Looks like the Canadian Dollar has been eating its Wheaties.

Someone has been eating their Wheaties.
Someone has been eating their Wheaties.

A strong Canadian Dollar does not bode well for Canadian manufacturers already struggling with lack of orders for end products, tight credit, and a depressed global economy.

A report by Statistics Canada showed economic activity contracted for the ninth consecutive month in April, while the trade deficit rose to a record-high of C$1.42B in May, driven by a 6.9%% drop in exports. The restructuring of the automotive industry accounted for more than half of the decrease in exports and imports according to Statcan
Is the expected  nascent recovery of automotive driving this runup?
How will Loonie Dollar parity affect your contract machining operation?


Why you should care.

We're not getting these from customers anymore!
We're not getting these from customers anymore!

There actually has been a payoff to our shops from our investment and implementation of ISO/TS Quality Systems. That payoff is a reduction in audits from customers. Prior to the widespread adoption of ISO/TS, we were besieged by auditors from multiple customers. Auditors with multiple points of view. And multiple concerns. So our work looked like this:
W(o)=Customers^(auditors^points of view^concerns-1)
W(o)= Our work
Concerns-1 = That rare case where two different auditors actually thought the same about an issue.
Customer audits actually added complexity!
Complexity added confusion.
Confusion added cost while lowering our capability.
Now that we can all agree on the cost savings of using the internationally recognized ISO/TS Quality System Standard, by no longer hosting multiple auditors from multiple customers with multiple concerns and points of view, we won’t mind having to buy the newest revision.
ISO has just published a new edition of ISO/TS 16949:2009, which replaces  the 2002 edition many of our shops are currently following.   The IATF has set a transition period of 120 days from date of publication of the new edition – 15 June – for organizations to comply with the standard’s requirements. Communique.
There are no essential changes to the technical requirements. The modifications relate mainly to the management requirements in the document to reflect the content of ISO 9001:2008, and those that are intended to improve consistency with the environmental management system standard, ISO 14001:2004.
The current update incorporates the requirements of ISO 9001:2008, as well as detailed, sector-specific requirements for

  1. Employee competence, awareness and training;
  2. Design and development;
  3. Production and service provision;
  4. Control of monitoring and measuring devices;
  5. Measurement, analysis and improvement.

Rules for achieving IATF recognition.
Buy Standard. We think you’ll agree it’s better than buying 75 different customer audit teams lunch.
Had you noticed the change? Or have you been so busy making and shipping product that you missed this development? Or are you one of the lucky ones that still gets customer audits too?

Any type of arc welding of resulfurized steels is generally avoided. This post will give you some  reasons why. Resulfurized steels are free machining steels. This includes steel grades in the 11XX and 12XX series,  such as 1215, 12L14,  1117, 1137, and 1144. These steels contain sulfur and may contain lead. These two elements will create low melting temperature constituents that will cause cracks.
Here are 3 reasons not to weld resulfurized free machining steels:

  1. Sulfur reduces weldability.  The higher levels of sulfur make a slaggy joint.
  2. The high volume fraction of manganese sulfides also hold hydrogen. This hydrogen can then create post weld cracking.
  3. Both sulfur and lead  can become a fume inhalation hazard at welding temperature.

Finally, with the exception of grade 1144, resulfurized steels are generally not sold to mechanical property requirements. Welding implies mechanical property performance.
We have seen 1215 welded using an inertial or friction welding process. But these welds are  usually not subject to mechanical loads, merely attachment. Here’s a video of a friction weld process for truck axles from Thompson Friction Welding in the UK.
Want a second opinion? Dave Barton at Lincoln Electric hosts a column   Barton’s Q&A in Welding Magazine published by Penton.  The second question in this column deals with welding 12L14.
Think of weldability and machinability as two sides of the material coin.

Heads it machines well, welds lousy, Tails...
Heads it machines well, welds lousy, Tails...

You can usually win on one, but at the expense of the other. If you need to weld, a low carbon plain carbon steel is your best bet.

My contributions were recognized, valued, celebrated. So that’s what its like to be part of a team…
Our fivesome finished 6 under par.

Who invited the guy in the pink shirt?
Who invited the guy in the pink shirt?

With me on it! Yes it was a scramble. Yes I was charitably given a 40 handicap. Uhh-huh, I’m the guy in the pink shirt.
My fellow golfers were better at driving. Chipping. Putting. Drinking. Especially drinking! But that’s okay. We used a couple of my drives.
My goal from the back tees, was to put the ball in the air farther than the front tees. I often succeeded. And a couple of times, I really succeeded. Those shots were celebrated. I no longer felt like I wasn’t contributing. And we used one or two of them.
My goal, on the chip shots, was to follow through, and keep my head down. A couple times it worked. We actually used some of my chips. I felt like I was part of the team.
On putts, I was usually the first or second guy to putt. Why not use my putt as “sacrifice” to the G-d of the Lay of the Green? That allowed the better players to calibrate their putts.  (Kind of like we do at PMPA for our member shops- always looking ahead to help you determine what lies ahead). Even the worst putter in the group (me?) had an important job to do.
We finished 6 under par. If I hadn’t been there, maybe they would have done better. Maybe not. But I will tell you, the guys in my fivesome made my day, and reinforced  for all of us the lessons of what is important when you are on a team.

