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How to Improve Efficiency in a Machine Shop

Why Does Efficiency Matter?

Efficiency controls the profit in any business. In a machine shop, it is particularly important due to the manual or machine labour involved in every project. You may think moving to automated machines is the answer to reduce labour and increase productivity, but making basic changes to improve efficiency in a machine shop is a great place to start.


Five Important Factors of Efficiency 

Efficiency in a machine shop is affected by every task at every level of production. From initial and ongoing staff training to team collaboration, to keep the machine shop organized, clean, and safe, as mentioned in our blog on 5S methodology, efficiency is more than quality equipment. These five important factors will guarantee an increase in efficiency, whether it is a CNC machine shop or a manual machine shop.  


Routine Maintenance

Routine maintenance checks of machines can be placed on the top of this list. Just like your car, or your furnace, regular maintenance on your machines yield higher efficiency, fewer breakdowns, and will extend the life of the equipment.  imagine the time lost due to a machine breakdown in the middle of an important project. This disruption can quickly multiply if other machines are scheduled for future phases of the project. Machining problems occur less often in CNC machine shops as they do not require as much maintenance. However, you should not let them go unchecked as a small problem could significantly affect efficiency, ultimately sabotaging your investment in high-efficiency equipment.  


Employee Training

The second important factor that determines efficiency is the expertise of your machinists. While knowledge about using machines safely and being able to perform tasks would be a prerequisite for hiring machinists for your machine shop, one should not settle with mediocrity. Staffing plans should include opportunities for machinists to polish up their skills, and learn new skills. The machinists should also be proficient in maximizing outputs with their machines. With knowledge of efficient workflows, understanding the best machine for each job,  and how different machines can work together- think of IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) – a machinist can get a job done much faster. This can ultimately improve the yields per day, which is not only desirable for owners of machine shops as they can take on more projects, but also for clients who would appreciate the faster turnaround times. Finally, if you own a CNC machine shop, employee training would become indispensable as these machines require computer programming as well as machine knowledge.


Focus on Safety 

While a focus on safety sounds like a liability since it can drain resources, safety can work in the owner’s favour. Canadian Occupational Safety has several guidelines for the owners of CNC and other machine shops. In the case of an accident, you will lose your machinist, and possibly your machine, for several days, which will affect your productivity. Workplace hazards can also turn into expensive lawsuits. Part of maintaining safety is keeping the machine shop organized. Training should include tool and part storage, and to ensure they are placed back to their usual spots. This has timesaving results on your manufacturing cycle as no time is wasted in finding the right machining tools or holding bars. An organized and safe production area is indeed an efficient machining shop


Think Out of the Box – Redesign Workflow

Routine visits are important during a manufacturing cycle to see how efficient the machines, machinists, and processes are. However, it might be best to spend an entire day analyzing the efficiency of your machine shop. This may sound counter-productive but can pay off in the long run. Machines and processes that go unchecked will continue to work in the same or even deteriorate over time. By analyzing their efficiency and dedicating an entire day to assess and review, you can find the bottlenecks in your production. A great time to do this is during scheduled maintenance when equipment is already down. A new look at old ways of doing things may surprise you in terms of improved process time. 


Stay Innovative

Manufacturing is one of the fields where it is critical to stay on top of technology and innovation. You cannot afford to maintain the status quo if you want to grow your business. Though it might not be wise to buy and install every new piece of technology in your machine shop, it is important to keep the focus on the big picture of technology and do a cost-benefit analysis before making any decision. As a rule of thumb, transforming your machine shop into a CNC machine shop is a costly one, but with long-term vision and budgeting, it will improve efficiency and, therefore, allow for more projects and increased income. 


Marketing and sales tend to be a big focus in terms of business growth, but efficiency is the key to profit. Moving into some CNC machines to ease the manual labour component may be one way to accomplish this, or adding smart manufacturing to improve efficiency and energy use, but attention to detail can improve efficiency in a machine shop for immediate benefit.