A Little Goes a Long Way
The old saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned,” doesn’t quite carry the same weight today as it did three centuries ago, but the concept is still true. Saving money—even a single cent—or some other commodity means that you have it for later use. Likewise, if you can save a few brief moments of production each day in your metal fabrication shop, it will add up to several hours’ worth over a short period.
If you want to stay competitive in your market, it is crucial to be as efficient in your business as possible, and in the case of a fab shop, that applies most directly to the effectiveness of your metalworking production. Continually finding ways of improving operations so that they move more quickly and less encumbered will readily show results in your bottom line.
Strategies to Speed Up Production
There are a variety of different practices that can speed up fabrication in your shop. Here are some key options:
Be Organized. “A place for everything and everything in its place.” This is another age-old adage that has been passed down from older to younger generations since at least the late 1700s. Becoming—and staying—organized can prevent a sizeable amount of wasted time (and profit). Machines should be arranged in an orderly fashion on the shop floor with plenty of space to navigate around them. Major traffic paths should be kept clear of obstructions. Tooling for machines, hand tools, and fabrication blanks should be arranged intelligently and be easily accessible. Waste and trash should be cleaned up daily (if not immediately upon discovery). Items not relevant to the jobs at hand should be removed from production areas if possible. Machine manuals should be kept with the machines for quick reference and copies should be kept in the office or offsite in case the original is ever lost. Job boards and other visual communication systems could be employed in highly visible areas to help employees know the status of jobs and other relevant information. A clean and orderly shop floor can also improve the safety and morale of employees.
Streamline Your Workflow. The most important consideration in organizing machines on your shop floor involves arranging them in a way that increases production efficiency. That is a critical step in improving workflow in your shop. (The term “workflow” refers to the successive steps, activities, or processes that a particular piece of “work” or task needs to pass or “flow” through from start to completion.) It’s essential to examine the workflow of all activities in your shop—and office—to look for bottlenecks that can be smoothed out. Becoming ISO-certified is one way to increase effectiveness and improve quality. It may also be beneficial to study processes such as value stream mapping, manufacturing auditing, and lean manufacturing principles and apply one or more of those in your business to further evaluate and enhance your workflow.
Improve Your Equipment. The quality of your fabrication machinery dictates the quality of your work. Keeping your very first press brake around the shop may be nostalgic but trading it in on a newer model may be more prudent. Replace or upgrade equipment that no longer can perform up to specs. Moving up from a lower control system on a machine to NC or CNC can make a world of difference in your production. Keep up with new technologies in the industry and implement them as you can afford them.
Maintain Your Equipment. Machine downtime not only delays delivery of jobs that depend on that specific piece of equipment, but it can also affect other processes around the shop as personnel and resources are redirected during the incident. Operators should be trained in troubleshooting issues so that the sources of problems can be quickly identified and dealt with. If scheduled maintenance is not currently being followed to the letter in your shop for every single machine, start now. You may also want to invest in a preventative maintenance contract with a service company for your key pieces of equipment. Having an outside tech come in on a scheduled basis every six to twelve months to provide a complete “annual physical” to each of your major moneymakers may avert serious downtime when you can least afford it.
Invest in Your People. Fabrication operations are only as good as the people who perform them. No matter the quality of your equipment, their operators need to be up to the task of running them the right way. Invest in training for your team in a variety of areas, such as machine operation, general fabrication knowledge, time management, team building, etc. Encourage fabricators and operators to get certified. Paying to help staff members attend a vocational school can bring benefits back to your company. Expect great things from your team, but also be sure to let them know that you consider them valued parts of the operation by seeing to their needs: improve benefits in small ways; keep the common areas clean and inviting; maintain soap and paper products in the rest rooms; if possible, try to keep the shop at a consistent temperature year-round; encourage collaboration on jobs and other projects; invite feedback from all levels on issues facing the company.
Emphasize Safety. It takes time out of a busy day for management and staff to focus on being safe but dealing with accidents takes much longer. The truly productive shop is a safe shop. A safety-first mindset should be instilled in each employee. Management should ensure that appropriate safety gear like eye protection, gloves, or hardhats is always worn when needed in the shop by employees and visitors. Extra personal protective equipment—commonly referred to as “PPE”—should be kept on hand so that there is no chance of an employee or guest being without an essential item. Hazardous obstacles should be removed from the shop floor and gasses and dust used in or created by fabrication processes should be properly vented.
Ask a Professional
Successful metal fab shops utilize multiple strategies including the ones listed above to keep their businesses growing in efficiency and profitability. As you seek to improve your company by implementing some of them, you may also want to consider bringing in outside consultants to look over specific aspects of your organization.
There are companies that specialize in teaching principles of effectiveness in life and business, charting and improving workflows, increasing employee morale, and many more fields. Other companies may also be able to give you a free consultation in a particular area as part of another service. For example, Revolution Machine Tools provides a site assessment consultation prior to selling a customer any significant piece of metal fabrication equipment.
According to RMT President Kyle Jorgenson, “Before we even discuss purchasing equipment, we make an assessment of your production area to determine whether the equipment will work well in your manufacturing environment. We look at where the equipment will be placed on the production floor, how it will be brought into the facility, and even ways to make the disposal of scrap and waste easier to remove. We will also recommend the proper installation of our equipment, or we can even come install it for you. More importantly, we can verify adequate electrical, pneumatic, or hydraulic requirements and we look at the surrounding equipment to assess if there are any electro-magnetic or vibration interference issues.”
By soliciting outside advice where available and applying as many strategies for improvement as you can, you are guaranteed to see production in your fab shop speed up over the coming weeks and months. Continually seeking—and employing—a variety of different means of becoming more efficient in your operation will pay bigger and bigger dividends as time goes on, further increasing your profitability and bolstering your status in your local market.