The rise of the rapid response cell in the metal fabrication shop
To say that the internet has changed the retail industry would be the understatement of the decade. He knocked it over, shook it fiercely, and threw it aside like the newspaper that was delivered to everyone.
This kind of uproar has resulted in lead times that a metal fabricator can appreciate. For example, the hottest actress / singer / influencer might unveil a new line of high fashion sneakers to the world, and a retailer decides they need new displays to capitalize on the buzz and turn that into in-store sales. . The project is given to someone with retail experience, but without any real knowledge of how these displays are made. Some ideas of what is needed are there, but it still leaves questions about size, materials, and budget. Design, manufacture and delivery should be completed within one month.
DÃ©cimet Sales inc. (DSI) is retailers and in-store marketing companies’ best friend. The Rogers, Minnesota-based metals maker has worked with companies for several years to create displays and racks. He maintains this activity by being responsive for quick turnaround times on prototypes and small series, to the point of sometimes delivering urgent orders within 24 hours.
The reality of the Internet age is that these types of expedited orders are now the norm, and lead times are measured in days instead of weeks. DSI made it work, but it came at the cost of enormous disruption in the workshop. It all came to a standstill, from large projects that required multiple assembly teams to high production runs for contract work outside of the retail industry while expedited orders were being processed.
âWe would have multiple teardowns when these controls hit the ground,â said Troy Vande Brake, director of operations at DSI. âIt was necessary to empty the material, change the tooling of the necessary press brakes, dismantle the welding fixtures and find a place to store the half-finished parts, usually on the floor or in a rack. So the teardown can take anywhere from half an hour to an hour, and then you get ready for this rushed job, which can take an hour. We did this on average two to three times a day.
Shop staff became frustrated with the continual interference with shift work. They knew they could be more efficient if they had the ability to stay on task consistently, said Vande Brake.
Max Foster, DSI’s controller, said the company had a golden opportunity to address that frustration when it made a commitment to purchase new manufacturing equipment over a year ago. The new technology would allow the old equipment to be used elsewhere, and the management had the right idea: to create a cell to take over the work that was causing all the headaches in the workshop.
In many ways a metal fabrication the company is constantly evolving. Manufacturing technologies advance and customers are pushing workshops to offer more services and produce parts more efficiently.
DSI is no different. Jack Hines founded the company in 1982 as a broker for manufacturing projects. He had spent about a decade before working for other manufacturing companies and believed he could be a better interface between buyers of manufacturing services and the companies that offered them.
His customers believed in him and to maintain the levels of service his customers expected, Hines had to go into manufacturing. He couldn’t afford to rely on others. This led Hines to build a production plant for Decimet Sales in 1996.
An office building followed in 2005 and a new warehouse in 2006. In 2014, an extension was made to accommodate the manufacturing activities, and a powder coating capacity was added four years later. Today, DSI has approximately 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space split between a machine shop and a fabrication shop and employs over 100 people.
This type of growth comes with tensions and, by 2019, DSI had to cope with disruptions in its workshops. The frustration among the workshop staff was real, but it was only a symptom of a bigger problem. Not only did scheduling conflicts increase control over quality issues and inflated delivery time projections, they also threatened sales margins as delayed work could blow up budget estimates. Customer satisfaction and profitability were at stake.
This led to the creation of what DSI called its Rapid Response Cell (RRC) in its manufacturing facility. It would be dedicated to supporting prototyping and small series work with a delivery date of less than a week, less than 50 parts or parts requiring rework. The RRC would allow larger projects and long-term production work to go uninterrupted.
The management of the company succeeded in carving out an area of ââ30 feet by 30 feet. space and move over key pieces of equipment. For example, the company’s new Amada HRB 1003 ATC press brake with automated tool change released one of the company’s old press brakes, which was moved to the newly created space. The same thing happened when DSI purchased a new 3,000W Mazak Optiplex Champion fiber laser which replaced a 2,500W Mazak Super Turbo-X 510 CO2 laser as the primary laser cutting tool. The RRC now includes the 2,500 W laser cutting machine; a 6 foot. Press brake; a material insertion machine; and a welding table.
There is no material storage near the RRC. The material arrives on a pallet, passes through the cell, and winds onto another pallet to be prepared for shipment. The RRC is located next to the shipping department to allow easy transfer between the prototype / short run airframe and those responsible for delivering the goods.
Two people are dedicated to work in the RRC. They are trained in a polyvalent way to be able to tackle each station of the cell.
âWhen we were talking about it, it was offered to a particular group and some people stepped in. They really wanted to work in the cell, âsaid Vande Brake. âYou don’t always do the same thing, so people like it.
âWhenever an opportunity arises for people to work in the cell, we usually have a line of people who want to come in,â he added.
Measures have been taken at the front office level to remedy the existence of the RRC as well. DSI’s team of 11 engineers and project managers spend a lot of time working with retail clients to turn vague ideas into 3D CAD drawings and subsequent CAM files for the shop floor. To ensure that the work for the RRC stands out from the typical jobs that require interaction with customers, DSI created a special prefix for the prototype and short-term work. In fact, Lisa Horn, director of engineering at DSI, said the RRC work is where the more experienced designers spend most of their time now.
With this huge change in the way work would arrive in the shop, DSI also made a major commitment to its 13 welders who worked day, night and weekend. This was going to be a big step in trying to further minimize the disruption of very large jobs. Management called it a “24 hour welding lock.”
âIf a job had to take longer than 24 hours, it was going to stay there in the assembly. It wasn’t going to be demolished for another job, âHorn said.
Shifting small hot jobs to the RRC and pledging not to interfere with very large welding projects once they were underway was a big change for DSI, but the results have been pretty dramatic, according to Foster.
One change leads to more change?
âThe biggest advantage we have now in the workshop is that we can set up production and don’t have to worry about taking it apart and setting up multiple times. This keeps production flowing and keeps our schedule more achievable and precise, âsaid Foster. âWe don’t have to mix things up as much. “
Vande Brake said the workshop is excited because they feel like they can have more of an impact on their own work. They don’t have to worry about multiple interruptions during the day. They can focus on performing their tasks in a quality manner.
âWe saw production efficiency increase as they were now able to control what they could get out over a 24 hour period,â said Vande Brake.
This production efficiency opened up new capabilities, and with the manufacturing economy picking up this spring, DSI undertook a lot of new work. Foster said the company hired around 25 people over two months at the start of the summer just to keep up with new business opportunities.
So what’s next for the RRC concept? Foster said plans now include trying to replicate the success of the airframe in the machine shop. Lightning-fast responses to inquiries have helped increase retail customer satisfaction, and DSI wants to replicate that in all areas of manufacturing.
Customers are so enthusiastic that some are in fact requesting their own dedicated RRC cells, and Foster said more cell-driven production could become a reality for the metal maker. Adding Internet-like response times to old-school business-to-business relationships seems like a winning combination.