Make more money with your metalworking machine
The concept of productivity must be a key issue for every metalworking shop. Therefore, finding ways to make machines and processes more efficient and profitable should be the goal of all employees, whether they are management or not.
However, it is important for companies to maintain realistic expectations as different methods of increasing production are considered. Trying to squeeze a little extra tonnage out of a plate rolling machine or too much time out of a band saw can cause serious problems. Shopkeepers and foremen need to remember that true productivity never compromises the safety of people, machines, or other assets. With that in mind, here are some ideas to help you increase machine productivity on your shop floor.
Store-wide focus on productivity
Trying to increase the productivity of just one rolling machine to the exclusion of others is like changing one tire on a car when all four are bald. Regardless of the performance of the new tires, the overall functionality of the vehicle will still be affected. Your store can be considered an organism, just like the human body, all organs need to work together in harmony to be considered healthy.
While there are many suggestions that may help increase the productivity of a single machine, it’s a good idea to start by examining how all aspects of a metalworking shop can become more efficient together. Some store-wide productivity solutions you should check out include:
Check the workflow
The term workflow refers to a series of activities required to complete a specific task. Analyze the individual operations involved in every job on your shop floor, as well as every machine and tool (and people) involved. What is slowing down the workflow? What can speed up or improve it? Are there steps that can be removed to help simplify it? Are there additional activities that can make the workflow run more smoothly? How does each workflow interact with all other workflows?
Invert a glass of water to drain it instantly. Inverted bottles take longer to empty because the volume of liquid has to wait to clear the narrower neck. The term bottleneck in the industry reflects the same idea – that all processes are slowed down by a single factor. A key reason to examine your workflow is to identify bottlenecks so you can deal with them. A machine can be very efficient, but loading or unloading procedures can cause downtime between batches. Finding ways to reduce or eliminate bottlenecks is a major component of shop floor productivity. It is also important to ensure that removing the bottleneck of one machine or process does not transfer the bottleneck to the next operation or another process that may share some of the same machines, tools or people.
New methods and technologies are constantly being developed, both in business and in production, so be sure to refine, modernize, update and evaluate all processes relevant to your operations. Involve employees at all levels throughout the process to share knowledge in both directions, feedback, and training.
Redesign your store layout
The way people and parts move throughout the shop floor continuously affects productivity. Make sure off-the-beaten path paths are straight and unobstructed. Place the machine near any other machines that may be used for auxiliary operations. Put shared resources, such as tools, in a centralized location among the machines that use them. Walking time between all employees is saved by just five minutes per hour, saving hundreds of hours over the course of a year.
Keep the supply chain open
Look for potential supply problems and take steps to prevent or mitigate them. The entire store can operate at perfect peak times, but there could still be major productivity issues if supply dwindles or runs out. Whether it’s a shortage of blanking materials to produce parts or a shortage of toilet paper, any shortage of resources can slow or cripple your operations. Discuss upgrade ordering or delivery procedures with the supplier. Sign a contract with your supplier “Most Favored Customer Clause” (MFC) to guarantee that you always get the best price the supplier can offer to any customer.
The easiest place to increase productivity with any machine is to reduce downtime. While your store may not necessarily be open 24 hours a day, the more uptime each machine has during business hours, the more profitable your business will be. Every chunk of time any machine sits idle is a potential lost profit.
Evaluate every machine in your workshop to see where downtime can be reduced. Some factors to consider include:
- Can more parts or other work be done during each setup?
- How long does it take to change jobs?
- What is the reason for the average day of operational disruption?
- Can additional shifts be added?
- Can staggered breaks be used to reduce machine downtime?
- Can employee meetings be minimized to reduce downtime?
- Can employees be cross-trained to keep machines running?
- How does material handling affect machine productivity?
- Which secondary operations affect the productivity of the machine?
- How much does regular maintenance cost per machine?
- How often is each machine serviced?
- Which costs more, machine idle time or operator overtime?
Some shops act like taking time out for regular maintenance is unacceptable downtime. vice versa. Skipping maintenance is a solid guarantee that problems will arise later, whether they are minor or serious. Maintenance can take place during peak production periods, but unexpected failures can have a devastating impact on a shop’s bottom line.
Some considerations for machine maintenance in your workshop should include:
- Post all recommended maintenance schedules on each machine – don’t trust all operators to refer to the manual.
- Even if big work is imminent, avoid delaying planned maintenance.
- Teach all shoppers (operators and others) to look for signs of potential problems with the machine, such as strange noises, smells, or spills.
- Invest in a maintenance contract for each major machine. It’s worth spending the extra money to warrant having a factory-trained professional inspect your machine with a fine-toothed comb every six or twelve months, not only to professionally perform regular maintenance beyond the operator’s skill level, but also to have an inspection that is critical to your operation. Issues that employees may easily overlook.
- Teach troubleshooting techniques to all operators and shop floor employees who interact with a specific machine.
- Consider adding automatic lubrication equipment to your machine.
- Examine all failures carefully to identify any possible contributing factors.
- Make sure any upgrades (especially custom upgrades) don’t compromise the machine or its warranty.
- Create a plan to keep employees productive in other areas in the event that failure cannot be avoided.
Tools, Accessories, Upgrades
What are some ways to improve your metalworking machine? Even the most efficient equipment may be upgraded for better performance. What about tools? Can it be improved in some way to increase productivity? What accessories can be added to simplify or aid the process? A few small improvements to specific machines in your budget can significantly improve your ROI.
Some possible areas of enhancement include:
- Controller update
- hardened tool
- Loading and unloading
- material handling
- Software update
- tool change
When you stock your store with the best metalworking equipment, don’t lose sight of that same concern when buying a more important asset – your employees. Proper human resource management—hiring, training, and maintaining those who run your machines and operations—is the biggest factor in owning a profitable business.
Some people-related productivity factors include:
- Make sure all operators are fully trained on every machine they use.
- All operators, including filling out operators, are required to read the machine manual (and test their comprehension) on a regular basis.
- Outline all goals clearly and make sure they are realistic and understood by all.
- Provide training to all key shop workers on the latest techniques in metalworking and production.
- Document employee machine training and schedule regular reviews to help them keep their skills sharp.
- Allow interested employees to cross-train equipment so they can fill in or eventually move forward in the organization.
- Train employees to collaborate and reward collaboration examples that increase efficiency.
- Expect your employees to excel, but always make sure they know their efforts are appreciated and valued by owners and managers.
- Don’t skimp on benefits. Satisfied employees are less inattentive and more likely to be productive.
- In addition to machine training, be sure to provide training on all employee policies.
The term synergy refers to the principle that people or things work together to accomplish more than they do individually. A thread may break easily, but several threads woven into a rope may be difficult to break in half.
Every increase in productivity in an area of your shop floor benefits the company, but if every machine, process, and person in your business becomes more efficient, the resulting increase in efficiency in your organization can be exponential of.
When all owners, managers, and employees work together to find ways to increase productivity, the profitability of your workshop and machines will continue to increase in the months and years to come.