Do you wish to improve the productivity (and profitability) of your machine shop operations? What are some of the best practices that you can adopt?
Faced with growing competition both in their home countries and abroad, machine shop owners and managers need to stay at the forefront of innovation and adaptation. However, this evolution is not without its challenges. From maintaining productivity and efficiency, to attracting and retaining skilled employees, machine shops face a myriad of hurdles in their quest for success.
In this article, you will learn what machine shops are, why productivity is important for machine shops, as well as best practices that you can adopt to boost your machine shop productivity.
What is a Machine Shop?
A machine shop is a workshop where metalworking is done using CNC machines. These machine tools are used to cut and shape metal into a variety of parts and components.
Machine shops typically deploy CNC machines to produce parts or components for their customers in the manufacturing sector. These production facilities may have various types of CNC machines in their inventory, and they include:
- Milling Machines / Machining Centers: They are used to cut, drill, bore and shape metal by moving a cutting tool along a programmed path.
- Lathes/ Turning Centers: These are used to rotate a workpiece in order to cut, thread and shape it with a cutting tool.
- 5-Axis Machining Centers: 5-Axis CNC machines can perform simultaneous 5-Axis machining. This allows them to produce complex parts with a high degree of accuracy, often in one setting.
- Multi-Axis CNC Machines: These are mainly CNC machines which combine milling and turning technologies. Multi-Axis CNC machines can control their cutting tools in 4 or more axis / directions—this gives them the advantage of complete operations by utilising turning and milling technologies. These machines can complete any job in a single setting, regardless of its complexity. They are ideal for High Mix – Low Volume production runs and less suitable for high-volume production.
Types of Machine Shops
Most machine shops do multiple machining jobs for their customers. They may fall into either (or all) of the following categories depending on their size and manufacturing type:
- Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs): OEMs are companies that manufacture finished products. They often use machine shops to produce some parts and components which are required to assemble their products.
- Contract manufacturers: Contract manufacturers are companies that manufacture parts or complete products on a contract basis for other companies. They often use machine shops to produce the various parts and components needed to fulfil their contracts.
- Independent machine shops: Independent machine shops are companies that provide machining services to a variety of customers. They often specialise in a particular type of machining, such as for aerospace, oil & gas, mold & die, and other niche industries.
Why is Productivity Important for Machine Shops
Productivity is certainly important for your machine shop. Here’s why.
First, it directly impacts your bottom line. A more productive shop can produce more parts in less time, reducing labour costs per part and increasing your profit with each run.
Second, productivity affects customer satisfaction. When a shop can produce high-quality parts quickly and reliably, it can meet customer deadlines more consistently and maintain a high level of customer satisfaction. This can lead to repeat business and a stronger reputation in the industry.
Third, high productivity can give your machine shop a clear competitive edge. In an industry where many shops can produce similar parts, being able to produce them more efficiently can be a key differentiator.
Productivity also affects the cost side of the equation. When a shop is more productive, it can spread its fixed costs (like rent and equipment costs) over a larger number of parts, hence reducing the cost per part. This can make your shop more competitive on price, helping it to win more business while further increasing its profits.
11 Ways to Improve Productivity in Machine Shops
There are several ways to improve productivity in machine shops. Some of the most effective methods include the following.
#1 Invest in high-quality CNC machine tools
First and foremost, consider investing in the right higher quality CNC machines to boost your workshop’s productivity. Such CNC machines offer better precision and consistency, ensuring parts are manufactured according to requested accuracy. They also increase efficiency and speed, allowing for round-the-clock production and quicker delivery times.
Higher quality CNC machines are also more versatile, allowing shops to perform a wide range of operations, optimising the use of raw materials to reduce waste and lower costs. Their durability ensures long-term reliability, making your initial investment worthwhile in the long run.
Investing in the right CNC machines is necessary for staying competitive in today’s market. Parts used in the medical and optics industries, which require the highest precision and finish, need CNC machines that can provide superior surface finishing. Complex 3D molds, on the other hand, may need a 5-axis machining center rather than a 3-axis one.
💡 Learn more about choosing the right CNC Machine Tools here.
#2 Set up efficient processes
Machine shops should have efficient processes in place for all aspects of their operations—from the ordering of materials, planning and scheduling of jobs, to the use of standardised work instructions.
