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Creating a decision tree for internal customer so they can decide what work to send me and what work to outsource.

Rough-cutter

Aluminum
Joined
Sep 28, 2023
I know I have usually used this forum just to vent. But I have a real situation that needs real advice this time. My boss just called me and said he would like me to come up with some ideas to make it easier for an internal customer to decide if they should send the job to me or get quotes from outside vendors. I am already thinking about filtering out our internal capabilities, i.e. needs welded = outside vendor, over 1/16" thick material needs bends = outside vendor. In a decision tree format. But we already know that stuff and the situation is a bit more complicated than that.

Quick background of the situation
.
Capabilities:
I am a one man small machine shop for an R&D department in what they call "engineering services". I have a Haas TM2 CNC mill (4000 RPM spindle), a Harrison 10-AA manual lathe, Di-acro hand press brake 24" (manual I dont like bending over .063" thk matl. on it.) drill press, vertical band saw. etc.

Capacity:
When I entered this role I replaced a retiring man who could do some hand programming but was ultimately a manual machinist. He was good but would hand write G-code based on reading drawings and would hand enter into the mill through MDI. I have a background in CAD/CAM and program everything through Inventor (HSM). And have increased output by at least 4X. However I am still limited due to 4000 RPM spindle and slow rapids on the TM2. When I got this role I was told we were a "onesey twosey" shop and that production level efficiency was not a concern.

Prospects of increasing capability and capacity:
I have proposed several purchases to meet the increasing demand I have seen in my shop. I did purchase a fixture plate and vacuum chuck. But a faster or second mill, or laser for cutting sheet metal parts. Is denied. Also there is no desire by management to hire any help. Even if they did, there is not much they could do with only 1 mill between the 2 of us. Unless they would run at night while I run during the day. So it has been made clear to me that they cannot make such purchases and investment in the shop because if the work runs low then there will be a higher overhead that would need explaining. Basically the idea is stay small and cheap. That way if and when big corporate cuts need to be made. My shop is too small to make much difference and may be left intact.

Some history and maybe reasons for increased work load:
About 5 years ago my giant company merged with another and then again with another. Before those mergers occurred we had a full scale production fabrication department. It had been shrinking over the years due to outsourcing but still employed over 100 skilled fabricators / machinist and was extremely capable. But they completely dissolved and closed it.(before the mergers).
I was lucky enough to apply internally to the role I have now. Engineering and R&D had very small shop. But still utilized the big production shop for a lot of things. Now I am in the small engineering shop that has not increased its capability or capacity. And there is no longer any large production shop to take on a lot of work they needed them for.

Current issue / situation:
The work load fluctuates wildly. This is all project based funding. I am a resource for many different projects that report to different management. Part of my job is juggling priorities and I have been told that we cannot be a first in first out shop. We (I) need to be available to any project for their immediate needs. i.e. modify heat sinks. make new heat sinks. test fixtures. server rack panels. electrical boxes. etc...

In Jan. A lady requested me to fabricate QTY:4 of a test stand that has several custom fabricated parts. Some have QTY: 8 of a single part in each assembly. These assemblies take about 1 month for me to fabricate 1 assembly. So roughly 4 months worth of work (literally over 150 custom fab parts). I told this lady that this was a lot of work and that I could not close the shop to other projects for that long and that getting them finished by April would probably not be possible, especially If I am told I needed to change priorities and work on other things from time to time. She replied that was acceptable and that they were waiting on other long lead time electrical components for this assembly anyway.
She then started giving me other work along with my normal work coming in form other projects. This original requestor even gave me work request and told me they were "Hotter" than her original large assembly request and switched priorities. (I figured she jumped inline in front of her self so no big deal.)
Fast forward to about a month ago. Some other project comes in with an assembly with several parts to be made. (about 2 weeks worth of work for me). They want #1 priority. I get my manager involved. He makes the decision to do this new 2 week hot job.

Then the original requestor from Jan. asked about the 4 large test stands. Says they have all the other parts and are waiting on my parts. When she found out that other projects were given priority over hers she went to her bosses boss (skipping chain of command, I hate that anyway). Then my boss comes in frantic telling me that his boss is wondering why we were not communicating delays to her project. I told my boss. There was no dead line given, I made clear that we would need to juggle priorities, and this project was not "hot" until just now when she got her other parts.

