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Engine Builder Shop Solutions: May 2009


Top 10 Machine Shop Business Tips

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Engine Pro recently held a series of 8 focus-group meetings in the Midwest. Each meeting consisted of 8 to 10 machine shop owners and a moderator. Three questions were asked during the meeting. “What’s working? What’s not working? What do you need most to help you ‘make it’ for the next 10 years?” After talking with 70+ machine shop owners, the Shop Solutions Top 10 owner tips was created. Here is the next tip.

Tip #10: Employees – who needs ’em?

Human resources (HR), was a major topic in every focus group meeting we attended. One of the biggest problems facing small business owners is where to find excellent employees. 

It seems that most engine builders learn the trade from the ground up – literally! It was reported that most engine builders start their career by sweeping the floor, running the hot tank and busting-down cores.  This proven method has produced many excellent employees; just ask us!  Unfortunately, hiring an UN-skilled, LOW-pay floor-sweeper often results in UN-productive and LOW-quality output. 

A Kansas shop owner shared an excellent proverb and some common sense hiring rules. He told the group that he considers employees to be his company’s #1 asset.  He treats hiring a new employee the same way he’d hire a lawyer, a surgeon or even a girlfriend! He reminded the group that we spend more waking hours with our coworkers than our family. He’s always looking for the very best people and preaches the concept that excellent businesses are run by excellent people. 


Here are  four common sense hiring philosophies: If a “superstar” potential employee presents herself, hire her (or him). Top-notch, excellent employees are rare and are always a good investment.

Reevaluate existing staff. Analyze each current employee’s strengths and weaknesses; reassignment may increase productivity.

Great personal referrals make great employees. Contact your friends and business associates. Tell everyone you trust that you’re looking for a “superstar” employee. Include a 2-line job description and ask them for help. 

If all else fails, post the job opening. Before you open the job to the world via newspaper or the Web, though, try contacting automotive-related organizations like vocational schools or trade associations. Instead of sending a posting or hanging a sign, contact an instructor who can tell you who works hard and has excellent  AA:  Attitude and Aptitude. 

Employees are your company’s biggest asset. They represent your firm’s marketing, communication, quality, and warranty – your image. Keep a lookout for excellent potential employees and remember, excellent companies are run by excellent people.

Steve Rich

Sterling Bearing, Inc.


Head Gasket Failures Part II

In addition to Part 1 of this story in the last issue, another major cause of head gasket failure is pre-ignition and detonation. On older engines with distributors and carburetors this problem can be more evident, but it can still occur with newer engines as well. So don’t forget to check knock sensors on newer vehicles. The extreme temperatures in the combustion chamber can cause the head to swell crushing the gasket, or the head bolts stretch out causing failure, or both. Be sure the fuel and ignition systems can function properly before fire up!


Bill Crum

Engine Pro Technical Committee


Seal Out of “Whack”

On blocks that have been line bored and the cam to crank centerline shortened, getting an accurate front seal alignment will be a problem. To fix this, first drill out the dowel holes in the cover to the next oversize. Next, center the cover (with the front seal installed) using a mock up balancer that has had the hub honed oversized to slip over the crank. At this point you can tighten up the cover, or slip a precision washer over the dowel pin and tack weld it to the cover on both sides. This way it will be indexed for future removal and installation.

A second way is if you have oversized dowel pins, you can pull out the old pins, center and snug up the cover and then drill through the cover into the block for the oversized dowel pins. This also works with front mounted oil pumps as well. Be creative.

Rev. Ron Flood

Cedar Machine Service/Toxic Cycle

North Branch, MN


Toyota Valve Shim Removal

On Toyota 3.0L and 3.4L engines valve adjustment is accomplished by the use of adjustment discs that sit inside a carrier on top of the valve spring. On the compression stroke you check the camshaft to disc clearance and then replace the disc with one thicker or thinner, depending on which you need. You then depress the spring and carrier and lock the spring into place. Now the adjustment disc must be removed from the carrier. The carrier has a slot in it designed to insert a small screwdriver to help remove the adjustment disc. This is where you could have trouble. Oil creates a suction that makes it difficult to remove the disc. We have found if you use your air hose to give the disc a shot of air, this helps improve removal dramatically. Just use a strong magnet to help catch the disc as it comes out of the carrier.

Rick Port

Port Machine

Fairbanks, AK


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