Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Convincing Employees to Eliminate Tooling Damage

Skippy – morning Buzz – questions continue to come in.

Here is an interesting one about a thorny problem potentially vexing all business owners who invest heavily in specialized tooling and have to deal with employees who have less concern about it –

“We enjoyed your article regarding ACME threads on plastic tooling, noting that they were often incorporated into tooling ‘designed for the ages’. We are investing in plastic tooling regularly, but we are having constant difficulty with operator damage to tooling – nicks and scratches from drops and prying. Any thoughts about how to get our operators to have a greater appreciation for the money we have invested in these tools?”

Buzz – Easy answer? “Wax on, Wax off”

Skippy – yes Buzz, I think you’re right. Time to dust off a very old paradigm and share a “process” that drove appreciation for the real value of tooling into the hearts of all who were exposed to it.

Buzz – Back in the early eighties, the movie “The Karate Kid” came out and introduced us to Daniel (played by Ralph Macchio), a young student from the east coast displaced to California. He felt he needed to master Karate skills and eventually meets his accidental mentor, Mr. Miyagi (played by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita); master of same.

The first of Mr. Miyagi’s low in quantity, but high in quality training started with Daniel waxing a number of Mr. Miyagi's cars with the simple starting instruction of “Wax on, Wax off”. To see the eventual outcome, rent this old classic – it is well worth it.

Skippy – Yes, and from that borrowed premise and teaching style we developed and applied the following program for some time to teach an appreciation for the "value" of tooling to new operators.

When a new operator joined our ranks, he was given a tour of the factory on day one with all of his other start up training elements. Along the tour of the factory, he would be given a small disc of steel – generally a slice one inch or so in thickness, cut from a 3” rod of steel in the shop.

Buzz – Along with the small piece of steel, they were given these simple instructions –

“This is your tool; keep it and work with it. When you have polished the surface to where we can see our face in the reflection well enough to shave with, you will be promoted and paid more money.”

Skippy – We continued, “There are only two rules

1) you must do all the work by hand – NO POWER TOOLS are allowed, and

2) you need to inquire about what is to be done from all the more senior operators in our ranks.

"Good luck, let us know when you feel your steel tooling is ready for evaluation”

Buzz – Exactly. Typically several days or a week or two would go by as the operator was getting his feet wet joining the operation, but soon, the lure of promised promotion and more money would begin to intrude on his or her thoughts and eventually they would reach out to the other operators for guidance.

Skippy – The simple instruction would be to start with 60 grit sand paper on a flat granite block in the shop – holding the small disc flat on the sand paper – PUSH it away from you a couple inches, then TURN it 90 degrees and PULL it back, then TURN it 90 degrees and repeat; over and over.

Buzz – After a month or two of intermittent activity – a few minutes here and a few minutes there, it would eventually occur to the trainee that nothing much new was happening. Of course, they would have been exposed to a great many more additional training opportunities along the way on the shop floor regarding our operations, but eventually they would need some help on the next step of their steel tooling journey.

Skippy – Another operator would clue them into the fact that there were smaller grits of sand paper available – 100, 200 and so on and so, the operator in due course would step through each of these.

Buzz – Until once again they would hit that plateau . . .

Skippy – “Simple enough” would be the help from the other operators “– now you switch over to “wet/dry” sand paper; the addition of liquid to the sanding carries away the materials removed allowing you to get a finer and finer surface.”

On and on they would climb – 200 grit, 400 grit, 600, 800, 1200, 1600 and so on; a few minutes a day here, a few there. Maybe a day or two would go by without any investment. Time passed.

Buzz – Often, months have passed, perhaps nearing a year or more and they can see first a blob, and then a blob with a nose in the reflection, but the mirror surface being asked for remains elusive.

Skippy – The operator’s help mates offer up more special advice - crocus cloth, jeweler’s paper and rouge, rubbing compound, metal polishes etc and as the results get better and better, the operator is thinking, we are so close . . .

Buzz – Remember the surprise on the operators face when he was told that for the final step, go down to the drug store and get that special low friction toothpaste and some paper towels to lay on the granite block and work with that?

