labor hours or minutes. In Ford’s Model T example above, productivity changed from 12.5 hours/car to 1.55 hours/car. Companies with high product variety, such as fast food restaurants or job shops, may measure it as revenue/hour. Factories with standard costing techniques may measure productivity as a percentage of actual labor hours compared with a standard or estimate. An employee that takes .9 hours to finish a job estimated at 1.0 hour is 111% productive.

An opportunity for aggressive productivity metrics is with companies seeking low cost labor solutions to compete in price sensitive markets. Before making the costly step of moving overseas, try measuring productivity and drive the organization for “step change” improvement. There are organic options for reducing labor costs. Some possibilities include: product redesign, consolidating products into a standard model, lean manufacturing techniques and equipment automation. Opening and maintaining a plant in another country is not a painless undertaking. The costs are significantly higher than expected, and companies end up losing valuable agility.

No matter the company or business category, every company can and should measure productivity. First is to identify the output, most importantly identify an output the customer views as value added. If the company makes widgets, then the output is widgets. Revenue works for some businesses, we know customers value money. Second, compare it with direct time. It’s advisable to exclude G&A hours; direct employees responsible for completing tasks need to know how they are performing. And third, chart productivity in a trend chart with time (weeks, months or years) as the x axis. We motivate what we measure. Everyone wants to improve; companies need to show the score to employees.

Setpoint Systems is in the business of providing productivity improvement through automation solutions. For twenty years their strong team of engineers and experienced technicians has supported a sophisticated customer base with cost effective results. We understand that at the end of each project our customers demand equipment that pays for itself. Gains in productivity provide this payback.

What are you doing to be more productive at your company?  How are you measuring your success?

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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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Making a Project Successful

October 14, 2010 by Ken

When Setpoint starts a project we begin with the mindset that we want to make a fair profit even though it doesn’t always work out that way. When you bid a clean sheet design it’s at best an educated guess hoping you are on the high side, if you are lucky and bidding on more than one of the same machine you stand a chance to make up some of your losses from the first one on the following on’s. The first one is your test unit where you find out how close you got with the design.

Once you have the first machine assembled you can see what does and doesn’t work.  This is just the way it is, no one can foresee all the issues you will face. So you go back to the drawing board and hope you can fix it with one more try.  Now let’s say you have a proven machine that works and you start on the follow-on’s. We had a project where we thought it would take 1998.08 hours to complete; we ended up using 4776.75 hours on the first machine so we went over by 2778.67 hours.  The cost of materials was over by $46,735.90 but we still had 3 more to build.

After building the first machine we knew what worked and what didn’t.  I set up all the assemblies to be done in sets of 3 to promote the effectiveness of repetitious assembly.  So for instance, all 3 lifting assemblies and all 3 pulling assemblies were built at the same time by the same tech.  One tech cut the entire conduit for all 3 machines at the same time, while another cut and labeled the wires to be put in the conduit, and others laid out the panels to be wired. We drilled all the holes needed in the frames before anything is put in the way, then we installed the guarding and started putting the completed assemblies on the unit.  Getting the order of events down made a big difference.   All assemblies that are built with sensors and air lines are labeled and set before it is moved to the unit for installation.

We had minimum debug time due to having done it once already, which makes follow-on’s go much smoother.  The start up also went faster because the programmer had worked out all the bugs in the program.

We had a total of 2900 hours to complete all 3 units, and $391,737.50 to purchase all materials, our hours came in at 2573 hours, 327 hours under.  The cost of materials was $379,769.01, we were able to save $11,968.49 so all in all not too bad.  What made this successful was taking those things that we learned from the first machine and applying them to make the follow-on’s go quickly.

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