KISS – why CNC’s are not always the answer

The old adage ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ remains a sound philosophy as technology enables ever more complex manufacturing solutions, say Adam Jones and Sean Mackey of Jade Engineering.

The US Navy is credited with popularising the expression ‘KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid’, that simply states most systems work best if they are kept simple.

As digital technology advances at such an extraordinary pace, affecting everything in our day to day lives and of course, including such matters as window and door frame production, it is easy to get carried away with the assumption that if it doesn’t come with chips, then it shouldn’t be on the production menu.

Jade Engineering’s Adam Jones is an engineer who spends his working life and much of his down time, thinking about how to manufacture window and door frames more efficiently and more effectively.

Jade produces the vast majority of the tools by which most of the country’s PVC-U and aluminium frames are manufactured, more often than not carrying out their cutting, drilling and routing operations deep in the heart of the most complex digitally controlled CNC machinery.

And yet, believes Adam, there is a very real danger of assuming too much reliance on digital technology when equipping or upgrading manufacturing facilities: “Increasingly large and complex CNC machinery has revolutionised frame manufacturing, to produce frames with consistency of quality and efficiency that was unthinkable 20 years ago,” he says.

“In fact, manufacturing on even a medium scale would generally not be conceivable today without a significant element of digital manufacturing output.

“But through our discussions with clients, we continue to arrive at basic solutions for bottlenecks and interruptions which are caused by remakes, one-off frames and perhaps tidying up a job by hand, when it doesn’t pay to interrupt the flow of the CNC.”

Adam and partner Sean Mackey encounter such issues increasingly through their provisions for tooling for large CNC installations, and also through the company’s thriving Jade Consult division: “Fabricators frequently invest large sums of money to step up their output and improve quality – the two main reasons for a company to do so – and then base their decisions on parameters that are provided solely by the manufacturer or broad assumptions, rather than independent, expert assessment of their needs,” observes Sean. “And that is understandable. But these initial considerations often ignore the niche elements of their production requirements, especially low volume. And these then have a disproportionate impact on production.”

Which is where single function, standalone kit becomes useful. And why demand for Jade Engineering’s range of end millers, welders, corner cleaners and saws is higher than ever.

“There are many occasions during a shift when specials and one offs are required, but for which it makes no sense to interrupt the flow of the work being processed by the CNC,” explains Adam. “And that is where our standalone, single function machines work very well.” And why even the industry’s most lavishly equipped production lines with sleek machines costing millions, are punctuated by Jade’s highly distinctive green, standalone machines.

“Many of these have been supplied over the years following a realisation that the company’s brand new, shiny CNC, does not have all the answers,” says Sean. “And when we are consulted early in the process or especially when we are commissioned to design and install comprehensive turnkey manufacturing solutions for companies, we are able to anticipate the specialist production needs of a firm, and install solutions before the bottleneck happens.

“Our specialist machines require minimal set-up and prep, run at the flick of a switch and will mill, cut, weld or clean extremely accurately and quickly. They prevent bottlenecks, carry out repeat tasks quickly and accurately and allow the bigger kit to do what it does best. And they are reliable – we probably shot ourselves in the foot with that,” he joked, “as we have machines out there that are 25 years old or more.”

Jade Engineering occupies a unique position of producing products – its tooling – that are responsible for producing the vast majority of aluminium and PVC-U window and door frames installed in the UK in vast quantities, quickly and efficiently; and also for producing the machines that take care of the simplest of tasks, carefully and precisely.

The latter, the perfect execution of KISS, in fact.