What is "lead time"?

lead time  |  Noun /ˈliːdˌtaɪm/

  1. The time between the initiation and completion of a production process.

A common question our estimators field from prospective customers is, “What is your lead time?” Before we answer this question, let’s first address the term “lead time.” The dictionary defines a lead time as the time interval between the beginning of a process and the appearance of its results. Unfortunately, when it comes to custom bolts, there is no single answer to this question.

Many different variables determine how long it will take us to produce your bolt order. These factors include quantity, size, grade, bolt type, finish, etc. In a perfect world, all the orders at Portland Bolt would be produced on what we consider to be our “standard lead time” for a particular list of items. But even though we feel like our standard lead times are as fast as most other companies’ “rushes”, we know as well as you that nobody in the construction industry can live with “standard lead times.” Therefore, we don’t manufacture fasteners based on our schedule; we make them according to yours. Our skilled estimators are trained to always ask how quickly you require delivery and work with our production team to accommodate your delivery requirements.

Customers who work with us regularly have grown to appreciate this responsiveness with regard to deliveries. If you haven’t worked with us before, give us a try. We think you’ll find our approach to manufacturing based on your schedule refreshing.

How Lead Times Are Determined

If your project does not require a specific delivery, we will quote what we consider to be a “standard lead time” for your fastener requirements. However, one type of bolt may have a different “standard lead time” than another type of bolt. Before we get into the specifics of lead times, it’s important that we provide a little background information on equipment setup and scheduling.

Equipment Setup

Most of the equipment used to manufacture bolts is what we call diameter-dependent. Let’s use the manufacturing operation of threading to illustrate this concept. Our Landis cut threading equipment uses chasers to remove steel from the round bar to form the threads. Since each bolt diameter requires a different thread pitch (number of threads per inch), we must change the threading chasers (cutting blades) when we move from one diameter to another. We also must adjust the equipment for differences in thread lengths and adjust the speed at which the threading head rotates depending on the grade of bolts being manufactured. Our shearsroll threaders, cut threaders, chamfering equipment, and upsetters (used to hot forge heads) are all diameter-dependent. Additionally, each style of forged head (hexheavy hex, etc.) requires a different set-up. Bent anchor boltsu-boltseye bolts, and other bent bolts will all require a different bending setup.

When we are setting up the equipment to run different products or diameters of steel, nothing is being produced. Therefore, we attempt to minimize this down time by combining like-diameters and similar bolt types as much as possible. By running several orders of like-product on the same setup, it reduces the cost of the product and makes the most efficient use of equipment and manpower.

Example: (45 pieces) 1-1/4” x 17” Galvanized F1554 Grade 36 Hex Bolt

Let’s demonstrate this concept using an order for 45 pieces of a 1-1/4” x 17” galvanized F1554 grade 36 hex head anchor bolt. To see a similar bolt being manufactured, watch this video. In this example, four separate pieces of equipment will need to be setup to run this order: Peddinghaus Shear (to cut the round bar), National Upsetter (to forge the hex heads), Stud Master (to chamfer the end of the bolt), and Landis Cut Threader (to form the threads). It takes approximately 90 minutes to set up these four pieces of equipment before any manufacturing even begins. Here is a breakdown:

Setup Times

  • Shear (20 minutes) – The shear operator is responsible for identifying the proper grade and diameter of round bar required for the order, using the side loader (specialized forklift) to unload a 4000 pound bundle of steel from the storage racks, load the steel onto the shears, unband the bundles, remove four 20’ bars of steel, reband the bundle, and place the remainder of the bundle of steel back on the storage racks.
  • Upsetter (30 minutes) – The heading operator is responsible for inserting the appropriate plunger which compresses the heated round bar into the appropriate size and shape of head and inserting the gripper blocks which shape the underside of the head and hold the round bar while the plunger shapes the top of the hex head.
  • Threader (30 minutes) – Cut threading setup includes changing out the chasers to the appropriate thread pitch for the diameter of bolt being manufactured. The operator must also set the speed in which the cutting head rotates and adjust the equipment for the desired thread length.
  • Chamfer (10 minutes) – The collar is changed to accommodate the diameter of the bolt being chamfered and a stop is adjusted depending on the depth of the chamfer.
  • Total Setup Time: 90 minutes

Once the equipment has been setup to run the order, production can begin. In the case of this example, it takes 90 minutes to set the equipment up to run the order. Production times are as follows:

Production Times

  • Shear: 10 minutes to cut the round bar
  • Upsetting: 25 minutes  to forge the hex heads
  • Chamfering: 12 minutes to bevel the threaded end
  • Threading: 43 minutes to apply UNC threads

In the example above, the time it takes us to set up the equipment and the time it takes to actually run the product is identical. 90 minutes to both set up the equipment and 90 minutes to run the product results in a total of 3 hours to manufacture the anchor bolts.