. . . and the further surprise when a few days later –

BINGO! a mirror worthy of a close shave magically comes into focus.

Skippy – Yes, and now after all that time, and with the prize so close they would come with their piece of steel tooling in hand and announce “all finished”.

To which they would hear the soft question Both sides?

Buzz – Quick on the uptake and few seconds of thought later would come the

“ . . . er um, not yet” reply and a furious amount of work would be then completed in just a few weeks while the second side was brought up to that magical mirrored luster.

Skippy – And finally the day for the “check in” – the operator presents the steel tooling with two perfect, mirrored faces for a final inspection.

Carefully we would accept the tooling and

to the operators horror as he watched, we would take a rather nasty looking metal implement out and gouge a deep scratch on one exquisite mirrored face and announce, “Oh no, we can’t complete the measurement check with the tool in this condition – could you please polish out this scratch and get it back to us as soon as you can?”

. . .

. . .

Buzz – Wow – that always was a tough moment for those operators. This was where the wheat got separated from the chaff for sure. For three days they would walk around with a look between broken and ‘I’m going a put a hurtin’ on that SOB’, hoping for someone to commiserate with them for the dirty rotten thing that the maniac in the office did to their tool.

To their utter dismay, from all they encountered the same non-verbal reply. They would each simply shrug as if to say, well, it is what is . . .

Skippy – Yes, and fortunately, we lived through it and most of the operators stayed on.

It would take a couple days of course, but eventually, they would start the process of carefully sanding down their own hard won, brightly mirrored face to absolute dullness again as they worked with the scarred surface to remove the scratch; grumbling explicative’s quietly under their breath, but with HUGE resolve.

Buzz – As I recall, they would work tirelessly – any available minute to turn this around and generally within a week, they would be once again ready for the check in process. As before, we would innocuously ask them to surrender the tool to us for evaluation. Without fail, something similar to “Hold on just a minute now, we need to TALK before I am going to let you handle this piece of tooling again . . .” would come boiling out.

Skippy – “What do you mean” we would ask innocently? And the operator would in so many words remind us of the “horrible, wasteful and unforgivable damage” we did to his steel tooling the last time we were permitted to handle it and we would have to come to an ‘understanding’ prior to us getting our hands on it.

“You have to promise” they would say (or was it SWEAR?), “that you will handle this tooling with ultimate care and respect, as though it were your own AND you must further promise to return it to me in the SAME OR BETTER condition to me when you are through with it.”

Buzz – Breakthrough moment!

“Yes of course” we would agree, and as good as our word, observe and measure the piece of tooling, being sure to congratulate the candidate for not removing too much metal in the process. We would give him the promotion and the money.

We would do all that of course with the same solemn admonition repeated back “and we will continue to expect that you treat each and every piece of our tooling with the same care, love and respect”.

Skippy – And they always did

– the moral of the story?

Hard work and a disciplined approach towards measurable important results create lasting value for those who pay the freight.

Just our two cents
Skippy and Buzz

Monday, April 18, 2011

Producing new plastic products

Skippy: Morning Buzz, another tax day comes and goes -

Buzz: Yes, and questions continue to come by - seems like the economy continues to cause the "tinkerers" to continue working on the next newest items - for instance this week commented into another development project question -

"How does one go about having a new product made from plastic?"

Skippy: - we've commented on this before, but here is an updated version with some additional thoughts regarding the needed items prior to sales and marketing -

Buzz: Of course, first things first,

I) protect any new intellectual property ideas with at least a low cost provisional patent which should be filed BEFORE selling anything. You aren’t out much if a subsequent patent search turns up issues with other IP rights at that point.

Skippy: right, and

II) Be sure to get confidentiality agreements in place with all (intended) vendors and any of their interested stakeholders. If you do have something new and exciting, you need to keep it for yourself.