So a few days go by, the dust settles I assume. But... Today my boss comes in, says this lady is telling his boss that they will just outsource everything and anything that they would have asked me to make in the future. (I think to myself, "good I don't need the stress and deal with those types"). But I am a good boy and say, "OK". But my boss vents to me that they don't want that and that she is not being a team player to keep me busy with work etc.. Again I am a good boy this time. I keep my mouth shut except to say. "Well all I can do is focus on keeping the mill running and making good parts as best and fast as we can."
Fast forward later the same day. Boss calls me. We are going to have a meeting with him. His boss, her boss and this lady. To determine what work she should outsource and what work she should send to me. He admitted that we already sort of do this by communicating back and forth what our capabilities are.
My boss says him and I need to have a meeting 1:1 early next week. Before this bigger meeting, so we can have an idea of what to say or come up with. (I agree, I feel this will get messy)

We already have a work request queue that anyone can see how many jobs I have, when they were submitted etc.. etc... (online job list/ work request tool) But they do not have need dates or estimated completion dates.(no one wants these because no one knows them anyway). In fact no one here has any clue how long anything takes to do. They are all paper pushers, management, or electronics people. They seriously don't know how to properly read drawings or the difference between a lathe and a drill press. ( I feel like the last of the Mohicans. no mechanical or machinist people in my corner.)

So to boil it down, I believe this meeting is really about the original requestor lady saying "we will just get outside vendor to do all the work if we cannot have priority over all other projects" My boss saying "We cant do that because the machine shop will run low on work". Me saying "that is fine with me, low on work is better than this stress". Big boss saying "what is the problem here, what do we need to do". But they will not invest in any equipment or personnel.

So my immediate task is to come up with some things to give this original requestor something to follow to make the decision weather to send me the work or outsource the work on a case by case basis. As I said my immediate thought is just list capabilities. But that was not the problem. Then I thought well maybe it depends on what is in queue. But when they submitted work in Jan. they were first in line and queue was low.

I know I said I was not going to vent again but maybe I just did there. That is the best way I know how to explain it. I appreciate any and all advice. I really do need help on this one. (most advice I get from this forum is to get a different job.) Anyone who read through this long post I also have great appreciation for. Thank you.
 
How good are you? How confident in that skill? I'm going to suggest something that will seem counterintuitive: cross train some of the curious, motivated, more-mechanical engineers to do your job. Someone is designing that stuff. They must (or should) have some idea how they want the parts made.

Explain to management that you'd like to become the shop steward. You're going to do work when you can. When someone comes in with a hot project like that, you're going to train them to make their own parts. Or you'll make some of the parts where appropriate and let the engineer assemble their own products. When its just make a few parts and things are slow, you can be the person doing it but, anything more, is staffed by the engineers who need their stuff.

This does a bunch of things. Your target staffing number now goes from 0.9-1.0 up to 1.0+. No longer do they need to plan work, only to keep you busy. They now can have the engineers doing their own overflow work. The engineers have to live with all their bad design decisions. This will make them design better parts in the future. It gives the engineers a change of pace and scenery. Any engineer who is worth a damn should jump at the chance to make their own stuff.

What this also does is teaches everyone exactly what you do know. They learn what CAM software really involves. They see that the CNC is so much more than just the big green DO button.

Truth is: this is how the machine shops run at university engineering labs. I used this picture in a briefing to executive management ten years ago. It was ten years old when I stole it off the CSUN website. This is what engineers were doing twenty years ago in school. Don't believe? Look at the control panel. That's a 2004 era Haas with the manual spindle power meter. Any mechanical engineer under 45 years old should have been exposed to manual and CNC machines. No excuses.

hasslab.jpg

BUT...you have to really have the personality to pull this off. You have to freely give away your knowledge with the confidence that they can't possibly have enough time to learn everything you know, and that's why they need to keep you around. It's okay to not have answers. You have to know how to find the answers. Machinery's Handbook, online sources, tooling catalogs, etc, etc. The thing about this is: the more you share, the more they realize they didn't know. It's self-fulfilling. If you always find answers to the hard problems and they didn't know where to go, they're never sure where the end of your knowledge is.
 
