Figure 1

Figure 1

The Feng Shui, Tao and Chi of Precision Sheet Metal.

Drawing a little insight from the Chinese concept of feng shui might help you achieve the kind of flow you’re looking for.

Feng shui is an ancient Chinese method of arranging one’s environment to allow the maximum flow of chi, the life force of the universe. The industrial equivalent is the lean manufacturing environment. The idea is to make product flow through a process or a manufacturing plant like water—chi likes flowing water, and the bottom line likes flowing product.

In China, feng shui is a deeply held imperative of architectural arrangement, applying to the interior and exterior designs of a building. It considers the interaction of all things, such as furniture or equipment placement. Mobilizing your equipment so that—like your furniture—it can be moved either across your facility or just a few inches to fine-tune product flow through production is the key.

The book of changes, the I Ching[/glossary, describes yin as a passive and contracting force, as opposed to yang, an active and expansive force. Feng shui is said to exploit the creative and dynamic tension between the feminine yin and the masculine yang.

In Western culture, concepts such as feng shui and chi are not given too much credence. But in the manufacturing environment, we need to strike a balance between overdoing a concept and only paying it lip service.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Practical Philosophy

Parts of feng shui and chi do apply to the modern manufacturing facility, as well as to your furniture, machinery, and architectural arrangements.

Though a complex concept, feng shui need not intimidate us. Feng shui can and does apply to both lean and cellular manufacturing environments. In practice, the simplest feng shui principle says to “remove clutter,” which directly applies to precision sheet metal production.

A place for everything and everything in its place … hmmm—sounds like 5S.

Figure 3

Figure 3

The 5S concept refers to five Japanese words, all of which are feng shui in spirit: seiri, seiton, seison, seiketsu, and shitsuke. These words are expressions of the principles of achieving and maintaining an effective and efficient workplace.

Seiri means eliminating everything not required for the work being performed.

Seiton means efficient placement and arrangement of equipment and materials, allowing a better product flow.

Seison equates to tidiness and cleanliness. Seiketsu translates to ongoing improvement. Shitsuke means discipline with leadership.

Like many concepts, 5S, feng shui, lean, yin, yang, and chi all can be interpreted either narrowly or broadly, depending on the circumstances of their use and how well you want the “water flow” of production to be.

I am highlighting only the simplest principles of this ancient wisdom, and superimposing feng shui on the world of precision sheet metal manufacturing might be a stretch. Perhaps a master of these ancient Chinese crafts could do it justice, but not this apprentice. However, if in the spirit of feng shui, you can channel some chi through just one process or manufacturing environment, I am sure it will pay off.

What am I alluding to here is something most Western cultures would consider a new-age or faddish idea. However, by applying these principles through thoughtful placement of machinery, tool racks, and material handling, you can improve your shop’s throughput.

Philosophy in the Workplace

For example, if you place a grainer next to a punch press, material can flow smoothly to the press brake without the appearance of shar-chi, the “killing breath” force that subverts the positive chi in the form of storage racks that hold in-process inventory, product that can’t yet be processed, or merchandise that can’t be sold.

Figure 4

Figure 4

At your press brake, feng shui and chi can be found in the flow of product from the grainer to the press brake without the flow interruptions caused by storage racks or unprocessed materials. It can take the form of set-ups that flow freely from side to side down the length of the press brake bed. It could be the use of quick-change tools or removal of general clutter around the press brake, hardware machine, or punch.

Think of a manufacturing cell as a small house. Good feng shui calls for, among other factors, easy entrance to and exit from a clutter-free room or work area. A clutter-free work area is where you get good vibes from the last machinery arrangement, where junk left by the last operator is removed, where the yin and yang elements create harmony, and where the chi-attracting objects or patterns are most purposeful and promote flow.

Here’s a suggestion—remove chi-draining objects, such as general clutter and material racks, from the area and to a place where they can do the least harm. Create a winding, smooth-cornered path through which product can flow without stagnating or rushing.