That said, any serious manufacturing professional will tell you that there are a few general thoughts to consider (assuming you have the DESIGN issues take care of) in a new product launch:

a) Samples (in plastic) can be made from stereo lithography (photo or printer style)etc - generally, for around $1500 or so you can have sample parts (or parts of samples for assembly) made to dimension (which are either the actual parts or can be used for further mold generation etc) for critical assembly fits, including undercuts, blind holes etc..

Most parts don't have really need to have more than 3-4 CRITICAL dimensions for assembly. Try to keep these in mind in terms of what you NEED (see b) below) and work with a vendor interested in reducing your costs in terms of manufacturing. A major item to think about during the contract review process would be what OTHER mating parts and their critical dimensions does your system need to match up with? It may be that one of the parts is not yet fully developed in how it relates to them . . .

b) understand what you NEED in terms of product dimensions, packaging, pricing and production capability in terms of WHERE it is produced and WHAT you can give and take on to reduce costs

Buzz: ok, we've covered some of the pre-thoughts - what about the actual sampling process?

Skippy: well

c) insist that any near-final sample parts be produced from the actual production tooling at PRODUCTION rates from PRODUCTION material (particularly any that require testing) - nothing creates more availability to market headaches than to submit your sample assemblies for further certifications or other consideration only to find out that the sample parts were made from a general purpose or utility grade of material that does not include your special needs and

d) work with a house that has their own in-house tooling capability or is willing to involve you with any outside houses during the design and tooling phases – you may need to know who and what is going on in the thinking process on your products

Buzz: it also seems important to visit new vendors as well during the qualification process; sales brochures and websites are of value, but while there, notice how any intended manufacturing/assembly vendors keep unused tooling on the shelf - cleaned and measured, shiny and production ready or rusty, and unkempt against the day someone might reorder? Do they have scalable capability to handle upsurges in your business rather than building inventories of slow moving items against seasonality – expensive to tie up money in inventory. A number of houses will quote inexpensive tooling, but be wary of the how these tools work over time past the sample stage.

Skippy: right, and

e) be at least a little paranoid; Trust, but Verify. For every one of the good outfits out there, there are some who won't measure up beyond the sample parts. Look for a house that has some sort of quality policy (with or without the ISO moniker), with sample retains on less than perfect quality parts used year to year to maintain quality outputs, and written records of past production runs including retained information back to incoming raw materials and supplier raw materials certifications if possible etc.

Buzz: remember as well that "If it hasn't been written, it hasn't been said" and

f) get it in writing; material specs, quality and production records - ask to attend and help fill out a 'Contract Review' - answering the couple dozen critical questions that a good manufacturer/assembler needs answers to to 'help them help you' is a critical set of meetings. Some sales people can actually act in this 'Product Management' role; and unfortunately many can't.

g) ask for and be prepared to get enough samples to have engineering testing done on the resulting samples - and do it

A well run new product development process has additional nuances of course, but these should give you a good grounding.

Just our two cents
Skippy and Buzz

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Service Counters in America

Skippy - hey Buzz - nearing Tax time, what's news?

Buzz - hey Skippy - well, with prices up on everything (due more to the ongoing doubling of the money supply more than anything else) a quick plastics related "only in America story" as a bit of comic relief -

Seems that I have a project involving coloring some special white tinted plastic additive to add to virgin resin - I'd like the the final color of the additive to be the same color as the final plastic parts. I head down to the store and ask the two guys behind the counter "who's the painting expert? I have a special project I would like to ask you about."

One of the two steps forward to volunteer. I share that I have an experiment that requires adding some pigment to a 'white' liquid additive for plastics and need a color matching process - just like the kind you put into the paint you sell - I was wondering if you would color match this piece of plastic, then squeeze out the special color stuff you would normally add to a gallon of white paint -

and just sell me the special color stuff . . .

Skippy - Seems easy enough.

Buzz - yes, seems. The paint expert tells me to “Hold on now, the special color stuff is VERY expensive - its, well . . .
its SO expensive . . .”, and as he is trailing off, it seems apparent that he doesn't even KNOW how much a single cartridge of any particular color is.