Interconnected systems can deliver savings in machine downtime between batches, material costs, manpower, and inefficient manual tasks.
Examples of automation systems that can be used to improve efficiency include the following — Automatic Pallet System (APS), Automated Workpiece Changer (AWC), and / or Gantry Systems.
💡 Customer satisfaction depends on reliable machining processes.
#3 Implement realistic production plans
Machine shops should set realistic production goals that are achievable with their current resources. Such pragmatic plans should consider the availability of materials and resources, manpower, as well as the capabilities of your CNC machines. Doing so will help you to avoid bottlenecks and delays.
💡 The flexibility and agility of the right CNC machines allows swift decisions to be made to fulfil the requirements of your customers.
#4 Optimise machine shop layout
To effectively improve the layout of your machine shop, consider incorporating automation systems into your workflow. Automation systems like those provided by Hwacheon, can streamline operations, reduce manual labour, and increase precision, thereby boosting overall productivity.
The use of compact size machines can also contribute to a more efficient layout. Machines such as the CUTEX 180 or Hi-TECH 230 with Gantry System or the M1-5AX compact sized 5-Axis Machining Center with an AWC (Automatic Workpiece Changer) or APC (Automatic Pallet System) are designed to deliver high performance while occupying lesser space. This allows more machines to be installed within the same area, increasing the shop’s capacity without requiring additional floor space.
#5 Tap on smart technology
From planning to production and quality control, there are smart technologies available that can help to improve productivity in your machine shops.
These technologies include machine monitoring, predictive maintenance, production task planning and scheduling, machining simulation, automated manufacturing systems, collision control and other software solutions which can be customized for specific manufacturing needs.
A good example here is the new Hwacheon “Harmony” smart interface (opt.)—a convenient and easy user interface that combines Hwacheon’s solution technologies on a single platform. Its capabilities include machine and tool magazine operation monitoring and status, machining programme management, job scheduler, and other value-adding features.
With a minimised button console, this new user-interface (UI) elevates your workshop to the next level of machining operation. Additionally, the advanced look and handling of this system will appeal to young operators.
💡 See how it works:
#6 Use software to optimise performance
Machining software can help to optimize and control the performance of CNC machines, speed up processes, increase the quality of manufactured components, avoid collision, and save costs in tool usage.
Hwacheon has developed a suite of machining software that monitors the various variables related to your machining environment, making adjustments to deliver the best quality results while enhancing productivity.
💡 Hwacheon CNC machines are standard packed with Hwacheon’s proprietary precision enhancement software and productivity enhancement software (HECC, HTLD, HTDC, HRCC and Optima) to ensure optimised machine performance.
#7 Adopt CNC machine monitoring and tracking
Having overall visibility of your production effectiveness can give you better control and flexibility over your manufacturing needs and management, as well as better responsiveness to your customers’ demands and the ability to add value through improved processes.
This is where Hwacheon M-Vision Plus / M-Vision Pro status monitoring software comes in. By monitoring your machine status in real time, the software can track your production processes, identify machine performance and bottlenecks, and solve problem areas.
With a glance, you can see your machine’s effectiveness and performance. The software captures all productive and non-productive events on your CNC machines, as well as every status change or alarm condition. The best thing about this feature is that you can monitor it on your PC or smartphone in real time, anywhere, anytime.
💡 Combine the power of hardware and software to take control of your machining quality.
#8 Select suitable CNC machine options
Selecting suitable options for each CNC machine helps to improve the productivity of your machine shops while avoiding machine downtime. Here are some examples of what you should consider.
- The longevity of the machine’s main spindle depends on the quality of components used and how it is manufactured. They also determine how the spindle handles speed, torque, and vibration.Consider how adding a Y-Axis to your turning center provides you with more opportunities to improve your machine’s multi-tasking capabilities.
- Upgrade a 3-Axis Machining Center with a CNC rotary table enables 4-Axis (3+1) machining. This allows you to perform 4-Axis / sided machining of more complex workpiece at an affordable price level.
#9 Select suitable accessories
To get even better results in CNC machining, you need to use the right accessories suitable for your projects. Some examples of useful accessories that can help you improve efficiency and accuracy include:
- Use suitable cutting tools as different workpiece materials require different cutting tools to effectively cut them.
