Author: Paul Van Metre

For many shops, UPS, or FedEx overnight shipments are a way of life.  Those packages show up virtually every day, or sometimes multiple times per day.  In a way, they are a lifesaver, and it’s amazing that you can order something the afternoon before, and have it on your doorstep early the next morning!

It’s also a bittersweet pill to swallow every time you need something shipped overnight - you’re grateful it can happen, but it’s painful and expensive at the same time. These are situations where you’re using overnight shipping to get something at the last minute because there wasn’t enough lead time to ship/order it via a non-expedited method.  Where you have a machine down because you are missing a special thread gage, or you used up your last drill for a hot job. When you have to ship a box of parts to your anodizer overnight both ways because you got behind schedule and in order to make your customer's due date, everything has to be expedited. 

These are situations that happen all day, every day at shops around the world. And it’s a HUGE problem. When overnight shipping is used because the customer is paying for a rush job, that’s no problem at all.  It’s the ones at your own expense that we’re concerned about.

I’ve talked with shops who spend only a few hundred dollars per month on these expedited fees, and I’ve talked with shops who spend many thousands of dollars per month on these fees. Those shops believe it’s just the cost of doing business, and a way of life that they can’t avoid.  Besides the money itself for overnight shipping, there are many other hidden costs which are far larger than the shipping cost itself. For example, the CNC machine that is sitting idle for 16 hours until the shipment of tools arrives tomorrow. These shipments are symptomatic of a far more serious and insidious problem within your company. They are indicative of a lack of process and proactive planning within your company.  Overnight shipments are nearly always a result of something that didn’t go right because of poor process, poor execution, or lack of forethought. And they are almost universally avoidable.

What causes overnight shipments:

There are almost unlimited scenarios that result in these last minute shipments.  Here are just a few.  How many of these do you recognize in your shop?

  1. A job doesn’t get programmed until the day before it needs to be on the machine.  There is a special tool you don’t have on the shelf which you need the next day.
  2. An FAI part shows up in the QC lab when you find out that the special thread gage you need is out at calibration, or you never owned one in the first place.
  3. A setup goes sideways and takes much longer than expected, and that job that is now a couple of days behind schedule. You must overnight a partial or all of the jobs to your OSP vendor and also pay an expedite fee to your vendor to turn the parts around faster.
  4. In the assembly area, you go to install some helicoils only to realize you don’t have enough.
  5. You have a tough job that goes through taps fast, and you realize that you just broke your last one, but you still have lots of parts to make.  The machine will sit idle until you get more taps.

These scenarios all have different causes.  But the one common theme is that it was a lack of being proactive BODYBUILDING AND NATION-BUILDING brand ajanta splendid specimens: the history of nutrition in bodybuilding - the weston a. price foundation enough, and instead of being reactive to a bad situation. In the same order as above, they could have been solved by:

  1. Programming the job sooner, or at least looking at the tools needed when the client order was entered.
  2. Tracking your thread gages and where they’re being used, or if you own them at all.
  3. Have more complete setup documentation so you can avoid those long setups and scrap in the first place.
  4. Using MRP early in the process to predict when you need your BOM items and ensuring they show up on time.
  5. Forecasting the usage of your taps based on the part/material/qty being run on your work order so you can predict the high usage and order more in advance.

When discussing these topics of being more proactive, the most common response I get is “we’re too busy for that”, “it’s just faster to get the job on the floor ASAP”, or “we just like to wing it”. This is coming from the same shops who are always scrambling, fighting fires, and paying exorbitant fees to UPS and FedEx.  I promise you that the ROI for being a bit more proactive is HUGE. It takes some foresight and trust in the process, but it’s well worth the time. I’ve never talked with a shop that wasn’t better off after deciding to be more thorough. 

How to fix this:

In order to start getting a handle on this, analyze some of the shipments you’ve had recently and use the 5 Why process. This allows you to really get to the root of what caused the issue in the first place.  Then come up with as simple (yet thorough) of a system as you can to solve the root cause. You’ll likely find some common reasons that you can solve with the same solution.  Basically, every time you run into a situation where you need to expedite a shipment, ask yourself what system could be created to eliminate this problem from happening in the future.  After doing this for just a few weeks, you’ll find that you can dramatically reduce the cost of your overnight shipping and that’s all money that goes straight to the bottom line!