“Hang on.” he says and heads to the back. I guess the gal he was talking to was his mom who probably cuts all the checks. He tells her the tale in shorthand - "This guy wants to buy some color for paint; without buying the paint . . . what should I tell him?"

After just a few seconds thought she stage whispers back
"Gee, that special color stuff is VERY expensive.
Its, well, so its SO expensive I don't even KNOW how much
a single cartridge might be . . .
Hmm, what to charge him - $25.00? $50.00?"

By this time, the silence in the place is deafening; everyone in the place is listening . . . you know, like the old commercial where someone says "Well, EF H*TTON is my broker and he says . . ."

Skippy - This doesn't seem to be moving along very well.

Buzz - Exactly, so I decide to sweeten the offer – “How about,” I say, “if I BUY a gallon of white paint, and you MATCH the piece of plastic I have, but give me the special color stuff "on the side" like so much salad dressing and I'll mix it myself . . .”

BINGO! NOW we're cookin’ with gas. Our paint expert jumps right into action and does the color match on the plastic piece lickety split and

'Mom' jumps back in with two suggestions -

a) he (me) will have to buy a small container for the special color stuff (“Gee whiz, if I have to I say, ok.”) and

b) "Don't sell him a gallon of the tint base if he isn't really going to mix it - sell him a gallon of the flat ceiling white - he might actually use that." (Again I say "Ok” - after all it's much (get this) ... CHEAPER than the tint base . . .)

Skippy - So how does the check out go?

Buzz - Well, it comes time to tally the damages. "How much is the gallon of paint going to cost me?", I inquire. "$21.00" is the reply. "Ok, so how much" I press, "is the small container for the special color stuff?"

"Well, that will be another $.99", comes the reply.

"Now, (finally) how much is the special color stuff going to cost me?",

"Well, that's FREE because it's part of the cost of the paint . . ."

Skippy - (speechless, sharp intake of breath)

Buzz - Wait for it, it gets better.

I think about the process for a moment or two and then ask -

"If I have any paint left over from the project, can I bring it back?"

Ok now all you RHPS fans - you know you're thinking ANTICI –

PATION . . .

Sure, just bring back any unopened cans for a refund . . .” he says.

True story - only in America

Just our two cents
Skippy and Buzz

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Need advice on managing regrind

Buzz - Morning Skip - it's been a while since we posted here - lots of things going on in various forums and hopefully as this spring unfolds we can get back onto a regular contribution schedule, but for now, another important question cropped up on use of regrind -

"We realize every heat cycle deteriorates the integrity of plastic resin. We have a few parts that can be made from 100% regrind. These parts require very little strength or cosmetic requirements. How do you manage regind of regrind? What do you do with the runner and sprue composed of 100% regrind? Regrind a second time, sell? It seems it can become a material management nightmare quickly. THANKS"

Skippy - Morning Buzz - well let's go through a couple thoughts-

a) some materials "live on" despite being regrind better than others

Buzz - right, and some materials can have a small amount of "sweeteners" to add as processing aids in subsequent passes through a machine. Size reduction equipment is likely to yield better "flow" and better process stability

Skippy - exactly so - next

b) work to establish a "use ratio" of "regrind aka sprues and runners and less than acceptable parts and start up scrap" that is slightly larger in intent than generation aka use a goal of 21% "regrind" when you generate a total of 20%.

Buzz - the obvious advantage in controlling a steady "process" is that this keeps things very close and as you get better, you may find that you need to reduce the percentage of what you classify as regrind as you get better -

Skippy - spot on, so to continue,

c) Generally "100% regrind" is still suspect for process "ability variability" unless it is (continually) well blended - keep an eye on aspect ratio (size of and percentage of each size) in the mixes and gravity induced separation -

Buzz - thinking this one through -- ask if the runner and sprue are say 20% of the shot weight, then use these as the "regrind" portion of an 80/20 mix with 80% being the "first pass" material and the 20% being the "second pass regrind".

