The size of the shop doesn’t dictate the quality. Top-performing shops can vary from the smallest custom shop to large autonomous production lines over a city block. Regardless of size, or industry sector, there do tend to be commonalities amongst the best. Let’s review the key drivers in top-performing machine shops.
Quality of product is an obvious factor in this discussion. But the finished product experience initiates with internal processes that produce consistent quality parts in realistic lead times for overall client satisfaction.
Machines – There are a variety of machine options depending on the complexity of a part, size of production run, and capital you have to invest in your machine shop. The key here is not the most expensive, or even the newest equipment, but the correct match for the work you do. A shop often employs a variety of machines for various production needs, but each is supported by the supplier with training and maintenance, able to adapt and grow with new trends, and provide the most efficient tools and cutting paths with short downtime on changeovers. Efficiency is a key element in quality.
People – Machines are limited in their effectiveness by the quality of programming, maintenance, and skilled part design. A machinist must be able to break down a design into its geometries and envision the best path for cutting to produce the appropriate quality in the most efficient process. This is no small feat. The market is shifting for machinists with increased reliance on technology.
There is much to be said for the data to be traceable and reproducible through intelligent software, but the intuitive mind of a quality machinist is of utmost importance to bridge all this data. Quality shops continue to invest in people with training in new technologies and equipment.
One of the key indicators in a quality machine shop is their innovation in design, process, and strategic partnerships and niche markets. This also includes the ability to be flexible and innovate to accommodate a client need or a new direction in company focus as well as these common elements.
Embrace the New – Top shops are already invested in digital manufacturing. This will have shown efficiencies through automated processes and sets the path for new processes such as cloud-based reporting through all chains of design and production. New tools and machines should be assessed for their added value in a cost/benefit analysis.
Specialties – Developing a niche market allows focus on marketing as well as profitable production. Shops that offer added capabilities, focus on less common materials, or serve specialized industries often find those higher profit margins. But some specialties don’t preclude keeping other work in-house, too. Quality shops understand their capacities and capabilities. Up to 80% of their production is in-house, and trusted partners supply the additional machining for those areas they aren’t as well suited for.
As a shop grows it can be easy to lose focus. Your capacity grows, your capabilities grow, and so do your challenges. Keeping market niches and procedures consistent as you grow is key to maintaining quality.
Safety – People often think of a machine shop like a dirty, noisy place. This may have been the machine shops of old, but safety in new digital manufacturing begins with cleanliness. A shop floor is free of debris, parts are organized, and both raw and finished materials are handled and stored safely. ISO certification is mandatory in any shop that is recognized as a top-quality business.
Safety also has a key focus on training staff. Staff understands the value of regular maintenance of tools and equipment, a clean environment, and a blend of speed and attention to detail in setups and changeovers to balance performance and safety.
Customer – As much as you like designing and building, the focus always has to be on the customer. Take time to understand their needs. This aids in consistent marketing and repeat business. New trends may require techniques like a virtual tour, simulations, or real-time production metrics, or model-based definitions (MBD) in specialty industries like medical and aerospace. Do your research and be sure you are prepared to give the client more than they expect. A focus on repeat business exemplifies quality.
Take these ideas and model other top-performing shops to bring your manufacturing to the next level. Attention to quality equipment partners and people are key drivers in top-performing machine shops. Other factors bear great importance but revolve around these two main factors in consistent quality performance.
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