Every year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cites companies in the metal fabrication industry for violations, costing them millions of dollars in fines. The reality is that unsafe working conditions cost both workplaces and workers far more money indirectly as well. Onsite accidents are expensive in terms of workers’ compensation, medical treatment, damage to equipment and buildings, and lost work time. Working in the metal fabrication industry can be physically challenging, but in a shop that respects federal regulations and implements the proper safety procedures and equipment, it should not be dangerous.
Workers in the metal fabrication industry are at risk for a number of injuries, including:
The good news is that, since the implementation of OSHA in 1971, workplaces have been getting safer as employers have invested in purchasing safety equipment. Without the proper safety tools like masks, respirators, eye and ear guards, gloves, adjustable workstations, barriers, loading dock equipment, and trolleys, workers are physically vulnerable. If workers are not trained to use that equipment and required to use it all of the time, however, it will be ineffective.
Shop managers must first make sure that all safety equipment is installed and working correctly. Employees should have tools that are proper sized and easy to use. The facilities in which they work should be well lit and free of clutter. Safety rules and protocols should be posted in communal areas.
The staff must be trained continuously on how to use the equipment. This will require shop managers to keep regular records to ensure that new hires are made aware of shop’s safety protocols and that the staff as a whole has periodic refresher courses on safety, weekly if possible. There should be clear communication from management on its expectations from employees and what the consequences are for workers who do not follow safety protocols.
Finally, the entire shop needs to be inspected regularly. Shop managers should make daily rounds to make sure the safety equipment is in place and functional and employees are utilizing it correctly. When small accidents or near misses occur in the shop, managers need to walk their employees through what happened and point out any missteps in protocol or neglect of safety. A record of problems should be updated along with the steps that managers have taken to correct them.
A shop that makes a commitment to creating and maintaining safety protocols will experience fewer workplace injuries, accidents, and losses. We at D+M Metal Products take safety seriously, and our efforts to ensure a safe work environment and avoid injuries have been recognized. Last April we were pleased to be awarded the Safety Award of Honor by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (FMA) and CNA. We believe that safety regulations are in place to help everyone - workers, employers, and the industry as a whole. A safer shop is a better, more productive, and more profitable shop.
A magical time of the year is just around the corner - maple sugaring time! Very soon it will be time to tap the trees so the sap can flow and we can begin the process of making maple syrup and maple candy.
What do you know about maple sugar production in Michigan? Bob Buist, the owner of D&M Metal Products has been making maple syrup in Michigan for a number of years now, and it’s a fun and fascinating process. Michigan is #5 in the nation for maple syrup, producing an average of 90,000 gallons per year. Not all of this is commercial, although maple syrup is an agricultural commodity that contributes $2.5 million to Michigan’s economy annually. About 2,000 Michiganders produce maple syrup as a hobby or just for home use.
How many maple trees does it take to make syrup? In Michigan, only about one percent of the state’s maple forest is tapped for sugar. Of all species of maples, the sugar maple has the highest sugar content, but a tree must be about 40 years old with a 10-inch diameter before it’s ready to tap. Each tap hole produces about 10 gallons of maple sap per year, but it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. That means every tree tapped will yield about a quart of maple syrup.
Not every winter is a good one for sugar production. A pattern of cold and warm temperatures helps to force the sap from the tree. If the winter is too warm, there will not be much sap to collect. If the temperatures are consistently cold, that’s isn’t good for production either. A rapid rise in temperature of 25 to 45 degrees will produce ideal conditions for collecting maple sap. State wide, the Michigan maple syrup season starts in February for southern counties and runs 6 to 10 weeks until it’s finished in the Upper Peninsula, but the heavy sap may only run for 10 to 20 days in any one area. When the weather gets warm enough for the maples to bud, the sap becomes bitter and collection ends.
After the sap is collected, it’s boiled to 219 degrees Fahrenheit to remove the water and concentrate the sugars. This is called evaporation. Typically an evaporator uses a cord of hardwood to make 25 gallons of syrup. D&M Metal Products designed and made the first evaporator that Bob Buist used at his sugar shack.
The end result of this process is one of nature’s most healthy foods. Maple syrup is fat free and has 50 calories a tablespoon. It has no additives or preservatives, plenty of nutrients, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, and is shelf stable for years. It’s a great substitute for cane sugar which has no nutrients at all and a better sweetener for diabetics because it’s lower on the glycemic index.
The Boar’s Nest Sugar Shack will be ramping up maple syrup production again soon. If you are looking for tasty and healthy maple sugar products, let us know - we sell them in our main office. Stop by D&M Metal Products to buy maple syrup or ask Bob about his maple sugaring adventures.
In a previous blog post we discussed why there is such a need for automated guided vehicles in American manufacturing. 2017 was a banner year for the North American automation market, demonstrating that demand. The year set new records in the first three quarters in robotics, machine vision, motion control, and motor technology. According to wired.com, “2017 was the year that robots really, truly arrived.”
Jeff Burnstein, president of Association for Advancing Automation agrees. “The market for robotics and automation continues at a healthy growth rate. It’s evident that the investment companies are making in these automation technologies is having a positive impact on productivity and competitiveness, while saving and creating new jobs in North America.”
Why did automation break out in 2017? Roboticist Sebastian Thrun believes it was a confluence of factors, including hardware becoming cheaper and intelligence better at the same time. Only very recently have computers become smart enough and robot hardware reliable enough to make the kinds of literal leaps robotics has. Atlas, the humanoid robot developed by Boston Dynamics, can do actual backflips.
For robots to go beyond working in a specified, flat-floored work envelope, they need to be able to sense the changes in their environment. That requirement depended on the development of much better sensor technology than was available until recently. Cameras and lasers are both more powerful and more affordable now, making advanced robots both possible and affordable for more companies.
