Advanced Precision Machining

Streamlining Machine Shop Processes Via Lean Manufacturing Principles

[10/30/2015] In the increasingly competitive industry of precision manufacturing, machine shop owners, and CNC machinists for that matter, must have maximizing productivity and increasing efficiency as a central focus. This rings especially true for small and medium-sized operations, including APM’s Colorado machine shop. We stake our reputation on meeting our clients’ needs for high-precision parts delivered on-spec and on-time. Typically, we’re unable to match the production capabilities of larger rivals in the low-mix, high-volume world. So, in order to maximize profits and achieve our desired growth goals, we are constantly in search of ways to gain a competitive advantage. The concept of lean manufacturing, a systematic practice for eliminating waste in the manufacturing process, is a goal almost every manufacturer strives for. But for smaller and mid-sized CNC machine shops, the methods central to lean production models don’t always lend themselves well to low-volume, high-mix, and oftentimes one-off precision machining environments. While this may be true, many job shops today have successfully adopted this methodology by focusing on the goals and strategies that are feasible to their particular operation.

No matter the size of the operation, there is commonality in the desire and ability to incorporate some frequently described goals of lean manufacturing. These elements include: improving quality, eliminating waste, reducing time and effort, and reducing total costs. The core objective is to maximize value to the client while reducing waste in its various forms. In a manufacturing environment, the 5S workplace organization method is central to the lean manufacturing philosophy. It is a system first utilized by the Japanese to reduce waste and optimize productivity by maintaining an orderly workplace, and it definitely has its place in smaller milling and machining facilities. In fact, a typical 5S implementation can reduce the square footage of space needed for existing operations. The 5S pillars of: Sort (organization), Set in Order (orderliness), Shine (cleanliness), Standardize (standardized cleanup), and Sustain (discipline) are indeed scalable to any sized machine shop and provide a template for organizing, cleaning, developing, and sustaining a productive work environment. In short, transition to lean production should not focus solely on equipment, but instead, with the procedures associated with how existing equipment is used.

This begins with a focus on streamlining various processes, and there are many to choose from on the typical precision CNC machining floor. The key is being flexible and adaptable both to the working environment and to the demands of customers. Here is just a small sampling of some possible improvements:

  • Reduce excessive inventories, scrap and other waste

  • Incorporate continuous improvement initiatives and investment in quality systems such as shop management software

  • Use quick changeover carts and visual aides such as shadow boards and foam cut outs for organizing tools

  • Eliminate wasted motion and time spent waiting

  • Consider the ergonomics of employees

  • Reduce downtime through better predictive and preventative maintenance

  • Eliminate mistakes, reworks and overproduction of parts

  • Reduce setup times and batch sizes

The list could go on and on, and what we’ve highlighted is not an end itself, but a means to more streamlined operations by maximizing productivity and increasing efficiency. Lean is more than simply some best practices, it’s about doing more with less and removing impediments to productivity. This translates into reduced lead times, better product quality, and lowered costs. By not implementing at least a few lean practices, a machine shop loses its competitive advantage, and future growth, if so desired, will be stymied.

“APM is dedicated to manufacturing the highest quality precision parts while providing the best customer service experience in the machine shop business”. For additional information or to request a quote, please visit or call 303-776-1910.

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 on the emerald isle of Ireland and took an interest in milling and machining from an early age, ranking #1 in the Irish National Apprenticeship Program. In 2005, he partnered with his friend and colleague, Kirk Tuesburg, currently APM’s machine shop manager, together launching 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. 


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