Reducing setup times has always been a crucial issue for many companies. Every possible intervention is useful and valuable in the search for continuous improvements to increase efficiency, contain costs, and shorten times. Reducing setup (or tooling) times means speeding up the operations necessary to prepare the industrial machinery for subsequent processing.
More often than not, operations are performed by interrupting the operation of the machine, thus increasing the dreaded hours of downtime. Why fear? Because, as you know, “time is money,” and every minute of machine downtime means:
- less time spent producing;
- higher labor costs;
- longer delivery times to the customer (with consequent dissatisfaction).
In two words: less efficiency. In the current, unpredictable, and highly competitive market, it, therefore, becomes necessary to optimize this aspect of production as well. How, then, do we shorten setup times? Luckily, you have several options that can bring surprising results, especially when combined. Let’s see them below.
Tools And Strategies To Reduce Setup Times
The SMED Methodology (Single Minute Exchange Of Die)
One of the first solutions, probably the one that can also guide you in the subsequent optimization steps, was born within lean production. This is the SMED (Single Minute Exchange of Die) methodology. The SMED provides the guidelines to be followed to shorten setup times to the minimum (i.e., a time frame of less than 10 minutes), with the aim of:
- reduce production costs;
- allow you to manage the production of even small batches;
- increase the level of customer service;
- lower inventory levels;
- simplify and standardize the restart of machinery.
This is not the place for an entire lesson on SMED, but we can report the main phases:
- Analysis of current procedures: all the individual operations required for setup are identified.
- Division of activities into internal and external The internal activities are performed during the machine’s downtime, while the external ones occur when the engine is still in operation.
- Conversion: as much as possible, we try to transform internal activities into external ones to reduce downtime.
- Streamlining internal activities is achieved by simplifying and standardizing operations and trying to simultaneously perform as many as possible. Usually, a team of specialized and coordinated operators is formed, just like in Formula 1 pit stops.
- We are streamlining external activities, applying measures such as standard procedures, optimal arrangement of tools, use of checklists, etc.
Of course, the best results can be achieved by adequately involving and training the operators responsible for setting up the machinery.
Machines With Automatic Tooling
An aid to reducing setup times also comes from the innovations made to the machinery itself. Many types of machines are today able to equip themselves automatically without the manual intervention of the operator. Among these are bending machines, punching machines, milling machines, lathes, presses, multi-pallets, etc.
In this case, the advantages are measured not only in the time taken for the tooling but also in “freeing the operator” for other contemporary activities. Furthermore, the automation of setup allows production to continue even in unforeseen situations, such as the absence of the setup person. The point against these solutions is that they require a considerable investment. If your company’s fleet is outdated, it may not be an option soon.
Advanced Scheduling With An APS System
Until now, we have focused on reducing the actual setup times, i.e., making the process as fast as possible. There is, however, a method that also acts “upstream”: the advanced scheduling of workings. In this case, the goal is to minimize the number of times it is necessary to carry out a setup, for example, by planning the processes that require the same type of tool or raw material in sequence. But how can you figure out which line is best?
This is where advanced planning and scheduling (APS) systems like CyberPlan come into play. The APS interacts with other company applications, such as the ERP and the MES, and from them, it obtains data relating to orders and materials. You can develop an optimized machining plan once you have defined the rules to follow (the so-called “constraints”). For example, if you work with rubber, it will recognize which orders use the same type of compound and propose them in sequence.
Or, the same will happen if you produce metal parts that need to be machined with the same milling head. The most convenient line will be elaborated following, in addition to these, the other constraints that you have set (order priority, availability of materials, presence of assigned personnel, etc.). Furthermore, since the APS system has access to the entire company’s production planning scenario, it will be possible to carry out the tooling in the best period, compatible with the duties.
Monitoring And Analysis Of Setup Times: The Role Of The MES
We have seen several techniques to reduce setup times, but one fundamental piece is still missing. How can you understand your starting situation? And how do you track progress? In this case, you need a manufacturing execution system (MES) like Opera interconnected with your machines to collect production data. In the initial phase, the MES will help you detect the actual times of the tooling and categorize them according to the device, the type of processing, the production order, etc.
In this way, you will be able to identify the major criticalities and understand which interventions are more convenient to implement. Once the new procedures and equipment have been implemented, you can collect new data, define specific KPIs, and verify the solutions’ effectiveness. The MES allows you to create customized dashboards to monitor the performance of your indicators in real time and then analyze them over the long term.
Standard Setup Times For More Precise Planning
Once fully operational, all the improvements we have discussed will allow you to have standard setup times. These are very important data points that you can use to plan your production more precisely. Also, in this case, the APS will help you: based on the times measured with the MES, it will be able to calculate the delivery dates of the various orders accurately. You will gain credibility with your customers, increasing their loyalty.
Increase Production Efficiency With A Link Management Project
Reducing setup times is just one of the many activities that make your production more efficient. So many aspects can be improved, from the optimized use of raw materials to the forecasting of demand. If increasing efficiency is your goal, you can contact us and find out how we can develop your project. We have been implementing CyberPlan APS and Opera MES for years and have successfully supported companies transitioning to Industry 4.0.