Metal Fabricator Builds Success with Lean Operation

A commitment to lean manufacturing principles is evident in the production operations of a metal fabricator that specializes in small-to-medium-volume precision work.

By Mark Shortt
Editorial Director, Design-2-Part Magazine

Airport conveyors, mass transit seating, and high-end office furniture are a few of the many products that incorporate precision metal components or assemblies produced by DeWys Manufacturing, Inc., an ISO 9001:2000-certified metal fabricator headquartered in Marne, Michigan. Founded as a one-man metal shop in 1977 by Mark DeWys, the company began by fabricating fireplace inserts, racks, and, later, various small metal parts. Twenty-seven years later, after having outgrown several facilities, DeWys Manufacturing employs approximately 100 team members and operates three shifts at its 65,000-sq-ft manufacturing and assembly facility near Grand Rapids.

Focusing on small-to-medium-volume work, the firm provides custom fabrication services to a diverse group of clients, including manufacturers of products for the mass transit and transportation, electronics, and telecommunications industries. Its customers also include firms that manufacture equipment for medical, material handling, and government applications. Today, the company is led by president and CEO Jon DeWys (Mark's brother), who heads a leadership team consisting of Corey Davis, chief financial officer; Bill VanDenToorn, operations manager; Lance Fisher, quality assurance/continuous improvement manager; and Jeff Botbyl, sales manager.

DeWys Manufacturing has come a long way by building a team atmosphere that encourages innovation and productivity. The company views its people as problem solvers, craftsmen, and specialists, and empowers them to apply their knowledge and skills in a lean manufacturing environment. They are the reason why DeWys has been able to develop long working relationships with satisfied customers, and why the company continues to be optimistic about the future.

"We are excited about 2004 and beyond, with numerous growth opportunities with our current key customers," says Botbyl. "We have several projects that we've already received purchase orders on, and we are proceeding along with some big projects pending their release. One in particular is with the U.S. Government, which will be a solid growth opportunity for the 4TH quarter of this year into 2005."

Capabilities for working with stainless steel enable DeWys to support the manufacture of products ranging from high-end outdoor cooking grills to complete operating room nurse workstations for hospitals. The firm's custom projects also involve the manufacture of enclosures, boxes, brackets, and sub-assemblies for electronics and telecommunication needs, metal components for hydraulic tanks, and various carts and tables for medical applications.

"We can meet and exceed industry standards for precision metal fabricated products," says Botbyl. "We can start with an idea and make it reality by producing a complete precision fabricated assembly."

Using reverse engineering and design for manufacturing reviews, the company has been very successful at working with customers to improve their products, Botbyl says. He credits the firm's powerful 3-D solid modeling capabilities (DeWys uses SolidWorks 3-D CAD software) and a "very capable and talented engineering team with over 100 years of combined manufacturing and engineering experience," for helping to make this possible.

Focus on Lean Manufacturing

Although DeWys Manufacturing has typically functioned as a small-to-medium-lot, repetitive manufacturer, its production volumes have not deterred the company from practicing lean manufacturing. "Our lean manufacturing journey started many years ago and continues to be a key core initiative throughout our business, and a tremendous continuous improvement activity," says Botbyl.

The company's adherence to lean manufacturing principles is reflected in the design and layout of its facility, in which flexible manufacturing cells are strategically located for maximum productivity and efficiency. Laser cutting and turret punching, bending and forming, welding, and powder coating and painting are the major processes performed in the cells, which DeWys has set up to accommodate a wide variety of product configurations, lot sizes, and job frequencies. All manufacturing cells are equipped with advanced precision machinery and tools, and supported by an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that plans the process to ensure orderly, timely, and efficient work flow.

The laser cutting and turret punch cells are capable of cutting to exacting specifications. Machinery used in the cells includes two 2000-watt Amada Pulsar systems and a 4000-watt Amada Gemini with flying optics and integrated material management system. Technology on the 4000-watt Amada laser includes automated material handling, which enables DeWys to process "lights out." In the bending and forming cells, DeWys operates CNC press brakes with capacities ranging from 60 tons to 220 tons. The press brakes are complemented by an RS Flexibed CNC folding machine, and equipment for drilling and tapping, deburring, and fastening.

The firm's welding cells utilize robotic welding lines and 12 weld and grinding booths equipped for MIG, TIG, and resistance welding. While robotic welding achieves fast and accurate repetitive welds, the weld and grinding booths provide the flexibility to weld complex weldments in various sizes. One of the firm's key assets is a 10-head resistance welder with CNC backgauge; it permits quick and accurate setups that allow for competitive run rates.

Finishing touches are applied to components at the powder coat paint line and assembly areas, which open directly out onto the shipping bays. The powder paint system is capable of handling parts up to 10 feet long and includes a five-stage pretreatment washer with moisture drying oven. Powder coat capabilities provide valuable support for applications such as office furniture, manufacturers of which have a keen eye for Class A surface finishes. Botbyl describes the firm's powder coat process as one that "yields a decorative and protective finish second to none."

The company's lean philosophy has led to a number of other efficient practices, including the conversion of component inventory storage areas into production space. DeWys has also flattened bills of material to shorten lead times and reduce inventory management costs; implemented work-in-process (WIP) level controls to reduce inventories from weeks to days; and undertaken first-in-first-out (FIFO) processing of work orders to reduce order management costs. Additional measures include cross training of team members to aid in balancing the flow within manufacturing cells; Kanban replenishment of high-volume raw materials; and standardization of tooling to reduce setups.

Advanced Product Quality Planning

DeWys strives to continually improve its methods in order to deliver defect-free, competitively priced products and services, on time, to its customers. A multi-disciplinary team, consisting of sales personnel, program managers, and engineering personnel, as well as quality, purchasing, and manufacturing personnel, employs Advanced Product Quality Planning to ensure that customers are satisfied with projects completed for their new products.

The quality planning process includes a complete set of manufacturing drawings, which standardize the view for manufacturing personnel and enable production of CAM files to drive CNC equipment in manufacturing. An initial sample inspection report (ISIR) is used to verify that both the first article and the manufacturing design meet the customer's specifications. The ISIR is available to submit to the customer for their review and approval of the first article before DeWys goes into production.

Ongoing production is verified by performing a first-piece inspection, using the firm's automated laser inspection equipment after cutting of flat blanks. Dimensional characteristics for downstream operations are monitored using a control plan that specifies the process-critical tolerances that need to be checked, and the inspection frequency. These specifications are based on key product characteristics developed with the input of the customer, as well as key process characteristics identified within the firm's manufacturing processes.

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