Continuous Improvement Initiatives

Columns From: Modern Machine Shop,

Posted on: 1/23/2013

These measures are worth considering to generate positive results in your shop.

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Wayne Chaneski

There are many areas within companies that offer opportunities for improvement. Often the hard part is knowing where to start. Here are some continuous improvement initiatives to consider in your shop:

Managing Cutting Tools
Most shops have more cutting tools than they really need, usually spread out in many different areas. Managing a vast number of tools can be a daunting task.

Effective cutting tool management starts with identifying the tools you really need, then taking steps to dispose of the rest. To assist in managing the tools you do need, a number of vending-machine-type tool storage systems are available. Each offers advantages for tracking the tools you have and providing notification when it’s time to reorder.

Today’s cutting tool suppliers have vast inventories and can offer extremely fast delivery times. Ordering a tool only when you need it and receiving it very quickly might be the simplest and leanest cutting tool management solution of all.

Tracking Employee Skills
Often we don’t realize all of the skills our employees possess because we don’t always have easy ways to obtain this information. An employee skills matrix can assist with this. The matrix consists of the names of each employee by department (or work area), the key skills needed in the department and some type of evaluation for each employee on each key skill. Once completed, we easily can see the range of key skills each employees has and the number of employees we can rely upon to perform the needed skills. This is a relatively simple continuous improvement initiative to start and one that can be expanded over time.

Tracking Job Turnaround Times
Reducing throughput time is a goal of most of today’s shops. The faster a job can be completed in any work area, the faster it can be shipped to a customer. By simply measuring the in/out durations of our jobs, we can determine our current average turnaround times. We can start to measure this in many ways, from the simple process of adding a sticky note to the job packet and recording the received and complete dates, to using our management information system to capture this information (with less manual effort).

Once we have determined our current average turnaround times, we can focus our efforts on reducing this time. This is a continuous improvement initiative that has significant payback potential for any shop.

Organizing Customer Quotes
The process of quoting is tough. It involves investing much effort, a large portion of which will not result in orders from customers. Unfortunately, for many companies, investing the effort is the only way to get orders, so it must be done and done quickly. A company that responds slowly to requests for quotes risks losing opportunities for work.

In order to respond to quotes quickly, quote requests need to be organized. Whether this means logging every request into a computer system or creating some type of visual “stack” of requests, they must be accounted for and acted upon. Likewise, when they are completed, they must be equally well organized for fast retrieval.

There is little wasted effort as painful as searching for a quote, either to respond to customer questions or take action if awarded. There are commercial quoting software packages available that can aid in quote management. Companies can also take advantage of spreadsheet software to develop their own quote-management system.

When it comes effective quoting, the message is clear—you must be organized.

Scheduling the Work
This sounds so simple, and yet many companies lack an effective means of scheduling work in their shops. In the worst case, everyone has their own idea of what the schedule should be. This leads to frustration, conflict, missed targets and unhappy customers.

There is no one best system of scheduling—if there were, everyone would use it. However, any system must strike a balance between the customer’s needs and the shop’s real capabilities. Furthermore, any schedule requires:

  • Opportunity for input from all participants.
  • Commitment to achieve the scheduled dates.
  • Feedback on the status of all orders.
  • Corrective action when things do not go as planned.

Brief, focused, frequent (daily, if possible) meetings are the best way to assure these requirements are met. Rather than viewing such meetings as a problem or inconvenience, they should be seen as a means of preventing bigger problems.

Acting on any of these continuous improvement initiatives should generate positive results for your shops in a relatively short period of time. 

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