You're not going to like what I'm going to say.
  • Insufficient capacity.
  • Work ebbs and flows.
  • No desire by management to increase capacity.
Shop should be shut down and work sent to multiple outside vendors.
 
You're not going to like what I'm going to say.
  • Insufficient capacity.
  • Work ebbs and flows.
  • No desire by management to increase capacity.
Shop should be shut down and work sent to multiple outside vendors.
Yeah, I can see that conclusion. It is like lower management is fighting to keep me open for thier special pet projects. While making sure upper management doesn't figure out that we cost them money and don't bother with pushing to close me down.
 
How good are you? How confident in that skill? I'm going to suggest something that will seem counterintuitive: cross train some of the curious, motivated, more-mechanical engineers to do your job. Someone is designing that stuff. They must (or should) have some idea how they want the parts made.

Explain to management that you'd like to become the shop steward. You're going to do work when you can. When someone comes in with a hot project like that, you're going to train them to make their own parts. Or you'll make some of the parts where appropriate and let the engineer assemble their own products. When its just make a few parts and things are slow, you can be the person doing it but, anything more, is staffed by the engineers who need their stuff.

This does a bunch of things. Your target staffing number now goes from 0.9-1.0 up to 1.0+. No longer do they need to plan work, only to keep you busy. They now can have the engineers doing their own overflow work. The engineers have to live with all their bad design decisions. This will make them design better parts in the future. It gives the engineers a change of pace and scenery. Any engineer who is worth a damn should jump at the chance to make their own stuff.

What this also does is teaches everyone exactly what you do know. They learn what CAM software really involves. They see that the CNC is so much more than just the big green DO button.

Truth is: this is how the machine shops run at university engineering labs. I used this picture in a briefing to executive management ten years ago. It was ten years old when I stole it off the CSUN website. This is what engineers were doing twenty years ago in school. Don't believe? Look at the control panel. That's a 2004 era Haas with the manual spindle power meter. Any mechanical engineer under 45 years old should have been exposed to manual and CNC machines. No excuses.

View attachment 436050

BUT...you have to really have the personality to pull this off. You have to freely give away your knowledge with the confidence that they can't possibly have enough time to learn everything you know, and that's why they need to keep you around. It's okay to not have answers. You have to know how to find the answers. Machinery's Handbook, online sources, tooling catalogs, etc, etc. The thing about this is: the more you share, the more they realize they didn't know. It's self-fulfilling. If you always find answers to the hard problems and they didn't know where to go, they're never sure where the end of your knowledge is.
I appreciate your advice and actually can agree with the idea. However it is just not an option. We are "engineering services". The whole idea is that the engineers do not have time to do the actual work. We techs are the ones who do the hands on. I the machinist is the one who machines. I do agree with you that it should be done differently. But for me to suggest this idea would basically dismantal the entire "engineering services" dept.

And my task is to give this requestor a guide to know what to outsource. She is not an engineer or a hands on tech. Simply another middle man. I say have the engineers do the requesting also.
 
How does your employer handle OT?
Every month he asks if I need OT. And every month I say yes. Then he says 5 hrs per week or 10? I say 10. But since this issue he said work as much OT. As I want. But over 10hr/wk OT. I sort of get burned out.
 
Can you become the resource for anything mechanical? If I am Lady A and need 4 of this complex mechanical assembly, I come to you, and you say to her, we can manage this, but it will be outsourced as we don't have the internal capacity to do this. And then you get quotes, etc and source the assemblies from outside as you clearly do not have the internal capacity to handle this.

And for real, you and her dug your own hole on this. "It isn't urgent" Yah sure, until it is. I get that those dates can be hard to predict, but if I extrapolate your description, it would take you 8-12 months to complete them given other things that are "hot" that will show up as you go. Heck, isn't that exactly what is happening? You said 4 months without other hot jobs... Here is 4 months. Ya dun yet? :D But if you managed sourcing it out - since you UNDERSTAND this stuff, then it would be done and they would be happy. No?
 
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Can you become the resource for anything mechanical? If I am Lady A and need 4 of this complex mechanical assembly, I come to you, and you say to her, we can manage this, but it will be outsourced as we don't have the internal capacity to do this. And then you get quotes, etc and source the assemblies from outside as you clearly do not have the internal capacity to handle this.

