Your business is going strong. The manufacturing business is fully loaded with work. Machines are running at close to 100% utilization. This is a good thing. That good thing can turn into a bad thing if you get even more work and become overloaded. After overtime and Saturday schedules, what can you do? Alternate routing and work centers might be the solution.
Before reviewing some practical examples, let’s first review definitions from the APICS experts.
Alternate routing-A routing that is usually less preferred than the primary routing but results in an identical item. Alternate routings may be maintained in the computer or off-line via manual methods, but the computer software must be able to accept alternate routings for specific jobs. (APICS Dictionary)
Compare that definition with this related one.
Alternate work center-The work center where an operation is not normally performed but can be performed. (APICS Dictionary)
Many job shop businesses with machines shops and sheet metal shops typically have a mixture of older manual machines and newer CNC tools. Yes, the computer-controlled tools may be faster and have more precision, if they are fully loaded, no additional work can be processed through those machines. Fire up the old machines and run both manual and CNC tools in parallel. The same approach may also apply in the sheet metal areas. The new CNC turret punch can be backed-up by older manual machines that will run slower or may require more effort by the operators. This approach will only work if you have the human element in excess. Very often what initially appears to be a machine constraint may actually be an operator constraint. Watch out for those secondary constraints.
Alternate routings are closely related to alternate work centers. To illustrate this second concept let us consider an operation that requires making a 4″ diameter hole in a 10 gage (approximately 1/8″ thick) steel sheet. The primary routing is to nibble the hole using a turret punch machine. This would be the fast, simple and direct way to make that feature on a piece of material. What other routing approaches could we use? Listed below are some possible methods. Note that each of these alternate approaches is slower, more complicated and less direct than the primary routing approach, but each will get the job done.
- Drill a pilot hole and use a saber saw to cut the rough hole. Finish the hole to final dimension with a die grinder.
- Cut the hole with a CNC plasma torch machines.
- Cut the rough hole with a handheld oxyacetylene torch then finish grind with a die grinder.
- Use a pancake die on a press brake.
- Use a 4″ hole saw to cut the feature.
- Use a precision 3-point punch set to make the hole after drilling a pilot hole.
While not the preferred tool or approach, alternate routings and alternate work centers create alternatives in an overloaded work situation. An open minded approach can create solutions with little to no additional capital investment or staffing requirements.
APICS Dictionary, 13th Edition