Simplify Tasks by Writing Down Procedures

Spelling out the steps needed to complete a particular job will help get new, inexperienced workers up to speed.


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Many companies in the United States are currently experiencing a dramatic upturn in business. With this increase comes a need for more workers. Unfortunately, experienced workers are few and far between. This is forcing some businesses to hire less-experienced people and train them. The first few months can be frustrating for both employer and employee as entry-level people get up to speed.

There are two ways to improve worker proficiency. Employers can provide proper training, making it possible for employees to perform complex tasks. Also, employers can simplify the tasks so they can be completed by employees with lesser skill sets. Entry-level employees need help in both areas: They need more training, and they need tasks to be simpler to perform.

One way to simplify a complex task is to provide a procedure for completing it. The more steps required in the procedure, the more
likely entry-level employees will be to forget them. This means that more-experienced employees in your company will be called upon to provide help, demonstrating and explaining redundant procedures until newcomers eventually memorize them.

Frankly speaking, running a CNC machine is little more than following a set of procedures. For instance, consider these steps to measure tool length:

1. Bring the nose of the spindle down to a flat surface.

2. Reset the Z-axis display to zero.

3. Retract the Z axis, and load the tool to be measured.

4. Bring the tool tip down to the flat surface.

5. Call up the tool-length compensation offset page, and bring the cursor to the appropriate offset register.

6. Transfer the Z-axis display value into the offset register.

Every task on a CNC machine, from powering up to shutting down, requires a step-by-step procedure.

Procedures can be as general or as specific as you need them to be. The example above for measuring tool lengths is pretty general. It assumes that the person following the procedure knows how to move the machine’s axes manually, load tools into the spindle, reset the axis displays, call up the offset page, move the cursor and use the measure function.

I like to use both general and specific procedures. Entry-level employees need specifics. Manually moving the machine’s axes, for example, involves using the jog functions and the handwheel. Resetting the axis displays involves manipulating the display screen, as does calling up the offset page and transferring the Z-axis display value into the offset register. Having a separate procedure for each of these rudimentary tasks fills in the blanks for the general tasks.

As beginners gain experience, they will remember often-repeated rudimentary procedures. Eventually, they won’t need the specifics spelled out for them. Once they become totally proficient with the machine, they won’t need often-used general procedures either. However, having specific procedures laid out for them early in their employment will reduce frustration and enable them to become productive quickly.

Your procedures can be organized into an operation handbook for each machine. Categories for general procedures, placed first in the book, might include steps related to setup. Actual procedures in this category might include making vise or fixture setups, measuring and programming zero-assignment values, measuring and entering tool-length compensation values, and verifying programs. Other general categories could include program running and verification procedures, among others.

I like to work from general to specific. After general procedures are given, provide the more specific procedures. A category for manual procedures, for example, could include jogging the axes, using the handwheel, starting the spindle and doing manual zero return, among others. Other categories that have more specific procedures could include manual data input (MDI) procedures and program editing procedures.

Admittedly, it will take time to develop these procedures. Take it one step at a time. The next time someone asks how to do something on a machine, don’t just show them. Write it down in the form of a procedure. Do this every time you (or other experienced people in your company) are asked how to do something. You’ll be surprised at how fast your operation handbook will grow.

Regardless of how long it takes to complete the handbooks, consider their benefits. Inexperienced employees will become proficient more quickly, while experienced employees will be free to focus on their own responsibilities.