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APM’s Guide to Improving Efficiency and Productivity on the Machine Shop Floor

December 22, 2022by Gerry Dillon

In the increasingly competitive industry of precision manufacturing, combined with current economic conditions, CNC machine shop owners and machinists today MUST have maximizing productivity and increasing efficiency as a central focus. This rings especially true for small and medium-sized operations, including Advanced Precision Machining’s (APM’s) Colorado machine shop. The good news is that we are in the midst of an industrial revolution of sorts (Industry 4.0) and thus far, despite teetering on the edge of recession, the manufacturing sector continues to thrive. Milling and machining work is rapidly transforming and evolving thanks to more advanced equipment, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, improved process automation, better analytics, preventative maintenance, and the Internet of Things (IoT). Now, machine shops find themselves in somewhat unfamiliar territory. Despite economic conditions,  competition is on the rise, and although the skills gap is shrinking, there still exists difficulty in filling CNC machinist positions. All of this, coupled with increased demand for high quality parts, means that milling and machining facilities must place even greater emphasis on efficiency and productivity. 

Thankfully, more modern technological advancements in today’s precision machining tools mean many machine shops have the ability to streamline their operations. The concepts behind lean manufacturing are now “en vogue”, and more businesses are focused on improving quality, eliminating waste, reducing time and effort, and reducing total costs. At APM, our staff provides CNC milling, turning, prototype development, and more machine shop services in our state of the art facility, and because of sound business practices, we continue to grow. We’ve managed to stay ahead of the manufacturing curve, and in fact, have tripled in size and sales capacity since opening in 2005. But times have changed and competition is up. To remain successful, we are always on the lookout for ways to keep costs down and increase our output, while maintaining the quality, reliability and exceptional customer service our clients have become accustomed to.

The old adage rings more true today than in the recent past…Time is money!  Do you want to make your operation more efficient and productive? No matter the size of the shop floor, there is renewed commonality in the desire for every company to incorporate some frequently described goals that ultimately lead to more efficiency and productivity. We want to use this forum to share with our readers a few of our favorite tips/techniques for improving operations, and most importantly, the bottom line in any CNC milling and machining facility. While by no means an exhaustive list, they should provide you with a clear starting point and set you on the right path to gaining a competitive advantage over your competition.

Improving Organization

It’s amazing the number of man-hours lost and dollars wasted due to a general lack of organization. You must maintain a well-organized place for everything, especially machine tools, and properly put things back into the appropriate place when done. Invest in better tool drawers, cabinets and/or shadow boards for example. Improve your labeling system. Think about the layout of your milling and machining equipment – does it maximize efficiency? Keep the shop floor and equipment clean. This all sounds elementary, but goes a long way to improving efficiency.

Upgrading/Investing in Machine Tools

In reality, machine tools are THE driving force machine shops rely on to make everything work together synchronously and efficiently. Without the right tools for the job, your shop will be treading water. Recent advances in precision manufacturing technology, most notably in the form of computerized numerical control (CNC), computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM), greater multi-axis capabilities, and additive manufacturing (3D printing), have led to revolutionary design and production improvements for precision machined parts. Are you on board with the latest and greatest? 

Eliminating Excessive Machine Downtime

Idle machines aren’t making money! A critical way to maximize efficiency is to minimize machine downtime. This goal can be accomplished in a number of ways including: improved run time production planning, organizing parts, investing in cutting-edge machine monitoring software, better preventative maintenance, setting more specific targets, and improving machinist training.

Prolonging Tool Life

The list here can be long. Think about converting to a high-pressure coolant (HPC) system, or increase your existing coolant concentrations. Routinely inspect your tool holders and inserts to avoid catastrophic failures, keep track of the amount of material being removed, and avoid excessive contact time with the workpiece. Think about investing in a harder insert grade if you can. Certain aftermarket coatings, such as aluminum oxide, can help you reduce cycle times while increasing your tool life, feed rates and cutting speeds. Cryogenic machining is also worth exploring and investing in.

Tool Management Systems

Want to keep your tool costs low and your setup times down? Invest in a tool management system (TMS). A good one allows you to seamlessly track and manage your inventory, and  helps eliminate costly over or under-stocking of your tool supply. Companies such as ToolBoss offer a number of systems to regulate and audit tool usage, performance and procurement. Software is even available to track all tools and issue purchasing notices, eliminating costly downtime and saving money.

Want to learn more about improving machine shop efficiency and productivity, or have a question about your next milling and machining project? Contact the expert CNC machinists at Advanced Precision Machining today. 

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About the Author

Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Before making his home in the United States in 2000, Gerry was born and raised in Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he began what’s grown into a leading Colorado machine shop. Gerry brings over 30 years of machining experience to the shop floor, and is certified in all aspects of geometric dimensioning and tolerancing.

by Gerry Dillon

Gerry Dillon is a co-founder, current owner and certified CNC machinist at Advanced Precision Machining (APM), a full-service machine shop located in Longmont, Colorado. Gerry has over 30 years of precision milling and machining experience under his belt.