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External Assessment Improves Internal Processes at Hamilton

Like many successful businesses, Hamilton Precision Metals had developed systems and processes based on operating experiences and internal know-how. Their informal system worked; the reroller of specialty metals recently celebrated its 25th year in business, boasting 72 employees and 90,000 square feet under roof.

Last year when the company began a continuous improvement program to address constraints in its annealing area, management determined that a more methodical approach was warranted to help identify and remedy the plant’s production issues. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” says Jim Eichelberger, Senior Project Manager at Hamilton.

Air Products has been a long-term industrial gas supplier for Hamilton and has always provided technical support when appropriate. Don Bowe and Rob Edwards from Air Products went to Hamilton, where they discussed the process constraints and offered to provide assistance. After some follow-up meetings, they recommended a productivity assessment that has been recently implemented at numerous Air Products operating facilities. This process has recently been approved as an official continuous improvement tool at Air Products.

“The assessment identifies the things you’re doing right, and it maps the manufacturing processes to show where you can make improvements,” says Edwards.

The comprehensive assessment looked at everything from purge times and process controls to alternative cleaning operations. “We presented a number of options—high impact, low impact, high resource, low resource—almost a shopping list, so Hamilton could decide what would be most useful,” Edwards says.

One recommendation related to determining optimal purge time is expected to save 50% in purge gas volumes for the hydrogen atmospheres alone. Other specific recommendations geared to increase capacity and reduce operating costs are in the process of execution.

Open, honest communication was the key to the project’s ultimate success, says Eichelberger. “The whole assessment was handled with a professional approach from Air Products,” he says. “They added great value toward making our processes better.”

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