- Knowing and using the right coolant can also help you to control the temperature during machining, provide better surface finishes, and ease in chip evacuation.
- Suitable workholding devices used to secure and position the workpieces ensure stability and accuracy during the machining process which avoiding errors, defects, or damages to the cutting tool or the CNC machine.
#10 Conduct regular preventive maintenance
To stretch their equipment investment dollar, machine shops often run their production 24/7. To keep production facilities running, preventive maintenance for CNC machines is highly recommended. This will ensure that the CNC machines continue to function well despite frequent and prolonged use, while avoiding costly breakdowns.
💡 Learn more about preventive maintenance by downloading our preventive maintenance checklist here.
#11 Train and motivate employees
Last, but certainly not least, you’ll need to find ways to attract, retain and develop your engineers. This isn’t easy as the industry faces a shortage of trained engineers and machinists. Some machine shops have to turn down business opportunities because they didn’t have enough workers.
Besides offering competitive salaries and benefits to the engineers and machinists, you need to provide them with opportunities for professional development, training, and motivation. Providing operators with the opportunity to operate modern machine tools is another way for machine shops to improve staff productivity and morale, while enchanting your bottom line.
💡 Engineers and machinists are important assets of machine shops.
How Hwacheon Helps You Improve Productivity
As a leading manufacturer of CNC machine tools and accessories, Hwacheon Machine Tools can help you boost the productivity of your machine shop.
Here are some of the ways that Hwacheon can help you improve productivity:
- State-of-the-Art CNC machine tools: Hwacheon offers a wide range of CNC machine tools that are designed to improve performance and productivity. These machines are equipped with the latest technology and features and are highly capable of machining a wide variety of materials in different dimensions, shapes, and sizes.
- Machining software: Hwacheon’s suite of machining software can help you optimise the performance of your machine tools. Their capabilities include automating tasks, tracking the performance of your machines, and identifying areas where you can improve productivity.
- Machine monitoring and tracking: Hwacheon’s machine monitoring and tracking software can help you track the performance of your machine tools and identify areas where you can improve productivity. This software can collect data on the performance of your machines, and it can use this data to identify problems and make recommendations for improvements.
- Options & Accessories: Hwacheon offers a wide range of options and accessories to support and help you get the most out of your CNC machines.
- Preventive maintenance: Hwacheon’s preventive maintenance programmes can help you keep your machine tools running at peak performance. They can help you to identify potential problems before they occur, and schedule maintenance at the right time.
- Training programmes: Hwacheon offers training programmes that can help you train your engineers on how to use your machine tools effectively.
In short, Hwacheon offers a wide range of products and services that can help machine shops improve productivity. These include CNC machines, machining software, CNC machine monitoring and tracking software, preventive maintenance programs, and training programmes.
While a lower initial machine investment cost may seem attractive, the 10-15% higher investment in a quality CNC machine will be well worth it over a period of months (and certainly years).
For instance, a turning center with a gearbox offers more flexibility than one without, and a box guide way machine provides better stability for specific materials than a linear guide machine. A modern machining center with a 20,000 rpm spindle and a cooling/lubrication system that guarantees stable temperature and lubrication of bearings is simply better than one with air-oil lubrication. And a 4+1 axis machining center is better and more capable than a 3+2 axis version, period. By investing in Hwacheon’s products and services, you can improve productivity in your machine shop and boost your bottom line.
💡 Hwacheon CNC machines – built by manufacturer for manufacturers.
Like other manufacturing companies, most machine shops today are familiar with cost savings initiatives that translate to profits. Rather than merely cut costs, we suggest that you look at how you can improve overall efficiency and productivity.
Improving your efficiency and productivity requires fully utilising unused non-productive machine hours, optimising machine performance, and eliminating time-consuming activities in the manufacturing processes. Such time consuming activities include machining errors, vibrations, burrs on workpieces, and machine breakdowns. These factors create unacceptable parts which need to be reworked or rejected, causing disruptions to the production plan and schedule.
By implementing these strategies, machine shops can improve productivity and boost their bottom line over the long-term.
Contact us to discuss which level of technology best meets your needs and can help you to be more productive and profitable.