The “Other Things” I Like About Shop Visits

Beyond advanced machining processes and technology, here’s what I appreciate encountering during shop visits.

Columns From: 9/19/2012 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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I value the opportunity to visit the various shops I write about in this magazine. In fact, I can’t point to any particular visit I haven’t enjoyed, although some of them have been more interesting than others. Understandably, the technology or trend that I’m writing about tends to flavor the appeal, not the shop itself.
 
That said, the experiences that I appreciate most often extend beyond learning about the interesting machining concepts and strategies a shop is applying.
 
For example, I dig shops that:
 
• Make a point of introducing me to the various people I encounter on the shop floor, because it’s clear that those employees are truly valued and respected for what they bring to the table.
 
• Have a low turnover rate, because those businesses provide the type of healthy working environment that prevents people from bolting to a nearby shop that offers nothing more than a slightly higher hourly wage.
 
• Promote from within, enabling people to learn new skills while progressing toward responsibilities they find interesting. Nobody wants to do the same thing day in and day out.
 
• Hire employees that don’t have direct machine shop experience, because their fresh perspective can lead to outside-the-box solutions to production challenges.
 
• Offer employee suggestion programs that compensate workers for fresh ideas leading to increased shopfloor efficiency and effectiveness. (Even if shops don’t pay for such proposals, employees appreciate that their suggestions are given thoughtful consideration.)
 
• Have an open-door policy and keep the lines of communication open throughout the operation so all employees are aware of the company’s direction, its state and its needs.
 
• Maintain a clean facility, because that says a lot about the pride both management and shopfloor employees have in the company.
 
• Are open to new machining strategies and equipment, and leave the door open to suppliers who might be able to suggest a more productive alternative to an existing process.
 
• Don’t consider themselves “shops,” because they offer customers much more than precision-machined parts. (Domaille Engineering, the company profiled here, falls into this category. It offers design for manufacturability guidance in addition to precision parts-machining services.)
 
Although there are resources, such as our Top Shops benchmarking program, that offer hard data to define machine shop success, there’s much to be said about the gut feeling one gets during a shop visit. For me, it’s the people who make the difference, and managers who recognize their employees’ value.

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