How Does ProShop Help?

ProShop has many tools designed to eliminate these issues from happening in the first place.  ProShop is essentially a very efficient operating system for a manufacturing company.  When the process is followed, a significant number of the root causes of last minute shipments are eliminated.  Here are just a few:

To underscore the importance of these features and the impact it has, we spoke with 3 different clients who all saved more money by reducing their UPS and expedite fees than their entire ProShop annual costs!

East Branch saved more than $30k per year in expediting and shipping fees.  3D Industries slashed their costs by Culturismo con mancuernas: la mejor información y ejemplos de ejercicios uso del medicamento Cialis a bodybuilding workout for sexy muscle gain livinghours. over 92%, and Pioneer Cuts saved more than $3,500 on expediting fees.

Author: Paul Van Metre

I read a really great book when my machine shop was just a couple of years old. It was called The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. The premise of the book is that most businesses are started by technicians in their craft, who believe that if they are a good machinist, for example, that they’ll be good at running a machine shop business. That’s the myth. But it isn’t true. Most people who are experts in their craft are average to poor at running a business. A small few are excellent at it. The book goes on to say that the best way to overcome this myth and build a successful business is to think about it as if it were a prototype for a franchise business. If you imagine someone opening another location of your business, how do they know how to run it as well as your one location? How can they ensure it will have consistently repeatable performance? The best way to run a business is by focusing your efforts on the business processes that ensure repeatable performance and profitability. Even if you only ever have one location. In essence, working ON the business every day, not IN the business. (Side bonus - This concept is also perfectly aligned with the ISO 9001/AS9100/ISO 13485 set of standards.)

The unfortunate reality is that most business owners don't spend the majority of their days focused on these business-building activities. They spend most of their time doing the technical work, getting jobs out the door, fighting fires, and generally working in the business. They essentially have bought themselves a job when they started their shop. It’s very hard to run a business in general, and many would argue that running a machine shop/job shop is the hardest business in the world to run.

It's a tough position to get out of as a company starts to grow and things get busier and busier. Even the idea of trying to work on the business is often overwhelming. How do you even find enough time in the day when your days are so busy that all you can do is scramble to get jobs out the door? It’s not easy in practice, but it is doable and it’s a key principle in building scalable businesses. If you want to start replacing yourself and building your team as you scale, I’d propose these steps to start working ON your business more often:

  1. Categorize your tasks into job title buckets - I imagine wearing an actual hat with the name of that job title on it as you change tasks all day. When you change tasks and switch your virtual hat, write down what you’re doing in broad terms. After doing that for a few weeks you should have all your main tasks written down.
  2. Document the tasks in those buckets - Take those lists and write out the detailed task instructions with the things that other people would need to know to do it well. How long should it take, what are the itemized steps, what are the metrics for good performance? Build checklists as well that you could give to people doing these tasks to ensure they’re doing it right. You can even make short videos (like ProShop’s Module Videos) of you doing the job which may be the best way to train others to do those tasks.
  3. Build an organizational chart - Take those job descriptions, task titles, and detailed summaries and build them into an org chart so it’s easy to see what’s going on, and what is supposed to be done by each person in the organization. Your name will be listed in lots of different places on the org chart, but that’s okay for now.
  4. Start to replace yourself in some positions - We’re looking for the best return on our time investment balanced with what’s realistic to hire for. So place some help wanted ads with the description and job duties of the position that makes the most sense to give up first. When you hire someone, share all your task documentation with them and train them to do what you no longer want to do. Once they’re up to speed, that should free up a lot of your time to work ON the business. Make sure the efforts you turn your attention to can increase revenue and profits so that you can afford to pay for these new team members.
  5. Rinse and repeat - Keep doing this over and over again until you no longer have any positions in the org chart, except those that you love to do, or bring the most value to the organization.

Like I said before, this is easier said than done. The systems you have in place to help with this process can make all the difference. We built our machine shop, Pro CNC, from scratch to 75 people before we sold it and launched ProShop the software company. We used this exact same process ourselves. Which by the way is also an essential part of being able to sell your business someday for maximum value. Those with repeatable business processes are worth far more money than those whose owners are wrapped up in the daily operations. If you can’t take a nice long vacation without things grinding to a halt, you know you aren’t there yet.