  1. It’s important to contribute.
  2. It’s important to recognize everyone’s contributions.
  3. It’s important that everyone knows that their contributions are valued.

I’m not a golfer. But at Vanamatic’s 2009 Hacker’s Open, I was a member of a team.
It felt great. Thanks Chip Strawbridge, Mike Mishler, Aaron Pollock, and Scott Wiltsie.
Yay Team.

The July 2009 PMPA Business Trends Report remained level at 69 in July. We were pleased to see that this index did not further erode in July.
This is a departure from both the seasonal trend of low sales in July and a departure from the declines in sales all this year (only 1 month out of 7,  March 2009,  showed an uptick). 
Here are three reasons we believe that the Precision Machining Industry’s recovery has begun.

  1. Sales have leveled off and did not decline further in July.
  2. Exactly half of all PMPA Business Trends Participants reported increases in sales for July. Almost one third reported double digit sales increases.
  3. Average length of first shift indicator climbed by 1.2 hours in July, first such increase all year. (The length of first shift has declined each month since January 2009 until July)

The shops reporting included those serving markets in Medical, Automotive, Aerospace, Heavy Machinery, as well as Trucks, Construction Equipment, Food Service, and Military.
Are we out of the dark tunnel yet? No.

You are here?
You are here?

But the  PMPA’s Monthly Business Trends Report data tells us that about half of us are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.
PMPA members can see the PMPA Business Trends Report here.
Photo courtesy Blueridgecollargirl her August 8 2008 post gives perspective and is worth a read.

 Precision machined titanium bone screws are used in orthopedics.Medical Instruments is one market area that offers the strongest prospects for value added growth over the next few years.   MX: Business Strategies for Medical Technology Executives, in its May/June 2008 edition, estimates that the medical device market will reach sales of $336 billion in 2008.
 Aging population and baby boomers’ demand for active lifestyles supports a strong market for precision medical components in the short and long term. Here are 5 reasons  for your precision machining company to consider serving the medical market:
1) Demographic makeup of the U.S. population is  promising for future growth in the biotech industry.
2) Private equity investment in biotech grew more than two fold during each year between 2003 and 2007. Investment trends will remain strong as medical devices companies continue to innovate and deliver safer and more advanced solutions.
3) Aging population, longer life expectancy, and an increase in chronic illnesses will help the biotechnology industry in the both the near and long term.
4) Healthcare products and supplies revenue will be generated heavily from orthopedics, cardiology, diagnostic imaging, pain management, and oncology in the near term.
5) The outlook for demand of high-tech medical products such as hospital beds, sterilization equipment, and blood analyzers is high because of the aging demographics.
The medical device market is about 50 percent of the world pharmaceutical market, and it is  growing faster than the drug market. The medical devices market was $336 billion  in 2008.
Value added (sales less cost of materials) is a strong determinant of growth for sales to the markets served by the precision machining industry. Value added is not expected to be positive in the near term for all industries.  Value added is expected to remain high for medical market.
What has your shop identified as the most compelling reasons to enter the medical machining market?

Can transporter beams be far behind?

"Computer, I need... ahh never mind."
"Computer, I need... ahh never mind."

University of Oxford Scientists led an international team that created this material first described in Star Trek IV The Voyage Home 
The scientists hit an aluminum target with a short pulse of extremely high energy (more power per pulse than an entire city’s worth of consumption) which knocked out an inner core electron in each aluminum atom without disturbing the metal’s crystalline structure.
The result was  a 40 femtosecond period  of time where the aluminum was transparent to ultraviolet radiation. “What we have created is a completely new state of matter nobody has seen before,” states Professor Justin Wark.
Commercialization remains a few years away- the transparent aluminum created was less than 1/20th the diameter of a human hair. And seeing as how a femtosecond is 1 millionth of a billionth of a second (that’s  1.0 times 10 to the minus 15th power) 40 femtoseconds (40 millionbillionths of a second) means that this stuff is somewhat- uhh- perishable. No word on the machinability either. Nevertheless, it’s one more item to check off our Life List of Cool Stuff We Need To Invent. Congrats to the Oxford team.
Now, how many screw machine parts will they need for a prototype Transporter Machine and its power supply? If the team from the Enterprise came to your shop, could you help them make the parts they need? What items are on your Life List of Cool Stuff  We Need To Invent?

Productivity-What Can I Do Today To Make My Shop The Most Money?
In the current economy, many machines are down for lack of work. This makes it essential to assure that the ones with work are up and running every minute that they should.
Can you meet this simple challenge in your shop? For every production machine that you have scheduled for operations, does it  have actual production uptime of greater than 50%? Actually measured in minutes of tools in the cut. Reported. Documented. Reviewed.
Any item that steals machine uptime is stealing money from your business.
Here are 7 steps you can take today to increase machine productivity in your shop:

  1. Record and investigate the causes of machine downtime in your shop.
  2. Record frequency – how many.
  3. Record severity– how long.
  4. Record by machine.
  5. Prepare a Pareto Analysis.
  6. Assign a cross functional team to investigate root causes.
  7. Implement corrective actions and review their effectiveness.

