Lights Out Manufacturing

This month highlights one of the many modernizations and philosophy used at Protomatic to improve the manufacturing process. As the manufacturing paradigm has changed over the last ten years, Protomatic has come to the realization that most United States manufactureres cannot go head to head with the low cost labor countries. This does not mean that we should not have any manufacturing in the US. Quite the contrary, the US needs a strong and reliable manufacturing base that can create cost effective products. This is how we are creating the next manufacturing revival at Protomatic.

Raw Material
Most of our products are only as good as the basic material. So our trend is to buy the highest quality raw materials. Re-enforcing our process is described in US Gov. DFARS 225, where critical military work requires materials and processes to be based on utilizing materials from American sources (“Buy American”).

Educated Work force
We believe in investing in our employees. Over the last year we have trained personnel in various areas such as ISO Auditing, Advanced and Basic CAM (Computer Automated Machining) with multiple products, CPR Life Saving, Machine and Equipment Safety, Advance and Basic CMM (Coordinate Measurement Machine), and Understanding Tool Wear and Process improvements. Truly, an educated workforce is a successful workforce.

Strong Infrastructure
Although Protomatic is just one of the many infrastructure users, grid reliability is critical for our success. The US infrastructure (Power Grid, Internet, etc. ) is generally very stable and this makes the manufacturing base productive. For our business, consistency is more important than price. The cost of sending employees into work to restart a machine or process is much more than the $0.10 per kilowatt that is used. If one small storm shuts down the power all the machines stop. So, for those emergencies, we use UPS (uninteruptable power supplies) for critical computer applications.

Cutting technology
Selection of the correct tool is very important. The type of carbide, cutter geometry, feed, speed,coolant type,coolant pressure, coolant filtration are just a few of the variables that our experienced machinist must identify in the setup process. This is where we excel due to our knowledge base and enhanced training.

Modern and Reliable
CNC Equipment
This will not work unless you have repeatable and reliable equipment. The equipment does not have to be new, but it must be in excellent working order. Additionally, most of our capital equipment is manufactured in the USA. We principally use Haas (CA) CNC mills and Hardinge (NY) CNC lathes so support and service parts are readily available.

Simple Implementation
So, how did we implement? The prototype environment creates many difficulties. Mainly, the jobs are always changing. So the basic concept is;

1. Prototype or short run type of work is done during first shift, with the typical programmer operator work on programming the next job while part is running the first job. Inspection is integrated in the operation with operator results recorded and inspectors independently inspecting the product.

2. Production or a longer run job is conducted in a “Lights Out” manufacturing. The parts are manufactured on second and third shift. Fixturing or material feeding is performed at the end of the first shift. Ideally, sufficient raw material must be available to support the 16 hrs available for second and third shift run cycles.