Author: Paul Van Metre

I don’t know a single CNC machine shop that has an easy time hiring machinists, and would say they have enough well-qualified candidates. The fact is that there is more demand than supply, with not enough young people coming into the industry to fill the positions that are needed by machine shops today. On one hand, it's great news in general, that the demand for machinists is strong. Onshoring seems to be a longer-term trend now and the demand for machined parts in North America is strong, which is fantastic. The shadow side is that it’s tough to find machinists and most shops feel that pain, which inhibits their ability to grow at the pace they could theoretically if hiring was not a problem. Because this problem isn’t going away anytime soon, it comes down to the effort of each shop to tackle this issue themselves. When creative thought is put into the issue, many things can be done to mitigate the problem of not being able to hire qualified machinists whenever a shop wants to. Let’s discuss some of the things that our shop did, and what I’ve seen at the hundreds of shops that we serve.

1.Get Involved with Trade Schools in Your Area

Every state has trade schools or even high schools with machining programs that are constantly teaching basic machining and programming skills to new students. These are a great source of new hires on an ongoing basis. Every year they will graduate a cohort of students who are eager to get into the machining trade and are like sponges looking to learn (and without any bad habits yet!). The quality of the programs vary from school to school, but the great news is that you can get involved in the program and help to make it better, and also making it more likely that you can hire the cream of the crop each year. It’s undeniably a win-win situation. Ways to get involved vary from donating materials, tools, or even old machine tools, to offering tours of your shop as a field trip for the students, to even getting a seat on the advisory board of the program. You might even sponsor a competition to provide some real-world experience and get your name in front of all the students. The more engaged you are, the more your company will benefit from the collaboration. When we ran our shop, we had 2 employees on the advisory board all the time. We donated used but still totally good cutting tools, raw materials, and advised on how they could make their program more current to serve the needs of shops like ours. And we often hired recent graduates - the best and brightest ones too! It is certainly a formula that works.

2. Develop a Robust Training Program for your Own Staff

Whether you’re hiring recent trade school graduates or employees with more experience in the trade, you’ll need to provide more training on an ongoing basis to make the most of your employees. We’d suggest starting with well-defined job titles, with detailed roles and responsibilities, and pay ranges that go along with those titles. Once the basic framework is in place, you can outline what skills and proficiency ratings (try a simple 1-4 system, from basic knowledge to expert) are needed to be considered trained in each position. From there, you can define a set of training topics to teach those skills. Once that is all in place, it should be possible for a new hire to see exactly what they would need to do to get the training they need to progress up to the higher levels of responsibility and pay in the company. Creating videos is a great way to provide the basics for each training that employees can watch on their own time. Identifying who in your company can provide training beyond the basics, will help to spread the load of doing this work. There are also programs like ToolingU.com and NIMS that can be used to provide training to employees. With that and training from software and tooling vendors, along with YouTube, there is almost limitless content that is free or inexpensive to help develop the skills of your team. By providing these segments of training, you’ll be less dependent on finding employees who already have the skills needed for the job. You can focus on hiring people who are a great cultural fit for your company and train the skills you need them to have.


3. Let the World Know You have an Awesome Company to Work For

Just like you should always be selling your services to new prospective clients, you should always be selling your company to prospective employees. Build a fun team webpage that highlights your amazing team members, events, volunteer work, benefits, work environment, and more. Most companies call their employees their greatest asset, so shout it from the rooftops to attract more people like them. You’ll stand out from the crowd and be able to recruit more easily.

4. Build a Genuinely Amazing Culture

To have a great website page about it, you actually need to have a great culture! A culture that is focused on the growth and success of your team and your customers. One where people feel safe, supported, respected, understood, and I’d go as far as say, loved. It’s essential to build a company culture like that. Build systems people will love, like training sessions, frequent one-on-one meetings, offer tuition reimbursement, consider profit sharing, open-book management, free food and drinks at work, or whatever else will thrill your employees. The machining industry is relatively small in most regions, and word will get out about your work culture. Machinists know other machinists who work at other shops. When they rave to their buddies about how much they love your company, you’ll find yourself with qualified machinists knocking on your door.

