Katarzyna Bialasiewicz | Dreamstime
Shop managers plan their work.

Tips for Creating Better Machine Shop Workflow

July 20, 2023
These five design factors will help manufacturing operations achieve a more efficient, effective, and sustainable process flow – and promote opportunities for growing the business.

Manufacturing businesses like machine shops, and the supply chains that serve them, have multiple moving parts that can be managed efficiently from a well-designed workspace. Designing a machine-shop’s layout will directly impact efficiency and workflow, promoting contentment among the workers and increasing productivity, for more satisfied clientele. Find the best positions for each machine and workstation for the most optimized machine shop environment.

1. Compartmentalize similar processes

The workspace should have a floor plan that reflects the way processes unfold. Every function should reflect the value-stream map, accentuating the importance of every phase in the making process. Shops can use their enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to get a more holistic view of where their operations are most “dense.”

Having the ends of production lines far away from an area accessible to vehicle fleets adds time needed to transporting products from one side of the shop to the other. The machine shop design should be fluid, and each process step should have little to no resistance to accessing the next production phase.

Workpieces should cross each part of the shop only once, unless space requires a more complex route. However, maximizing productivity relies on processes being with like processes to enhance productivity and transportation.

2. Isolate dangerous materials

Shops or areas of shops that work with more hazardous substances or machinery should have specialized zones separate from places unfamiliar with these subjects. Securing specific tools and machines to a particular part of the machine shop increases worker safety. Doing so can reduce decision fatigue and time wasted by workers having to sift through clamps or controls that are not required for their portion of the job.

3. Prioritize flexibility, mobility and modular designs

Implementing a more sustainable and productive workflow will inevitably lead to revenue growth. The shop can take on more work and increase profits as a follow-on result. However, the machine shop design must account for that possibility, as businesses embrace lean principles to pursue perfection. The planners must avoid rigidity in the blueprints and consider how the business can grow and incorporate new processes and machines.

A new product could require an overhaul of the floor — and businesses would rather keep operations running than shut down for the price of a new shop section. Modular, in-plant offices are an ideal way to make workspaces malleable and adaptable to new operations without sacrificing productivity. Business-critical workplaces can remain isolated from construction projects to keep places mess-free.

4. Consider sustainability factors

Other considerations for workflow involve energy and waste. Every machine shop uses lots of fuel and power to operate heavy tools and machinery. Using fewer resources has a trickle-down effect leading to efficiency improvements, but the shop's design must be consistent with the eco-friendly goals.

For example, if the shop is well-insulated, it keeps moisture permeability and temperature better regulated, directly impacting the service life of machines and tools. Spending less money and time on maintenance caused by wear and tear from environmental stressors is a boon for greener design choices.

Waste disposal is another consideration. Workers spend so much time transporting waste to appropriate areas — how can each station have sustainable methods of recycling, composting or tossing trash to landfill while considering time and the planet?

These are some other machine-shop design factors to consider if you’re climate-conscious:
 Minimizing water usage
 Using semi-synthetic biosynthetic fuels
 Placing stations so aluminum, titanium and steel waste are separated
 Honing milling operations

5. Incorporate automation

Using process discovery to find automation opportunities will simplify the effort to create flow according to lean principles. It will identify time-consuming and tedious manual tasks that would be done more accurately and/or efficiently by machines or sensors. For example, reminding operators to maintain a lathe or check clearance compliance on a machine is time-consuming and can lead to human error.

Data could show these data points to the team members without spending time investigating countless other variables.

Implementing automation in machine shop design also means removing tools that don’t embrace lean manufacturing, such as punch-in/punch-out timekeeping, or pen and paper as the primary brainstorming tool. Instead, these lean tools should be top-of-mind, especially when melding them with automation software such as:
Bottleneck analysis
-  Just-in-time scheduling
-  Value stream mapping
-  Overall Equipment Effectiveness measurement
-  Plan-do-check-act
-  Error proofing
-  Root-cause analysis

A shop’s design can facilitate these ideas to allow on-demand systems, constant streamlining and productive collaboration.

Workflow is contingent upon machine shop design. Suppose processes are too far away from each other or include unnecessary walls and doors without considering growth opportunities. In that case, there will be more shutdowns and cumbersome renovations than companies will want to engage in. Smart design will manifest the industry's future with lean principles and sustainable technologies, and allow machine shop operators to look forward to efficiency and growth.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine exploring the latest industrial innovations.