Spending every day in machine shops, I get a very close look at what shops have in common and what they don’t. The single greatest deficit is people. While our US economy still marches along with a high unemployment rate, the demand for skilled metalworkers is disproportionately larger than the supply. Without knowledgable metalworkers, parts don’t get programmed and machines don’t get set-up and run. All of this contributes to loss. Lost productivity, lost opportunity and lost wealth for owners and employees. The metalworker’s task is what a machine shop’s customer pays for more than anything else, and that metalworker is becoming increasingly difficult to find.
The unfortunate reality is that the market is not going to supply these metalworkers anytime soon. Technical schools lack the perceived product that a Bachelor-level school provides, so potential workers are attracted to the wrong school. Seeking a “higher paying job” these students choose a 4-year degree with student loans and all thrown in. (They have yet to find out that 51% of graduates can’t find a job; I bet 100% of machinists can).
If you wait for the machinists to appear, you’ll be waiting a long time. That poses the following question: how do you increase productivity per person? How can you produce more parts at the end of the day/week/month without having to increase your engineering staff? While machinists may be in short supply, productivity enhancing solutions are not. Here’s 5 tips for increasing your productivity without being forced to wait for the industry to supply more skilled metalworkers:
1. Turn your spindle 90 degrees – If your business is focused on machining parts on vertical machining centers, look to horizontal machining. While all shops need the capability, VMC’s are among the least productive. Studies have shown that the average spindle utilization for a VMC is 35% in North America. That’s 2.8 hours in an 8 hour shift. On the otherhand, HMC’s have an average utilization of 65%. That’s nearly double the productivity.
2. Invest in quick change tooling – If your spindle isn’t turning, you’re not making parts, and you’re not making money. There are plenty of tooling suppliers that can speed up your set-up process. Conventional workholding techniques for both turning and milling could be costing you a fortune. Ask your local tooling rep what quick change solutions are available. Then invest in them.
3. Automate – there’s no more cut and dry solution for adding productivity without personnel than process automation. Robotic loading and unloading isn’t just for ultra-high production. Contact your local machine tool dealer and request an assessment.
4. Run lights out – I’m amazed at the number of shops that don’t do this. If you have proven-out your process, there’s no reason to turn the spindles off over-night. Set them to run. Come in during the morning to see parts for sale. Eliminate costly warm-up cycles in the morning. Afraid the building will burn down? Add fire suppression. Install cameras. Do whatever you have to. Take advantage of this time!
5. Get an FMS – there is no machining solution on the planet more productive than flexible manufacturing systems! Pallet pools and rail-guided vehicles attached to a series of horizontal machining centers will provide spindle utilization in excess of 95%. Are they a costly investment? Absolutely. Are your competitors using them? Only the most successful ones.
-Written by Austin Gooch
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