  • Total Setup Time: 90 minutes
  • Total Run Time: 90 minutes
  • Total Labor Time: 3 hours

From a manufacturing perspective, it is extremely inefficient to produce product in an environment where we are setting up the equipment for each individual order. Although we have multiple shears, upsetters, threaders, and StudMasters in addition to running two shifts and employing highly skilled, cross trained employees that can operate different pieces of equipment, it still makes sense to set up and tear down equipment as infrequently as possible.

Combining Orders

When one setup is being removed from a piece of equipment and a different setup is being implemented, no product is being manufactured. The time is takes to set the equipment up needs to be charged to the job that incurs that setup. Therefore, in the example above, a customer is paying just as much money to set up the equipment as they are to actually produce the product. With hundreds of items being manufactured at any given time, the only way to put product through our 85,000 square foot manufacturing facility cost effectively is to combine setups.

If we operated a “first in, first out” manufacturing system, most orders would only take a day or two to ship since the above example only took 3 total hours to produce. However, we would only be able to service a handful of customers simultaneously. Therefore, instead of operating on a “first in, first out” system, we try to combine like-diameters and similar products, running them through on the same setup before switching over to something else. In the previous example, the customer is paying for 90 minutes worth of setup time. If we are able to group a half dozen similar orders and send them all through the manufacturing facility at one time, it would reduce the cost attributed for setting up the equipment to only 15 minutes per order. By combining orders and sharing setups, we are able to produce more product and reduce prices.

Scheduling

Now that we have a little background information on the labor involved in manufacturing bolts and we understand the concept of equipment setups, we can discuss scheduling. On July 30, 2013, Portland Bolt’s orders are as follows:

  • Active Number of Open Orders on July 30, 2013: 306
  • Number of Manufactured Line Items: 537
  • Total Quantity of Nonstandard Bolts from 537 Line Items: 100,046
  • Smallest Quantity: 1 piece
  • Largest Quantity: 7,910 pieces

With over 100,000 total nonstandard bolts currently being manufactured on 537 separate and distinct line items currently active in our manufacturing facility, most of which ship on a standard lead time averaging about 2 weeks, our Operations Manager, Al Fogel, and our Production Manager, Steve Hastings, do a great job of scheduling orders so that we achieve our goal to always under promise and over deliver.

Portland Bolt uses a computerized tracking system in which production workers bar code scan or log in and out of every manufacturing process, and we use this data to ensure orders stay on schedule and ship on their promise dates. We have built a reputation of shipping product correctly and on time, even with such a large volume of work and such short “standard” lead times.

Since we manufacture so many different types, grades, and finishes of custom manufactured bolts, there are too many different permutations and combinations of bolt varieties to lay out exact lead times for everything we make in the context of this FAQ. In a nutshell, we figure 1 – 3 days per labor operation, adding a few days for galvanizing and about a week for heat treating and testing for those items undergoing those operations.

Expedited Orders

As mentioned previously, our lead times are based on our customers’ requirements. When our “standard” lead times will not work for your project, simply let us know when you need your custom bolts on the jobsite. Our estimators are trained to work with our production team and our ground and air freight carriers to get your bolts in your hands when you need them.

When we commit to shipping product faster than what we consider to be “standard” for that type, grade, and quantity of product, we then must take special measures to ensure your product will ship on an expedited delivery. Since we now will have to break into our production schedule to run your order, we no longer have the luxury of assuming we can combine your order with like product. We also must assume that in order to ship your product on an expedited delivery, we will have to work overtime both breaking into our schedule and setting up the equipment in addition to manufacturing your bolts using overtime labor. This is the only way that we can ensure your bolts will get made on time, and we will also be able to meet the previous commitments we have made to other customers whose orders are already in our system.

Expediting Charges

We believe in treating customers fairly when custom bolts are needed immediately, however, we expect to be compensated for putting rush orders in front of orders we already have in the system. Expediting charges are not some arbitrary $500 here or $1,000 there. We don’t use the philosophy that this contractor is in a bind and we can charge them whatever we want and they will undoubtedly pay it. We don’t develop long-term, repeat customers with that mindset. Our expediting fees are based on actual labor costs. We simply charge time-and-a-half for all setup and labor operations, since we pay our employees time-and-a-half when they work overtime to complete your expedited order.

So the next time you find yourself in a bind and need custom manufactured bolts, whether you have plenty of time or no time at all, contact one of our estimators. We will work with you to accommodate your delivery requirements and always treat you fairly with regard to expediting fees.

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