5. Invest in Technology and Systems to Mitigate the Risk of Less Skilled Staff

It would be great if you could hire an unlimited number of highly skilled and experienced machinists that could set up any job, troubleshoot any problem, and make perfect parts, quickly, every day, but that world doesn’t exist. You need to be able to successfully run your shop with a variety of skilled staff, some with medium skills, and many without a lot of skill and experience (yet). This reality relies on systems and technology to get work done and allows a wider variety of employees to successfully execute jobs on budget. This often comes down to eliminating tribal knowledge, providing really clear visual work instructions, easy-to-follow checklists, and other initiatives to allow less-skilled workers to be successful. By doing so, it’s very possible to dramatically mitigate the reality that you can’t find enough skilled and experienced machinists.

How Can ProShop Help?

Some of the ideas listed above will need to come from good old-fashioned ingenuity and hard work. Software can’t help you build a great culture all by itself. But there are several things our clients are doing to dramatically improve their success in this area, and ProShop is central to many of those things.

ProShop’s modules for Company Positions, Training, Tasks, and others can help to provide a great foundation for structuring a training program in your company, onboarding employees smoothly, and helping them get up to speed more quickly. (One notable client hired a completely inexperienced person from Kentucky Fried Chicken, and had them setting up 5 axis mills within 6 months, using the features in ProShop to make it possible.) And in fact, our QMS Flying Start Package even comes with a library of positions, training topics, and more which can be the foundation of your training program.

ProShop has many features to just make life easier for all employees, who can focus more on the work they love, and less on the clerical paperwork. They won’t need to keep multiple systems updated, deal with lost paper travelers, frustrating tribal knowledge, and more. Many of our clients report that life is much better with ProShop, and general employee and customer friction, crankiness, stress, and fire fighting is much reduced, improving the overall mood in the company. There are also a few features focused on continuous improvement so that people can effectively share their good ideas and see them implemented to improve the process. People genuinely love seeing their ideas help the company improve!

Lack of skilled machinists is a reality we all live with, and it’s not going to improve anytime soon. But with some creativity, hard work, and smart decisions, you can significantly minimize the impact it has on your company, and possibly even make this formula your secret weapon for success in scaling your shop and achieving your business goals.

Author: Paul Van Metre

I haven't talked with a single shop that loves having job travelers, but so many of them can’t imagine running their shop without them. It’s hard for them to imagine a different way because they’ve done it for so many years, or they believe that trying to eliminate travelers will not be well received by their employees. In the meantime, enormous costs are being incurred every day because of their paper travelers. These costs are not obvious and aren’t on top of people's minds.

What functions do job travelers serve? Let's clarify what I mean by a “job traveler”.

4 Functions of Job Travelers

  1. It contains crucial information about the job. Important information including customer, PN, due date, the material needed, routing steps, and work centers the job will travel through. Often called the job router, it is THE identifying document showing what the parts are out in the shop. The parts have to be traceable at all times so the traveler must be with the parts at all times.
  2. It has fields and barcodes. The fields for people to sign off the work they've done, the number of parts they've made or processed, or track time. Sometimes the barcodes need to be scanned, so people can look at the last scanned status of the job from within the ERP system.
  3. The job router is often accompanied by several sheets of paper used for other purposes such as work instructions and inspection forms (see Fig 1). These are to help explain to workers what they are supposed to do to make the part, and what features to inspect to ensure the quality of the parts is good.
  4. It usually has a drawing accompanying it as well. This is typically the drawing that the customer sent with their order. This identifies the part to be made, and the criteria for gaging acceptance, along with perhaps some referenced related documents.

