Metal fabricators are swimming in data these days. The trick is collecting the right data and focusing on what matters:
A day in a small fabricating shop seldom follows a linear progression. Many things vie for attention, and the ability to multitask comes in handy.
When it comes to the daily grind, a lot goes on in a small shop. The dynamics of a job are often unspoken, and a schedule is composed of rubber walls. I have gone a whole day and not accomplished anything, but I will tell you that I was ridiculously busy that entire day.
You can peck at jobs all day, but that most likely won’t complete them. You must force yourself to finish a task and move on to the next. That is easier said than done, especially with technology at your fingertips. One call, one email, or one customer can take your day on a wild ride.
One recent day started out like most, answering a few emails and finishing up a couple of nests for the Waterjet. Later, a co-worker came in and said he was finishing up some last minute modification to a project he had been working on because the customer had made an assembly revision. I told him that if he didn’t move any clamps on the jig, it would work and to bolt it back into its previous position inside the housing. We both took a look at it, and I decided we could copy the old program and modify the new one. Easier said than done.
Shortly after I spent time talking with a customer who walked in with an odd job. After that, I decided to stop by my desk for a second to check some emails and realized we had an online meeting at 11:00 a.m. with a Google re-seller. I killed a few minutes and then started the meeting with another potential client that lasted an hour. Then we grabbed some lunch.
I never made it halfway through my original project, so I headed back out there to tidy things up. I was about 80 percent done when a salesman I know walked in. I told him to come out to the work floor and we talked for a few minutes about cutters, press brakes, and how work was going. I saw another customer walk in, so we headed up front and I helped the customer. A few minutes went by, and I continued talking with the salesman for a few more minutes before he headed on his way.
I again walked back to my desk and ended up working with another co-worker on an intricate part that was giving him issues on the Waterjet. This was a part the customer had drawn out, and we decided that there wasn’t enough relief in the corner. It was a small part, and an easy fix was made with a few offset lines in the drawing. I sent a couple of parts on a nest out to the cutter operator so that he could get them knocked out.
The welding project was still lingering at this point, and I needed only a few more minutes before I could put my hood on and weld through a couple of cycles. After a few runs, I decided to hand the project off to someone else to put on the finishing touches, and I headed over to one of our larger projects to finish welding the production run.
I walked away to take a breather and get some water and another co-worker, called me over help with a project he was working on.
I’ll admit, it is easy to get sidetracked when you are busy doing nothing, so I actually ended up addressing his question a half hour later. He looked at me, laughed, and told me someone else had already answered his questions.
By this point, I was running in circles, putting out fires with both feet. This may be a typical day in some shops. Most people in our shop have a day like this almost every day, especially the shop manager. The variables are just different. It seems like sticking to one task is almost crazy.
I know I didn’t mention every oddball thing I “accomplished” in between all of these tasks. Those are just the jobs that stuck out in my head throughout the day. Most questions that get answered in a shop like this are often cannon-balled into group discussions. The guys know they may have a role to play in a project, so they often flock to the group when they see something of importance has come up.
I’m not sure I would do well in an environment that asked me to do one thing at a time. As my dad always says, “It’s all about keeping the most balls in the air at the same time”.