Tooling Inventory Management Cuts J.L. Frenchs MRO Costs

June 14, 2010
At J.L. French Automotive Castings, goes beyond inventory tracking to cut MRO costs.
Helix-style vending machines are situated near the production machinery. Authorized employees scan a badge, and the machine dispenses the approved quantity of tooling needed for the job.

It’s not uncommon for large diecasting manufacturers, such as J.L. French Automotive Castings, to spend millions of dollars every year on MRO — maintenance, repair and operations. In 2005, J.L. French realized that controlling costs for MRO, spare parts, tooling and other indirect material used in its secondary machining operations should be a high priority in its efforts to make its operations more productive. As a first step, a number of questions about asset management and inventory control were examined, including:

  • “Where is all this material going?”;
  • “Why do we have so much of this and not enough of that?”; and,
  • “Why are so many of our invoices not matching our purchase orders?”

The overriding question was, “How much is it really costing us to manufacture these parts?”

Four stages
The manufacting process at J.L. French involves four stages: diecasting; secondary machining operations; machining; and assembly and testing.

Once the aluminum diecastings are cooled, trimmed, and inspected, they are transported to the secondary machining operations. Here, high-velocity abrasive blasting machines remove the sharp edges and residual flash in preparation for machining and assembly into finished components. J.L. French workers machine thousands of parts every month.

In the machining process, high-volume products like oil pans, front covers and bearing caps are machined before reaching the final stage of assembly and testing, where the components are assembled into the finished products.

In a manufacturing environment like the one at J.L. French, monitoring perishable tool wear in the machining process is an essential aspect of improving productivity and lowering costs from a cutting tool.

The diecaster recognized that many factors can increase production costs quickly — perishable tooling, for example. Randomly changing tools disrupts production, and using dull tools can produce scrap that can lead to serious failures. Additionally, communication between shift workers about which tools needed to be changed wasn’t always happening as it should. If a change was made too soon, money was wasted because tools were being replaced before the end of their life expectancy.

When the operator had a “gut feeling” that a tool needed to be replaced, he would leave the production floor and go to the tool crib on the plant’s second floor. After the long walk and a lengthy wait in line at the tool crib, he would retrieve the tool. Then, the tool crib attendant would log a spreadsheet entry recording the tooling distributed to the operator.

Toolboxes are restocked from the satellite cribs, resulting in no more lengthy trips to the tool crib.

This tedious, unproductive process resulted in downtime, and created manufacturing inefficiencies. For example, new tooling supplies were not available to complete the task; operating records were inadequate to track the true cost of machining production parts; and production volumes were adversely affected by downtime.

What about tracking the costs of repair and maintenance schedules of the diecasting machines? Manually tracking the various maintenance schedules on these machines can be challenging. According to J.L. French managers, in excess of 1,200 maintenance tasks need to be performed at various times during the diecasting production process. Some are on a fixed schedule and others are on a daily service request schedule. For example, a single core pin can be used to produce up to 30,000 castings before it needs to be replaced. Another machine may have less usage before a repair/replacement is needed.

“Maintaining these machines can be compared to maintaining a car by changing the oil, rotating the tires or cleaning the windshield,” one manager explains. If there’s not an accurate record of the work that has been done or the work waiting to be done, the production process is interrupted once again.

Cost-analysis solution
To control these costs and inconsistent maintenance schedules, J.L. French decided to implement a two-phase cost analysis solution over several years. Phase One would reveal the actual manufacturing costs for diecasting and secondary operations. In Phase Two, J.L. French would seek to control the costs of repair and maintenance.

As its contractor, the diecaster chose WinWare Inc. (, the makers of the CribMaster inventory management system that’s designed to manage tools, MRO, indirect materials, and other assets. Its full suite of tool- and indirect material-dispensing devices, otherwise known in the industry as point-of-use devices, are all driven by CribMaster software.

The first step in the process improvement was to bring the tools closer to the production area. J.L. French chose CribMaster Toolboxes, electronically controlled helix-style vending machines. These point-of-use devices were placed on the shop floor near the diecasting machinery. An authorized employee approaches the Toolbox, scans his/her badge, and the machine dispenses the approved quantity needed for the job. CribMaster automatically tracks who took the product, how much was taken, and the time of the transaction.

In addition to improving workflow, CribMaster allowed J.L. French to implement a more efficient replenishment system by establishing satellite cribs. Five satellite cribs were set up throughout the plant so inventory can be received directly at each satellite crib rather than at the master crib. CribMaster notifies each satellite crib when an item needs to be reordered. Then, the Toolboxes are restocked from the satellite cribs, so there are no more time-consuming trips to the tool crib.

CribMaster provided solutions in addition to efficient tool replenishment, such as: reduction of downtime due to close proximity of tools; 100% accurate real-time data of tool usage and costs; and elimination of stockouts with effective replenishment notices.

With results from the initial CribMaster implementation in Phase One, J.L. French and WinWare began Phase Two – accurately tracking the direct costs associated with the repair and maintenance of the machines.

Enhanced tracking
Once again, the diecaster turned to Win Ware for a solution. The Preventive Maintenance add-on module integrated with CribMaster offers enhanced tracking and helps to maintain equipment. The software suite was designed to issue work orders and tighten the overall management of maintenance tasks. This feature allows all maintenance monitoring and scheduling to work seamlessly with the inventory management of parts and supplies.“By using a numbers scheme on each part, we can identify all of the assets in the work order system,” reports one plant manager. Work orders can be done based on time or usage of a part to a specific machine, providing accurate records of all maintenance tasks.

Additionally, with CribMaster, J.L. French is able to save time by streamlining the purchasing and invoicing process. When the company used manual purchasing methods, vast discrepancies would occur between purchase orders and invoices, increasing the work load for the staff and leading to higher soft costs.“The time savings are huge,” the manager confirms, and the plan has enabled J.L. French to reduce accounting staff and improve the work flow.

With the implementation of CribMaster, J.L. French now has complete knowledge of the manufacturing costs, the repair costs of the product, parts needed and, more importantly, the bottom line – how much it’s costing the diecaster to produce each part. The company anticipates CribMaster going beyond vending, tracking inventory and buying parts at one facility. The system offers the potential of increased visibility company-wide. With CribMaster, purchasing can be done at a corporate level, providing enterprise-wide visibility for each of the company’s plants. That process is currently under way, creating expectations of even more value for J.L. French.