Most shops have some sort of maintenance program designed to keep their capital equipment up and running at peak efficiency. After all, these machines are the life-blood of any metalworking enterprise. Without the process capability provided by machining centers, grinders, lathes, and other machine tools, a shop would be out of business.
But how many shops think about regular maintenance for their other critical asset—the employees who make the capital equipment operate. Whether the shop has 10 people or 200, how well or poorly people are engaged in the operation represents a competitive advantage or disadvantage.
If two shops are similarly equipped with efficient machine tools, good processes and process controls, yet one has an environment that encourages its people to think and allows them to act, while the other prefers its shop personnel to do as instructed, which will succeed long term?
The preservation of people is acute in today's very healthy manufacturing climate. "It's tough to find good people" is a cry heard coast to coast. Too many shops will spend thousands of dollars for machines then turn around and balk at a $500 request from an operator to attend a seminar on reducing setup or SPC. Too often the signal that gets sent is that capital equipment is valuable, shop personnel are less so.
Numerous companies, some very large, have made the mistake of putting technology ahead of the people who must make it work. In some cases that can be a fatal mistake for the business. On the other hand, shops that involve their people in the equipment procurement process, or allow the machine operator to try a new method to reduce setup or listen and act on a processing change that reduces throughput time so the parts ship sooner, are the shops that people want to work in.
It takes more than a paycheck to capture the hearts and minds of people. It takes an environment where there is genuine interest in what the employees know and can contribute. There is encouragement to try new ideas. Along with that is security that supporting a new idea which doesn't work won't get you fired.
Enlightened shops are taking care to create a shop culture that in addition to maintaining machines in top running order, cultivate their critical human assets by providing what people really need to do the job—a chance.