December 10, 2013 / continuous improvement, quality, training
Over the last few years, the industrial metal-cutting industry has invested heavily in technology to ramp up productivity. While this is certainly moving industrial metal-cutting forward, it has also exacerbated the workforce challenge that has been threatening the industry for years. As confirmed by a joint report from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, skilled production workers are one of the largest workforce segments facing retirement in the near future, which will clearly have an impact on the number of experienced workers on the shop floor. This does not bode well for an industry that just ramped up its need for advanced skills.
The good news is that the solution is quite clear: You need to invest in your workers. While having the right tools for the job is important, it is perhaps even more critical to have people with the right skills operating those machines. In a band saw cutting environment, for example, an operator running a saw at the wrong speed and feed settings will drastically reduce blade life, increase the chances of maintenance issues, and create potential quality issues, all of which add up to wasted time and money—the exact opposite of productivity.
The only way to increase skills is to provide training. Unfortunately, this is not always as simple as it sounds. A good training program should provide new employees with a solid foundation, while also making sure seasoned employees know the latest techniques. Below are some suggestions that will help take your training program—and your workforce—to the next level.
- Create a Formal Training Program. If you don’t already have a formal training program in place for new employees, it’s time to implement one. Having a seasoned operator casually show someone the ropes creates a casual attitude toward the job at hand. A formal, organized approach will stress the importance of quality and will also make it easier to hold operators accountable. A recent editorial in Modern Machine Shop magazine provides a good overview of how to develop a formal training program. The article focuses on CNC training, but the general principles could certainly be applied to any production area of a machine shop.
- Define Training as an Ongoing Process. As highlighted in the white paper, Accounting for Operator Inefficiencies in the Metals 2.0 Environment, operator training needs to be ongoing. This is especially important in a machine shop, where there can be multiple shifts and an unequal level of talent on the shop floor. By instituting regular operator training, managers can level the shop floor talent and add consistency to production procedures. This also encourages a spirit of continuous improvement among experienced operators who often resist change.
- Make Training Part of your Quality System. While instituting formal training programs can be challenging, the real challenge is making them actually work. According to the white paper, The Top 5 Operating Challenges Facing Today’s Machine Shop Metal Cutting Operations, many industrial metal-cutting shops have found that the only time training programs became effective is when shop management merged training with their quality control initiatives and auditing processes. This elevates training from a well-intentioned priority to a standard operating procedure that is both effective and measurable.