Heat treating is an integral part of the manufacturing process across industries. It impacts the production of everything from cars to aerospace parts. But this process can become costly since it uses a lot of power and special equipment. Luckily, your company can take steps to reduce your cost per batch and cut your overall expenses.
1. Increase Your Production with Shorter Cycles
There are particular heat treating processes in which the cycle time is extended. There isn’t much you can do to reduce your production time in these instances significantly, but shorter cycle processes can see significant impacts. Saving a few minutes on a 48-hour production cycle has a minimal effect on yearly production, but saving a few minutes on a one-hour production run can have a tremendous impact.
According to Gene Ligman, Leybold’s product sales development manager, “Brazing, for example, when you bind metals inside a furnace with a filler metal, has a relatively short cycle time. This can be a much faster cycle time than more traditional heat treatment operations, and a faster cycle time means more production runs per year, which means more revenue and profit.
If your furnace is running at full capacity, you have a finite number of heats possible per year, which means that the time it takes to complete a heat is your highest cost. Reducing the average amount of time needed for each heat is the best way to reduce the cost of a batch.
2. Reduce Your Power Output
Ligman points out that another great way to reduce your cost per batch is to evaluate parts of the process that cost the most money. He says, “You have to look at the costs that heat treaters generally incur. A big one is power. Electrical power is a huge cost in heat treat, because most heat treat furnaces — in fact, every vacuum heat treat furnace — is run on electricity.” He advises that upgrading your equipment is an excellent way to reduce power.
“You can’t do that so easily within the heat treat furnace itself, or the control system, because the systems are pretty much fixed according to the laws of physics. But you can do this on your vacuum system because vacuum pumps were not designed to be the most efficient mechanisms. They were designed to work. In the past 20 years, vacuum pumps have been innovated quite a bit. One of those innovations in roughing pumps is the use of dry screw vacuum pumps — the right type of which can cut the power on your roughing pumps by half.” Another is the diffusion pump. New diffusion pump technology from Leybold allows you to save up to half of the power consumption there as well.
By replacing power-hungry factory components with more energy-efficient ones, you can reduce your costs per batch.
3. Mind Your Maintenance and Repair Costs
Across manufacturing, including industries that use heat treatment, good maintenance people can be challenging to find. Before many processes became automated, the machine operators usually doubled as maintenance technicians because they had intimate knowledge of how the machine worked and could determine malfunctioning. Now that much of the process is automated by the machine itself; many operators are no longer as skilled in maintenance.
Ligman says, “With skilled maintenance technicians either retiring or moving on to other types of industries, many of our customers find that they are short-handed on people who can perform the maintenance competently and with excellence. If you don’t have enough maintenance people to handle your workload and one of your pieces of machinery goes down unexpectedly, you don’t have the workforce to get [it] back up and running, which leads to downtime.”
Ligman also notes that some vacuum pumps need to be sent out to specialty repair shops for repair. He says, “These repairs can cost from $7,000 to $20,000, based on the damage that you have to your pump. If you have a facility with 30 vacuum pumps, and if you have a repair cycle of three years, you may have to repair on average ten pumps a year, which will cost between $70,000 and $200,000 per year.” He recommends getting pumps that last longer to reduce maintenance and repair costs.
4. Reduce Downtime and Upgrade Equipment
Another costly part of the production process is downtime. As mentioned in point 3 above, machine repairs lead to downtime, which cannot be recovered. Replacing parts like vacuum pumps with higher-quality models that break down less often can reduce downtime. Additionally, opting for machines that function more effectively lowers maintenance costs and downtime.
States Ligman, “Upgrade to modern equipment that doesn’t fail or that doesn’t need intervention, such as an oil-free vacuum pump, which needs a small oil change once per year. It is more efficient than having to change 50 gallons of oil every quarter.”
You do not have to sacrifice quality to reduce your cost per batch. Simple steps like upgrading equipment to reduce maintenance and power costs can save your company in the long run and help improve your cash flow.