"Granted, we were unable to experience every nuance of the plant, but we could see what was running and what wasn't."

— Maxime Coutat


When the need arises for a manufacturer to identify bottlenecks and optimize processes with a Manufacturing Efficiency Evaluation (MEE), it tends to require a substantial undertaking even under normal industry conditions. These projects become even more challenging, however, when they take place during a time of crisis or uncertainty – such as a global pandemic. No other manufacturer can better attest to this fact than cutting tool maker OSK Precision Tools Co.

OSK’s manufacturing is split into two production seasons driven by its customers’ new product development cycles. At the start of the cycle, OSK designs and produces prototype tools that are then tested and evaluated by customers. Once tool prototype designs are approved, they move into mass production in the second half of the cycle.

“For prototype production, we must strive for the fastest delivery possible,” explained Edward Su, head of OSK Precision Tools Co. “Once mass production starts, our continued success hinges on keeping production costs under control.”

The turnaround time for these products is roughly two to three months for prototyping followed by one to two months of small-batch testing, after which mass production can begin within a few weeks. In OSK’s mass production mode, batch sizes are between 5,000 and 10,000 pieces – customers will have thousands of machines running production for new products, which requires productive and fully optimized tooling for the highest level of efficiency.


To keep pace with its customers’ demands and strengthen its profitability, OSK needed to control production costs, further shorten delivery time and reduce its overall scrap rate while seamlessly transitioning from small-batch prototype work to efficient high-volume production. For OSK, solving these issues internally was a challenge, and the company realized it needed an “extra sets of eyes,” according to Su, to help it diagnose exactly where improvements/changes could be made. This is when OSK contacted Seco Manufacturing Transformation for an MEE, a decision that set OSK on a solid path to achieving its production goals.

With offices in over 30 countries, 17 global production sites and 80 years of metal-cutting expertise, Seco Manufacturing Transformation brings together a unique blend of experience and capabilities to partner with small to medium-sized manufacturers like OSK in designing solutions that address a broad range of challenges. Manufacturing Transformation combines the company’s machining know-how with digital solutions and custom products to help businesses operate to their full potential. The Manufacturing Transformation team also advises shop owners and helps them develop plans for optimizing machine capacity and balancing production loads.

An onsite tour and evaluation by Manufacturing Transformation team members forms the core of the MEE process. The MEE examines a manufacturer’s entire production system to help them better understand their overall operations and find opportunities for improvements in machining optimization, workforce development and production management. An in-depth analysis by the team includes planning and scheduling processes, production workflows, machine productivity, management practices, tool use, human resources and more. The findings highlight a company's strengths, identifies areas for improvement and establishes the financial savings made possible through optimized productivity.


Unfortunately, in the face of an ongoing global pandemic and OSK’s China-based operations, the safety of the Manufacturing Transformation team members and OSK employees prevented any kind of in-person, onsite plant tour for the MEE. To overcome this hurdle, both teams decided to undertake the first ever remote MEE process evaluation and virtual plant tour. Such an undertaking not only broke new ground in terms of the MEE process it also required extreme levels of partnership and trust between the two companies.

While both companies were in complete agreement on the value of a virtual MEE, three challenges remained. First, both sides needed to find a way to overcome the language barrier between the European Manufacturing Transformation team and the Chinese OSK team. Second, Seco and OSK needed to find a way to handle the large time difference between the two teams. Finally, effective collaboration between the team and OSK required a robust and reliable communications infrastructure for the first remote MEE ever.  

To overcome the language barrier, the team relied on two individuals from Seco China who physically went to OSK and acted as the team’s onsite eyes, ears and translators at the same time they assisted with the remote aspect. To deal with the different time zones, Seco’s team in Europe started at 7:00 a.m. and worked with the OSK team until about 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon, which was 7:00 p.m. in China. “In a way, the time difference helped streamline the process,” said Maxime Coutat, global managing consultant at Seco Tools. “It allowed us to analyze received data and input in the afternoon, then conduct follow-up questions the following morning.”  

Through the tour, the Manufacturing Transformation team gained a sense of how the OSK facility and process were managed. “Granted, we were unable to experience every nuance of the plant, but we could see what was running and what wasn’t,” said Coutat. “And we were able to easily observe and analyze job changeovers and setup operations. One member of the team had a smartphone streaming live video via Microsoft Teams, while his colleague asked questions when needed.”

The remote aspect of the MEE is where both Seco and OSK teams got creative, employing the use of live video streaming, online video calls and a virtual factory tour. Through Microsoft Teams, the two companies collaborated from across the globe and shared videos, presentations and documents vital to the success of the project. These workarounds were used to transfer all that the Chinese Seco team saw and heard in real time during their MEE plant tour. This also gave the Manufacturing Transformation team in Europe live interactive capabilities, allowing them to direct their colleagues and interact with OSK employees.

