A CI ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: Case Study: A Call to Upgrade

Upgrading its outdated presses has helped Brush Ceramic Products increase productivity to meet customer demand.

The updated presses have improved BCP's throughput by nearly 30%.

Brush Ceramic Products (BCP) has a long tradition of producing quality beryllia substrates in its Tucson, Ariz., facility. The only customer complaint the company received on a regular basis was that it couldn't produce the products quickly enough. Lead times had stretched to 15 weeks for some products, which were manufactured using two 25-year-old electro-hydraulic presses. These 125- and 200-ton presses take the beryllium oxide (BeO) and produce 1- to 5-in. square substrates. The substrates, in turn, are used to produce components for the telecom, medical device and laser markets.

Facility General Manager John Scheatzle never really considered adding additional capacity offshore to meet the demand for these products. "Our products are so unique and we have so many safety issues to implement that we never looked outside of Tucson," he said. "More importantly, our knowledge base here in Tucson is so extensive that I wanted to make sure we took full advantage of it." Instead, Scheatzle enlisted Cameron Miller, maintenance supervisor and process engineering specialist, to find the best solution.

BCP produces BeO substrates for a number of industries.

Teamwork Works

Miller first put together a team consisting of BCP press operators, in-process inspectors (QC), and personnel from setup, leads, production control, maintenance and sales. "I felt we needed the unique experiences that all members of the team could bring to the solution," Miller said. "I didn't want just a manager telling everyone else what the solution was going to be. We needed crucial buy-in across the board from a broad spectrum of the people who were actually working with these issues."

During the investigative stage, the team focused on the electro-hydraulic presses, beginning with a simple question for the press operators: If you could have a new press, what would it include? Most operators pinpointed new electrical/mechanical functions. Each operator had their own special fixes for how to make the existing presses run more efficiently, above and beyond the written instructions, but the presses still weren't able to fit the company's production needs. Setup times were too long and needed constant adjustments. With 300 to 400 products produced on the presses, the setup operators might have to adjust 20 different knobs to fine-tune the process.

BCP also invited the person who built the original presses to visit its Tucson facility. Now working at Gasbarre Products in Dubois, Pa., he talked with the team and put together a quotation that met their needs, which included a complete upgrade of the electronics of the two presses.

At the same time, Miller's team discovered that the spare parts for the existing electronics were classified as obsolete components. "That was the clincher," he said. "We knew we absolutely had to spend the money for the upgrade. It was almost like we were living on borrowed time. If we had an electronic breakdown, how would we explain to a customer that the press would be out of commission indefinitely? That would have been totally unacceptable."

A BeO substrate comes off one of the newly updated presses.

Transition Time

Once the decision was made to upgrade, the next hurdle was scheduling the downtime for the presses. Since BCP was already running two 10-hour shifts seven days a week and couldn't keep up with the current production demand, the necessity of shutting down for the two-week transition period was daunting.

That's when the BCP sales team went to work, communicating to customers the situation and the benefits they'd see as a result of the upgrades. Sales worked with production to ensure that customers would not go without products. Large Press Team Lead Paul Roland, along with production control, scheduled each production run-down to the hour-two weeks in advance. Customers agreed to take larger lots of products less frequently, so BCP could make longer production runs and stockpile products.

After eight weeks of extended production runs, BCP had enough products accumulated to be able to shut down the presses for the transition. "When most of the rest of our facility was home enjoying Christmas vacation with their families, the team was here participating in the upgrades," said Miller. BCP had a written set of objectives to achieve during the downtime, including intelligence gathering and operator retraining, as well as a detailed production control schedule for the restart of the presses.

The extensive upgrades included new electronics and operator control panel touch screens. All controllers, wiring and valving were replaced with new, state-of-the-art components. New hydraulic-assisted systems were installed to hold tolerances tightly and maintain proper flow rates and pressures. The touch screens replaced manual controls and store the preprogrammed recipes that make all equipment adjustments appropriate to each individual part. Reproducibility was the goal.

The presses' new electronics include operator-controlled touch screens.

Enjoying the Benefits

Before the upgrades, it took up to 45 hours to achieve first piece accuracy. Now, it takes a third of the time-between 12 and 15 hours-including firing samples, to get the first correct piece off the press. "We can produce quality products much faster now," commented Scheatzle. "Our throughput increased almost 30%. That's given us more flexibility to shift products on the presses to meet our customers' just-in-time demands."

"This project is a perfect snapshot of what our company goals have always been: continuous improvement, better customer delivery and supplying superior products," said Miller. "The only thing I'd do differently would be to take more before and after pictures. It would have been a good reminder of how hard we worked to get where we are today."

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