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Size matters, but it's not the only thing

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Tech Talk by Peter Mate
Peter Mate is owner and president of Planit Canada, a software and services company devoted to servicing the manufacturing industry. For more info email

We all continue to strive for more efficiency in our businesses. Fewer mistakes, more profit, faster turnaround, it’s a never-ending quest.
In a production environment, it’s easy to default to expanding the shop and/or adding more equipment and staff. Don’t get me wrong, size does matter, but there are opportunities to optimize existing shops that are sometimes overlooked.
The CNC machines you have in the shop act like printers in the office. A printer without software to dictate what is to be printed is just a large paper weight. It’s the software used by the creative human that allows ideas to come to life. Once the idea is created in a software, it then sends as a series of instructions to the CNC machines. These instructions are limited by the physical capabilities of the CNC machines as well as the abilities of the software. I’ll share a few examples…
If you watch enough CNC machines run, you start noticing things.
Ever see a nested CNC cut one part at one end of the table and then move all the way across the other end to cut the next part. It appears there’s no real rhyme or reason to the sequence for cutting, because there isn’t. Same for operations. Watch enough holes being drilled and you’ll notice some machines do it smarter than others. Is it really the machine? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no.
Typically the software used to output to the machine has or lacks the ability to optimize the machines movements and cutting. Doing this intelligently while considering speed, small parts movement, areas of the table that might have more or less vacuum, along with other considerations is typically a function of the software being used to output the files to the CNC machines. By improving the quality of the CNC files we output, we can increase the same machine’ output while reducing damaged parts.
Another good example is fine tuning processes. This doesn’t usually require any more floor space or equipment, but can be implemented and used within the existing shop. How many times have I seen people walking into the front office from the other end of the shop to address a defect or situation on the factory floor? Too many times.
Or, how about someone from the office running around the shop changing paper workorders because there was a change since they were issued. Computers and tablets are so inexpensive these days. Even if you don’t have an MES software in place on the shop floor, you can still benefit from avoiding this physical circus. Invest in an MES software and you’ll be able to make the changes from the front office in seconds.
There are a number of consultants, books, articles and other sources of information on LEAN and various other principles out there. From over 20 years of seeing shops, I can attest that it’s not the size or the equipment that makes for an organized or profitable business. It’s the people and the processes in that business that make it work like a well-oiled machine. I have seen many large shops with big equipment investments that lack simple software and processes that can boost the profitability of the company. Imagine buying a top-of-the-line CNC machine only to insist that your operator move the head of the machine with his hands to cut the parts. That is what it feels like I’m seeing in some shops.
Ask questions, be curious, try new things, don’t be afraid of failure and keep moving forward.

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