Up Around the Bend

The FABRICATOR April 2005
April 11, 2005
By: Scot Stevens

Red Dot Corp., forced by eroding margins to consider lean manufacturing and reduce lead times, embarked on a project to reduce wasted time, materials, and space. As part of this project, the company decided to move some of its manufacturing processes from its main plant in Seattle, Wash., to one of its distribution hubs in Ipswich, England. Because the facility would rely on a single press brake, Red Dot shopped around for a press brake that would run continuously with a minimum of service calls. The company's success in press brake operations in Ipswich led it to overhaul its press brake operations in its facilities in Seattle and Memphis, Tenn.

Jim Yantzer's forte is press brakes. He's been bending metal in Seattle since the 1960s, when he worked for Boeing Company. There he first learned the ins and outs of metals, from titanium and magnesium to aluminum and steel. In 1972 he was hired as a production lead at Seattle-based Red Dot Corp., a supplier of HVAC systems for buses; emergency vehicles; Class 6, 7, and 8 trucks; off-road machinery; tractors; agricultural equipment; and, most recently, armored vehicles deployed in Iraq.

Yantzer advanced to head up the company's production operations, eventually taking over production planning and procurement in preparation for a three-year assignment beginning in 2001 that would take him to Ipswich, England. His experience there would prove critical to Red Dot's lean manufacturing initiatives, launched in 2000.

"Margins were eroding," Yantzer recalled, referring to the company's decision to implement lean manufacturing." Our market is very competitive, and we are competing worldwide. In the past we were focused on the U.S., but now we recognize to be a world player, we must have a presence in other countries. Our customers are going global, and they want their suppliers located near them.

"We had to make a change," he continued." And it had to be a major change, a cultural change to support the lean initiatives that require us to eliminate all non-value-added processes and inventory. We're focused on eliminating all waste—wasted time, wasted materials, wasted space."

Two new press brakes were installed at Red Dot Corporation's Seattle headquarters following a successful implementation at the company's Ipswich, England, facility. More are on the way for Seattle as well as for the company's Memphis facility.

European Approach

Yantzer was sent to Ipswich to install manufacturing capabilities in an operation that had previously acted as a distribution hub for importing product built in Seattle to serve customers in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Far East. This change was in keeping with the company's lean strategy. It would bring manufacturing closer to customers, reduce lead-times, and support the effort to transform operations from the classical "push" systems of the past, with their inherent high inventories and work-in-process, to more of a "pull," kaizen manufacturing approach.

He immediately confronted the challenge of acquiring the bending and spot welding technologies critical to the company's products. Unfamiliar with European press brakes, Yantzer initiated a survey of local manufacturers engaged in the same processes he needed to install.

"There would be only one press brake in this operation," he explained." Reliability was paramount. I needed total confidence the machine would not be down for servicing.

"Users of press brakes in the Ipswich area reported that all the various competitors performed well in terms of service response," he continued." But they also reported what was, to me, a lot of service calls. I needed a machine that would run all the time, without any service calls. That's where recommendations from users leaned toward Gasparini."

Another challenge the machine had to meet was the Red Dot mandate to improve uptime from 40 percent to 80 percent. This required the ability to run one setup per model, with each model requiring up to 20 parts to be bent.

"Everything we do here is about flow," Yantzer explained." We wanted to do one setup that would run all 20 parts, thus reducing the amount of setup time required for the sheet metal parts and optimizing the uptime of the machine."

Another requirement related to the bending operation was to reduce lead-times, from raw material to final assembly, from five days to three days or less. Ensuring the press brake did not present a bottleneck was a key factor in achieving that goal.

The press brake's Z axis functionality enables the company to eliminate a setup in this four-bend air-conditioner bracket application, which was not possible with its previous press brake capabilities.

Old Versus New

Yantzer decided to install Gasparini's PBS 075 press brake. The biggest challenges were unfamiliarity with the European-style machine, its tooling, and the service network that would support it. These were offset by what Yantzer determined was a state-of-the-art software configuration; the advantages he saw in European-style tooling; the machine's patented pneumatic clamping system; and its ability to operate in the X, Y, and Z axes (all major improvements on the company's bending capabilities in Seattle).

