Thank you to WMG for this case study.
Alucast are an award-winning aluminium foundry supplying complex lightweight castings and machined components to the automotive, chemical and hydraulic sectors. They worked with WMG to boost business performance and investigate capacity challenges. They had recently invested £2.2m in a new machine shop to complement its high and low pressure diecasting, gravity and sand casting services, with the aim of extending a single-source solution to OEMs involved in developing the next generation of automotive parts.
The foundry casts the solid components from the molten liquid and the machine shop produces finely tolerance finished components ready for delivery trackside at customers for assembly.
Alucast is an innovative company, with exciting plans to establish the business as a driving force in the supply of lightweight components. With new orders won and to create additional capacity, their machine shop and foundries need to be working at maximum efficiency. Having recently invested in six state-of-the-art 5-axis CNC machines, the senior management team felt it was time to review their overall productivity, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic causing unprecedented challenges for industry to overcome.
Due to the nature of the processes, the machine shop depends heavily on the foundries to supply enough raw aluminium castings to keep production flowing. At the time of their new 5-axis CNC machine purchases, there were bottlenecks in the foundry processes, which had a knock-on effect on the machine shop and, ultimately, productivity was not as high as the team wanted.
Keen to hit their performance targets and meet increasing customer demand, Alucast sought the help of our SME team, having completed several successful projects with WMG in the past. From detailed discussions about the company’s requirements, WMG concluded that the best fit for investigating and improving shop floor productivity was a short, focused project, using the skills of a keen student or graduate as part of the WMG Internship Programme.
Farhan first mapped the machine shop processes and observed operators’ movements and activities, in order to identify any of the potential seven Lean manufacturing wastes, such as unnecessary motion or bottlenecks.
He spotted some ‘quick wins’ that would save time in the short-term. For example, during production set up, a specific machine is used to measure the tools to go inside the CNC machines. This required the machine setters to walk to a different unit nearby, which took several minutes there and back. Considering it is used at least 25 times a day, if the tooling machine was in a more accessible location it would make tool changes more efficient and reduce downtime.
Following Farhan’s recommendation, an area at the back of the machine shop, previously used for waste cardboard, was cleared out and the tooling machine was moved to this location. Following this, data was collected to measure the effectiveness of this solution.
In addition, and with the guidance of WMG, Farhan implemented a ‘Kanban pull system’ – a lean technique used to control the flow of materials throughout a business. The main purpose of this system was to ‘pull’ the right castings from the foundry at the right time, so that they could be machined and finished in time for the customer’s weekly delivery. After clearing client arrears and regularly staying on top of demand, this system enabled the company to get into a comfortable position and build up inventory.
The Kanban system is a scheduling tool and the main reason for it was to replace existing stocks of products before they were sent to the customer. This meant the supply of parts were on time, transparent and spaced out for manufacturing, resulting in a greater number of parts being machined by the same people. If there are no parts to machine, the machine shop cannot function. This ensures the company always have at least one weeks’ worth of inventory present on site.
- As a result of the Internship Programme, Alucast’s senior management team were able to understand how shop floor data can be generated and used to inform decision making.
- With the help of Farhan and the implementation of the Kanban system, Alucast increased performance by up to 36%.
- After moving the tooling machine to a more convenient and accessible location, it was found that approximately 30 hours would be saved every year – equating to an annual saving of over £1500.
- The company was so pleased with the work Farhan did, he has now been employed full-time at Alucast, a direct result of his work in the WMG Internship Programme.
John Swift, Managing Director at Alucast, commented: “We have long been an advocate of promoting engineering as a career choice and, with this in mind, it was great to work with Farhan. It reinforced our belief that young students and graduates make excellent employees, combining a great work ethic with technical knowledge and insight. The project really exceeded expectations and we’re pleased to be able to offer Farhan a full-time role with us.”
James Black commented: “WMG has worked with Alucast on a number of occasions, and each time it’s been a pleasure to be part of a two-way relationship. They’ve always been really receptive to advice and taking on an intern has been beneficial for everyone involved. I’m really happy Farhan was offered a full-time role as he really deserves it.”
Following the success of this Internship, Alucast is hoping to take on another intern. For updates, watch this space…