Go with the flow!

The surprising benefits of one-piece-flow-manufacturing

Suppose you’re not 100% certain of your part’s design, and you could make minor adjustments quickly, with minimal cost or downtime. And, what if you could have samples produced the next day, and, if tested and approved, these changes could be incorporated into all future production with almost no waste from previous revisions stuck in the pipeline? All this is possible if your supplier has a Multi-Axis Mill-Turn Machining Center which performs one-piece-flow (as opposed to traditional batch) manufacturing.

Many times our customers request a special variation of an existing part, which might be for a new design or an improvement to an existing one. With traditional batch manufacturing, we have to start the process from scratch, and run it as a small lot, standalone job. Naturally, this small lot drives up costs since those few pieces absorb all the setup time. A further drawback is the long lead time, since there are typically several operations, each requiring its own setup.

It’s a totally different story when using a Multi-Axis Mill-Turn Machining Center. In most cases, all that is needed to make the special part is a new CNC program, and possibly some additional cutting tools. The new program is simply a modification of the existing one, and the only setup required is for a few new tools, if any.

Once the new program has been proven out and a first piece inspection has been completed, the remainder of the parts can be run off, usually in a day or two. So the lead time is reduced from several weeks to just a few days. Also, if additional “specials” are needed down the road, they can be run off almost immediately, rather than having to wait for another production run to start and then another several weeks to get through all the operations. And the cost of those “specials” will be close to that of the regular parts, since the setup is now significantly reduced.

A Multi-Axis Mill-Turn Machining Center’s one-piece-flow capability also minimizes the risk of long-term blanket orders for parts whose design is subject to small changes. With conventional processing, where there is a production pipeline consisting of a number of parts being processed sequentially through several setups and operations, there could be major costs associated with design changes that are incompatible with the current production parts. With one-piece-flow-type processing, there is no production pipeline. The design changes can be produced and tested quickly, and if found desirable, can be incorporated immediately into all subsequent parts with almost no residual costs.

To summarize, the benefits of one-piece-flow manufacturing are:

Less cost and lead time. One-piece-flow eliminates the additional part handling required for processing the parts sequentially through multiple operations one at a time.
Better quality and accuracy. Since all features are machined in a single operation, variations caused by reloading the parts through several operations are eliminated.
Greater responsiveness. Unlike batch manufacturing, one-piece-flow lets suppliers respond much more quickly and cost-effectively to changes in design or delivery requirements.
Reduced risk. Long-term blanket orders can be placed with greater safety by minimizing the potential cost of obsolescence, while allowing for the flexibility to make small—but important—design changes on the fly.

So the next time you’re outsourcing a precision part that will probably be tweaked sooner rather than later, why not consider a supplier who can “go with the flow” on a Multi-Axis Mill-Turn Machining Center? You’ll experience greater freedom when making small adjustments to your part’s design, while receiving significant advantages with regard to the resultant part’s performance, cost and delivery cycle.

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