And for real, you and her dug your own hole on this. "It isn't urgent" Yah sure, until it is. I get that those dates can be hard to predict, but if I extrapolate your description, it would take you 8-12 months to complete them given other things that are "hot" that will show up as you go. Heck, isn't that exactly what is happening? You said 4 months without other hot jobs... Here is 4 months. Ya dun yet? :D But if you managed sourcing it out - since you UNDERSTAND this stuff, then it would be done and they would be happy. No?
You have a good point, however if I suggest that I do the job of getting quotes and outsourcing all of the mechanical work. Then I am essentially just taking the requestor job. And essentially just becoming yet another middle man. Which in my opinion is even more expendable. Her and I would be doing the same job at that point. But you do make a valid point. Part of this argument is that this lady is not wanting to take the time to get quotes. Which my boss says is her job.
 
You're not going to like what I'm going to say.
  • Insufficient capacity.
  • Work ebbs and flows.
  • No desire by management to increase capacity.
Shop should be shut down and work sent to multiple outside vendors.
That may happen but it always cost the firm dearly, with no flexibility, any urgent job will be extremely expensive, outside companies have other customers to satisfy.
Tony
 
I have done this job in the past.
You should not be doing the decision making
You should be advising your boss on your schedule and capabilities.
Let others hash out priorities
Engineers request your work from your boss, not you.
You interface with engineers WRT work, but not scheduling

Perhaps if you are this busy, there is space for a technician to be building things while you are making chips.

When I did this I was one of a crew of 8 or so skilled techs who covered all parts of projects.
Probably you need help.
 
Not being rude but your 'boss' should be the one to sort out this situation?
Tony
Thank you, yes. I have always felt that my management does literally nothing. I believe most management feels that it is simply thier job to tell others what to do. In every aspect including telling them to figure it out and do the management's job.
 
I have done this job in the past.
You should not be doing the decision making
You should be advising your boss on your schedule and capabilities.
Let others hash out priorities
Engineers request your work from your boss, not you.
You interface with engineers WRT work, but not scheduling

Perhaps if you are this busy, there is space for a technician to be building things while you are making chips.

When I did this I was one of a crew of 8 or so skilled techs who covered all parts of projects.
Probably you need help.
100% agree that the scheduling should be done by management. The issue is that management is not going to do that. They simply tell me that they cannot possibly know all the details to figure these things out.

Also. I am focused on making chips. I simply fabricate. I do some bending on press brake but 99% of my time is on the mill or lathe. Some times I run both at once. The assembly and other things get done outside of my shop with different techs on other buildings. So it is like I have help. Just not when it comes to machining or fabrication
 
100% agree that the scheduling should be done by management. The issue is that management is not going to do that. They simply tell me that they cannot possibly know all the details to figure these things out.

Also. I am focused on making chips. I simply fabricate. I do some bending on press brake but 99% of my time is on the mill or lathe. Some times I run both at once. The assembly and other things get done outside of my shop with different techs on other buildings. So it is like I have help. Just not when it comes to machining or fabrication
Here's the thing, you cannot. It is not and cannot be your job. Your manager needs to have meetings with the other managers regarding your workflow.
It is not necessary that they know how to do your job, or how long things take, they can ask you
Scenario one:
Engineer requests a block of your time for random work
Your manager selects the block of time for a point in the future.
If conflicting priorities arise, managers get together and decide which thing has priority and instruct you

Scenario two
Engineer brings a project to your manager[files drawings scribbles etc]
Your manager brings these to you to get a time estimate
YOu give a time estimate and your manager schedules the time as in scenario one

Scenario C
Emergency arises
An engineer goes to your manager[not you, never, ever you] and asks to override the time allotted for projects in scenario one or two
Your manager meets with the managers of the other jobs and determines which job has priority

This is managers managing, it is their job.
You cannot do this
Why?
Because if you do, eventually you will make the 'wrong' decision and piss someone off and get fired

It might just be a simple as when someone asks to interrupt a job you are working on you say 'You gotta ask Mike' even if Mike doesn't say that.
When Mike gives the person permission to interrupt your previous job, it is no longer your fault.

