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Building World Class Die Maintenance
Building World Class Die Maintenance By: Jim Szumera - MACOR Published on: 08/31/2013
Building World Class Die Maintenance
Die maintenance is a service organization, much the same as an automobile dealership service department. Most dealerships cannot make the absorption rate to break even, so it is a necessary evil. Dealership service departments thrive on factory recalls. This is because they can bill back the hours to the manufacturers. It really cannot operate as a profit center, but in today’s economy it still must be world class. This is due mainly to the fact that they have to service what they sell and they are dealing directly with their customers on a personal level. Service is an integral part of any business, but because it cannot make a profit on its own, it usually is neglected and thus under performs.
How does your shop measure up? First we would have to separate out the specialty or niche tooling that you may deal with. That is not to say it doesn’t the fit the mold. Specialty or niche tooling may require a unique approach to certain portions of die maintenance. For instance, a special grinding fixture may be needed to service and sharpen unique punches or forms. A special handling device or equipment may be required. Aside from the specialties, the desired results are almost always the same; reduced turnaround time to production; a better tool life cycle between maintenance, increased press up time, improved first time set ups, and reduced overall costs. The ingredients we look at are equipment, procedures, drawings, spare parts, quality, ergonomics, and staffing.

A world class die maintenance operation has all the tools required at hand. This would include, but not limited to machine tools than can meet or exceed finish and tolerance requirements. Machine availability should never come into question. The equipment and machines should address every possible common operation needed to service the dies properly and expeditiously. Surface grinder, drill press, vertical mill, lathe, bead blaster, degreasing sink, hydraulic press make up the major portion of machine tool needs. Support equipment such as grinding fixtures, diamond dressers, radius dressers, Norbide dressers, grinding wheels, surface plates, V blocks, magnetic chucks, demagnetizer, etcher, hand held die grinders, bench grinders, belt sander, polishing lathe, lapping plate, laps, stones, pneumatic or cordless torque wrenches, shim fabricators is needed and should be placed conveniently and with purpose in the area. All pertinent die hardware, including springs, nitrogen cylinders, screws,screw repair kits, shoulder screws, shoulder screw shims for lengthening and shortening, dowels, shim stock, markers, connectors, fittings, should be visible and readily available. Depending upon the size of the tooling and work area, these items should be organized and made visible and mobile. Looking for shims and making shims can increase actual maintenance time by as much as 50%. Shims should be ready made, organized and readily accessible.

Procedures or die maintenance work instructions should be formally integrated documents or simple task checklists can be a good substitute. In any case these should be accessible and visible in the work area. Tooling drawings and part print drawings, along with any associated quality documents must be readily accessible. This may require die books or a PC with read only and print capability. Effective wall charts work well. Most die service, diagnosis and repair is usually left up to the tool and die maker. The die is then released to production as he or she sees fit. There are no checks and balances at this point. The die should be checked and verified by a “die checker” as a final step. Remember, if you have 10 toolmakers you will get 10 different renditions of what a preventative maintenance should consist of. That is not to say that anyone is wrong, just different. That makes process improvement next to impossible.

Specific die components such as punches bushings, pilots, die sections and blocks, sensors and spring pins can be pre-kitted and ready for change over, as opposed to dis-assembly, sharpen and reassemble. The expended details can be sharpened by a grinder hand at a later time. This will eliminate actual sharpening and handling by the die technician during maintenance and reduces the turnaround time tremendously. Utilizing spare parts in this manner speeds up the entire process. Many shops keep a tooling inventory for emergencies and tool breakage. This dollar investment should be utilized to cut costs, not increase costs.

Tool quality and inspection should also be at point of use. Drop indicators, surface gauges, gage pins, surface texture gauge, shim gauges, angle gauges, gauge blocks, micrometers, calipers, spring tester, hardness tester, microscope, illuminators and comparator make up a partial list of the measurement and inspection tools needed and should also be readily available. Depending upon certain shop variables, a tooling inspection area could be set up separate but should always be convenient and accessible. The die maintenance inspection area should be capable of inspecting production parts as well as the tools, dies and punches. Granted, some items may require a CMM and it may not be practical in the die repair area. Measure, measure, measure, inspect! Anything that goes into a production tool needs to be verified, if only the critical features.

Ergonomics and Kaizen play an important role in reducing costs by simplifying the process, eliminating redundancy and making for a workplace that is enjoyable to be in. Pretty heavy stuff! The days of the cabinets, loose leaf binders and index cards is over. A visible, ergonomic and safe workplace that is well lit is the solid foundation that leads to sustainability.

The right staffing of the die maintenance area can be a difficult task. Finding qualified people who can hit the ground running is not easy, if not impossible. Utilizing existing personnel as die technicians is the new future of tooling maintenance. Not only does this approach boost moral, but makes good business sense and cuts cost at the same time. The candidates should be somewhat familiar with your current press operations, know how to use calipers and micrometers, and read tooling and part print drawings. This is all that is needed. You probably have the right people working in the plant right now and just need to leverage this talent differently. Tool and Die makers are not needed in this function, if you have everything in place. You are more than half way there! And, the investment is minimal.

