How to specify and install equipment for maximum production
Alot of things can have an effect on a professional engine builder’s bottom line, but there are ways to save (and thus MAKE) money by tuning up what you already have.
Just like tuning the fuel and timing on an engine, small tweaks in a shop’s layout can pay huge dividends over time.
While every shop is unique in its own right, there are some basic considerations that apply to just about everyone. We have discussed and consulted with a number of industry veterans and experts to get their opinion on what it takes to make an efficient and effective layout. Mull over these basics from the pros and see what might be applicable and helpful in your situation.
Does Size Matter?
How about the actual equipment?
Bigger is not always better, but when dealing with engine building, you either have the capacity to do a job or not. When in doubt, size up. Sure you may only work on four bangers or V6s now, but what happens when a straight six comes in the door and your equipment doesn’t have enough travel? Be ready. Same thing with blast cabinets or wash-down equipment.
Size of the equipment isn’t the only consideration, of course – size of your facility plays a big part in determining your shop layout.
Shop layout is critical to productivity, explain the experts. Most shops have their shops laid out by department: Cylinder Heads, Engine Blocks, Cleaning Room, Crack Detection, Cams, Crankshafts, Balancing, Engine Assembly and Testing, etc. Any of the machinery that plays a double role should be set up next to that department.
However, depending on the primary product or service of your business, you might have different needs. If you are strictly rebuilding engines, then your processes may have a dirtier area for disassembly and parts washing. If you mostly build new engines for specific applications, then you may have more grinding and deburring than most. Both of these processes are “dirty” in nature and might need their own area.
Lyle Haley, The Shop Doc, has been in the engine rebuilding industry since 1961, and the first thing on his list is a separate dirty area. He reminds us that placing floor drains in the right place to help keep clean up simple is important, too. Just make sure you’re not sending pollutants down the drain.
Darrell Poe, DP Performance Race Engines, has a completely separate room for tear down and grinding, then a parts washing area, and finally a clean room for assembly. He also religiously keeps all parts covered at all times just in case there’s an errant spec of dust floating around.
Next, look at the main operations that you do and group those together. My experience in manufacturing causes me to refer to work group areas as “cells.” Simply, cells are a grouping of the equipment used the most.
For example: every block is going to get honed. The most efficient way to get the block in the machine is with an overhead crane. Next, a lot of blocks will be decked, and maybe line-honed. Poe says he has a crane that reaches all three areas as well as his milling machine. He also groups other work that is similar in nature together to eliminate as many steps as possible. Head and valve work has an area, crankshaft machining and balancing, block machining and blueprinting, carb and flowbench work, and finally dyno and tuning has an area. This way, when you’re working on one part of the engine, you have everything at hand that you might need and each area has its own set of tools, too.
Kitchen designers call it the “golden triangle” (refrigerator, sink and oven). What is your shop’s golden triangle? This is where most of your steps will be made, so put that equipment as close together as possible.
Once you know what equipment you need together, there are a few other things to think about before you start dragging your hone across the floor. Think about the end in mind – clean up. Make sure you have enough room around the machine for proper maintenance and routine clean up. Leave enough space all the way around equipment to access all sides and keep it, the floors and the walls clean. And always have enough room to easily move around between areas. Lyle Haley suggests a minimum of 3 feet, but notes that bigger might be better here, too.
Once you know what’s going next to each other, or even where its footprint on the floor will be, don’t forget the utilities. Every piece of equipment will need power or air, or maybe both. This is not the time to get cheap. When in doubt, go big.
You wouldn’t think of fueling a big block with an 1/8˝ fuel line – it might idle just fine, but first load and it wouldn’t run right. Same goes with electricity. It fuels your equipment. Each machine has minimum specs for wire size and circuit breaker capacity. ALWAYS use the recommended circuit breaker, but be generous with wire size just in case you need to rearrange equipment later or increase the size of what you have.
That 5 hp air compressor might be fine for now, but as your business grows, it will need to grow, too. Same thing goes for air lines and tanks: bigger IS better. Say you’re trying to float the head of your seat and guide machine in place for another beautiful valve job and the kid deburring blocks in the “Dirty” room won’t back off the die grinder. You’ll be wishing you had an extra large air tank and bigger diameter lines.
Three-phase power is going to run most large equipment better, but even if you don’t need three phase just yet, make sure your electrical service from the utility is plenty large enough for the capacity of the equipment you have. Lots of equipment has sensitive electronics and a drop in voltage can fry them. Make sure any computers use a battery back up, too. That could be on your dyno, the crank balancer, your CNC mill or lathe. This simple thing can save you tons of headaches.
Make it Attractive
Leading industry suppliers and sales people are unanimous when they emphasize a clean, well-lit shop that makes a good first impression with customers. Don’t forget that your suppliers and vendors might even be able to provide you with banners or advertising swag. And last impressions may be even more important – a neat and well organized staging area for the finished product will be reassuring to your customer upon pick-up. This area is especially important to reflect the organized manner of how your shop is set up.
Be sure to protect all machined surfaces with an anti-rust coating. Place them into plastic bags to avoid any exposure to dust or moisture, and note all pertinent information about the job. Some shops list all the engine specs and customers, but many keep all that proprietary information confidential.
And once you have your equipment spec’d, in the right spot, hooked up properly and you look cool, make sure you do good quality work. Seems simple enough, but keeping the place neat and tidy, and keeping parts separated and proper records may be the difference between just another customer and your best advocate. An annual open house for customers and potential customers will let them see the shop and meet the employees. A little bit of goodwill goes a long way.
Word of mouth spreads fast and with today’s social media, a good, solid endorsement can be worth countless advertising dollars. Unfortunately, the same works in reverse. If good news travels fast, then bad news is light speed. If you encounter an unsatisfied customer, resolve the situation immediately.
Think through your shop’s layout, plan ahead and you’ll be ahead of the curve. Rather than just sticking that new piece of equipment where it fits, think about where it SHOULD go in relation to your shop’s operation. ν