Running an efficient shop is surely on the mind of every shop owner. To increase efficiency you must determine what the biggest bottleneck is in your shop. Do you have a problem with paperwork? Is work flow possibly the problem? It is worth the effort to find out what could be slowing your shop down because time is money. Man-hours wasted can never be replaced.
Ideas for an efficient shop can come from many places. Classes presented by Corian, local seminars and books can be helpful. I found the most helpful lessons were through the ISSFA network. Meeting with other fabricators, visiting their shops and trading ideas are valuable ways to gather helpful information you can use in your own shop.
first, let's consider the importance of an organized shop. Since we recently moved into a new shop we had the perfect opportunity to design a shop the way we wanted it. As we continue you will see what we where up against.
Whether you are designing a new shop or trying to improve an existing one, the same principles apply. To have an efficient shop doesn't mean you need a 10,000-sq.-ft. space. It means using the space you have to the best advantage.
Let's use the example of a well laid out custom kitchen. Everything is designed so the cook can move easily from one place to another with a minimum of steps. A good kitchen layout saves time and labor and is a pleasure to work in. The same rules can be applied to our shops. The thought is to make sure there are no wasted steps. A good way to visualize your shop is to draw it out on paper. We made a scale drawing of our shop and equipment and tried different ideas to see what would work the best. We found that our final plan was far different from what we had originally envisioned (see Figure 1).
As a general rule, where you receive your material is the best place to store it. In turn, the cutting area should be close to the storage area. Then, the fabrication area should be placed close to the cutting cell. Some have found it helpful to arrange their shop in a circle. Then the final steps make a route leading back to the loading docks or garage doors (see Figure 2).
We also needed to decide on the best way to move material from station to station. We currently use A-frame carts to move material. We are planning on using conveyors in the future to move material from the CNC or V-groover to worktables on wheels. The product would be fabricated on the same table. Then it would move on to the sanding cell. This would eliminate steps in the handling process.
After we decided where the equipment would go, we needed to decide where to put items such as glue, racks, and so on. We also had to decide where to put electric lines and airlines. As many shops are doing today, we decided to drop everything from the ceiling. Our general manager came up with the idea of running uni-struts (Uni-struts are like an adult tinker toys set made up of metal framing that can be used to hang or frame just about anything that you can think of — more information is available at the company's Web site at www.unistrut.com) in each cell, giving us the flexibility of running air and electricity wherever we choose (see Figure 3). In the future we would like to run a vacuum system across the same uni-strut and have dust collection for our power tools and sanders out of one central vac.