Skippy - Right; just like mapping a "virgin and regrind" process, only a tiny percentage of the material on a descending basis remains and keeps moving forward as the "regrind of the regrind" becomes a portion as "regrind".

just our two cents -
Skippy and Buzz

for more on this discussion see it here:

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rule of Accuracy - source unknown

Skippy: hey Buzz - sharing a little nugget -

"When working toward the solution of a problem, it always helps if you know the answer."

Buzz: "Corollary - Provided, of course, that you know there is a problem."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Key Plastic Extrusion Indicators"

Skippy – hey Buzz – the hot summer months are finally here. We were involved in a question having to do with “extrusion performance indicators”:

What are your Key Performance Indicators for your plastics production process?


Buzz – well, here are a few thoughts from a profile extruder's point of view -

First, consider the intended outcome in an environment bounded by these four statements:

a) The extruder is responsible for continuously pumping plastic at a prescribed temperature and pressure
b) The cooling station (water, air, vacuum, etc) is responsible for continuously holding the plastic in the intended shape until cool
c) The take off unit is responsible for continuously pulling the extrudate down line through the "magic foot" represented by the interaction of the extruder and the cooling station
d) The cut off device is responsible for intermittently cutting good parts to length

Skippy – sounds like a pretty simple explanation of “extrusion” –

Buzz – well it is; and for a complex set of interactions, it is often best to “categorize” information in a way that reduces the over all complexity. When it comes time to troubleshoot a problem, for every production related symptom, ask yourself two questions and answer them;

1) which piece(s) of equipment is the one responsible for this condition?
2) What minimum change or correction must be made to achieve maximum desired improvement result?

Buzz - Here’s an example – based on one of our tenets – the greatest good an operator will ever do is to be a great OBSERVER -

The operator reports that he has been making boxes of product for some time now. In the last couple of boxes he has observed the following –

a) the part is still in spec, although he has made some “minor” adjustments to the take off speed
b) the boxes of product all contain the right amount of product and weigh the same as they have been for some time for full cartons – again because the parts are all in spec
c) a box normally takes about 55 minutes to run off –
d) the last box took 65 minutes to complete without a break or any casual loss

What is happening at the line?

Skippy – hmm – well you didn’t mention a cut off device, so we can eliminate that –

Buzz – right

Skippy – the parts are continually in spec, so the “magic foot relationship” is being maintained – it is therefore unlikely that the cooling station is the culprit -

Buzz – right

Skippy – once again, all we sell is time; and it took 10 minutes more to make a box of product

Buzz – yes . . .

Skippy – well the take off is responsible for that line speed and the direct measure of what gets done in a given amount of time in terms of product, so we must have been SLOWING the take off over time –

Buzz – yes right. So what ELSE is going on?

Skippy – well the parts are the right size, and a full box still weighs the same, as we drop the take off speed, therefore the extrusion output must have been dropping over time as well –

Buzz – bingo – and what could be causing that?

Skippy – well a couple of things, but upon a closer inspection at the extruder, it appeared that the pressure was up, the melt was hotter etc, so it was concluded that the screens might be being blocked over time by debris – which was verified during a screen change. After the screen change, the line was brought back up and the proper speed on the takeoff was yielding good boxes again at 55 minutes . . .

Buzz – perfect –

Skippy – but that was so EASY –

Buzz – yes you are correct. Once you categorize your information and step through it logically, things “fall into place pretty easily”. Good work.

This has been working for us for nearly 30 years - the measure of "how well" we are doing (since in the end, all we all sell is TIME) is the number of good units at the correct/reasonable cost produced in that time; insuring both we and our customer profit and continue to exist.

Just our two cents
Skippy and Buzz

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Bananas and Monkeys"

Skippy - hey Buzz; why does it seem that so many of the questions coming in are more about the myths from the past rather than the facts?

Buzz - well in answer - how about we share this "oldie but goodie" -

"Bananas and Monkeys"

Original source unknown.

Start with a cage containing five monkeys.

Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it.

Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana.

As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water.

After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water.

Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.

After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm!

Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked.

Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Why not? Because as far as they know "that's the way it's always been done around here."

And that, my friends, is how company policies are made.