What kind of numbers are we looking at? In the first three quarters of 2017, companies in North America ordered 27,294 robots at a cost of approximately $1.473 billion. That number was up 14% from 2016. Automotive orders were up 11% and non-automotive orders 20%. The industries with the largest demand for automated technology were Metals, Automotive Components, and Food and Consumer Goods.
While robots and AGVs have been used for a long time in manufacturing and fabrication, those sectors of the economy seem primed to add even more in the days ahead. With the price of this technology dropping quickly, other sectors, like food service, hospitality, and healthcare, are also looking to add them.
Analysts say that this is only the beginning of the growth spike which will continue in 2018. While companies understand that there are definite advantages to adding automation to the floor, and many of these robots do jobs that workers cannot do and so do not always replace workers, adding them will have an impact on the low- and medium-skilled workforce. This will put employers on the defensive for at least the short term. However, for many companies, the advantages in safety and reliability these robots can deliver will make it worthwhile.
In 1977 Dale Buist bought the assets of D&M Metal Products, and the company has been in the Buist family the forty years that have passed from that day until today. For this anniversary we thought we would share with you some of the highlights we have experienced in growing D&M from a small, struggling company to the thriving and successful business it is currently.
D&M Metal Products Company was originally founded in 1946. The D and M in the name stood for Davis and Moelker, the original owners. When Dale Buist purchased the company, it had 8 employees. Prior to this Dale had worked at a small sheet metal shop, so he had experience with this type of work. One of the changes he made in the business was the purchase of the company’s first Strippit HD30/40 and a Hurco backgage. The Strippit improved D&M’s hole punching capability away from drilling or a punch-press setup. The backgage enabled a faster setup and accurate repeat gaging for bending on our press brakes.
In 1982 Dale purchased an Amada press, a turret press that was the latest in close tolerance manufacturing for blanking parts. The efficiency and quality output these new pieces of machinery gave the company helped us to expand our customer base. As a result Dale hired Doug Parker, the company’s first designated salesperson.
By 1984 D&M Products had outgrown the 8,000-square-foot space we had in Standale, and the company moved to its current location on West River Drive in Comstock Park. We built on to the existing space before moving in, giving us 18,000 square feet to operate in. At this point in time, the office was in a separate building. In 1988 we added 6,500 square feet of space for a turret department. In 1994 we remodeled, incorporating everything into one large facility with 58,000 square feet of space.
Technology has changed a great deal since 1977. Our earliest investments in computerization were the purchase of Metalsoft programming systems in 1984 and a Microshop system in 1989. We purchased a Cincinnati laser machine in 1992. This machine had a shuttle table system that made it much more efficient to operate and increased our productivity significantly.
Sadly, Dale Buist passed away from cancer in 1997. The ownership of the company passed to his son, Bob Buist, at that time. Shortly afterwards, Bob purchased and implemented the JobBOSS computer system, two OTC Robots and a Romer CMM, as well as a Fryer Machining Center.
Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to change and develop, to take risks in expanding our building space, our equipment portfolio, and our employee base. As a result, D&M Metal is a very different company with far more capabilities than it had in our beginning years. We still hold to Dale Buist’s original drive and values, though. He was goal oriented, open to new technology, and willing to do what it took to make the company a success, and we are too.
Here’s to many more years in the metal fabrication business!
Automated Guided Vehicles, or AGVs, have been in existence since the 1950s, although they have undergone considerable improvements in engineering since that time. When Barrett Electronics debuted the first AGV, it was guided by a wire in the floor and performed onlyh simple towing tasks. Up until recently, AGVs have been used primarily in industrial manufacturing environments where they performed repetitive tasks in defined surroundings with specific constants. Today’s AGVs range on a spectrum of complexity from that same simple machine that moves parts from one defined location to another to machines that are capable of working with each other in fleets, navigating over rough terrain. Let’s explore what makes AGVs in such high demand now.
Flexible - The flexible technology used in AGVs have rendered them useful for many different tasks. It’s difficult to relocate or shift a conveyor system, but with the wireless technology AGVs use, it’s relatively simple and quick to remap a route and continue production. Today complex AGVs are equipped with sensors, clamping mechanisms, positioning fixtures, and tool attachments and, as such, are useful across a variety of sectors in many industries, including healthcare, military, and transportation. They can work alone or in tandem with other AGVs.
Accurate - AGV computer systems can be coordinated with warehouse management systems. This allows for companies to track every detail of material handling and make adjustments to increase accuracy and efficiency. An AGV will do as it is programmed to do each and every time. It will never get bored by repetitive tasks or distracted by workplace or social activity.
Safe - AGVs can operate in a number of environments that otherwise might be hazardous for people, including those with exposure to extreme temperatures, gases, chemicals, sharp objects, or biological contaminants. A damaged AGV can be repaired or replaced without the same problems or liabilities worker injuries or health hazards create for companies and people.
Productive - AGVs can work continuously around the clock without breaks. They do not get sick. They will do a task continuously for as long as necessary without flagging or complaining. They maintain a constant speed, never hurrying or rushing to complete a task before the end of the work period.
Much has been made lately about AGVs and other types of automation replacing people in the workplace and what that means for society and the economy. This is true in some cases, but it’s also true that AGVs will do work that people cannot or will not do. In these cases AGVs are a win-win solution for everyone because their work must be monitored, adjusted, or completed by human workers who are then employed to do it. As manufacturers upgrade their facilities to become smarter and more efficient, AGVs will play a larger and more important part in day-to-day operations. We have only begun to see what AGVs are capable of doing in the workplace.
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