The CNC Machine Shop: Ownership & Management Issues

Whether you’re the owner of a  small CNC machine shop running a mix of new and used CNC mills and lathes, or the foreman overseeing a crew  for a large manufacturer, ownership and management issues are frequently going to arise.  On a daily basis you are dealing with employees, schedules, customers, workflow, safety issues, timelines, equipment repair and replacement, shipping/receiving…the list goes on.  Owning and/or running a CNC shop is not for the tame of heart.  The demands are many, the schedules are tight.  It’s a juggle of the ulcer inducing variety, and all the worse if you realize you’re eating downtime due to poor planning and easily correctable on-site inefficiencies.

Today I’d like to touch on the issue of managing our shop employees and make some suggestions for maintaining a productive crew.

Managing the CNC Machine Shop: Employees


Machining a bar of metal on a lathe.

Machining a bar of metal on a lathe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We CNC machine operators, machinists, programmers, techs, DIY CNC’rs…we’re a different breed.  We tend to be gear heads, persons interested in how things work, passionate about our trade and our skills.  We work hard, we play hard.  Those are only a few of the defining hallmarks of our personalities, and those traits can also make for a complicated creature.

If you’re managing a crew, no matter how big or small, at some point there will be an employee issue: maybe tardiness, attitude, scheduling, or overtime. Something will crop up.  How you manage that is important.  I was over at the Practical Machinist the other day reading a thread about employee issues that got me thinking about this.  Some of the examples cited would make my father blush.

I have a few common-sense thoughts and ideas on managing your crew:

  • Clearly define the workplace guidelines, job descriptions, and expectations.  Don’t fudge on this: the more in-depth and concise the better.  This means all of it: vacation scheduling, absentee/tardiness guidelines, medical coverage, behavior guidelines, overtime expectations, shop security policies (theft, cameras, etc) etc. Present and cover this prior to hire.  Periodically review with your crew.
  • Create an open door policy.  We all have complicated lives.  Working in a CNC manufacturing environment can come with a lot of overtime.  This can get tricky for those of us with family’s and outside demands.  Show your crew you care, listen to them, invite them to come in anytime with concerns, life-issues, you name it.  No, you’re not there to be their personal shrink, but we all have things that come up and can affect our performance.  When you’re in the know, you’re better off.  And, if you do care about your crew, you can find ways to help them out.  That’s trust and loyalty and that goes a long way.
  • Be Fair.  You may have one guy or gal that outshines the rest.  Great!  That doesn’t mean they should be treated like royalty while the others are treated like serfs.  Common sense rules the day.
  • Address the work related concerns of your employees.  If you truly show your crew you care, they’re going to show you that they do as well.  When a crew member comes to you with shop related concerns (safety issues, employee conflicts, needed machine repairs, scheduling, etc.) address those issues.  Do not brush them aside.  Make the time for them.  If it’s a safety issue go out and investigate.  Seek the insight of the other crew members.
  • Sometimes you’re going to have to let an employee go.  Be judicious. Be fair.  Give them every opportunity to learn, grow, and make up for mistakes and lack of experience.  It’s not easy finding the right people, and it sure ain’t cheap training someone.  Though sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  Document the process with the employee, outline a trajectory, and if it comes to having to let them go, you’ve got solid reasoning and documentation behind.  Most likely, they’re going to understand that you gave them a fair shake and they’ll respect you for it.

Your Turn

Have you encountered unique situations with crew members and fellow employees?  How did you address those issues?  Feel free to share your stories and insights in the comments!  Just click that little ole’ comment bubble at the top right of the article.


CNC Machine Training

If you’re like me, you’ve often taken some of your free time pandering around the internet for CNC machine related topics and information.  Maybe you own your own shop and are searching for CNC replacement parts or used CNC machines?  Maybe you’re looking for a quick tip on some g code, or even some help on a troublesome alarm?  No matter what it is you are looking for, if you start Google-ing around you’ll eventually encounter links for CNC crash videos.

About once a week I’ll find myself watching a CNC crash video while getting the sleep out of my eyes and slurping down a couple cups of coffee.  These video’s make it easy for one to sit behind their screen, laugh and shake their head, and mumble to themselves about all the morons in the world.  I’m guilty of it myself.  But I’ve been thinking about these video’s a little different lately.

CNC Crash Video’s: What Are They Really Showing Us?

We’ve all had our bad days, am I right?  Made some rookie mistake and cost ourselves, or the company we work for, time and money.  Replacement parts add up fast, and while it’s a fact of life that things are going to break from time to time, it always hurts when it’s the outcome of a preventable mistake.   

So, when you see one of these crash video’s, do you see yourself at some distant point in the past?  If not, count yourself lucky.  

What I’ve started thinking when watch these crash videos is the importance of training.  Yeah, like we all need another CNC Machine and safety training meeting, right?

Yes, we do.

The Importance of CNC Machine Training

Periodic training sessions carry a number of positives.  First and foremost it puts information at the forefront of our minds.  Yes, a session may cover a topic most of the shop already knows, but it may just brush the dust off of it as well.  We carry a lot of knowledge in our heads, and it’s often that some of that is used only on rare occasions.  Nothing wrong with brushing it up, giving it a nice new mental veneer.  It’s simple refreshment that can often save yourself time and money.  It’s easy to forget the small things…and often that is where refreshment training saves us time and money.

Also, sessions like these often lead to related topics and discussion that open the door for the whole shop to learn and benefit.  


Let us not forget the newbies  in our shops.  No matter how industrious and sharp and driven, he/she is going to make some blunders.  Hopefully of the less expensive kind.  Added training and mentorship is where my thinking lay when it comes to the young-in’s in our industry.  By taking the time (and yes, short-tern expense) to aid and mentor them in their learning, we all benefit.  Not only do we save ourselves money in the long term, we help craft better CNC machinists and operators.  

That benefits everyone in the CNC manufacturing industry.

Whether you’re clocking hours in a Haas CNC machine shop or a DIY CNC enthusiast experimenting in your garage, periodic training and discussion pay’s dividends in the long-term.  

Your Turn:

Do you believe that periodic training sessions, say, once per month, are a benefit to your shop?  Let me know in the comments!





CNC Machine Safety

I was over at The CNC Report earlier today and a video  posted on the front page caught my eye.  Basically  a couple of kids messing around with a lathe and one of them literally gets thrown over and his foot caught in the chuck.  Big laughs all around.  I know the saying, boy’s will be boy’s, but this is no laughing matter.  That  kid was  lucky it was in low gear or he could have lost his foot.  You can see the idiocy below:



Okay, so do I sound like your old shop teacher yet?

Hey, I was young once.  I’d watch safety video’s like this one and crack jokes with the rest of the guys.  Outside joking in the classroom I took this stuff seriously.  Getting lackadaisical around these machines can cost you an appendage or even your life.  Whether you’re working on a CNC machine or lathe in a large shop or just pursuing a CNC hobby, we all have to be mindful of what we are doing and to never treat our machines as play toys.

CNC Machine Safety Pointers


Since I’m harping on safety you can find a pdf with general safety do’s and don’ts here: SAFETY.  While many of these are common sense I’d like to emphasize one of them that some people, particularly some of the newer guys out there, don’t seem to get.

Never Wear Gloves.

Your Turn:

How about you?  Do you have a recommended CNC Machine safety pointer you’d like to share?  If so, let me know in the comments!