The type of production stampings one makes is not an excuse for being world class. World class is really a simple idea with good execution. A world class die maintenance function should not make shims, sharpen dies, look for tools, or go somewhere else for something. It is not a place with poor lighting where you put a couple of machines, a ball peen hammer and some sand paper and expect results. It is an area staffed with the right people, the right tools, the right space, and the authority to make decisions and run itself.
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Rosalio VazquezSep 4, 2013 - 12:24 pm
Great article. Topics stated as examples to be measured are the real world into the stamping areas; probably would be recommendable include an example of this metrics to show the readers the economic benefits they can obtain applying the concepts mentioned.
Thank you for sharing this.
Lindsay ScandrettOct 3, 2013 - 8:03 am
All I can say is WOW! Suggesting that maintenance tasks can be performed by the press operators. I am not sure I agree. I have enough problems already making sure strips are not mis-hit, guides that have been taken off with screws lost, etc. Maybe in a high volume type shop running large parts it would be more possible. Larger clearances leave more room for acceptable error. High production volumes would allow for components to be pre-sharpened and able to be swapped in by a less experienced "technician". You still have to have at least that one technician. Die timing as it relates to forms and even shimming of cutting punches on tight tolerance tooling is something that is easily overlooked that would show great potential for an interference disaster. I guess we are all entitled to our own opinion.
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There are no Great Supervisors!
There are no Great Supervisors! By: Jim Szumera - MACOR Published on: 03/19/2013
There are no great supervisors. Just good ones and bad ones. Supervisors usually go unheralded for their efforts. A supervisor must possess an enormous abundance of skills and social traits in order to be successful. How do you measure a supervisor’s success? I look at supervision as a coach or manager of a sports team. You are given a certain level of talent and equipment to work with. You are expected to score points, runs or touchdowns with your team while holding the opposition to few as possible. The opposition being, mistakes, quality issues, downtime, absenteeism and overtime costs. If you don’t have the talent you won’t win a championship or make the playoffs for that matter. If you don’t have the equipment you won’t win a championship either. A sports team becomes great from the top down. A supervisor needs to possess several basic traits in order to succeed. The first is patience. A sense of urgency without a plan is chaos. All too often I sat in daily production meetings where the supervisor constantly gets pounded about due dates and readiness that should never have been an issue in the first place. The supervisor needs to be resourceful. He needs to know and understand his limitations and resources at hand. He needs to be decisive and act on it. He must know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it instantly when faced with production issues or controversy. He needs to be an administrator who knows data entry. He needs a boat load of people skills such as fairness, being a good listener, concern for others, compassion, respect for others and truthfulness. Punctuality in all facets of the job is also critical. Don’t be late and expect your people to be on time. Job knowledge is critical. You can’t win the respect of your people if you do not know your job. Good politics and communication skill in dealing with management is also needed to diffuse situations, plan and obtain resources, and deliver results, whether good or bad. You also have to be a teacher, a cop, a dog catcher, a bartender, crop duster, social worker, soothsayer, administrator, and friend. Not an easy job! Hail to the supervisor!
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JoeMar 22, 2013 - 10:20 am
"I had some thoughts about this very topic throughout time over my last 15 years working for Plastic Injection Moldmaking shops. What is more advantageous.....hiring a manager with a degree or experience in management to bring into a mold shop, or taking a mold building or design saavy person from the indians and make him a chief.

The moldmaking trade, as I've discovered in trying to explain to people, is an amazingly sophisticated business. I have tried to explain it in detail to many people and for what seems to simple and engrained in my head, usually just spawns a countenance of confusion for anyone who doesn't work in it. I've seen management types unfamiliar with the trade ATTEMPT to manage within it, and they struggle. In some corporate leader's minds, when I seasoned EDM operator makes a $40,000.00 mistake, the impulse is to fire him. What they don't understand is to replace him may be next to impossible.....if he's worth his "salt".

On the flip-side, the personality types that migrate to this trade are introverted usually and with poor communication skills. The "best" I would venture a guess never get chosen to be promoted to managerial roles because they are sorely needed in the shop. So lesser-apt individuals (yet still highly skilled and intelligent) are promoted to management from within. Albeit, sometimes a guy in the shop or in design may just want to advance because they want something different....a change of scenery, more money, more power, etc. I have felt over the years, many times at many different places "Roger was a great moldmaker, why didn't the company send him to a 1 week class on management basics?" Roger had no skillsets in dealing with people, his communication was aweful, and he was a horrible listener. I need a boss who'll hear me out!!

