Rebuilding the Shop!

You might think problems that affect larger businesses won’t affect your small business or one-man operation—but they will!

Earlier this year, we reached a point where we needed to stop, re-evaluate, and “rebuild” or restructure the business for on-going growth and success. We’re sharing our progress–at least up to this point in terms of purging, organizing, and implementing an ERP system. Although it’s not finished, the changes thus far have made a major difference in how Saunders Machine Works produces fixture plates, fixture pallets, mod vises, and other products.

Rebuilding a machine shop is a lot of work!

Large tables tend to collect junk and clutter AND our shipping table was in dire need of help. After an Instagram post about a certain shipping table from Uline, David from Maker Pipe reached out! Their story is inspiring AND their product allowed us to make the exact tables we needed rather than trying to conform to something out of a catalog. Maker Pipe helped us design and put together the perfect assembly tables, fixture plate boxing station, and a drying/QC rack for the plates as well!

Shop Improvements

  • Installed forklift-accessible racking – by moving supplies such as raw material and shipping consumables to vertical racking we were able to save floor space and get organized.
  • Added refractometers to all machines – by adding digital refractometers to our machines everyone can effortlessly check the Brix of the coolant and top off the tank to replace evaporated water.
  • Sold or purged old tools – we’ve accumulated a lot of tools over the years. While this sounds great, it doesn’t lend itself to the lean manufacturing model we’re shooting for and unneeded tools had to go.
  • Moved all uncertain items to another area – related to the last point, anything we weren’t sure about moved to an out-of-the-way location. If we need it then the tool gets its own location on the shop floor, and after some period of time anything still left unused can go.
  • Got rid of large tables – some of our tables, such as our shipping and assembly tables, were fairly large tables. While more work area sounds great we found them to be magnets for clutter and things that didn’t belong. We found we had less room to work and had to spend more time cleaning with the larger tables, and instead we built small, purpose-built tables from Maker Pipe for doing certain tasks or working on certain products.
  • Ordered custom packaging for products – this one has a few benefits: packaging and shipping becomes easier on our end, products are safer in the hands of the shipping carrier, and presentation is greatly improved.
  • S Tools system – see here to read more about S Tools.

Small Quality of Life Improvements

  • 3D Printed T-slot covers – while most of our machines are outfitted with a Saunders Machine Works fixture plate (and use our Fixture Plate Plugs to block chips), a few still have exposed T-slots. We printed some drop-in covers that fill in the T-slot on our Prusa to make cleaning the machine that much easier.
  • Magnets! – often times we have multiple members of the team running multiple machines. We started using magnets to leave notes like “Feedrate override set!”, “Inserts need changed”, or “Vise not trammed” either as a note to someone else or a reminder before we start running the machine the next morning. These are easy to stick on the enclosure doors and impossible to miss.
  • Emergency tool drawers – have you ever needed that one specific collet and can’t find it anywhere in the shop? We started keeping backup sets of tools and consumables like collets and drill bits in a specific drawer. Containers are sealed, and if we have to crack into the emergency supply then the pre-printed paper tag on top of the container is given to someone to notify them we need to restock the emergency supply of that item.
  • 3D printed assembly trays – many of our products require a few different hardware items in specific quantities. Counting these out by hand can be tedious, so we started 3D printing assembly trays to count out the correct amount of hardware and then dump them into a polyseal bag.

Be sure to check out E-Myth Revisited, a great business book that relates to what John talked about in this video.

AWESOME Lean Machine Shop Tour: Pierson Workholding!
Kanban Cards: How We Keep Our Shipping Department Organized!
How We Operate & Run Saunders Machine Works