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Reported from IndustryWeek’s Excellence-in-Action plant tour of Smith & Wesson's Springfield, Mass., facility on July 24, 2012. Learn about and register for upcoming EIA plant tours here and get a hands-on look at manufacturing improvement strategies.
At the center of every neat, double row of CNC machine tools at Smith and Wesson’s Springfield, Mass., plant, a single worker controls the operations and output of as many as 10 simultaneously running machines. With 64 individual tools at work in each of them, this makes one operator responsible for monitoring the status, wear and efficiency of up to 640 tools as they process the ultra high-precision parts for the company’s iconic products.
Just a couple of years ago, says Mark Smith, vice president of manufacturing and supply chain management at Smith and Wesson, this kind of workload would have been impossible.
“The way our CNC process used to be, you had an operator working in a cell of just two or three machines because that’s all he could handle,” he explains. “Then, when a machine went down or when something happened and an adjustment needed to be made, he would need to go to that machine and address the issue while the other machines finished their cycles and went idle.”
Today’s CNC operator, however, works in an entirely different environment.
A quick glance down the line in a contemporary, high-tech machine shop tells the operators everything they need to know about each machine in the cell. Today’s lines are aglow with andon lights indicating the inner workings of every machine while on-board displays indicate the status of every tool in them.
This is the new era of the machine shop -- the era of visualization.