Who Makes Your Company Money?

In value added terms, there are only two tasks occurring in any business—value added tasks and necessary support tasks. Value added tasks further the completion of a product.

In value added terms, there are only two tasks occurring in any business—value added tasks and necessary support tasks. Value added tasks further the completion of a product. Necessary support tasks are important tasks that must be done for a company to function, but the company does not make any money performing them. A company is only paid for the performing of value added tasks.

In manufacturing terms, and specifically CNC machine tool utilization, value added tasks such as drilling, tapping, milling, turning, boring, reaming, threading, grooving and knurling are among the countless machining operations performed. Necessary support tasks include programming, tool engineering, setup, manufacturing engineering, inspection and management of all kinds. Truly, any task that occurs in a company that doesn't further the completion of a product is a support task.

Who is performing the CNC-related value added tasks in your company? Of course, these are your CNC operators. In many companies, these are the least paid, least respected and least skilled people. Think about it. Your company's very survival depends most on people at the bottom rung of the ladder. And because of their station, CNC operators tend to get little help in performing their duties—and they can't control their own destiny—they can't demand help when they need it. Indeed, they may not even have the knowledge or experience to know what they need to improve. At best, poorly supported CNC operators will result in wasted time. Worse, they'll scrap workpieces. And a poorly supported operator can be very dangerous around a CNC machine.

Many companies are quick to blame their CNC operators for waste—and since CNC operators are performing the value added tasks, poor operators do result in lost profit. But who is really to blame? Before you point your finger, consider the training and support (or lack of it) they receive.

This relates to a premise of value added principles. One of the most important responsibilities of any necessary support person must be to enhance the capabilities of value added people. As you begin to complain about your operators, consider what you've done recently (or haven't done) that would help them avoid the problem you're about to complain about.

In my experience, too little concern is given to improving the skills of CNC operators. People are so busy performing their own (necessary support) tasks, CNC operators tend to get overlooked until there's a problem. When you consider how many people can affect the way CNC operators perform, this can be a dramatic shortcoming. It may be obvious, for example, that a CNC programmer can have the greatest impact on the way a CNC operator performs. This is the person commonly responsible for the design of the setup, setup documentation, production run documentation and the program's ease of use. Many operator mistakes, for example, can be attributed to misunderstandings between the programmer and operator. Again, who is responsible for this? Better support from the programmer may eliminate an operator's mistakes.

Who else can have an impact on operator success? Look for times when operators are struggling—duplicating effort, wasting time finding something, taking time to figure something out or, worse, making mistakes resulting in scrapped workpieces or crashed machines. First, determine who is in control of the reason why they're struggling. If an operator is having problems interpreting print dimensions or tolerances, it's a design engineer. If they are having problems interpreting process control documentation, it's a process engineer. If they're having problems using/interpreting the gages they use, it's a quality control engineer. If they're taking a long time filling in cards to report on a job, it's a production control person. All of these people (and more) have an impact on how CNC operators perform.

Although a good, experienced operator may not need as much in the way of assistance, given the difficulties most managers express when it comes to finding operators, most companies are hiring inexperienced people to run CNCs. Support should match this lower skill level.

Good management should direct value added people, supporting them in every way possible. If necessary support people don't want to change their methods, be sure they understand the important premise of value added principles mentioned earlier. One of the most important responsibilities of any support person is to enhance the capabilities of value added people.