Most ERP systems create a job router based on the information that is in effect at the time the order is processed. That information is a snapshot in time and the printed router becomes the controlling item that moves around the facility and triggers people to do things and tells them what to do. The router identifies what material to buy, what rev of the drawing to build the part too. It will also be the document where signatures or quality stamps will be recorded, creating an audit trail of who did what to ensure the part was made properly. There is no doubt that the information contained on the router is vitally important and every shop (at least QMS certified shops) needs to capture and retain that information.

The fact that all this crucial information is conveyed and recorded on a piece of paper in so many shops in 2021 is mind-boggling. To try to make the point, imagine this: You want to see how the big game of your favorite team is going, so you walk to the corner market to buy a newspaper? Of course not! By the time your newspaper publishes the score, the game will have been long finished.
Why then do shops keep insisting that paper job travelers are so important to their business? There are huge numbers of liabilities inherent in paper travelers. Let's just list a few:

7 Liabilities of Paper Travelers

1. The information on the traveler is highly likely to change. More in some businesses than others, but it happens all the time. When information changes, people need to chase down the traveler and replace it or mark it up with the latest information. If that doesn't happen, people can and will make mistakes and parts can be scrapped, late, made wrong, or any number of other bad outcomes.

2. Paper travelers slow down the process. People in planning, purchasing, quality, and programming don't know that they need to work on something until it lands on their desk. What if it gets stuck at the bottom of a pile? Material or tools aren't ordered, programs aren't created and work doesn't progress on-time. It can lead to late jobs, expedite situations, and worse. Or what if they need to work from home because of a pandemic?

3. Travelers get lost. All...The...Time! This causes all sorts of waste like waiting, motion, transportation, overprocessing, scrap, and more. Probably all 7 wastes identified by the Toyota Production System. It has ramifications for the current job in the process, and also for future jobs of the same part number. Crucial notes that shop workers scribbled on the back of drawings or scraps of paper get lost which means the next time the parts are made, that information is lost and needs to be recreated. It's a snowball effect of waste. See fig 2.

4. Jobs often need to get split up into multiple batches. Hot jobs need to have partials sent ahead of the rest of the job. Parts need to be re-worked and catch up to the main work order later. What do you do with the job router? Photocopy it? What about all those supporting documents like work instructions and inspection sheets? There are no great answers.

5. Penmanship and legibility can be big factors on paper documents. Someone jots down a note, a quantity, an inspection result, and someone else misinterprets the information. This can cause many problems.

6. Traceability is suspect when relying on people to enter their initials for signing off crucial steps. Even unique rubber stamps can be “borrowed” by someone else who signs off on work not done by the person in question.

7. If a job traveler package makes it through the shop unscathed, it then needs to be filed or scanned. If filed, managing a year's worth of old travelers is a huge headache and expense. Filing cabinets fill up, rooms fill up, storage units fill up. Some customers require job records to be held for 10, 20, or 30 years to retain that audit trail of who made what, out of what, and inspected it with what. Having to go look up records for an audit can be a monumental undertaking. If they can't be found, that's a major liability for a shop facing a customer or ISO/AS audit!

These are just a few of the liabilities inherent with paper travelers. We've identified that the information contained on the router and traveler is crucial. So then our goal is to retain and enhance the good parts of those documents and mitigate the liabilities of having paper versions of that information. We are advocates for 100% paperless, digital-only versions of the information contained on that paper.

5 Benefits of Going Paperless with Digital Shop Routers:

  1. The information on a digital router is always up to date. When the customer order is changed with a new quantity, delivery date, drawing revision, the router, schedule, etc. are instantly and automatically changed. Workers ONLY have access to the latest information when they view it on a device.
  2. Digital routers speed up the process. Everyone who needs to know about something they need to do on a job can be instantly notified when a job is created. They can parallel process their part of things and get it done much faster than with paper. Hot jobs can't get stuck at the bottom of a pile. Instead, they are filtered and prioritized on digital dashboards and lists which are always up to date. The speed of the workflow and risk of jobs getting forgotten is vastly improved.
  3. A digital traveler can't get lost. An identifying job tag should be attached or affixed to the material, parts, and WIP so that it can't easily be separated from the parts by a gust of wind or an honest mistake of setting a paper traveler in the wrong spot. If tags get damaged they can be recreated easily.
  4. It's easy to split a job with a digital router. Just make a new tag or print a new label. All the other corresponding work instructions and inspection reports are always online for anyone to find.
  5. Everything is in one place. There are not multiple different places to look for things with potentially conflicting information.