Yantzer, a former press brake operator himself, quickly realized benefits that were not possible with the company's existing manual press brake technologies.

"In the past we would make two extra parts, check them, and then make adjustments to the setup," he explained." Now, once the program is set, we make some minor adjustments for bend characteristics and angularity, and we're done. The first part is always a good part. The programming is very reliable."

He also cited benefits from using the European-style tooling and pneumatic clamping system: Self-alignment ensures the punch and bottom die are always aligned; tooling loads from the front versus sliding in from the side; tooling can be rotated 180 degrees, inserted into a manual or pneumatic rear clamp, and closed from the front of the machine; and maintenance is simplified on the pneumatic clamping system compared to hydraulic systems.

"If you get a leak in a hydraulic system," he explained, "it can be a major challenge. With the pneumatic system, air line leaks are much more easily serviced and put back into operation faster, which maximizes the uptime of the machine, one of our biggest concerns."
Because of its success with the pneumatic clamping technology, Red Dot will retrofit its other press brakes with pneumatic clamping systems.

Finally, the Z axis, which runs up and down the backstop rail, proved to reduce the total number of required setups, another key objective. In one four-bend operation, according to Yantzer, the flexibility the Z axis affords eliminated an entire setup." Instead of two setups, this does all four bends using one setup, one handling, in one spot," he said.

"The backstop retracts after initial tool contact," Yantzer explained." You can set the speed of how fast it retracts and how far it retracts. The backstop moves along with the operator when there are multiple setups."

Air-conditioner housings undergo final assembly.

Bending Overhaul

Yantzer's job in Ipswich ended in late 2003. Before he departed for Seattle, however, Red Dot President Randy Gardiner visited the Ipswich facility and was so impressed with the bending operation and how it fit the company's big-picture lean manufacturing objectives that he decided to overhaul bending operations companywide.

That meant new press brakes for Seattle and a proposal to install one in the company's Memphis facility, which would undergo the same transition to manufacturing capabilities that had been successfully executed in Ipswich.

In Seattle, manufacturing cells have been set up, each equipped with a punch press, press brakes, spot welders, and stamping presses organized around specific product lines versus processes. An e-Kanban™ system electronically sends production requirements throughout the shop, telling each area what to make and when to make it. Materials are staged at their point of use, and metal parts go into one of four value stream lines that are dedicated to specific products.

Each value stream line has its own press brakes, as well as spot welding systems and other equipment required for the models it has been assigned. After parts go through stamping, turret punching, and laser operations, they are staged for bending at the press brakes. Bending will not start on any given model until all the parts required for that model have been staged.

As a former press brake operator, Yantzer pays particular attention to his operators. "It's really satisfying," he said, "when the operators who use the machines, who need them to get their jobs done, are happy to use them."

"They stay where you put them," one of his operators, Teri Acey, brake lead on the weekend shift, said of the new press brakes. "The angles, the backstops, the data points all stay where you put them. I love the way the top dies clamp in, and they're easy to train on."

As 2004 came to a close, Yantzer had received the go-ahead to put full sheet metal manufacturing capabilities in the company's Memphis location, which, like Ipswich, has been serving primarily as a distribution hub, performing some light assembly work.

The company will standardize with the Gasparini press brakes it now has in Ipswich and Seattle. Aside from the obvious training and certification benefits of standardization, the company has more aggressive plans to deploy information technology across its metal bending operations by networking all its press brakes.

"We want standard press brakes with standard tooling so we can run any part anywhere in the world on any machine," Yantzer said. "We want to be able to pull up the setup, drawings, pictures of the setup for the operators, and we want to be able to communicate all that from Seattle across all our press brakes, no matter where they are located.

"That way, if we normally make a part in Seattle and we want to make it in Ipswich or Memphis, all three facilities will be connected and we'll be able to do that easily."

Red Dot Corp., 495 Andover Park East, Seattle, WA 98188, 206-394-3547, www. rdac.com

Gasparini S.p.A., Via F. Filzi 33, 31036 Istrana (TV) Italy, 39-0422-8355, fax 39-0422-835600, www.gasparini.it

Scot Stevens

Scot Stevens

Contributing Writer

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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