Workcells Boost Efficiency, Cut Waste

Workcells Boost Efficiency, Cut Waste

Since the publication of “The Machine That Changed the World” by James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos in 1991, companies have sought to improve on the workcell idea. Also known as the kaizen process, workcell benefits are undeniable: minimal waste, reduced production bottlenecks, and — best of all — lowest possible final cost of production. What’s not to like.

The first beneficiaries of workcells were automakers. Their huge production runs of similar, internally planned products yielded immediate rewards. But companies like Ajax face different challenges. Ajax produces products specified by our customers. That means Ajax’s workcell development must be responsive to customer requirements.
Using RIEs To Implement Work Cells

RIEs (Rapid Improvement Events) isolate key departmental managers and tasks them with improving a single business process in a short amount of time. The event is not considered complete until the process improvement actually takes place. RIEs require quite a bit of advance planning to be successful. Most of the prep work involves gathering decision-making data so that the process does not stall. Top management must also make sure the RIE team feels free to make important decisions. Some of these decisions may require significant changes within the organization. That can cause disruption.

“REIs aren’t necessarily easy,” said Ajax Vice President of Sales and Marketing Don Wellman. “It’s all about making our processes better for our customers.”
“We place emphasis on the rapid part of RIEs,” Don continued. “Corporate speed makes a big difference when working with world-class OEMs. We need to move as fast as they do.”
Don said Ajax plans on doing at least three RIEs this year. “Workcells are a priority with our RIEs, since they yield so many benefits that directly improve customer service and value”.

The Cutting Edge: New L3 Laser At Ajax

The Cutting Edge: New L3 Laser At Ajax

Ajax will take delivery of another new Salvagnini L3 laser in the fall of 2018.

“Ajax has employed laser cutting for more than a decade with great success,” said Ajax Vice President Don Wellman. “There’s just so many advantages over other metal cutting methods. We’re sold on the technology.”

How it Works

Laser cutting works by directing a high-powered, computer-driven light beam onto sheets of material. The thin cut lines vaporise, leaving very fine edges.
Here are just a few of the L3 advantages Don referred to:

Precision – Laser cutting rays are thin and super accurate. Complex parts are produced with almost no waste, keeping costs as low as possible.

Non-contact – Since the laser head doesn’t physically touch the material, there’s no handling marks.

Low Power Consumption – Lasers require about 10kW of power to operate while other methods require 50kW and up. Yet another way the L3 can help keep customer costs as low as possible.

Very Safe – Laser cutting has proven to be a far safer method than other metal cutting processes. The cutting beam is sealed in a tight enclosure with no chance of operator contact.

Wide Range of Materials – Stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper and many other metals are no problem for the L3. It can create intricate shapes — even with tough materials — that would be impossible through traditional methods.

Speed – The L3 is fast, producing parts in a comparably short period of time, which, again, helps to keep customer costs as low as possible.

Finishing – The L3’s edge quality is amazing. Laser-cut parts can easily be deburred using the Ajax LOEWER deburring machine.

Smart – The L3’s computer can detect anomalies in the material, then remodulate parameters to resume cutting with no work stoppage.

For more information about laser cutting capabilities at Ajax, please contact our sales engineering team at 763-277-7760.  Remember to visit our blog this fall for a video of our new Salvagnini L3 in action!

Forming A Citizen

Forming A Citizen

The path to American citizenship is neither fast nor easy.  It’s not supposed to be.  Find out how the Ajax HR department helped make an employee’s dream possible.

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Forming Ajax Careers, Now And In The Future

Forming Ajax Careers, Now And In The Future

“We’re building a deep bench,” said Ajax Director of Operations Curt Jasper.

Curt Jasper and Courtney Mickelson devote huge amounts of time and energy to the people side of the business.

No, Curt wasn’t talking about a company softball team. This busy manufacturing company needs multi-skilled people who can step into pretty much any role on the plant floor as needed and perform well. As leader of Ajax’s talent management effort, Curt has been innovating new ways to build his workforce since he joined Ajax four years ago. He and Administrative Assistant Courtney Mickelson have devoted huge amounts of time and energy towards the people side of the business.