To conduct the evaluation remotely, the Manufacturing Transformation team created an extensive list of questions to ask prior to and while the video team was at the OSK facility. “We asked for part drawings and other process data to be well-prepared,” said Coutat. “We also conducted several pre-meetings to discuss the types of data we would need to evaluate operations. Plus, there was a lot of pre-planning for the factory tour so we could focus on what we would specifically need to see. After all, if a factory doesn’t ‘look’ good, the chances are high that it is not functioning as efficiently as it could. If it looks good and well organized, there is a higher probability that it is properly managed.”


In addition to the visual inspection of the facility, Manufacturing Transformation focused on one of the key factors of manufacturing system optimization: work in progress (WIP). The team asked where the WIP was located, how much WIP existed and how job orders would progress from operation to operation. The answers to these questions, according to Coutat, always offer significant insights. “WIP tells us a lot about work scheduling and job flow through a factory,” he said. “WIP has a huge impact on lead times, which in turn, impacts on-time delivery.”


Coutat does not expect that the Manufacturing Transformation team will begin conducting all business remotely – he remains a true believer in the power of walking through a factory and seeing how it works for himself. As he says, “The team’s preference will always be to have as much physical contact and interaction with customers and their facilities as possible for MEE projects. We’re proud of the work we did with OSK – but we believe the best results will come from being on site and directly involved with investigating every part of a manufacturing system so we can find the best targets for optimization and ensure our clients’ future success.”

Many of the individuals involved in the OSK MEE honestly did not think the remote aspect would be as effective as it was, according to Coutat. “But it was productive in terms of getting everyone out of their usual comfort zones and trying a new methodology,” he said. “From this project, we’ve learned that when you prepare enough and have the right strategy in place, the project will be a success and effective. But most importantly, the project proved that we can do a lot online in terms of MEEs for customers. The key success factor was the engagement, transparency and willingness on OSK’s part.”

Overall, the success is apparent in the outcomes for OSK. Increased production capacity and a reduction in grinding time and scrap rate were achieved with this new remote process which is yet another tool for the Manufacturing Transformation team to use. The ability to complete MEE projects in ways that work best for the customer, the team and the situation make the team more flexible than ever. 


In addition to its production recommendations, Manufacturing Transformation offered managerial advice to the OSK executive team. In a manner of speaking, OSK needed to reconnect its factory floor with management, and they accomplished this through the incorporation of key performance indicators (KPIs) that could provide operators and engineers with real-time feedback on their performance.” These two changes alone have resulted in more than a 50% increase in production capacity for OSK.

To reduce OSK’s scrap rate and shorten its cycle times, Manufacturing Transformation recommended that the company focus on standardization, particularly its tool grinding wheels and job setup operations. “By standardizing grinding wheels for specific tool types, we have already significantly reduced our overall setup times,” said Su. “And when we begin our mass-production period, this standardization will also shorten production time and improve quality. As of now, we have reduced grinding time by 20%, and our scrap rate has dropped by 30%.”


Why MEE? Edward Su explains

In Coutat’s experience, simply following the process will lead the Manufacturing Transformation team to spot some minor issue or inefficiency, and by digging deeper into the cause, they are able to discover the problem. “It takes extreme attention to detail,” said Coutat. “We look at factors such as whether or not the measuring equipment is labeled, if there are due dates by the work, who is supposed to be managing it, who is responsible for setting up jobs or organizing them, and more. We not only have to have a complete understanding of processes and machines and tooling, but also a plant’s personnel.”

However, while the level of WIP at OSK was not extremely high, the Manufacturing Transformation team quickly realized that they were conducting their evaluation during OSK’s “prototyping” season. And while WIP was low, the order shelves were full – and many of those workpieces had “urgent” tags on them.

Even though the MEE took place in OSK’s low-volume prototype season, the Seco team determined that the shop could still make significant improvements in terms of shortening delivery time, reducing scrap and lowering costs. And under normal circumstances, the Manufacturing Transformation Services team would have returned to the shop during the high-volume season to gather even more data.

Luckily, despite the fact that the MEE was conducted during OSK’s prototype season, OSK had as many prototype orders as it usually had for its high-volume job orders. This allowed Manufacturing Transformation to focus on the number of orders as opposed to job lot sizes. Additionally, even though the prototype orders involve small batches, they can still create production problems.

As Coutat explained, ‘OSK had a single area and set of equipment for both its prototypes and mass-produced parts. Because of this, neither side of the business could be fully optimized, so we suggested separating these into specialized production areas.’ Since the MEE results presentation, OSK has already physically separated its two types of production, with each section given its own dedicated equipment.

Seco Tools AB

Björnbacksvägen 10 SE-73782

Fagersta Sweden



Telephone: +46 223 40000

Troy, MI


Braine l'alleud






Maxime Coutat - "How did the project get started?"

Edward Su - "Onsite vs. remote decision"

Maxime Coutat - "Three main challenges"

Edward Su - "Noted improvements"

Edward Su - "Was MEE successful?"