That is #newtk: Longer service life for our tools!
All over the world, our colleagues at thyssenkrupp are working to safeguard the future of our company by making it more flexible, more efficient and more high-performance. In our new strategy #newtk, we are putting performance center stage. For example, when ambitious female engineers like Qingyan Wu put their all into significantly reducing the scrap rate in our Chinese forging shop in Changzhou – and helping our tools find more “quality time.”
In a manufacturing company, there’s one word that no engineer likes to hear: scrap rate. It describes the share of defective products or materials that arise during production – and have to be separated out and rejected. The quota makes it very clear what percentage has ultimately been produced just to be chucked in the bin. No wonder it’s a figure engineers hate looking at.
Another term frequently heard in production shops is “tool life,” i.e. the service life of industrial tools. Or in other words: the period of time in which a specific tool is capable of doing its job without any significant drop in quality. After all, tools such as metal cutters, hammers or forging dies wear out over time, lose their precision or can even break in some cases.
Both factors are of crucial importance for the success of a manufacturing company. A high scrap rate costs both time and money – just like tools that don’t work well enough after a relatively short time also do.
We only get the best out of things if we work as a team
At thyssenkrupp’s automotive steering plant in Changzhou, China, applications engineer Qingyan Wu deals with these factors every day: The plant’s scrap rates should be as low as possible and the lifespan of its tools as long as possible. Qingyan has been working for thyssenkrupp since 2016 – and always goes that extra mile when it comes to performance.
“My mission is always to get the best out of everything. This includes minimizing our scrap rate, keeping the downtimes of our machinery low and making our tools as durable as possible. It’s therefore extremely important that everyone at the plant works well together, because the only way we can improve our performance long-term is through good teamwork,” explains Qingyan.
Mission: “better forging”
That this approach is not seen in Changzhou as just another abstract goal, but is actually lived every working day is something Qingyan and her team demonstrated only recently – while optimizing the production processes for yokes, forged components that play a key role in many steering systems.
“Our forged products are miles better than those of many of our competitors in terms of efficiency and reliability,” says Qingyan. “However, we were faced with the problem that our forging tools could produce only around 35,000 components before they had to be replaced. The most difficult problem we faced, however, was how to cut our high scrap rate with these yokes to a minimum.”
Working patiently toward the final goal – the team’s success proved them right
In order to achieve their goals, the experts examined every last detail of their forging process. “After several test runs, we were able to identify what we call the “clipping punch” as the main cause of the high scrap rate; the machinery was simply not designed to use different punch diameters depending on the product,” Qingyan recalls. By the way, if you haven’t a clue what we’re talking about: A clipping punch is metal die used to punch or stamp out a component needed to manufacture a product.
So, to rectify this problem, the team adjusted calibration frequencies and determined the ideal type and amount of lubricant required for each product, among other things. They determined the ideal diameters for the clipping punches for the various products; they replaced water with a special emulsion to minimize the scrap rate even more. And they adjusted many more things that are scarcely comprehensible to ordinary mortals, but for engineers like Qingyan are simply part of their daily work.
The success proved her team more than right in the end: “We carried out countless tests, had to try things out again and again and found lots of different errors and flaws. Despite this, we never lost patience, but kept going until we solved all the problems,” says the applications engineer proudly.
Thanks to perfect teamwork: scrap rate down, tool time up
For Qingyan, the great success of this promising project is inextricably linked to teamwork: “We have a great process optimizer here who has helped us time and again with his ideas. Likewise, we were able to rely on a colleague from Production who helped us with the technical side of implementing these ideas. The same goes for all other colleagues. They are all modest, clever and incredibly hardworking. That’s also why we were able to implement everything ourselves, right here in Changzhou.”
This unique success is also reflected in hard figures: Qingyan’s team has managed to reduce the scrap rate of forged yokes from just under 5 percent to 1.5 percent and save the company more than 126,000 euros – in the space of just four months! And what about the forging tools that once had to be sent into retirement after around 35,000 units? “Some of them are now good for up to 80,000 units,” Qingyan says.
“Never forget what we have been actually trained to do”
Projects like this one repeatedly show Qingyan how important it is to question boundaries and to stay hungry for new knowledge. “Three years ago I was a real beginner as regards project management. Now, I use a variety of analysis tools and am able to improve, optimize and maintain complex projects in a sustainable way.
For us as engineers, it’s important never to forget what we have been actually trained to do. Likewise, engineers must motivate themselves to keep on learning and adapting to new developments. However, the most important thing is that we all follow the same goal: to do our job as efficiently as possible. In other words, to make the most of our expertise as engineers.”