“It’s all about managing talent. We’ve examined every corner of our business looking for ways to improve our career focus,” Curt said. “Every organization has practices they need to get better at, including us. But we wanted to avoid becoming too inwardly-focused.”

The Ajax team is proactively learning how to grow the company’s talent pool by volunteering on local organizations’ boards or discussion panels to understand colleague and employer issues.“ We always look for new avenues to approach our next career objective,” Curt said.

The Company’s #1 Talent Builder – The Skills Matrix

Ajax Plant Manager Brandon Holmes is a perfect example of how development programs can identify and grow talented people quickly. Brandon joined Ajax in 2007 and worked his way up through production, fabrication, logistics, and management roles to become the company’s newest Plant Manager.  Brandon is a credentialed Class A Journeyworker whose professional development includes creating, attending, and instructing the M-Powered manufacturing program at Hennepin Technical College and the sheet metal program at Anoka Technical College, both in Minneapolis. Brandon has completed coursework in lean manufacturing and six sigma process improvement, and is a Certified Professional Project Manager (CPPM).

Plant Manager Brandon Holmes keeps the company’s Skills Matrix current.

That’s a pretty impressive resume for such a young professional. But Ajax managers believe Brandon’s success story should not be all that unusual. In fact, they believe it’s repeatable using a key weapon in the Ajax workforce arsenal: the Skills Matrix.

The Ajax Skills Matrix is a color-coded grid that shows a composite of production skills needed and mastered by members of the Ajax workforce. This at-a-glance talent management tool, posted prominently in the company break room, inspires workforce members to learn new skills and become the multi-skilled team that boosts production efficiency. Managers can also assess the available skills at any given time and contrast that to the production schedule, enabling them to quickly identify and correct any future gaps.

Benefits To Workforce and Customers Alike

Put yourself in the Ajax customer’s shoes (if you already have, thank you!) and imagine you’ve just handed off a critical project on a tight time line. Wouldn’t you be happy to know the many ways the Skills Matrix improves performance on your project? Here are just a few examples:

  • Increased workforce competency and greater personal commitment to your project’s success.
  • Greater management understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of people assigned to your project.
  • Increased production capacity and efficiency through earlier detection of skills shortages.
  • Improved recruitment efficiency through hiring and training people with backgrounds in areas of need.
  • Better project planning based on projected availability of skilled people.
  • More consistency and stability, keeping the company, and your projects, moving forward.
  • Better product quality and reduced production bottlenecks.
  • Inspires workforce members to build their talents because the company’s steady growth yields new career opportunities.

It Starts At The Top

The Skills Matrix only works when company management is committed to seeing it through and keeping it embedded in the minds of people at all levels of the company. Vice President of Sales Don Wellman said the Skills Matrix must become part of the Ajax core culture. “It starts with us,” he said. “Management needs to prioritize the Skills Matrix in order to get the most from it.”

Don said once people begin to see the benefits of the Skills Matrix, the cultural embedding gets easier.  “The good news is that everyone can see how well it works,” Don said. “That gives the entire Skills Matrix project plenty of momentum to keep it rolling forward.”

Tooling Innovation Gets Tight Results

Tooling Innovation Gets Tight Results

Ajax was recently challenged with producing a four-nut backing plate for a refrigeration unit hinge. The company’s solution checks all the tight tolerance boxes.  The article gives you a view from the tool designer’s perspective. Includes Video.


Rock Stars Partner With EJ Ajax

Rock Stars Partner With EJ Ajax

Visual, tactile and emotional. That’s how D.A. Distribution describes their products. If you viewed their products in person, you’d agree.

The people at D.A. Distribution have a very special talent: forming concrete into stone and brick building materials that look and feel completely natural, even when examined closely. The product line includes indoor and outdoor architectural stone veneers, thin brick veneers, hearthstones, keystones, sills, wall caps, post caps, and manufactured stone and brick accessories. These unique products are used on residential and commercial buildings, signage, entryways, patios, fireplaces, and bars to name just a few.

