This article explores the success story at KMWE who are globalising at a rapid tempo. We are focussing on their global support group, the pitfalls and successes as their journey develops.KMME describes themselves as a reliable supplier and partner to the high tech equipment industry and aerospace. They have manufacturing locations and partnerships in The Netherlands, Turkey, Malaysia and India and sales offices dotted around the globe.
High mix, low volume and high complexity machining is their speciality. They make functional critical components, and assemble and engineer fully tested mechatronic systems. I met with Twan Verspaandonk and Harm Huybregts, Production Support Manager and CAM Engineer respectively.
KMWE is constantly adapting to changes in the business and technology environment. The team is currently exploring the opportunities offered by cyber physical systems. Cyber refers to the concept of designing and manufacturing in the virtual world before any physical product is produced. Achieving the fourth industrial revolution, Industry 4.0 is KMWE’s ambition. Twan and Harm have started the journey and their experiences are worth sharing.
The conversation started with Twan talking about customers as partners. I was curious about that word “partner” and Twan explained:
“we like to be involved right from the beginning when the component is being designed, it means we can bring our expertise to bear in all aspects of the product manufacture such as materials, tooling, machining methods, right down to the CAM based on standard features, that make us more than a supplier to our customers, it makes us a partner.”
The precision machining industry is not always as smooth as it may appear. Although customers have complete product designs which include the components manufactured by KMWE they do not always have the expertise needed for the “how to make process”. In an Industry 4.0 world the whole manufacturing process would be virtualised, manufacture simulated to perfection before any physical work would start. It’s not easy but it’s KMWE who have understood how the journey starts by eliminating issues early in the process by partnering with the customer in the design/make process.
We then got onto the subject of Production Support. With more than 500 people globally, the team comprising of 12 support people are responsible for support production across the whole of the organisation. In all aspects of production support is involved, especially in standardisation across all the plants. I asked about their use of Edgecam software supplied by ATS EdgeIT as an example, Harm replied:
“For CAM we use both Edgecam and NXCam but for most products we use Edgecam as it is easier to use at all levels of our organisation. Both our programmers and operators can be more easily be trained to use Edgecam.” Then Twan added
“NX is better for reading in the CAD and is better for large, “heavy”, complex parts but is less open for plug-ins than Edgecam.” I asked if they found any disadvantages with their CAM software and Twan immediately replied that the CAM suppliers are running behind the tooling developments, a message I will take back to Edgecam to hear their views on the subject.
Twan and Harm also explained their strategy around tooling. They had found that although they wanted to standardise they had found that the support and supplier community in Turkey and Malaysia were very different than in The Netherlands. Whilst KMWE were globalising the tooling suppliers were not yet able to directly support that globalisation. They found very different levels of support and pricing in the different countries, something that resonates with our experiences at ATS.
I thought about these responses and realised that their comments could be put into the context of expertise. Due to the increasing complexity of Industry 4.0 we know that knowledge and skills at manufacturing companies must be significantly upgraded and if not can become a real barrier to progress. By standardising they reduced complexity but also made it possible for team members to share information. Sharing means the team can develop expertise faster and more effectively.
Twan confirmed my thoughts when he said:
“We develop the blueprint here and want to use the same hardware, same software, same CAM, same interfaces etc. across all plants. In terms of organising the plant programmers are responsible for the whole production process, checking the programs with Vericut so that programmes can be perfected. The programmer than walks to the machine and produces, together with the operator the first part, creating the shop floor document (work instructions) at the same time. Once the process is running properly the programmer passes responsibility over to the operator. This is definite progress towards Industry 4.0. In the future however we expect robots to complete the loading and movement of parts and tooling. People will support the manufacturing process but will not be directly involved, the so called self organised factory. Twan prompted my thinking when he explained their “release for volume process”. They have two principles Manflex and Autoflex, the second is adapted when there is robotic handling of parts and tools. Harm added that the same process applies with programmers and operators working closely together on first part production runs.
We started to philosophise about the detailed scheduling/planning. With such complex components with low volume the team focuses on short cycle time products during the day and then long cycle time production is pushed into the night and weekends. The next step is to work on a First Time Right program whereby everything is defined before production starts so that defects can be reduced to zero. Another good step towards Industry 4.0. The team is looking at different software products which can predict behaviour of tools and material. This is still in a research stage but it’s something which will have a lot of focus in the coming years.
Predictive behaviour of tools in combination with certain material types is certainly something KMWE see as an opportunity in the future.
Reverting back to the subject of standardisation Twan said “we also try to buy the same type of machines for all of our plants globally. On another point if we want to drill a hole in a flat service in CAM it’s no problem, try to do the same with CMM software, can’t be done. These differences and advances are going at different paces causing us issues.” Harm: “we want to be able to use the same data in different software products, linking and coupling has to be easier.”
These were thoughtful comments and “In the new world of Industry 4.0 we already see that an hour CAM programming and support more expensive is than an hour machining, the knowledge economy is here and it’s moving fast. We have to have everything perfect before we start production, the costs come before the make phase.”
We started to talk about model based definitions but time was short and I wanted to see the production hall. Industry 4.0 is a long journey to be taken step by step, KMWE has started the journey with a combination of good business sense and technology awareness. The open culture and willingness to learn are essential assets for the journey, KMWE has those assets!