These challenging times for business are reflected as much in challenges for staff. A top-level machine shop will recognize the need for employee feedback, training, and appropriate staff hiring to complement an existing team. The need for workplace development in a machine shop is always beneficial to move a business forward, but these last many months have proven this to be even more important to build a resilient team.
Beginning at the hiring process, be sure you have a clear definition of your company values. This allows you to find the right people that believe in your mission and purpose as a company. Each machine shop will have its own approach to client service, quality, and market niche. Finding people that are the right fit from the onset is of huge value.
Consider if your primary focus is productivity or safety, for example. These values must be clearly represented to staff for a unified approach to everything from client care to operations.
On the shop floor or in the sales or design department setting specific goals is necessary. Clarify who is responsible and accountable for results. Set out procedures (and training) for operations. Although tasks and goals should be clear and constant, managing people can be a little different. Being flexible in your approach based on employee assets and communication style can be a big factor incomprehension of those goals.
It is a common practice for various departments to focus only on their own goals, but IT, engineering, sales, and the shop floor all must work together and understand their individual part in upholding the company values. Communication is key for management to convey the importance of this.
Interpersonal conflict can be hard to spot because people can react through avoidance or compromise but still be resentful, affecting overall performance. Avoidance, for example, presents as a lack of interest, or lack of cooperation. Conflicts must be resolved for efficiency and consistency in performance. Having clear expectations and goals is helpful in setting the standards that avoid such behaviour.
Communicating these values and goals is a vital task for management. But feedback is equally important. Communication is a conversation. Inviting employee feedback, and cooperation between departments can present new perspectives that result in better performance. More recent workplace environments, including working from home or reduced staff, increase the need for interdepartmental cooperation and understanding.
Conflict should not always be avoided. When presented in the form of opinion, it is a great attribute. Otherwise, we run the risk of narrow viewpoints and lack of creativity or invention. Consider the input from the sales department to satisfy a client request that could lead to a new approach for a toolpath or design approach never considered by engineering.
Keeping the communication channels open between departments can be easier for a smaller shop where many of these jobs overlap or may even be performed by the same person. In a larger shop remember the value of discussion with co-workers and between departments.
As we discuss staff and departments it is important to understand the various roles in a machine shop. At a basic level, there are three functions in CNC machining.
Machine Operator: This is usually an entry-level position, and while it requires some knowledge of machining, the main functions are loading materials and running production with start and stop commands.
Set-Up Operator: Set-up involves loading the program and proper tools, as well as testing the program before production. This position is often held by a qualified machinist.
Programmer: A programmer runs the CAD/CAM systems by interpolating a part blueprint into the exact points of command for the CNC machine to produce the part. An understanding of tool speeds, material specs, and design is necessary.
These positions can be combined into one in smaller shops, but in larger shops, the parameters of responsibility and cooperation are imperative for efficiency, safety, and good staff relationships. Often an element of training is involved when senior staff are working with new staff. Job responsibilities must be clear, but with that open communication for learning opportunities.
In the advancing world of technology, there tend to be fewer machinist mindsets coming out of school. The focus on autonomous machining is leaving less human intervention on the shop floor. This has its benefits for safety, speed, and lights-out production, but loses the value of human intuition and years of skills that cannot be replaced with a machine.
The declining numbers of machinists and growing trends in automated and robotic production create an interesting opportunity for machine shops. Your shop has the opportunity to choose training on new systems for the long-time staff or hiring new.
Hiring new programmers brings highly technical and computer-savvy staff that can breathe fresh new perspectives into your machine shop. Training seasoned staff can be more difficult with less computer knowledge and apprehension to change from known practices. Our opinion is a mix of both to allow for the machinist skills to be shared with new staff, and the efficiencies found through automation to be enmeshed with the hands and mind of the machinist. The need for workplace development in a machine shop can take us through both difficult economic times and be the vehicle for launching us into new markets and expanded business.