Cutting Tool Engineering
December 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 12

Simple activities, amazing benefits

By Keith Jennings

A machine shop can become a messy place if you don’t stay on top of it. If you’ve visited other shops, you’ve probably observed what I’ve seen over the years—a few that are spotless and well-maintained, and others that look like a cave, with little thought or care given to the work environment. Most shops are somewhere in between. We maintain a decent shop, which consists of machining and fabrication departments in separate areas, but it takes constant effort to keep it that way.

Our latest cleaning project started with a simple goal. During a discussion with my machining department leadmen, they informed me of their plan to do some fall housekeeping. It didn’t sound too difficult, consisting mostly of sorting through a bunch of drop-material pieces, machine maintenance and miscellaneous tidying up.

“Sounds good; start with this rack,” I told them, indicating the dusty rack in the corner that had become a catch-all. The rack was cleaned and all the random stuff on it was sorted and cleaned, creating valuable space for other items. Next was more general cleaning followed by machine maintenance—so far, so good. Then my retired dad showed up.

Around this time, I had assigned Dad a project he could execute with the urgency and precision of a military commander: rearranging and cleaning the fabrication area to prepare for the arrival of new equipment. He happily obliged, this being the type of project that gives him immense gratification: a clean shop with new machines sitting in it.

Eventually, this activity migrated toward the machining area and ensnared the workers in a more aggressive reorganization under the retired commander’s watchful eye. The dusty rack reorganization led to some tooling reorganization, followed by a coordinate measuring machine overhaul, the addition of security cameras, recertification of every QA tool, draining and disposing of all the cutting fluids from the machines and, eventually, repainting and striping the shop floor. Some of the work we didn’t even realize was needed; it was the classic case of not seeing something right in front of you.

Now, most customers don’t base supplier quality on whether the shop is clean or has a painted floor. For the most part, they’d prefer cheaper pricing. Also, many shop owners and managers would legitimately question spending a lot of money on something that has no bearing on part quality. But we’re proponents of going above and beyond so our crew is immersed in a high-quality environment from the moment they enter the shop.

This degree of effort doesn’t necessarily guarantee better parts, but it creates a safer shop in which employees are proud to work. Plus, it enhances stability because they are less likely to bail for a modest pay increase elsewhere if it means going into a messy and perhaps less safe and less healthy environment.

While a thorough house cleaning alone doesn’t make everything better, simple improvements can have both tangible and intangible benefits. Employees will appreciate your concern and attention to detail, visiting customers will like what they see and have more confidence in your capabilities, and insurance and safety audits should go much smoother.

Remember, when it comes to improving your shop, don’t overlook something as simple as a good reorganization and a coat of paint. You’ll be amazed at the results. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at
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