Obstacles:

The biggest obstacle to going paperless is the fear of change. It’s human nature to resist change, especially when it’s such a dramatic change. People are uncertain about how it will work, and how their job will change. We’ve seen that time and time again when employees are first introduced to a paperless environment. Almost without fail, the clear and obvious benefits start to reveal themselves quickly and people realize how much they’ve suffered from the waste they didn’t realize for so many years.

The second biggest obstacle to going paperless is the actual technology used to make the transition. Until recently there hasn’t been a practical way to easily manage the data needed to run a dynamic job shop environment, with less labor investment, without paper.

How ProShop Can Help!

With ProShop ERP, we’ve been running paperless and highly effective job shops for over 20 years. We have helped hundreds of other manufacturing companies become more efficient, save cost, save trees, take their company through a true digital transformation, and reach the pinnacle of going paperless. We’d encourage you to watch the accompanying video and reach out to us if this sounds like an interesting consideration for your shop.

Author: Paul Van Metre

Nearly every CNC machine shop I’ve talked with or visited always has a bottleneck in their QA room or inspection department. It just seems like it takes anywhere from several hours, to a few days for jobs to move through the QA room before they can move to the next process, whether that’s internal, or leaving the company to an outside process or to the customer. It’s just a fact of life that most shops deal with, and it’s costing them a lot more money than they realize. See if you recognize some of these points in your shop.

A bottleneck on a resource happens where the capacity for throughput is lower than other resources in the value stream that feed it. Because the QA room is processing jobs coming from many manufacturing resources, such as CNC machines, assembly, deburr, it’s easy for the department to get overwhelmed and backlogged with incoming work orders, causing a bottleneck. Bottlenecks happen for a number of reasons in the QA room.

4 reasons why a bottleneck happens in the QA Room:

1. First part buy-offs or FAI is being performed in the QA room, which can result in a high number of complex inspection processes being performed.

2. In-Process inspection is being performed in the QA room, so parts are being delivered frequently, resulting in a lot of transactional cost/time.

3. Final inspection is often performed here. Doing a comprehensive inspection when it’s too late to affect change in the parts. (note: this is sometimes mandated and unavoidable).

4. The QA room is where FAIR (First Article Inspection Reports), like AS9102, are generated. Since these are often very time-intensive, they can cause significant delays and contribute to bottlenecks.
When bottlenecks in the QA room happen, a number of unfortunate outcomes are typically a result. These are all very expensive to the business and cause reductions in productivity.

6 Outcomes in the QA Room because of a bottleneck:

  1. Machines or work-centers sit idle while the jobs are in queue to be inspected through the QA room. Productivity is lost and throughput is reduced when the machines sit idle.
  2. Jobs are delayed in being moved to the next process, like the next manufacturing operation, outside processing, or shipments to the customer.
  3. These delays can cause jobs to become late to the customer, making the customer unhappy and increasing the chance of them moving their business to a more reliable supplier
  4. Delays can necessitate the need to pay expediting fees to outside vendors in order to reduce delays to the customer.
  5. Delays can mean that over time of manufacturing staff will be used in order to catch back up and reduce delays.
  6. Expedite shipping methods may need to be used to reduce transit time between the shop and the outside processor, back again to the shop, or for final delivery to the customer.

All of these outcomes are expensive, and often all of them need to be employed for a single job, dramatically reducing the chance to make a profit on the job, and very likely ensuring that the job will lose money instead of being profitable.

