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The cost of buying cutting tools has been cut by one fifth at Metaltech Precision, following a company-wide audit and programme of process optimisation by West Country Tool Company and Iscar Tools.

Where 400 different types of tools were previously used, rationalisation has cut this to 250.

In parallel with expenditure going down, productivity has increased due to more appropriate tool selection and the use of Iscar Sumotec grades, which are delivering faster cycle times.

Contributing further to higher production output is a reduction in machine idle time.

This follows the installation of two computer-controlled Matrix tools stores, provided by West Country Tools, to house indexable inserts, solid carbide cutters and toolholders.

The stores are managed by local Iscar supplier, West Country Tools, under a commodity and tool management service that involves the integrated supply of all tooling to Metaltech, including the minority sourced from suppliers other than Iscar.

The improvement to Metaltech’s bottom line is considerable, helped further by two benefits in addition to the lower monthly expenditure on tooling.

First, there was a saving of GBP20,000 in the first few months, while the stock of cutters that the subcontractor owned were transferred to the Matrix stores and issued on free vend.

Second, while 10 man-hours were previously spent reordering and managing tooling stock levels manually, just two hours are now needed.

CNC turning section supervisor, Steve Larcombe, who is responsible for managing all of the lathe tooling, said: ‘We used to have 400 numbered plastic bins containing between five and 20 inserts each and I had to open every one regularly to check how many were left.

‘It took me five hours a week to identify what needed restocking, make lists on a Monday and again mid-week, have the office email the orders to West Country Tools, check the deliveries when they came in and put the tooling away.

‘It takes me just one hour to manage the Matrix system.’ Larcombe added that he would have had to check each of the plastic drawers twice a day to be certain that inserts would not run out.

Therefore, in practice, tips would be unavailable to continue a machining process on a few occasions every month, often during or just after a night shift.

Metaltech nearly always circumvented the problem, by perhaps temporarily using a worn tip or changing the grade and holder, but both solutions compromised productivity.

There have been no stock-out occurrences since the Matrix tool stores were installed in October 2008.

Operators and setters access the stores using unique passwords that give them different levels of authorisation, while Larcombe has supervisor-level access to allow him to reconfigure the software.

The touch screen and logical menu system afford easy identification of the location of each tool, which is retrieved from one of the drawers in a matter of seconds.

Only the compartment in the drawer that contains the selected item will open, so others tools cannot be taken at the same time.

The number and type of tool removed is entered via the screen, so there is an up-to-date inventory permanently in memory of exactly what is in each store.

West Country Tools interrogates the inventories regularly from its offices in Newton Abbot and visits twice weekly to top up stocks to the agreed levels.

The Friday visit doubles as a management meeting.

The local Iscar sales engineer is on site every one to two weeks to introduce the latest cutting tool technologies.

As with most tool vending systems, Metaltech does not pay for a tool until it is taken out of the store.

So any opened packets of what turn out to be unsuitable inserts for the company’s applications are no longer a dead loss; they are simply returned to the supplier at no cost to Metaltech.

On the first of every month, a report is generated automatically and transmitted to the mobile telephone of Metaltech’s owner, Steve Hill.

It contains itemised information on the number and type of inserts removed from the Matrix stores during the month and by whom, the cost of each type of insert used, the cost of all inserts taken out by each employee and the grand total for the month.

When a Syspro enterprise resource planning and supply chain management system from K3 comes on-stream mid-2009, the link to the Matrix stores will expand the information available to include tooling costs associated with each job (as well as labour and material costs).

A scanner, already supplied with each Matrix store, will read a bar code on the job sheet to provide the necessary data input.

Tooling costs on some long-running jobs are already being monitored by Metaltech, but manually at present.

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