How Can ProShop Help?

ProShop is essentially a machine shop operating system built into a software platform (it also happens to work great for most manufacturing companies). All the tasks I outlined in steps 1-5 are built into ProShop. The Company Positions module allows you to build the org chart, the Task module outlines all the job responsibilities and work instructions for each position. The Training module allows you to build training documents for each task or any other item you want to train people on.

Those modules are supported by robust systems and modules which help to streamline all the processes of the whole company. It’s all in one place, all connected, all available from any browser, and makes the process of onboarding new employees and allowing them to be highly productive in a short period of time very easy. When all the systems of a company are smoothly connected, it’s remarkable how much more productive, profitable and enjoyable things become. It still won’t be that easy, because it’s still a manufacturing company, but it can allow shop owners to meaningfully improve their businesses, and in turn, their communities.

ProShop customer David Hannah from G Zero, working on a sunny beach!

Author: Paul Van Metre

I talk with hundreds of CNC machine shops every year and I’ve seen a very common thread among nearly all of them. They spend an inordinate amount of time and money fighting fires, expediting late jobs, scrambling at the last minute to solve problems, and just generally dealing with havoc in their shops. When I hear these issues day in and day out, the old saying comes to mind:

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Some even employ full-time expeditors just to fight all these fires, and they routinely get shipments sent UPS Red, or pay to expedite fees to outside process shops, so the cost is enormous. Those shops believe that this is normal, and there isn’t much they can do to fix it. I agree it’s normal in that it’s very common, but there are many things that can be done to solve the issues.

Here are just a handful of things that cause these problems:

  1. Inadequate contract review is done and orders are taken with details unknown at the time of order.
  2. Lack of thorough manufacturing planning, and leaving details up to the shop employees to figure out.
  3. Material isn’t ordered on time or isn’t reviewed carefully enough before ordering.
  4. Cutting tools are somewhat of an afterthought and are often overnighted at the last minute while machines sit idle.
  5. Jobs are missed under a pile of job folders so they aren’t programmed in time.
  6. When the machine setup is started, it’s discovered that you’re missing a fixture, a special gage, or any number of other items.
  7. The wrong jobs are worked on in the wrong order, causing delays on important jobs.
  8. Paperwork is incorrect (wrong rev of the drawing) causing people to do things they shouldn’t be doing.
  9. Work instructions are missing or in the head of someone on vacation,

I could fill two pages with reasons that things go sideways in a shop. It all distills down to having insufficient business processes and not being thorough enough early in the process. I attribute this to the reality of most shops being started by machinists who are really great at making things, but not all that great at running a business. They are likely making due with inadequate software tools and paper processes which make their lives more difficult.

The hallmark of a well-run business is that the business processes are well defined, work flows smoothly, fires are rare, people know what they are expected to do, and they do it according to the process. When you are in one of these companies you can feel it in the air. Everyone is calm and relaxed, there are no piles of paper everywhere, and it just feels good. Reminds me of another old truth that race car drivers that appear smooth and fluid in their motions are fast on the track. If they’re sawing at the steering wheel and shifter, they’re bound to be slow on the track.

Here are my top 7 recommendations for eliminating the fire fighting in your machine shop:

