A Guide to Identifying and Solving Shop Inefficiencies
To be the most profitable and competitive in the marketplace, your machine shop’s process has to be as efficient as possible. Owners and operators of efficient machine shops maximize resources and minimize, or eliminate, waste in processes. Those wastes don’t just include raw materials; spending excess time, labor, or money on your machining process means you’re not running at your highest potential productivity. Discover our step-by-step guide to identifying your shop’s inefficiencies and how to address them to improve productivity.
Step 1: Instill Company Values Around Investing in Improvements
No matter the years of experience held by your operators, investing in continual education and training not only yields results in your manufacturing, but it can also keep your operators engaged in a culture of constant improvement.
Regardless of the size of your shop - large or small, the first step in building an environment dedicated to improvements is to establish an open line of communication among your workforce. By harvesting ideas and conceptions as a team, your shop will come to realize that by collaborating on processes, bottlenecks, or even something as simple as tool arrangements, problems can be quickly solved, and operational challenges can be overcome.
Remember that all team members are important to your organization and play a valuable role in solving shop floor inefficiencies. For example, who is the person or team you rely on to repair your machines during a breakdown? Tap into those folks as reliable resources. These may be ideal team members to manage preventive and predictive maintenance on your machines, as they are the specialists who can anticipate errors on certain machine models based on their past experiences.
Step 2: Set Realistic Parameters for Identifying Inefficiencies
When you’re looking to make process improvements, you may have a large, broad-ranging set of manufacturing goals on your wishlist, from reducing lead time and costs to improving spindle utilization. It is important, however, to keep your scope sharply focused when making changes on the shop floor. Start by prioritizing one or two areas of improvement – you can dedicate time and resources to correcting those actions and perfecting and defining those processes first. You may quickly realize that initial improvements ripple out into your other efficiency goals. For example, if you focus your efforts on improving your spindle utilization, that action has the potential to cause a domino effect and impact other areas of concern in your operations.
Step 3: Qualify and Quantify Any Way Possible
Your team members work hard to keep your shop floor running smoothly – but how would they react to knowing that their real efficiency levels may be much lower than what they believe them to be? When you’re defining and prioritizing areas of improvement, embark on a fact-finding mission. Measuring your shop’s productivity level by either a manual or automated process is a crucial step that gives you visibility and insight by which to benchmark. Both methods can be effective at accurately measuring your productivity, so implementing either will yield much better results than simply estimating your productivity.
The first method is simple and straightforward - classic pen-and-paper data collection. Walking the shop floor and manually gathering data from your employees and your machines takes time, but it can yield far more accurate information than your best estimate can. Although tedious and time-consuming, manually collecting and measuring true metrics will give you a clear direction on the path needed to improve upon inefficiencies.
Certain tools and software are available to automate data collection and provide real-time visibility into your machines. Tools like Okuma’s Connect Plan allow you to monitor your machines and transparently gather data to improve processes. For example, with Connect Plan you can see real-time status and performance levels of all your machines at one glance, as well as any alarm statuses and duration. By visualizing current operating results with an automated process, machine stoppages can be noticed quickly, and corrective measures can be taken.
STEP 4: CORRECT YOUR MACHINING TECHNIQUES, PROCESSES, AND EQUIPMENT
Once you’ve taken initial steps to ensure successful implementation – you’ve prepared your workers and worked to identify inefficiencies – you can begin to examine your machining techniques, processes, and equipment in order to make substantial improvements. Depending on the problems you find after measuring your productivity, your team will need to plan corrective actions based on your areas of concern. Here are just a few examples of the process changes you may choose to make that will have a positive impact on your operations:
Setting your shop up for success is a team effort, and making sure your employees are equipped with the appropriate knowledge and resources is essential. During your analytical measuring exercise, you may realize that each manual task performed by a human operator can be greatly improved upon. Improving the ergonomics of setup, parts loading and unloading, rework or even cleaning can greatly reduce the cycle time for each task.
You’ve made the investment in your machine tools – but are they outfitted with software that can help you improve your efficiencies and overall throughput? Productivity solutions are widely available with a wide range of focuses, from energy-saving applications like Okuma’s ECO Suite to connectivity tools like MT Connect and Connect Plan for interconnectivity with all your devices and machines.
STEP 5: DETERMINE HOW TO CONTINUALLY MAINTAIN YOUR MACHINES
Improving your manufacturing efficiency is not a one-and-done operation – it not only takes effort to realize and experience your utilization goal, but ongoing effort to keep efficiency levels high.
When optimizing your shop floor, reactive maintenance (maintenance you perform in response to an issue or breakdown) is not a sustainable method of caring for your machines. In order to take control of your operational downtime, there are two extremely important approaches to maintenance that can help reduce inefficiencies: preventive and predictive maintenance.
Preventive maintenance is scheduled, controlled, and measured to restrict the possibility of unforeseen downtime. The frequency of preventive maintenance can be scheduled on a time- or usage-based trigger point. Though preventive maintenance may require potential downtime, performing routine check-ups on your equipment gives you the best odds of diagnosing a problem before it causes unforeseen downtime on your shop floor, which can cause far greater disruption down the value chain than planned downtime.
Making the transition from reactive maintenance to preventive maintenance may take some adjustment – it’s easy to identify a problem that’s already occurred than to identify one that is more likely to happen. A shop owner can benefit from stocking OEM maintenance kits such as Okuma’s CARE Kit to provide the preventive maintenance parts tailored to your specific machine.
Unlike preventive maintenance, predictive maintenance occurs on a less-strict schedule, using real-time data to identify issues at the beginning, ideally before they interfere with operations. This type of maintenance depends on you utilizing a platform that allows you to assess the performance of your machine tool through a data-driven approach, such as with Connect Plan.
When you have the proper tools in place to implement a predictive maintenance program, it can be performed as machines are running in their normal production modes. Detecting trends and patterns through data analysis is key to discovering inefficiencies and preventing them early
When trends and patterns are detected that will increase your efficiencies (whether that’s people, processes, or equipment), maintain an open mindset to change – and don’t forget what you learn - apply it. Ready to start improving your efficiency? Access these valuable tools and rely on the experience of your Okuma distributor to help optimize your shop.