An Operational Shift is Paramount

By David Capkovitz, EBITDA Growth Systems

In my 26 years of working for and owning machine shops I have worked to be a student of what works and what does not.  I remember my first job in a machine shop.  I was so thankful to have a job where I could learn something, and for this specific employer taking a chance on me, that I didn’t care necessarily how they treated me.  I just cared about the education and the pay, and that was enough.  I was thrown into plasma spray welding and then running a lathe in a large part re-building process.  I was not onboarded, I did not shadow, it was sink or swim with a 15 min tutorial and one-check in on my first day (if you made it your first day, they kept you).  We did not have a documented process, a quality lab, air conditioning, supplied uniforms, or anything CNC.  I had to use my head to not get hurt (this was not a clean organized 5S shop), I had to take notes to make sure I was processing things correctly so I didn’t have to re-work my parts (re-work meant I could lose my job), and I had to buy my own measuring tools to assure my work product did not get returned.  The job was mine as well as the ownness of making sure my employer was successful so I kept a job.  Everything we did was manual; nothing was automated or easy to change over.  We didn’t care about factory flow, LEAN, SMED, or pick a current acronym, we cared about getting the job done and working as hard as possible to make sure our employer was successful (profitable) so I could climb the ladder.

Sounds just like today’s environment, doesn’t it?  NOT!!

Simply put, we cannot do things the same way we have always done and compete in todays advanced marketplace.  The name of the game is profit, so how do we compete in today’s market and make a strong profit?  Everything starts with our culture, then leads to good customer relationships and expectations.  The next and final leg to this 3-leg stool is the way we make product.

We must embrace 5S.

My grandfather was full of great advice, and my grandfather said, you need a place for everything and have everything in its place.  This was paramount for him in his job as a high-level chemist.  My grandfather was an inventor of unique scents and had 100’s of essences in his shop.  He was credited with almost all of Speed Sticks essences as well as perfumes like Gucci 1.  To do this level of work he had to be able to go where he kept items and have them exactly where he left them in the correct order as this was his livelihood.  This seems like a far reach, but it’s the same in our shops is it not?  In my first green belt project for setup reduction, we started with an average time of 42 hours for a new setup.  The majority of this time was looking for items like paperwork, tooling, gages, tool holders, wrenches, measuring tools, and even the latest program.  This was such a time suck on the setup that we spent extensive time building a very organized tool crib and hired a team member to manage the room.  This reduced out setup times by over 20 hours alone on average.  This may sound like an unachievable task but imagine going to one place and getting your job folder with everything accurately in it along with a cart that has your material, tooling, gages, toolholders already pre-set for you, and an organized (and controlled) place for all of your programs to reside.  Moral of the story, my grandfather was right, and it applies to all of manufacturing.

We need to stop shooting down new ideas.

We worked with a shop that has a young man that thought of how to eliminate operations on a milled product.  He designed a dovetail fixture, mounted it on a Hirschmann zero-point chuck, and found a way to machine all 6 sides of his project.  In the end, all he had to do was break it off and polish the back side.  He met significant resistance with this mentality.  The team questioned the rigidity of the setup, the extra time it would take by cutting down the depth of cut on some operations, the small tools he would need to use to get the back side so he could break off the part, and most of all the cost of the zero-point fixture.  His answer was simple.  He could afford for the cycle time to be about 25% longer.  While in setup, he removed the fixture from the Hirschmann chuck so he could inspect the part before completion and prove out his setup by using less parts (sometimes even only 1 piece). When in production he could do his inspections via his fixture on the CMM and make in process offsets that were 100% accurate.  And not to be overlooked, he was able to run 4 machines with this process. The profitability of these parts skyrocketed, and they were able to break into a series of significant medical device jobs where they were competitive with very low scrap.  These fixtures were quickly used on mills, lathes (chuckers), EDM’s and all inspection equipment.  This company grew 300% with the same number of people and it was amazing to see. The moral of this story is to listen to all the ideas out there and pick some new ones to try, employees sometimes are smarter than we give them credit for.

The last thing we need to discuss is flow.

From receiving the order, processing through programming or engineering, prototyping a part, generating all the documentation necessary to make a part traceable, and then finally manufacturing the part there is quite a bit that goes into an order that comes in.  With all of these we have hurdles to clear.  We need to make sure the order is received in a timely manner. We need to make sure the order is entered into our ERP system accurately and swiftly.  We need to make sure our engineers or programmers don’t over engineer our process.  We need to make sure that the prototype is done swiftly, but with a solid process that we can scale.  We need to make sure that our inspection plan is not overzealous and is as practical and effective as possible (Don’t use a CMM when a quick pin or comparator check could be quicker and meets the customers standards). Lastly and most importantly we need to make good parts on time.  For this to work, all of our people need to be able to work together, all pulling one rope, so we can be successful and continue to ramp business.  Pay attention to your teammate and make sure things not only flow on the floor, but between departments. 

At EBITDA Growth Systems we have a mission to impact lives by improving business performance.  If you embrace 5S, foster a culture where your people share new ideas, and work together for he best possible flow, your life and the lives of your people will most certainly be impacted for good.  With a good culture, a healthy relationship with your customer, and an advanced way of thinking around working together in your operation, you will win. 

Everyone likes to win, so put your mind on your business, make a few shifts, and enjoy the success that follows, I know your team will.