A Crisis of Caregiving

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Sandvik Coromant works with AMEC Usinage to deliver critical components in the fight against COVID-19

Challenge Fulfilling a massive order from the Canadian government for life-saving ventilator components 
Solution Engage with a tooling supplier in a productivity improvement initiative

Over the past twenty-five years, François Doyon has met and overcome the obstacles faced by any small business owner. And yet, the president of AMEC Usinage in Quebec City recently faced a new challenge, one that left him and his staff looking for ways to increase throughput while simultaneously dealing with the pandemic-related uncertainty inflicted on AMEC and the rest of Canada’s manufacturing community. 

A proud legacy
Since 1995, Doyon has had a vision of seeing his company grow from a two-person machine shop to a leading supplier of small to medium-sized precision machined components. That vision has come to fruition. AMEC now has nearly two dozen CNC machine tools, Swiss-style lathes and five-axis machining centres among them, all of which run round the clock to meet customer demand. 

The company has grown in other ways as well. It earned AS9100 certification several years ago, and continues to invest in automation and other state-of-the-art equipment. Best of all, Doyon and his team of fifty employees have achieved recognition throughout Quebec and beyond for their work in the aerospace, medical, transportation, optical, photonic, and energy sectors. 

Rapid ramp-up 
In May of 2020, AMEC secured the largest contract of its existence—an order for 146,000 machined parts for a mechanical ventilator designed by Montreal-based CAE to fight Covid-19. CAE would assemble and deliver 10,000 of its CAEAir1 devices at the request of the Canadian government. Production was scheduled to begin that August with a completion date of late December. 

The problem? There weren’t enough hours in the day.

“Since AMEC could not produce the entire contract internally due to the high volumes, we sent contracts to ten other shops in Quebec, our customers and competitors among them,” said Doyon. “We did everything necessary to deliver according to the needs and technical requirements of our customer.” 

Despite these efforts, AMEC needed to do more to ramp up its own production. Doyon said the 146,000-piece production order was spread across thirteen different part numbers and represented roughly 20,000 hours of machining time, all of which had to be completed in just a few short months. Doyon turned to Sandvik Coromant for help.

From left to right are François Doyon, Genevieve Pare, and Eric Morin, the three owners  of AMEC Usinage.Leveraging partnerships
“AMEC has been a Sandvik Coromant customer for more than twenty years,” said Doyon. “They are a world leader in the manufacturing of cutting tools and tooling, and are our supplier of choice in this area. After winning the contract in May, we immediately began prototyping and process development, but decided early on to ask Sandvik Coromant for help in improving our manufacturing processes, so as to meet our customer’s delivery targets.”

Sandvik Coromant regional business manager Patrice Guay quickly assembled a team of application experts to assist with a PIP, short for Productivity Improvement Program, one of Sandvik’s standard services. “We’ve been offering these for quite a while, but recently expanded the program to include Lean principles,” said technical services manager Mark Skrt, who was in charge of the five-person project team. 

A PIP focuses on a shop’s machining activities—its cutting tools and toolholders, workholding, toolpaths, and application parameters—and looks for ways to optimize each. The Lean component evaluates a company’s overall manufacturing operations, from raw material receiving and inventory management to final inspection and packaging. Lean tools such as Value Stream Mapping and Gemba Walks identify potential improvement areas, as well as 5S (Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize, Sustain) to improve housekeeping practices. All are designed to eliminate the seven Muda, or types of waste, first defined by Toyota chief executive Taiichi Ohno.  

Achieving results
Skrt noted the PIP evaluation period was slightly shortened in AMEC’s case to meet the tight timeline, but the results were still quite impressive. The team analyzed the machining processes for each of the thirteen ventilator components and presented their recommendations to AMEC management. All were immediately implemented, he said, not only providing the company with significant cost savings, but more importantly, allowing them to meet their delivery schedule. 

“We were able to achieve cycle time reductions of 17 per cent to 35 per cent,” said AMEC senior programmer Sylvain Bégin. “The experience taught me that every second you save can have a major impact on production. It also confirms that the choice of tooling is essential in optimizing manufacturing processes for a company like AMEC. It was a great opportunity to meet and collaborate with professionals who are experienced in manufacturing process optimization.”

Shown here are the samples of the many parts AMEC Usinage produced for the CAEAir1 mechanical ventilator.  AMEC UsinageDoyon agreed. “The gains were both impressive and fast. The big challenge was to maintain the reliability and stability of our manufacturing processes while achieving the lowest possible cycle times. This is the ultimate challenge for any high-volume work, and while our employees already had a great deal of experience and expertise in the machining of complex parts, the Sandvik Coromant PIP team helped us improve productivity and increase our skill level for future work. The experience was very rewarding.”

Taking the Gemba Walk
The second piece of the PIP/Lean project was no less beneficial. Skrt and his colleagues walked with AMEC personnel through the entire facility, identifying waste and suggesting ways to reduce it. These included implementation of a dedicated staging and storage area in the shipping and receiving department, a recommendation that AMEC invest in an automated bandsaw, minor improvements to the tool crib and inspection areas, and streamlining of the part serialization process. 

“Much of the Lean process is just looking at bottlenecks and other problem areas with a fresh set of eyes,” Skrt said. “And while we can’t always offer immediate solutions, at least we can help them identify future continuous improvement opportunities.” 

Geneviève Paré, AMEC’s director of business and organizational development, noted the success of the ventilator project will further advance the company’s ongoing vision of serving large production markets, therefore adding to the economic recovery in Canada. “With the successful completion of this project, management expects that AMEC will reinforce its role as a key supplier of high-volume, high-precision machined parts throughout the province, further promoting our goal of becoming a technological leader of Quebec’s metal transformation sector,” she said. 

Doyon added to that, stating that the ventilator challenge confirmed that AMEC needs to work more collaboratively with all of its supply chain partners. “In addition, the PIP project allowed AMEC to demonstrate that companies in Quebec and Canada are able to provide high-volume machined parts at world competitive prices and deadlines,” he said. “It was an incredible opportunity for our employees, one that was rewarding and exciting, and provided them with new skills that will serve them throughout their career path. We plan to continue with this type of long-term partnership and hope to collaborate in the future with another PIP team.” SMT

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