IF you are good at managing conflicting priorities and personalities, maybe you should be Mike and he should be selling apples on the streetcorner.
Or if you are also a glutton for punishment, own your own business
 
So I should tell my manager to do his job and leave me out of it? Anytime I hint at this. I am told it is my job to manage my own shop just like it were my own buisness. Except. If this were my own buisness. #1 I could make more money #2 I would invest in more equipment to full fill the work loaf and #3 I wouldn't deal with management blaming me for complaining customers.
 
Sounds like management by crisis.

I only see things working two ways. Like Gus said, someone higher up manages everything and you work on what you’re told.

The other way is you run it like it’s your own shop, but you will need absolute authority over all aspects of the shop. You order your own tooling, own matl, etc

You will need to be paid salary and have a desk with a phone and a computer with internet access.
All jobs come to you and you decide what to keep in-house and what to sub out.

You will not spend 10 hrs per day in the shop, so these engineers will not be able to expect you to drop everything and work on their project.

This will probably not sit well with management but over time they will adjust their expectations and things will flow smoother and people will get their projects when they expect them.

The other option for management is to shut you down and sub everything out, in which case they are putting themselves in situation 2 anyway.
 
There is nothing you can do about your manager doing or not doing their job. You can just do your best to make them happy. Only good thing is managers generally don't stick around all that long and you can usually just out last them.

Now for the thing they asked you to do. I would make up a nice powerpoint or flow chart or whatever showing what work should go outside and what should go to you. Make it mostly based on what you like doing and what you don't like. If you don't like doing lathe work, suggest that get outsourced, etc. You can always make up some BS about why it makes more sense to outsource those tasks if he questions it.

That will make your boss happy in the short term. In the long term what you should do is start communicating with the engineers directly about what you can do, and what your strengths are. Set up a 'lunch and learn' for them to discuss your shops capabilities. Find out who they competent and interested engineers are and talk to them. The more they interact with you, the more they will think of you when they are deciding where parts are sent to be made. If you can make friends with them, they'll talk you up to their bosses, and complain when stuff gets outsourced instead of being sent to you. You can also start having them tailor their designs to work better with your equipment. Plus they can then complain to their managers that if you had better equipment, more stuff could be done in house much faster and save time and money.
 
There is nothing you can do about your manager doing or not doing their job. You can just do your best to make them happy. Only good thing is managers generally don't stick around all that long and you can usually just out last them.

Now for the thing they asked you to do. I would make up a nice powerpoint or flow chart or whatever showing what work should go outside and what should go to you. Make it mostly based on what you like doing and what you don't like. If you don't like doing lathe work, suggest that get outsourced, etc. You can always make up some BS about why it makes more sense to outsource those tasks if he questions it.

That will make your boss happy in the short term. In the long term what you should do is start communicating with the engineers directly about what you can do, and what your strengths are. Set up a 'lunch and learn' for them to discuss your shops capabilities. Find out who they competent and interested engineers are and talk to them. The more they interact with you, the more they will think of you when they are deciding where parts are sent to be made. If you can make friends with them, they'll talk you up to their bosses, and complain when stuff gets outsourced instead of being sent to you. You can also start having them tailor their designs to work better with your equipment. Plus they can then complain to their managers that if you had better equipment, more stuff could be done in house much faster and save time and money.
Thank you, excellent advice. I do plan on doing the flow chart. Because that is what I was immediately told to do. And alsobI will recognize that will not solve this issue.
#1. Outlasted manager: he is retiring next month anyway. But he has been in his current role for 18 yrs. Once he is retired I still have to deal with his manager. Who does not understand why we have a machine shop in the first place.
You are correct managers usually do not stick around long. It seems like the ones who suck do because they are bad at thier jobs and can't get promoted.

#2. I have had some exposure to some of the engineers. And you are correct. Those have become some of my best customers. The issue is that most programs have middle men. And I usually have no idea who the part is for anyway. That combined with the fact that I could have a request from anyone. Out of a pool of over 10,000 people. Stung across many buildings and multiple states. Sometimes even other countries. There is no way for me to male contact with most of my customers. But your point is valid. If I could it would be better.
And yes a small one man low capability machine shop serving the needs of 10,000 sounds insane. The truth is they already mostly outsource. I exist to serve the emergency one off need.
 








 
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