Software Helps Small Machine Shop Become Lean Manufacturer

This CNC machine shop searched for software that would help make the transition to lean manufacturing easier.

Case Study From: 9/27/2004 Modern Machine Shop

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Discussesing how to combine the next setup

Alex Farkas (left), owner of A&F Machining, discusses with machinist Chris Vargas how to combine the next setup needed with the current setup at the CNC lathe.

Machining instructor at T.H. Pickens Community College

Mike Townsend (right), machining instructor at T.H. Pickens Community College, reviews the process plan for a current job with students Andrew Cote and Nick Tucker. Students will be learning to use software provided by Realtrac and A&F Machining and Manufacturing to generate job routers and to schedule and track all jobs.

Three years after starting his own company, A & F Machining and Manufacturing (Englewood, Colorado), Alex Farkas was faced with a dilemma. His CNC machine shop, which produces parts for customers in the high-tech, automotive, agricultural, food and entertainment industries, had grown from one employee in 1997 to 13 in 2000. Mr. Farkas thought that having more manpower was going to make his business successful, yet adding more employees was causing the company to lose money. “I had to stop the bleeding without hiring more employees,” he says.

One possible solution was to hire a shop supervisor to manage the scheduling of jobs, machines and employees. However, Mr. Farkas realized that the investment would not be cost effective at the time. It was suggested that shop management software might help his situation, so he started to explore what was available. He looked into several different software packages, but he noticed that many of them were either too expensive or too complicated for a small machine shop.

After considerable exploration, he decided to try Realtrac (Irvine, California). “It appeared to be cut and dry, yet it provided the essential shopfloor control capabilities I was looking for,” Mr. Farkas explains. “Moreover, the initial investment required was reasonable.”

He soon found out that although using shop software required learning many new concepts, it was clear that the unproductive time of shop employees was diminishing. By the end of the third week, Mr. Farkas realized that the software was more powerful than he anticipated, and that it had the potential to help provide the control of shop operations that the company so badly needed. He soon was able to extract himself from the daily production picture so that jobs could run smoothly without his help.

Since implementing the software, productivity and efficiency at the company have increased substantially. For example, it used to take Mr. Farkas 2 to 4 hours to prepare an estimate. Using Realtrac, the average time to prepare an estimate is about 30 minutes. Once a job is accepted, an estimate can be turned into a job with a router/process plan in less than a minute. As an alternative, a router for a previous job can be duplicated in seconds.

Also, communications with shop employees have improved. Without being told, a machine operator can quickly see what has to be done next. The operator is also able to determine similarities in machine setups and suggest alternative schedules in order to minimize downtime. As a result, employees are becoming more involved in the day-to-day operations, and they feel they are contributing to the success of the company.

The software’s employee time summary reports have also helped the company identify critical areas for improvements in a straightforward manner.

After implementing the software, the company’s volume of business started to increase, and employees began to believe in the system as they saw the potential for an increase in their personal earnings. Mr. Farkas says that before implementing Realtrac, he was trying to solve problems after they occurred. Now he can anticipate problems and be a proactive manager.

Mr. Farkas believes that in today’s manufacturing environment, the small machine shop can survive only by striving to be a “lean and mean manufacturer.” The Realtrac shop management system, along with good organization and management of employees, has helped A&F to achieve this goal.

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