Make a resolution to end those bad shop habits and improve your profitability.

It has been said that consultants never find problems clients are not aware of; they just charge to remind them of it.

But the fact is sheet metal shop owners and managers, being so close to their operations day after day, year after year, often overlook questionable situations that could be costing them time or money.

And since typically few people have the incentive to make changes, the shop just slowly chugs along.

Since New Year's is the traditional time of year to commit to improving pesky bad personal habits, why not apply that concept to your sheet metal operations and make money from doing it?

1) Clean up the shop.

That shop-floor space is extremely valuable real estate and every square foot that can be used should be. A frame from the 1939 Ford pickup that Dad used to deliver chimney covers may be "invaluable" to the shop operation, but try using that space for setting up a connector work station. Thirty minutes after it is gone, nobody will miss it, not even Dad.

2) Create a dedicated aisle from the plasma/shearing area to the assembly or shipping area.

Every shop has aisles. The problem is that if they are not marked, they change constantly and impede work flow.

3) Implement break times in the shop.

Even 10 minutes twice a day is appreciated by those hard-working employees. A break is not just a social event; it is extremely valuable for restoring both the workers physical and mental stamina to maintain productivity, mental clarity, and even safety.

Ask any shop mechanic how many times he or she has come off of a break and instantly saw the solution to a difficult problem. It happens every day. Breaks are moneymakers.

4) Tightly control access to your shop.

A sheet metal shop is not an old-time general store; it is a place of business, and uninvited visitors can be a major disruption to continuity. Interruptions are a primary factor in lowered productivity. Unescorted visitors can also be in physical danger.

5) Check the lighting level in all areas of the shop.

The Illuminating Engineering Society recommends a minimum of 50 foot-candles on forming areas and up to 200 foot candles on layout benches and quality-control areas. Poorly lit shops are gloomy and tend to be less productive.

6) Add an overhead door.

There is a good chance that an additional overhead door can dramatically improve your shop's overall productivity in several key areas. First, it can instantly make shipping, receiving and scrap removal more efficient. Second, it can instantly go a long way toward improving the lighting level in that area of the shop. Third, and perhaps most important, in warm climates with higher humidity levels, it can lower the ambient working temperature, which has a direct impact on productivity, especially if the new door is located on the side of the building with prevailing winds.

7) Standardize everything possible, especially ductwork terminology, fitting views and elevation change, and offset codes.

Nothing is more difficult and error-prone than taking fitting orders by phone (usually in emergency situations), which can change a normally $50 fitting into a $200 fitting if it is shipped to the jobsite with the elevation change or offset wrong. This gets very expensive, very quickly and very often.

The Standard Fitting Views template in use since 1975 may help this situation. E-mail jamessegroves@yahoo.com for ordering information.

8) Pipe music into the shop.

Perhaps some more intellectual "elevator" music for the layout benches, some more upbeat stuff for the assembly bench, and plenty of heavy metal or hard rock for the apprentices working on the duct liner. This should pretty much eliminate the constant bickering over what station the shop radio is set to.

However, if you can ever clearly hear a radio in a sheet metal shop, you have a big problem. If your employees have time to listen to it, you have even a bigger problem. The only rhythms they should need are the steady pace of the shear, the coil line, and the constant beat from the duct-assembly table. You can hear productivity. That's also why all shops should provide containers of disposable earplugs.

9) Do not send your shop managers or supervisors to trade shows, such as February's AHR Expo.

All the new sheet metal technology, materials and equipment may only confuse them and they may even suggest purchasing something.

Wouldn't it be better to go and select the newest technology and equipment for them, have it delivered, and watch the shop productivity go up - exactly like the smooth-talking show salesman promised it would?

The fact is the people closest to the day-to-day shop and field operations are the best judges of what the productivity restraints are and which of the 700 booths of new materials, technology and equipment would be most effective in overcoming those restraints for the dollars invested. Their input is invaluable, so don't send them - take them with you.

10) Communication.

In the real estate business, the three most important words are location, location, location. In sheet metal operations, they're communicate, communicate and communicate.

Several times a year, bring the shop and field workers together to discuss problems that exist in the shop or the field. Sometimes a problem created in one location affects the other.

These meetings can bring mid- and top management closer together with those otherwise "low-profile" soldiers on the front lines.

Some of these suggestions might make a dramatic improvement in your shop at little or no direct cost. These 10 items include problems that almost never correct themselves on their own, but in reality require very little commitment to improve. Just do it.

Estimating project update

The performance-based estimating productivity research project is now in full stride and producing an incredible amount of real-time data and information. A very broad range of shop profiles and geographic locations are being represented, which will help ensure an accurate and wide base of productivity values.

Again, I thank the project host, Snips magazine, the generous sponsors and the supporting estimating systems for their funding commitment to this initiative. Contact your estimating-system vendor to see how your system can best use the research findings. For more information on the PBE project, the project sponsors, and the supporting estimating systems, go to Snips' Web site at www.snipsmag.com or www.pbeproject.com.

Best wishes for the new year,

Jim Segroves