  1. Estimate more precisely - Build out the router with accurate operations and target times for setup, inspection, and running. If your quoting process doesn’t allow for this time investment, then do it as soon as you win the job. Also, write down any notes that may be important things that the estimator knows or sees that aren’t obvious on the drawing. By outlining these and ensuring others down the line have that list, you can help eliminate fires before they even start.
  2. Do a thorough contract review - Review the order in detail, look at the supporting documents, drawings, workmanship standards, timeline, and due dates, capacity in your shop, special tools that may be needed, gages you may not have, long lead time material or hardware, etc. You’re looking for things that will bite you later if they aren’t addressed upfront. Use a checklist!
  3. Do more detailed manufacturing planning - Review the estimated routing and either confirm or make changes to it. When CNC programming is happening, generate an exact list of cutting tools, down to the vendor PN. Document the setup instructions using screen grabs from your CAM system. Update the target cycle times and setup times if you believe the estimate was inaccurate, and then schedule accordingly. Use a checklist!
  4. Built your inspection plan early - An inspection plan should be a collaboration between your CNC programmer and the quality department. The programmer knows which features are being cut by which tools. This is an essential part of developing an appropriate inspection plan. By doing this early you can also identify any gages you may not have and need to order. Don’t wait until after the parts are done and waiting for QA to develop that plan! And use a checklist!
  5. Schedule to ship dates, not due dates - Schedule your jobs according to when they need to leave your facility next. Work backwards from the client due date, subtracting out shipping lead time, QA time through final inspection, other machining operations, outside processing lead times, etc. By doing this you can be much more precise about when jobs need to be run on your CNC machines in the right order.
  6. Kit your jobs - Aim to have all your jobs kitted a day before they go on the machines. Pull all the cutting tools, load them in the right holders, with the right pull studs, sticking out the right length, and properly torqued. Use an offline tool presetter if you have one and develop a file of offsets you can upload into the control. Pull your fixtures, softjaws, hardware and put them on a job cart along with the tools. Collect any special gages you’ll need. Get the material queued up for the machine. And use a checklist!! By doing this kitting process, you can reliably reduce setup times by 50% or more.
  7. Verify everything before the job goes on the CNC - Confirm that everything is ready and prepared before you attempt a setup. The drawing is correct at the right revision, material is here and verified as accurate, the kitting process is complete, the G-code is ready and posted for the right machine, the work instructions are available. Your goal should be that when the machinist walks up to the machine with that job cart, they do not need to leave the machine until they have a good part in their hands. If they had to leave for any reason, something in your process broke down and needs fixing.

How can ProShop ERP help?

ProShop has built-in tools and workflows to help guide, document, and provide checklists for all the items listed above. By slowing down a little bit, and doing this more thorough process, huge amounts of time can be saved, and problems can be eliminated before they even happen. There are times when a super rush prototype job may require cutting a few corners, but that should be the exception, and even in those cases, an abbreviated process should be performed.

A client emailed me just yesterday sharing some of their recent success. Before ProShop, they were the classic machine shop I described above, always scrambling, always fighting fires, and dealing with an inadequate ERP tool. It was draining for them, hard on profitability, and very stressful.


“Three years ago before ProShop, we got up to a $2.5 million dollar backlog and it was too much for us to handle and our on-time delivery was under 80%. We were always scrambling and felt like it was a never-ending circle. We got a slap on our wrist from one of our customers warning us not to take on too much work.

Fast forward 1 year after going live with ProShop, our current backlog is now $2.3 million. We have the same machines, and same people, but work is FLYING through the shop. Our throughput has gone up over 20-30%. Our scrap rate is averaging less than 1%. Our on-time delivery is averaging 95-99%. We are typing up a record amount of orders each month. We are having fewer production meetings. We don’t need to pay as much overtime to ship all that extra work! Everyone just knows what to do. We run repeat jobs with extreme confidence knowing all the previous information and documentation is already in ProShop!

We’re adding onto the facility, and just ordered 2 new CNC machines. We’re diversifying into the Space and Aerospace industries. We’ve gotten AS9100 certified, ITAR Registered and will be going after CMMC Level 1 soon. We’ve just picked up a new client in the space industry and got our first job from Lockheed Martin, and have a few other new potential aerospace clients.

Our thanks goes out to everyone at ProShop!”

So by working on those 7 items listed above, and using some common sense approaches to ensuring you have a reliable process to find and solve problems before they happen, you can have a profound impact on the efficiency of your organization, freeing up capacity, reducing stress, shipping more parts faster than ever before, and realizing significant improvements in profitability in the process.

Read more real customer reviews here

Author: Paul Van Metre

When our shop was about 6 years old, we went through a massive Lean Manufacturing transformation. We went all in - Kaizen events, 5S, Kaizen Newspapers, Value Stream Mapping events, and more. One of the most impactful things we did was the change to one-piece-flow for nearly all our jobs for the subsequent 11 years (and still to this day with the new owner). In a low volume, high mix CNC job shop like we were, the process is perhaps a bit different than what is traditionally thought of. However, the impacts were huge and it worked really well for our shop.

