Managing Machine Shop Chaos with the 6Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance

June 12, 2023

Written by: Paul Van Metre

It probably goes without saying that the manufacturing world is a busy place. Facing each new day as a manufacturing professional requires courage to face the inevitable challenges. Try as you might to plan out your schedule. You’re somehow always derailed by some unforeseen situation that requires your attention. The unpredictability can get frustrating, to say the least. This can be especially true in a job shop environment. The endless cycle of putting out fires only for new ones to appear is exhausting. Be it missed details, customer demands, technical difficulties, or operator errors: an already busy day can flip to straight-out chaos in mere moments. To adapt to the chaos, you and your team have become expert firefighters and hip-shooters in an effort to keep the ship moving in the right direction. To your credit, your success rate isn’t terrible! It seems as though permanently operating in reactive mode is fairly effective, right? Wrong.

Some days just seem to go off the rails before you’ve even poured your first cup of coffee. I’ve had several of those days myself. It gets old, quick. The question is, how do you break the cycle of operating in reactive mode to effectively deal with shop floor pandemonium?  

Way too many jobs go off the rails, become late, or suffer significant losses, because of insufficient planning which results in details being missed, and those misses causing big problems. Flippant decision making, band-aid fixes, and shooting from the hip is not a scalable business practice. It costs too much time and money to operate that way, and it simply isn’t effective at dealing with the root cause of the problem. While certain aspects of running a manufacturing business are uncontrollable, there are things you can control to stack the deck in your favor for a successful outcome. Tough days, competing priorities, and customer demands will come, but when you plan for success, you’ll find that many problems can be eliminated.

In our shop, Pro CNC, one of our employees came up with the 6Ps. Whenever we had something go wrong because we missed something due to insufficient planning, we’d all joke about the 6Ps! I’d argue that the concept could be applied to most spheres of life with great success - like my teenagers. That said, let’s consider how Proper Planning can Prevent Piss-Poor Performance in your machine shop business.

The Concept:
A formal job planning process can go a long way toward reducing problems and achieving a successful outcome. It’s worth making the time to plan up front so that you can avoid all sorts of problems down the line. When small details are missed early-on, they can snowball into bigger problems further in the process. Flying by the seat of your pants often leads to wasted time and money. When the right people are involved in the planning process, you can greatly reduce the opportunity for costly errors. When you summarize and make critical information available to the people who need it most, jobs run more smoothly.  

Why it Matters:
Richard Branson was quoted as saying:

“If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity, but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later!”

I’ve always loved the bold audacity of that statement, and I’d bet more than a few manufacturing entrepreneurs have followed Richard’s advice. I know I have. 

The truth is, this isn’t an uncommon scenario in the world of manufacturing! Shop owners are faced with new manufacturing challenges on a daily basis that require detailed planning in order to get it right. The “right way” isn’t always obvious. When you half-ass the job planning process, you experience poor business performance. If you’ve been winging it for some time, you’ve likely learned to live with the consequences and don’t even realize it. Beyond poor performance and inefficiency, missed details could result in scrap parts and missed deadlines that damage key customer relationships. Put simply, “winging it” is bad for business. Being constantly inundated with avoidable issues limits your ability to successfully run and grow the business. While it’d be naive to say that all problems can be avoided, you certainly can end the cycle of being a full-time “firefighter”.

The Challenge:
Many details go into achieving a successful job outcome - delivering good quality parts, on-time, and with healthy profit margin! Consider every part of the process that needs to be completed correctly. The PO needs to be reviewed and verified. Outside processing details need to be confirmed. Material and tooling need to be sourced. An inspection plan needs to be produced. Toolpaths must be generated. The machine needs to be set-up with the proper work-holding. All of that and often more before anyone even presses cycle start! Consider how many team members must work in harmony for that job to go smoothly. If a mistake is made upstream, how does that affect everyone else down the line? How does the financial impact of that mistake compound with every step that follows? Every step is an opportunity for error, thus the need to get the right people involved to craft a plan that is detailed and precise at the beginning of the job.  I’ve always said that machine shops are the hardest business in the world to run, and this is a prime example of that. Virtually all the stars need to align to get it all right.  But more careful planning and help ensure those stars align a lot more often!

The Benefit:
How much money are you losing due to inadequate planning and preparation? How often is your progress halted because your shop floor staff don’t have the tools or material to complete the job? Waiting on needed information, tools, and materials results in waste. When waste is eliminated by properly planning for the job, you’ll notice the results: Less waste, reduced frustration, costs go down, throughput goes up, and the bottom line improves.  

Where to Start:
You may already have a robust and effective planning process in place, in which case I congratulate you! If you don’t, here are some things to consider.

  1. Perform a contract review process to ensure that the details of each customer order are correct relative to what was quoted. This includes double checking that the part revision, part number, quantities, ship dates, ship address, and terms are correct.  Ensuring any “off drawing” knowledge from sales or estimating is captured properly.
  2. Develop a planning process for production. Get the right people into the room and define a production plan. This might include a project manager, lead machinist, and programmer. Determine which machines will be used and how many machining operations there will be, what will be inspected when, with what inspection equipment. Define the tooling and work holding requirements. Figuring out these details as a group may bring to light any risks or pitfalls that need to be avoided. 
  3. Review and verify material choice, commercial items, outside processing requirements, regulatory requirements, and packaging requirements. Document those in a way that they can’t get lost later, and will be seen by the people at each stage of the work order. Work with your procurement team to make sure that all items will arrive on time, and that long lead items are ordered in advance. 

How Does ProShop Help?
ProShop was designed to incorporate a range of planning tools to make each job successful. Contract review processes are incorporated into the Purchase Order module to ensure that all purchasing information is verified. The War Room Planning task in the quality manual was developed on the shop floor and provides a defined planning process to ensure that all pertinent job details are discussed, reviewed, and accounted for in advance. New work orders include configurable pre-processing checklists to ensure planners, programmers, set-up technicians, and operators do their part to plan for a successful outcome.    

When repeatable processes are defined and adhered to by team members, you minimize the opportunity for errors and increase the productivity of your machine shop. That flows to the bottom line! In fact, the most common improvement that clients tell us about, is their 25%+ increase in throughput without any additional machines or people!  Your bank account will be happy about that! Want to learn more about how ProShop can help you plan for success? Get in touch, we’d love to speak with you! 

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