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.