CNC machine shops, like every kind of shop, evolve over time -new machines are added, new tools, people, and even floor space. As your talents and abilities expand to meet needs, it all tends to happen rather organically. Eventually, you wind up with a system that (sort of) works.
Ben Machine figured out long ago that the key to maintaining the extreme level of precision our customers require means we can’t ignore any aspect of our processes. This is nowhere more demonstrable than when you factor in repeatability. The ability to produce complex CNC machined parts with consistent quality is our bread and butter. That just doesn’t happen without rigorous organization throughout the plant.
The International Organization for Standardization (“ISO”) produces quality measurement standards accepted the world over. Each iteration of the ISO standards has advanced the methodologies to gauge and maintain quality. Ben Machine has been ISO certified for decades and is fully compliant with the standard known as ISO 9001:2015. This is the latest massive reworking of the original manufacturing quality standard and it set the stage for the next several years. It focuses on ensuring that a customer gets products of reliable quality. Of course, standards are not static, and the next reiteration of the standard is fast approaching. Ben Machine continually learns from these new iterations and adjusts to incorporate the best practices required by them.
The ISO certification is a good start, but AS9100:D is a higher certification that builds on top of the ISO 9001 standards to foster greater quality assurance specifically for the aerospace industry. Of course, Ben Machine is fully AS9100:D certified as well. It’s not uncommon for someone to come to us with a part that requires complex CNC machining which another shop has not been able to produce to the required specifications. Our focus on procedures has allowed us to tackle these jobs and document a manufacturing process from raw stock to a finished product which results in consistent quality the customer can rely on.
6 Sigma and Lean Manufacturing
While not as widely recognized or adopted as the ISO standards, Ben Machine has incorporated several elements of 6 Sigma into our operation. Rather than standards, 6 Sigma is a set of techniques developed by industry leaders to improve manufacturing processes. While the system has its critics, we have found some of the principles quite valuable.
With the target of lean manufacturing, we can map out production for a specific item and trace both how it moves through the shop and who has to lay hands on it along the way. These Process Flow Diagrams are also known as “spaghetti diagrams” because items may have to crisscross a plant repeatedly during production. It’s a natural outgrowth of a shop when this process flows evolve over time without consideration of how production is actually done, resulting in a very messy spaghetti pattern. In one instance, we were able to use this lean manufacturing tool to reorganize and cut the number of people involved with a particular inspection process from 9 down to 2. That kind of efficiency delivers significant cost savings.
The principles outlined in 6 Sigma and the associated 5S framework have also allowed us to identify that we had a problem with machine tooling storage. Each workstation in the shop had shelving beneath the work surfaces. Tools, bits, and so forth were getting stored on those shelves instead of being returned to their proper location where other people could find them. In other words, they weren’t being Sorted and Straightened in a Standardized manner to keep work areas Sustainably clean to make them Shine. As a result, we were buying additional equipment and consumables like CNC machine bits to make up for the ones we couldn’t find. Eliminating those shelves has cut wasteful spending and made operations more efficient.
It’s so easy to overlook the fine details, but we’ve found that’s where those last fractions of a percent of reliability and accuracy hide. Whether it’s a choice between a 2-flute or 3-flute endmill to make a particular cut, or which CNC machines to designate for a new production run, we make those calls with an eye to detail. That’s what keeps our customers coming back, and that’s what’s allows us to keep growing.