The Minneapolis, Minnesota-based company has been in business since 1977 and has additional distribution centers in California, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Their products are used by architects, builders, property managers, and residence owners who want natural-looking decorative veneers that last like stone or brick, but with a very affordable array of colors and styles that make it easy to meet design goals while reducing installation costs.
The company recently recognized a new market opportunity for a modular, manufactured stone siding product that could be fastened to most any type of interior and exterior wall. So they created Waypost Stone Siding.

Through experience, the product managers at Waypost knew their new siding would be far more attractive if an all-weather, easy-to­use mechanical fastening system could be offered. That way, general tradesmen or even do-it-yourselfers could perform the installation work without hiring professional masons or buying specialized equipment.

Antoniy Petkov, Director of Engineering at Boulder Creek, solved this problem by designing a special bracket that used high-strength fasteners to attach the siding to the building. The bracket would make the siding easy to install and permanent, but it was specialized and not available off-the-shelf. Panhead fasteners were best suited for this application, so the bracket’s fastening point would need to be countersunk to provide clearance for the fastener head.

“We knew there would be a few manufacturing challenges,” Antoniy said. “We needed the bracket to be perfectly flat. Any twist or warp in the bracket would cause installation problems and slow down the installer’s work.” Antoniy tried other vendors, including manufacturers in China, but none were able to meet all of Waypost’s requirements. Then Antoniy brought this manufacturing challenge to Don Wellman, VP of Sales at EJ Ajax of Minneapolis.

“We shopped around quite a bit,” Antoiny said. “But after talking to Don and inspecting the plant and some of the other metal parts they had produced, we felt confident going with EJ Ajax.”

The EJ Ajax build team went right to work to determine the appropriate material and the best workflow, production methods, and machinery for the task. “We began with selecting the right material,” Don said. “Part of this bracket is molded into the concrete siding, while the remainder is exposed to outdoor elements. The combination of the concrete mix, water and air often causes a chemical reaction that can corrode the metal surface. When metal corrodes, it swells. That expansion would weaken the surrounding concrete and ultimately create gaps in the installation. Avoiding this problem was an absolute must.”

The EJ Ajax team had only three practical choices to effectively avoid corrosion: aluminum, stainless steel, or galvanized steel. Aluminum is less expensive than stainless steel and resists corrosion, but lacks the tensile strength needed to prevent product failure over time. Stainless steel is both strong and resistant to corrosion, but is far more expensive. Regular steel is plenty strong for this application, and affordable, but would require a physical barrier between the concrete and the steel surface to prevent corrosion. Enter galvanizing.
Galvanizing is a zinc coating applied to raw steel through a process called “continuous hot-dip,” in which the steel passes through a bath of molten zinc. The zinc bonds to the iron particles in the steel, forming a protective layer on all sides. Because the zinc coating does not flake, chip or peel, it can be metalformed. Plus it’s ecomomical. The team had the material they needed.

“The next challenge was method of manufacture,” Don explained. “We needed a process that could perform the blanking, embossing, and metal forming perfectly, without tearing the hit points or warping the length. But we also needed to provide Waypost managers with a means to vary the bracket lengths to accommodate any changes in product style or size without worrying about production setup.”

The build team discussed several options and ideas, finally arriving at a single design that would satisfy all requirements. “The finished tooling was one of the most sophisticated machine tool builds that EJ Ajax has ever been involved with,” Don recalled. “When our customers ask about our tooling capabilities, this is the project I point to. Simply an amazing machine tool.”

Once the material and tooling hurdles were cleared, the build team was able to quickly finish up the production plan and get the project online. The team produced part samples that were presented to Waypost managers. After several process modifications to perfect the outcome, the team was able to get the project into final production. The results were excellent, and management at D.A. Distribution could not be happier.

“Our sales for this product are running according to projections,” Antoniy said. “We’re looking forward to a solid 2016.”