FAB 40: Super Steel ramps up parts tracking
Milwaukee fabricator prepares for busy times ahead
Super Steel's initiative to track where jobs stand has effectively increased throughput and inventory accuracy, preparing the company for increased business. According to Super Steel's CEO, 2015 could be a breakout year.
Super Steel CEO Dirk Smith has seen a lot of quoting activity during the past year, a time he characterized as relatively flat. Volumes for a lot of parts produced at the fabricator’s 450,000-square-foot plant haven’t been growing, due in large part to weakness in the mining sector, though the company’s freight rail business continues to hum.
The Milwaukee-based fabricator, No. 7 on this year’s FAB 40, has been picking up additional work as its OEM customers consolidate their supplier base. The company has a larger piece of the pie, though the overall pie is a little smaller. But the fabricator expects the pie to grow significantly over the next year and into 2015.
“Overall, it’s been a little slow, to be honest,” Smith said. “I think everything was a little slower than what we expected, though we’ve been picking up market share. I think when things normalize, business will really be hopping. But we need to execute at a high level.”
To that end, Super Steel gave employees bar code scanners to track material as it enters the kitting area, the lasers, raw stock inventory—everywhere. The company has implemented a comprehensive load-to-location program integrated with its WorkWise enterprise resource planning platform. “We have load-to-location implemented throughout the organization, from raw material to WIP, from the lasers to the brakes to the stockroom,” Smith said. “We’ve increased our throughput and inventory accuracy.”
This has become especially effective in the company’s kitting area, the operation’s heartbeat. The company fabricates various subassemblies, some with hundreds of individual parts. When a worker scans the bar code of the last component of a kitted subassembly, a work order is automatically triggered for the kit to move to downstream welding and assembly.
This, Smith said, represents the next level of automation for the high-product-mix fabricator. The software has reduced indirect labor requirements, including the need for kitters and inventory clerks. The bar codes automate the data entry, and the software has automated much of the data analysis. It shows current and future capacity levels based on scheduled work, which means managers can run what-if scenarios when quoting to determine whether the shop can handle the additional work.
Super Steel now uses finite capacity scheduling, with enhanced capacity planning tools. “In a 450,000-square-foot facility, things can get lost,” Smith said. “So you need to make items you already made.” This reduces available capacity of critical machinery, be it a laser cutting machine, press brake, or anything else. “That’s because you’re now consuming capacity for items you already made, and that has a snowball effect.”
Bar coding has stopped the snowball. “We’re far more effective than we used to be,” Smith said. “Our productivity has gone up considerably.”
He added that all this has prepared the company for busy times ahead. “We’re in a wait-and-see year,” Smith said. “But in everything we read, all indications are that 2015 will be a breakout year.”
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.