I recently wrote a blog about steel fabrication as a process. When I reviewed it with some of my friends, who are in fabrication, it raised some surprising reactions. The most comments and questions centered on “How do you review your fabrication tactics?” The second most comments centered on “What do you mean we need to change our attitude?” That got me to thinking about how can I explain it better, clearer for our clients.
How do you review your fabrication tactics? Well, the best thing I can say here is open your eyes to how you firm approach’s steel fabrication. Have you kept up with modernization of your equipment? I was called in to one firm to do some consulting and I was amazed that they were still stick welding everything and magnetic drilling everything, even though they had a fine ironworker in their shop. Seems that the only person that knew how to operate the ironworker had left for another shop and nobody else had been cross-trained to use the ironworker. What a waste of time and equipment. Every fabricator should cross train their people to use all the equipment in the shop. That goes from the shop superintendent on down to the lowest person in the shop. I always had at least three people trained to use every piece of equipment that we had in the shop myself.
Another shop that I reviewed had never done a layout review or flow review of its fabrication process. We all know that the more you handle material the more it cost to fabricate. That is a simple rule of steel fabrication. In this shop people spent more time moving material around then fabricating the items. When I showed the owner the material movement chart he was dumbfounded! He never realized that the shop layout had made big problems for fabrication. I then spent time with his shop superintendent and him, laying out the shop to minimize material and labor movement. We then spent a weekend actually moving equipment and roller conveyors to speed up fabrication. The change was dramatic to say the least.
Let me explain that there is nothing wrong with “doing business” the same way your father did. There is nothing wrong with fabricating steel the same way you did ten years ago, if that was and is the most efficient, and cost effective method possible for your shop. Some shops I have been in were set up in the beginning to be efficient and they still are. However, every shop administrator should look his shop over at least once a year and ask themselves, is this the best utilization of my space, men and equipment? If you say no, then you need to make the changes necessary to improve your operations. This also applies to the office as well.
Now what did I mean by changing your attitude? I admit I am from the “old school” of fabricators so I had a difficult time understanding this “changing my attitude” myself. I was used to fabricating steel the way we had been for years. Then I went on a sabbatical to study at a local university. I took some courses in industrial engineering. What an eye opener for me! I never really thought about how much time played in fabrication.
Here is an example of what I mean. Let’s say it takes a fitter ten minutes to walk over to where the stiffeners for a job are stored and back. Then let’s further say that he does this five times in a day. That is a total of fifty minutes he has spent just picking up parts and bringing them back to fit them up. Okay, now let’s say that he does this every day that would work out to be 250 minutes in a week. Multiply that by the number of weeks in a year and that works out to be 13,000 minutes, which breaks down to 216.67 hours in a year! You would have paid one person a little over five weeks pay for walking back and forth to pick up parts! Now you figure out how much you pay that person and see the cost for yourself.
Well, if you have never reviewed your shop, if you have never reviewed your procedures, then you need too. You need to ask yourself, is there a better, quicker way to do what I am doing now? Maybe it means just moving the parts for jobs closer to the fitting area. Or switching over for stick welding to MIG/TIG welding, but whatever it is you need to open your eyes to it. Remember time is money is our business. Another tool I use in this is talking to the people on the shop floor and asking them what they think. How would they do their jobs if it was up to them? Most employees care about their company, if you let them, and they are willing to offer a suggestion if they think it is wanted.
Today’s economic times calls for us to be more innovative, more efficient, we cannot afford, especially in today’s economic times, to waste either. Look at how you fabricate steel, bid jobs, track jobs, and track inventory. I know that if you really do you will find ways to save money by saving time.
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