A feng shui cure can remedy any bad product flow in your shop. Equipment color, live plants, pleasant sounds, and even heavy or powerful objects such as punches or press brakes can promote chi. These are but a few of the ways feng shui can direct chi and cure the disrupted flow in a manufacturing plant.

A manufacturing plant is the whole work, one that should “sit in the belly of the dragon“—the feng shui metaphor for a perfect setting. Operators can be in harmony with their environment and with their machines. They can and should work in plants that are clutter-free, with product flowing like water and with the killing breath of shar-chi banished for eternity

Figure 5

Figure 5

The Tao of Forming Order is to Bend Peacefully with the Press Brake.

The Emperor’s guard was patrolling the river near the base of the Great Falls when the scout came running back down the bank. He was short of breath, too excited to speak.

The Captain of the Guard’s attention was drawn to the excitement.

“Report the cause of this commotion, soldier!”

“Ahead there’s an old man bobbing in turbulent waters at the base of the falls. A rescue must be mounted immediately if we are to save his life!”

“Make it so!” replied the Captain of the Guard.

But, as the rescuers approached the falls, the small old man walked up out of the deep pool of water and onto the shore.

The captain approached the old man and asked, “Are you a spirit? A ghost? No man could swim to shore or survive against the power of the water.”

“Precisely,” answered the old man. “I am not a ghost or a spirit; I have no magical powers. I simply did not resist the power of the water; I saved my energy and let the wash take me to shore.”

Fighting the Current

How often are you scrapping parts because one is formed backward or bent on the wrong tool set? It could be that you are fighting against the current, the natural flow of things.

In other words, is the starting position of the flat part facing the wrong way or upside down to your natural flow? Are you working from left to right when your natural motion is right to left? If you are, you’re fighting the current rather than letting the current do the work. Set up the press brake in such a manner that you work with your natural flow; by not interrupting your chi.

Setup Sheets

Figure 6

Figure 6

Depending on how you use press brake setup sheets, they have some good aspects and some bad. When they are used for reference only, setup sheets are excellent tools. Punch and V-die relationships remain constant by achieving a consistent bend deduction, producing a consistent inside bend radius. If all of the necessary data is on the setup sheet, everyone—whether you are a beginner or an experienced operator—will have enough information to complete the task correctly.

Setup sheets become a problem when they are seen as absolutes. By having the opportunity to modify the setup, even if just a little, over time you will learn more about your craft. Trying variations taps your creativity and gives the prima donna instincts common to all press brake operators a place to manifest … “That’s my setup!”

Also, if the setup sheet is not rigid, another thing happens: you will tend to set up the brake consistently using tooling that matches the bend characteristics, such as inside bend radius, bend allowance, and tonnage; in other words, making the setup and setup sheets work with your natural movements and flow. By doing so, you will avoid making many basic mistakes, such as flipping the part when it shouldn’t be flipped.

Forming Order

You may even consider modifying the forming order—work left to right, or right to left; put step three before step two, if it flows better for you, as long as the change does not affect the completion of the part. This kind of change should be done at the time of setup, and not in the middle of a run.

Modifications should be made prudently, however, in the world of air forming. If every aspect of the setup becomes a variable (especially the punch and die), complete chaos could easily occur, and the same blank could turn out to be a completely different part.

Die Changes

Whether you air-form or bottom-bend the part, die changes affect the results. In bottom bending they affect the tonnage; in air forming, die changes can lead to inconsistent bend angles as well as tonnage variations. Tooling variations in an air form, such as a change in die width, will change the inside bend radius. Of course, changing the inside bend radius changes the bend deduction.

Once a setup is established, the tooling set should not be changed without a valid reason, and then only if you are very experienced, for example, changing to—or from—a sharp bend to a radius bend. This minor change in the relationship between the press brake punch and the material thickness could have a profound effect on the resulting part, so again, it is not advisable to change V-die openings randomly.

It’s a Zen thing!