Great job Jim laying out the duties, burdens, skillsets required of managers...I appreciate the "sports and coach" analogy! I think 5 years ago I would have agreed with you there are no "Great" supervisors, but when I think of how this trade is such a beast sometimes, I look back and can think of a couple guys I worked for that handled things pretty darn well
GaryMar 22, 2013 - 5:03 pm
"the great ones are already taken and will not leave their secure places. you need to raise one of your own, and not look in the obvious places. I have trained several dozen apprentices, designers, CNC operators, etc...and the the one that stands out the most was my personal assistant. She worked every day and all the hours needed, to be the best and had a drive to succeed. after several months, she became lead tool room co-ordinator, and after a couple of years, was able to drive that specific company in a major production role. there are alot of talented people out their, you just need to look for them and then mentor. this way, the work they do is what you want, because you trained them."
Woodruff ImbermanMar 25, 2013 - 10:13 am
Many companies say they urge mid-managers and supervisors to “work smarter, rather than harder. Some try to do this by training supervisors to instill the proper behavior in front-line workers, rather than training them how to manage the employees' work.
High productivity means managing methods and materials as well as manpower. Supervisors need to trained to devise new methods as well as how to use modern production control systems so their workers don’t stand idle waiting for materials. In short: somebody needs to manage the overall process of efficiently turning raw materials into value-added items sought by cost conscious customers.
Sadly, few make any realistic efforts to train supervisors how to do so, nor have they developed any effective programs to reward them when they do. These failures can be rectified by four initiatives.
Four Initiatives
• The first initiative in dealing with reality means identifying it. This can be done by a Supervisory Audit to uncover the problems and concerns of first line supervision and mid-management. The most effective audits are conducted by knowledgeable outsiders to whom supervisors and mid-managers will speak freely, and who have enough manufacturing experience to interpret their problems correctly.
• The second initiative is training supervisors how their work can be organized most effectively. This typically covers topics as root cause analysis, Theory of Constraints, bottleneck identification and elimination, problem solving, and production report analysis, etc. To be effective, a trainer must simplify these subjects into easily understood, bite-size bits that first line supervisors can absorb and use daily.
• The third initiative is simple. It is to hold supervisors and mid-managers responsible for results.
• The fourth initiative is for senior management to reinforce the behaviors and methods taught in the training by providing a motivation system like a pay-for-performance Gainsharing program, to reward supervisors and managers for the results they collectively produce. See our website for studies on pay-for-performance programs like Gainsharing to reward mid-managers and supervisors as the company's performance improves.
The Bottom Line
By training mid-managers and first line supervisors how to organize their work, by them giving them the tools to use the training to "working smarter rather than harder," and by providing the proper rewards when they are successful, "working smarter" can be an every day reality which can be passed down to the hourly workforce.
Isn't it about time for you face up to reality?

JamesMar 26, 2013 - 3:36 pm
"A shop supervisor can be a thankless job. They often get the brunt of complaints from both sides (upper level management and shop personell)."
RamachandraMar 26, 2013 - 3:39 pm
"there are no bad ones . it all depends on how the organisation trains them to meet the core objectives with an aspiration for carrier growth for everyone associated and pave the way for total progress of individual and the organisation"
JamesMar 29, 2013 - 7:25 pm
"It sounds like you need someone like me to change your opinion."
LarryMar 29, 2013 - 7:27 pm
"Crop Duster!
Nice touch..."
KevinMar 30, 2013 - 12:07 am
And very bad ones, the sort who follow the theory of "Manage by Fear". They will have very lonely retirements!
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QDC-The Whole Story
QDC-The Whole Story By: Jim Szumera - MACOR Published on: 10/28/2012
QDC (SMED) Quick Die Change
Do you still feel like you’re hemorrhaging money?
QDC is only one piece of the puzzle.
The quick die change movement is getting long in the tooth and little misleading when it is focused only on the storage, retrieval, movement and installation of the die in the press. Although this is an excellent first step, it represents only a piece of the puzzle. I like to look at quick die change as part of a larger process. That process is called production readiness. It makes no sense to invest in equipment and procedure to remove and install dies into the press without addressing upstream and downstream activities and tasks. For instance, what is the value of reducing die set up time from 1 hour to 15 minutes, when it takes an hour to get a quality verification to run production. What is the process for production approval? Are gages readily available? What type of gage is being used? Who has floor authority to run jobs on deviation? What about the turn around time in die maintenance? Have the bottlenecks been eliminated? Is there redundancy? Are the tools properly supported? Can you create tooling kits and modules to facilitate changeovers? Is the documentation forthcoming, available and up to date?

I like to set up a Value Stream Map of the entire process, beginning with the die maintenance area. For example, I have witnessed die technicians walking a 500 yards or more to complete the task of punch sharpening. The dies are disassembled in an area apart from where the maintenance is actually performed. Adding to that problem, the punches are sharpened individually in different machine set ups. Basically, the technician dissembles the die, then travels back to his bench area to retrieve tools required for the removal of components. Then he travels to the grinding area to sharpen the components.
Kaizen Events can reveal and correct many of these issues, resulting in optimum production readiness. Die maintenance creates many bottlenecks to the overall performance objectives of the company. If you would like more information please contact me at
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Mike SchollmeierOct 30, 2012 - 11:43 am
Hi Jim, Being in the die handling business, I can tell you your comments are very true. We caution people all the time that one piece of QDC equipment does not correct other inefficiencies throughout their overall process. Well said.
Leon BrownOct 31, 2012 - 8:10 pm
I'd be interested in hearing your theory for "Synchronous Modular Die Construction", do you see this process in USA die shops today?
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