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Precision Machine-Ready Blanks
Save Time – Improve Quality – Increase Overall Throughput

In today’s rapidly evolving manufacturing environment, it is important for shops to stay current with best practices while keeping a watchful eye on increasing customer demands. Shops that continue to innovate, retool, and exceed customer expectations are thriving while at the same time educating customers as to what is possible. Quality, sustainability, reporting, and the environment, as it relates to manufacturing, have never been more scrutinized. How can we do more with less? How can we reduce waste? How can we increase quality? How can we shorten lead times? How can we increase the bottom line? These important discussions are happening in shops everywhere. Working harder is not the answer; you need to think differently. Listen to your customers and challenge the status quo. If you think differently, you will be different compared to your competition.

Most shops have different production process needs based on their unique workflow, but there are common denominators, for example, materials handling and processing. Reviewing the most recent value stream mapping of your manufacturing processes, you will likely see several steps dedicated to material sourcing, logistics, processing, and prep for finish machining or assembly.  There is probably little argument internally about these process steps being required and completed in-house, even though they can account for more than 50% of the total manufacturing time and are often the culprit when a line needs to be shut down due to bottlenecks or processing delays.  To think differently in today’s Good, Fast, and Cheap manufacturing environment we live in, everything must be on the table for review. Lean manufacturing is a commitment; you cannot rest on your loreals because as soon as you do, your competition will present a better mousetrap.

When it comes to lean manufacturing and the idea of constant improvement, there are only a few broad areas to look to for answers. You must add or replace equipment, introduce more technology, or change processes. It is hard to argue a case against new equipment if that’s what’s holding you back.  Adding more technology, on the other hand, requires a lot more consideration. If you are swayed by marketing messages promising increased spindle time, increased uptime, decreased downtime, etc., you need to dive deeper. The real metric you should consider is an overall increase in throughput, which one could argue is the bottom line of productivity. Often, the promised benefits of new technology get lost in the process or result in inefficiencies further down the line. Don’t kick the can down the line.  Taking a good look at your processes is where the magic happens. 

Process evaluation should precede virtually every investment throughout production, especially regarding materials, the lifeblood of any job. Materials sourcing, heat treating, flattening, squaring, deburring, cleaning, staging, and inventory control account for a considerable amount of time, and resources. Not to mention, the net outcome of materials prep can directly affect the overall quality and the potential for scrap. Consider the impact on your production line and bottom line if you could start a job with materials that arrive ready to go directly from receiving to machining. 

Materials-Ready for Production

Materials Ready for Production (MRP) is real. TCI Precision Metals, a value-added materials distributor, developed the concept based on its precision Machine-Ready Blanks, which eliminate material prep, shorten setup time, reduce scrap, improve quality, and increase overall machining throughput by 25% or more.

Custom Machine-Ready Blanks are made to order, based on your unique specifications to make them ‘machine-ready.’   Typically, they are square, rectangular, or round stock milled to your custom net specifications. They can be produced as close as +/-.0005” dimensionally and as close as .002” in flatness, squareness, and parallelism. Machine-Ready Blanks eliminate the need for squaring up the material prior to finishing the part. Flatness is especially important as it reduces the tendency for part movement during the machining process, especially with large surface area parts.

By starting a production job with Machine-Ready Blanks you reduce the need for specialized machines or tying up machines that are better served performing other operations. Bottlenecks created by time-consuming setup and squaring operations are avoided, saving even more time. This increases shop capacity without adding overhead. Machine-Ready Blanks arrive pre-machined to specifications and are ready to go directly from your receiving dock onto your CNC machines. Machine-Ready Blanks are deburred, cleaned, and vacuum packaged to avoid damage during handling and shipping.

When to Consider Machine-Ready Blanks

First Articles 

The decision to use Machine-Ready Blanks should be made in the materials planning phase of the job. Using Machine-Ready Blanks to produce the first articles and then continuing right through production is the best way to ensure consistency of the process. Since Machine-Ready Blanks are custom-made to order, there are no minimum quantities. As your job ramps to production, you can order the quantity needed, to be delivered as you need it.

Production Machining 

Although they are also well-suited for prototype and tooling applications, Machine-Ready Blanks are best suited for production machining jobs where the efficiency and time savings from using them can be projected over multiple parts – the more, the better. The value of using Machine-Ready Blanks increases with part count as your shop is able to push out more finished parts faster by virtually eliminating bottlenecks associated with time-consuming material prep work.

Feature-Added Blanks 

Feature-added blanks are milled to the same tight tolerances as custom blanks but include one or more specified features. A typical added feature might be a large amount of material removal, e.g., milling all six sides of a rectangular Machine-Ready Blank with opposing steps or hogging large amounts of material. TCI Machine-Ready Blanks are double disc ground and/or duplex milled, machining two sides of a part simultaneously. This translates into cost savings over facing only one side of raw stock at a time. When the Machine-Ready Blanks arrive with additional features added, less in-house machine time is needed.

Dovetail Blanks

Dovetail Blanks are ideal for use with 4- and 5-axis work holding fixtures and arrive ready to ‘load, lock, and go’ directly from receiving to machining. Dovetail Machine-Ready Blanks are custom-produced to your specifications and are machine-ready – order from one to thousands with quick turnaround. Each Blank comes saw-cut or tight tolerance and includes a precision dovetail feature to match your specified fixture model. 

Machine-Ready Blanks are designed to eliminate in-house material prep time, produce more parts faster, reduce bottlenecks, improve quality and reduce scrap.

Questions to Ask Yourself

1. Are you a custom precision manufacturing company that could benefit from greater efficiency and increased capacity?

2. How much of your expensive high-tech equipment is doing low-tech prep work?

3. How often do you experience production bottlenecks associated with prepping material?

4. How much more production could you move through your shop if you could eliminate material prep work?

5. How much money could you save by eliminating scrap prior to finish machining?

6. Would your business benefit from being able to ship faster?

7. Do you have part features you want to see included in a custom Machine-Ready Blank, ready for finish machining?

8. If you could have precision Machine-Ready Blanks made to guarantee tolerances and delivered to your receiving dock, ready to load onto your CNC machines, how much would that benefit your business?

9. How much could you increase your overall throughput by only having to machine critical features?

Photos & Article Supplied By – Robert Moorers