Because heat treatment is one of the last processes standing between a manufacturer and payment for parts it made, time is of the essence. Heat treaters can use process knowledge and the tools at hand to reduce turnaround time when possible, but it requires some understanding and active participation on the part of manufacturers.
Methods For Reducing Turnaround Time With Heat Treatment Solutions
The most common question customers ask heat treaters is when they can get their parts back.
And it makes sense why they ask that. Supply chain management is crucial for manufacturers, and it goes way beyond simply getting paid at the end. Any snags in the process have a rippling effect that can disrupt every aspect of the business.
Heat treaters can play an important role in that supply chain management, working to reduce turnaround time when it’s possible. To make it work, they and their manufacturing customers must be on the same page.
Understanding Materials And Design
The makeup of parts and the functions they’re designed to perform greatly impact the heat treatment processes they must undergo. Some treatments take just a couple hours. Some take a couple days. Unfortunately, manufacturers aren’t always aware of the variables at play and submit work orders with impossible deadlines.
A greater depth of knowledge of material and design will help manufacturers set more realistic expectations regarding turnaround time. But greater knowledge of heat treatment could also lead them to revisit design and material characteristics of their parts. For instance, very generally speaking, smaller, thinner parts made of lower-alloy steel require shorter heat treatment cycles than do larger, thicker parts made of higher alloys.
However, note that while changes to design or material could result in reduced heat treatment turnaround time, they may be more expensive on the front end. Also note that differing heat treatment equipment comes with differing risks and costs.
Talk with your heat treater to better understand heat treatment processes. Then, discuss with your engineers whether any design or material changes can be made that maintain a part’s integrity but reduce heat treatment turnaround time.
Heat treatment is a game of trade-offs, and there’s usually more than one way to harden a part. It’s a matter of calculating and managing the risks, time and costs associated with each option. Constant communication with your heat treater will help make these decisions easier.
Manufacturers sometimes set heat treatment deadlines based on how they prefer their finished parts become available either for the next step in manufacturing or for sale.
For example, a manufacturer may deliver one truckload of parts to a heat treater twice a week to maintain a consistent supply of finished parts for buyers. Turnaround time — and even treatment costs — can be reduced if two truckloads arrive once a week instead. If the furnace used to treat the bigger load is still big enough to handle it all, the heat treater only needs to run the furnace once for those parts instead of twice. The same amount of finished parts will be available, but added efficiency can cut down on turnaround time.
Another way heat treaters can reduce turnaround time is prioritizing work around plant shifts, treatment equipment and estimated treatment times. Similar jobs will be done together when possible because it allows equipment to work more efficiently without downtime for recalibration. Contact your heat treater to further discuss how you can take advantage of their workflows to get the best turnaround time for your parts.
Sometimes, there aren’t enough hours in the work day to complete jobs ordered on short notice. But when deadlines approach and work needs to be done, heat treaters sometimes order overtime work so that delays do not occur.
That comes with added costs, so try to plan ahead to make sure it isn’t necessary in the future.
Communication And Planning
The most effective way to reduce heat treatment turnaround time is to communicate regularly with heat treaters and plan ahead for the work you’ll be sending them.
That means submitting clear specs that calls out the part’s makeup, the appropriate heat treatment, proper tolerances and testing methods. It means understanding how long it will take to treat your parts and then setting realistic deadlines.
Your heat treater will always be open about what can and cannot be accomplished in a given time frame, but this conversation should take place long before you deliver a truckload of parts to the plant.
Rob Simons is a metallurgical engineer specializing in ferrous heat treatments with 35 years of experience in the industry. He earned a degree in metallurgical engineering from the University of Missouri — Rolla in 1982 and will be a featured presenter at the ASM Heat Treat 2017 conference. He has been at Paulo for 30 years.