Business Case for Induction Heating

As with any significant process change and equipment purchase, it is important to be able to justify the expense in order to move forward.  Here we review some of those factors that help make the business case for induction heating.

Reduce Energy Costs

What does your oven cost to operate? With induction heating, it’s not uncommon to be able to convert 90% of your energy into heat in the part. By comparison, a batch furnace is typically only 45% energy efficient. It’s also common to keep ovens operating 24/7 so it’s ready whenever you need to heat. That readily available heat comes at a cost. One Ultraflex customer reported annual operating costs of over $10,000 for their oven. They were shocked to find the induction system was only going to cost them $1,000 per year to operate (with the added bonus of improving their heating time from 70 minutes to 45 seconds!).

Implementing a torch has similar issues in that the majority of the energy does not enter the part. One customer estimated that they were spending $6.37 per part for a preheat application using a torch. The same preheat application using induction heat, had an energy cost of $0.58. In today’s competitive market, can you afford to not save $5.79 per part?

How can I use this as part of my Business Case?

Look at your oven’s specs to determine its power usage. Check online for your region’s energy costs (or your energy bill) to determine the cost per kW-hr. For a torch, determine the amount of fuel consumed per part, and use the fuel rates to determine the cost per part. For the induction heating costs, Ultraflex is happy to run these calculations for you, when you request a quote.

Improve Productivity

Induction heating can provide significant productivity improvements. It’s not uncommon for induction systems to allow the heating time to be reduced by 50% and can be produced with 90% efficiency. Just as important though, is to recognize that the operator has been taken out of the equation, and can now work on other tasks during the induction heating. This may be set up for the next operation, inspection, or work on another independent activity.

Ultraflex recently worked with a customer that had multiple torch brazing operations for a single assembly. After each braze, the part had to be cleaned to remove oxidation that occurs during the brazing process. By changing to an induction process, these multiple brazing steps were able to be done with a single brazing operation.  Another benefit of switching to induction was that two of the three cleaning steps were eliminated. The operator also was able to work on setup for the next part of the process instead of doing the hands-on braze.

How can I use this as part of my Business Case?

Compare the current heating process time versus the planned induction heating time.

  • How many more parts per day can I produce? Can I eliminate additional production lines?
  • Can I reduce the number of operators to produce the same number of parts?
  • Can I combine steps by using induction, where it’s not possible to do so with other technologies?

Safety, “Green Operation” and Ease of Operation

Three words: Eliminate Open Flame. That’s enough reason alone for many companies to make the switch to induction. Combine that with eliminating smoke, waste heat, and noxious emissions, and you have a solution to improve your workplace conditions.

Many companies also have objectives for “Green Operation”. Induction heating does not burn traditional fossil fuels, and does not pollute the environment.

Induction heating is incredibly simple to operate. Your operator’s skill is no longer going to be the critical factor for the quality of your parts! Whether you use pre-set programs, closed-loop temperature control, or a PLC, an induction system can produce quality, consistent parts, with no dependency on your operator’s skill.

How can I use this as part of my Business Case?

Review your company’s safety reports and determine if you’ve had incidents. Look at the “standard cost” for the heating operations. Determine the cost for the process if you could use lower-skilled employees.

Improve Quality

Improve Process Control and Repeatability

Induction heating creates a highly repeatable process with low variability. The induction heating process is controlled by a few variables, most of which can be fixed. By eliminating these sources of “special cause variability”, we achieve a consistent result. Here are the primary sources of variability:

  1. Power and Time: How much power and how long we heat are easy variables to control with the use of programs on the equipment
  2. Coil: The coil is fixed
  3. Part: The actual part can create variability in two ways:
  • Actual variations in the part itself. If your part has loose specs and dimensions, you may see differences in how the part heats.  However, you will likely see this with all heating methods.
  • Changes in how the part is positioned within the coil. By fixturing the part in the coil, we can control the impact of positioning.

The most significant source of variation for most processes is the operator.  With induction, we remove the operator from the process entirely. Once you fix the remaining variables (power and time, coil, part), we are left with only common cause variability, resulting in a more consistent heating result every time.

How can I use this as part of my Business Case?

Calculate the Cpk of your current process. With induction, a Cpk of 2 (a 6 sigma process) will be your goal. How many fewer defects would you have if you could achieve 6 sigma quality? That’s the induction opportunity!

Even more simply, look at your ongoing inspection costs. With induction, once you’ve shown your process is capable, you can reduce these inspection requirements, and stop trying to “inspect quality in”.

Reduce Scrap and Rework

Scrap and rework occurs for many reasons in any process.  When we improve process control, and remove sources of variation, we also reduce our scrap and rework. Companies that are using torch or flame also see significant quality improvements by avoiding the contaminants that occur with those processes.

How can I use this as part of my Business Case?

Review your scrap and rework costs. If you do not have a good understanding of the root cause for your issues, you may need to start with some analysis to understand how much of your scrap and rework can potentially be eliminated with induction.

Reduce Equipment Footprint, Eliminate Batch Processing and Associated Wip Inventory

Induction equipment is often smaller than other heating technologies, giving you the capability to insert the equipment directly on your production line. One Ultraflex customer was challenged with needing to add a new production line, but had no space for the required annealing oven. The footprint for their induction system was about 10% of the size of the annealing oven. This allowed them to save space on their current production line and gave them additional room now for the new production line.

Induction heating is ideal for one-piece flow processing, and allows companies to escape from batch processing. When we batch process, we have work-in-process inventory buffers between each process. One-piece flow reduces WIP dramatically, which in turn, improves cash flow. And don’t forget – all that WIP is also taking up your valuable floorspace.

How can I use this as part of my Business Case?

Are you struggling for floorspace? Do you need to add in production capacity, but have no room for expansion? How much space does your current heating equipment take up? Do you have to transport your materials away from your main production area so you can do your current heating process? How much time does that take?

How much WIP inventory do you currently have? How much space does that take up? How much cash is tied up in that inventory? How much time would you save if you could immediately process each part in a continuous production process, instead of batch processing your parts? How fast could your process be if you could eliminate those batch processes? How much would you be able to reduce your product lead times?

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