It eliminates a ton of different wastes:

  1. Inventory (WIP)
  2. Waiting
  3. Defects
  4. Overproduction
  5. Motion
  6. Transportation
  7. Overprocessing

Wait a minute... is that all 7 of them as defined by the Toyota Production System?? You bet! Flow processes can reduce or eliminate all 7 wastes.

We called the process Bar-to-Box. Here is how it worked:

  1. We put a very small, right-sized bandsaw next to the CNC machine. The machine operator would cut a piece of material needed to load into the machine. (Sometimes we would start with pre-cut plate if that was required. Also, if we needed a dovetail on the material we would cut that on a custom router table before it went into the machine).
  2. The material would be put into the machine and machined completely in multiple setups, or in one on a 5 axis, and sometimes even flow directly to another machine which the operator was running as well. The main point is we’d machine the part completely without any batching.
  3. The part would come off the machine, and get deburred, washed, and rinsed.
  4. The operator would do an in-process inspection, with equipment right there at the machine. (Or if a CMM was needed, they would walk it over and put it on the CMM.) The results of the inspection would be put into ProShop’s inspection results field which would validate the results and alert of any out-of-tolerance issues.
  5. If there was assembly work to be done, such as installing helicoils, or adding masking plugs for anodizing, the operator would do that as well.
  6. They would put the part into the appropriate packaging such as bubble bags, plastic bags, egg crates, etc., and put them directly into the box ready to be shipped.

That’s the process. Bar-to-Box during the machine cycle. We designed the process to make sure it can fit in the machine cycle. Sometimes that means machining multiple parts at once, which can make sense if it’s a small part and we can machine a strip of them to optimize cycle time and tool changes as well. It’s also more fun for the machinist who gets to see finished parts every cycle, stay more engaged in a variety of tasks, and feel more ownership of the parts they are making.

Here are 5 key benefits of doing a one-piece-flow. (There are many others as well):

  1. You can dramatically reduce the labor cost of a job because one person is running many resources at the same time.
  2. You can ship partials almost immediately once the job is set up. This helps clients who need parts faster than you can deliver if you are batching them. They’ll love you for it!
  3. It’s easier to ensure you’re making good parts. If you only can inspect a half-done part because you’re batching op1 and op2, sometimes you can’t be confident that the part is good. Therefore scrap rates are much lower when flowing. There is also less risk of a pile of half-finished parts getting damaged.
  4. You get your cash faster! Jobs through the facility flow much more quickly than with batching, so you can ship and get paid faster from your client. This can have a big impact overall on company cash flow.
  5. Employees enjoy it more. It’s more interesting, they have full ownership of each part they make, and it helps the day go faster.

A few other thoughts to help this work.

  1. Put all your small equipment on wheels. Band saws, granite tables, assembly benches, bead blasting cabinets, wash stations, etc. Make sure you can reconfigure your work area in a matter of minutes. This really adds the ability to be flexible and configure your flows.
  2. Start with a simple project and train your staff on all the required steps.
  3. Put together a Standard Work Combination Sheet to see how it works out with the timing.

How can ProShop help?

In the part module where the routings are defined, it’s possible to outline a flow process by linking operations together so ProShop understands that the operations are part of a flow process. When this is done, ProShop will schedule those operations and resources together at the same time and will understand that completely finished parts are being created with each “takt” time. This makes it much easier to schedule this and have everyone understand what is going on.

In this example below, we can see that all the operations are being flowed with Operation 65 and it takes 26 minutes to complete that full flow including the bandsaw, 2 CNC machines, and the assembly bench. Astute viewers will also notice that we’re doing this flow at a 25% labor target, or about 6.5 minutes of labor which is the longest manual segment of time in this flow process. This enables nearly 20 minutes of free time per cycle for the operator to run some other machines or do other value-added activities somewhere else. So essentially, we’re making a part every 26 minutes even though it has 46 minutes of cutting time, and only using 6.5 minutes of labor. Also, we get finished and inspected parts off each time, that can start shipping to the customer or to an outside process right away.

There are certain situations where a flow like this is more difficult or impossible. However, with a bit of creativity and brainstorming it’s remarkable how many parts can be made into a flow process with an amazing amount of upside in terms of cost, quality, and lead time improvements, and waste reduction.

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