Solutions to system problems nearly always require a team approach.  Have the team study the issues identified in the Pareto Analysis not  just as specific delays, but as classes of delays. Then they can work on uncovering, and eliminating the organizational root cause of that class delay. In my experience, root causes are often institutional failings- inadequate training, inadequate maintenance, false economy on tooling, all of which are systemic problems requiring management attention.
Quality is everybody’s responsibility,” I often heard when I was on a crew.
The authority to permanently eliminate the root cause rests with management,” is what I muttered under my breath.
You are the Champion. The final arbiter.
Your team will  identify the problems, find  the root causes, and identify possible permanent solutions.
As champion your job is to help them “Make it so.”

"Make it so"
"Make it so"

Pareto Analysis , authored by Duncan Haugey, was found on the Project Smart website. http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/Project Smart was launched in 2000 as a way to provide easy access to information about the project management profession.

Foaming can cost your precision machining shop money by causing loss of fluid, shorten pump life by cavitation, and reduce material removal efficiency  by lowering heat removal and lubricity at the workpiece.
Here is one way (and two tests  to prove) that too much air (as foam) can spoil your metalworking fluids.
bubble bathFactors that can contribute to foaming in your metal cutting machines include makeup water hardness; fluid type; speed of machining operation; design and maintenance of filtration, return pipes, and sumps; pump parameters; and contaminants. Never underestimate the ability of a fluid in a machine to ‘attract’ contaminants!
Here are a couple tools you can use to evaluate foaming of your metalworking fluid.
Bottle test. Modeled after ASTM D3601, fill a bottle half full and shake at a steady rate for say 45 seconds or so. Stop shaking and immediately measure and record the height of the foam. Count the seconds (use a watch with a second hand) until the foam collapses to an acceptable level. No salt please! Addition of salt to reduce foam is acceptable at the beer garden, but never in the shop!
Blender Test. Using a blender to simulate your machining process is probably more likely to match your process than the ‘arm-strong’ method described above. This method is modeled after ASTM method D3519. Place a  200 milliliter sample of your fluid in the blender and agitate it at 8000 rpm- lid on blender is highly recommended– for 30 seconds. As in the bottle test, measure the foam height immediately after shut off, recording the seconds until the foam collapses to 10 mm in height. If it doesn’t recede to below 10 mm by the end of 5 minutes, note the remaining height.
If you do these tests when you first install fluids, the initial reading will give you a performance benchmark to compare to later periodic tests. A large difference will give you an indication of whether you should  adjust or discard your machining fluid.
We used a version of the blender test to troubleshoot some quenching oil in our laboratory  when I was a lab supervisor. We were getting some really high hardness but sporadic readings on samples quenched at the furnace in one lab, but not the other. After we confirmed furnace temperatures at both labs, hardness tester calibration at both labs, and steel sample analysis we decided to test our quench oil. The oil at one lab reacted differently in our version of the blender test. Further work (and a separatory funnel) revealed water from a leaky roof had contaminated the quench oil at the main lab. Because the water was heavier than oil, it wasn’t visible by other means.
It’s not that we don’t like bubbles.
But they really don’t help us in our machines in the shop.
What have you done to keep control of the foaming of your machine’s metalworking fluids?

Submitted by Monte C. Guitar, PMPA Director of Technology.
Don’t wait for an outside auditor to provide the assistance to “make you better.”  The best opportunities for improving precision machining operations will not be provided by your outside auditor. Here are our 3 reasons that precision machining companies are the ‘real experts’ on their processes and business:
Reason #1-  Process Expertise. Who knows your processes better than you? You’ve been doing this stuff for many years prior to ISO being a condition of business. You bring in the auditor to assess your quality systems, not to consult on your business.
Reason #2- Limited expertise by auditor in your processes. To be truly expert requires depth of experience in both auditing and your processes. Unless the auditor worked specifically in your field, they lack expertise in your process. What  they bring is quality systems expertise to evaluate your implementation.
Reason # 3- Standard is basis for the audit, not the auditor’s vision. If the requirement is not in the standard, then implementation becomes a business choice. It is easy for an auditor to describe the wonders of “one place I’ve seen” to a company that is looking for their own version of utopia. It is another thing to implement. Calibrate the good ideas  the auditor brings to your firm’s  available time and manpower constraints.
Top management should be concerned if they determine in a closing meeting that the best improvement opportunities for the company via the quality area were identified after an eight hour visit from someone who is not even fully educated to your process.
Great auditors recognize their role in helping precision machining companies improve their systems. Great precision machining companies recognize their responsibility to improve their implementation.
Denise Robitaille wrote an interesting piece in Quality Digest that might be of interest to you. Audits are an integral part of your business:
What do you think the auditor’s role should be?