4 simple ways to reduce bottlenecks in the QA room:

1. Develop a system to do as many FAI’s on the shop floor as possible. In many shops, the setup machinist does the first buy-off, and then submits the part to QA for a second check. Have another machinist or a shop floor inspector do the 2nd check. There is almost always someone who has a bit of extra time while they are running a machine, or can come give a second check without affecting their other job’s throughput much. It’s important to ensure that this person is qualified and trained to be an inspector. Not just anyone should be able to give a second QA check on a part to ensure that the inspection is done properly. It’s important to provide the necessary equipment on the shop floor, including even the use of shop floor CMMs where warranted. Whatever inspection is done, it must be recorded appropriately, and ideally in a digital format and not on paper.

2. Do your In-Process-Inspection on the shop floor, at the machine. These inspections should be designed into the workflow of the machine operator, with very clear and easy-to-understand visual work instructions. The appropriate inspection equipment should be provided, and consider the use of go/no-go gages to increase speed and accuracy when appropriate. And again, record the results digitally!

3. Record the inspection results in a way that flows seamlessly into the final inspection. This means don’t use paper, and if spreadsheets are used, ensure that they are connected or shared in a way that can be utilized later in the process. Ideally, your ERP system should collect this data in a seamless way to allow the next step of the process to happen.

4. Automate the preparation of FAI reports at final inspection. By collecting the right kind of inspection data earlier in the process, and in a way that can be leveraged for the creation of client-facing inspection reports, a significant amount of time can be saved. Preparation of inspection reports is really a formality and isn’t the actual time that the quality of the parts is being verified. As discussed in points 1 and 2, the validation and verification of quality should be done at the same time the parts are made. A final inspection is a time to do a few spot checks, review the job for completeness, and prepare inspection reports from previously collected data. When done correctly, forms even as complicated as the AS9102 can be completed in seconds using the data collected earlier in the process. This can be a game-changer for throughput and reducing bottlenecks, when reports that used to take hours, can be completed in seconds.

When these strategies are utilized, not only are bottlenecks in the QA room eliminated, but the jobs themselves flow more efficiently, scrap is reduced, and spindle uptime is increased and throughput is dramatically improved. Creative energy must be used to mitigate risks, but it’s always possible and the upsides such as these are too large to ignore.

5 shop benefits of reducing bottlenecks:

1. Expedite fees for outside processes can be drastically reduced when parts don’t sit in QA and are shipped immediately to your vendors for processing. That gives you more room to maintain the margins on your jobs and keep the money in your pocket.

2. Spindles run far more often when parts aren’t sitting in a queue in QA waiting for a buy-off. This translates to higher throughput which means more dollars being generated off your equipment.

3. Better on-time delivery performance to your customers. Every company wants this! By speeding up the flow of product through the QA department and the facility in general, you will be able to improve your lead times and be on-time more often for clients.

4. When you are on-time, or ahead of schedule, you don’t need to scramble at the last minute to ship overnight or drive your parts to the customer. You can ship using less expensive methods, like UPS ground, spending less money on shipping, or paying your employees to drive parts around. They have far better things to do.

5. When all of those benefits are counted up, the net result will be considerably higher margins on your jobs. Multiplied by many jobs over the year means more profit for the company to reinvest in growth or increasing shareholder value.

Example:

Let’s run a quick simulation of how these ideas can dramatically improve margins at your company. Let’s take a sample job worth $2000. If everything goes smoothly and no excess waiting, or expediting was necessary, you perhaps have $1600 in cost and make $400 in profit - a 20% margin. If you need to expedite finishing for $150, pay $100 in overtime costs and also need to use UPS red shipping to send it to the vendor, and to your customer, with a $50 charge each time, that totals up to $350 of unnecessary costs; reducing your margin to $50 or barely breaking even, rather than making 20% profit - a significant reduction. By eliminating those extra costs, multiplied by dozens or hundreds of jobs per year, a shop can add many thousands of dollars of profit to the bottom line. The ROI of reducing the bottleneck in QA is significant! Some of these changes can be helped by the ERP/QMS system, but many of them are simply changes in process that can be made by any company after careful consideration and planning to mitigate the risks.

How can ProShop help vs other ERPs?

Besides the ability to print a router with the QA room listed as a process, there is little a traditional ERP system can do to help with this process. All inspection processes are managed offline with paper, spreadsheets, or other 3rd party software. ProShop has a complete paperless QMS system integrated into the ERP and can completely manage all inspection processes for first part buy-off, in-process inspections, final inspection, and more. It can automatically prepare final inspection paperwork such as AS9102 forms, auto-filling the fields from many other places within the ERP, leveraging data that is collected earlier in the value stream. Our training module and company positions module can help track the training proficiency of your inspectors and machinists so it’s clear who is qualified to perform inspections. Our inspection dashboard will show you what priorities and shipping date targets are for the jobs that do need to flow through the QA department The right work is done in the right order, and it’s as quick and efficient as possible, reducing time through inspection, helping your company get the product to your customers on-time at the highest quality and margins possible.

Author: Paul Van Metre

“But Paul, it’s too expensive to put a computer at each of my work centers! I just can’t afford that. Right now my employees track their time with a shared computer we already have out in the shop.”

I hear this objection all the time when discussing what’s involved with going paperless and using ProShop. They are typically using just paper only, or another paper-traveler-based ERP and they have a couple of shared terminals in the shop to track time and log parts on their jobs. On the face of it, it’s a legitimate concern. If you spend $350 on a computer and mounting hardware for 15 CNC machines, that’s over $5K! That’s a good chunk of change. But let’s dig into the real numbers and see if it is actually that expensive

I’ll start by giving credit to Gary Connor for his awesome article on the "ROI of Lean". His article was inspiring to me for being such a succinct and easy-to-understand approach to calculating the ROI of removing waste from an organization. I highly recommend you read it first.

Many shops have a paper-based ERP system, with shared terminals placed throughout the shop where employees can go scan into and out of a job, log the number of parts they made, etc. It’s a straightforward process and one they’ve done for years, so they are comfortable with it. But, as Gary points out, if they crunch the numbers of the cost of this activity, they may think differently about it.

Let’s use a typical example of a shop with 18 machinists - 15 on days, and 3 on nights. (These numbers came directly from a Coastal Machine, a ProShop client who recently went fully paperless in the shop.) A low volume, high mix job shop. On average, each day, the employee has to go to the shared PC three times with an average of 2 jobs per day, once at the beginning of the day/job, and once at the end of the first job, where they also log into the second job, and then lastly once at the end of the shift. The process of walking from the CNC machine to the computer, doing the work at the terminal, and walking back only takes 3 minutes. (They say this is a very conservative number! We all know that those trips across the shop will invariably include stops to talk with someone, grab a coffee, or something else - and it could easily be 5-10 minutes before they get back to their machine!)

So those 18 machinists, running 5 days a week, with 3 round trips to the computer to track time/parts per day, multiplied by 3 minutes per trip, that’s 810 minutes per week, 13.5 hours per week, or 702 hours per year. At $30/hour per employee, you’re paying them a total of $21,060 per year just to walk back and forth to track time. And at $125/hour for machine time, that is $87,750 of lost revenue per year! So you’d be able to pay back the cost of the computers in about 3 weeks!

And this is just a drop in the bucket compared to the real cost of having machinists leave their machines to look for tooling, fixtures, job travelers, etc. By providing all necessary items, kitted, and prepped at a machine, along with digital visual work instructions, and digital inspection forms, it’s very possible to cut 50% or more out of a typical setup time. You can read a blog post about that here, and watch a webinar about it, and download a PDF guide here.

So in summary, the real cost of paper-based workflows, and shared computers is the mostly hidden cost of lost revenue and paying your employees to walk around your shop. You want them to keep your spindles turning as often as possible and making chips! Small investments to achieve that goal will always have a very positive ROI.

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