Every engine shop and machine shop operates differently in terms of where things are placed and positioned throughout the shop as well as in how the operation flows from procedure to procedure. That’s in large part because every shop owner is an individual doing things their own way, but also because every shop is a different size and configuration. However, if the manufacturing industry has taught us anything, it’s that cleanliness and efficiency go a long way in churning out a better product from happier employees. Those two things alone translate to happier customers who are more likely to repeat their business, and that’s what it’s all about.
To get a better grasp on the subject, we sat down with Kyle Thompson of Thompson Motorsports and Mike Moran of Moran Motorsports – owners of two of the honest-to-God cleanest shops we’ve ever seen – to discuss the mentality behind their engine shop operations and ways you might emulate their successes within your own space.
Kyle Thompson, who owns Thompson Motorsports in Nevada, TX, comes from a background in the Marine Corps. As such, he’s seen firsthand the value of efficiency, cleanliness and organization. Similarly, Mike Moran, owner of Moran Motorsports in Taylor, MI, has a background in the aviation industry. His time spent around aircrafts and in hangers has resulted in a desire to maintain a clean space with good lighting and innovative and creative ways to do things better.
“It’s harder to make mistakes when things are clean and things are organized, so that’s been a huge push of mine,” Kyle Thompson says. “We move faster with less problems when everything has a place and everything has a way that it’s supposed to look. That has really been the big driving factor for setting equipment up in the way that we set it up.”
Thompson Motorsports, according to Kyle, wasn’t always set up in the most logical fashion. Initially, it was more of a traditional set up with a machining area, a storage area and assembly area. As the shop has grown the volume of engines it produces, it got really difficult to have things bounce around from area to area, so Kyle went looking for a solution.
“I thought I’m going to try to get away from the thought of high-performance racing engines and look more towards production when trying to figure out how to make this more efficient in the way that we operate,” he says. “I spent about a year traveling the country to see some of these big, high-volume shops, which are a whole different animal, but it gave me some ideas on the way they move stuff through.
“I came back and spent one year going through and doing additions to the shop, moving equipment through the shop, setting up gantries and cables and cranes and everything else, so that we could have everything move more similar to a production rebuilder or high-volume area, even though everything we’re building is custom, because there was so much of it that we could apply to our process to make it efficient and clean and smooth in the way that we operated.”
Thompson Motorsports isn’t a small shop compared to many engine shops out there. In fact, with 14,000 sq.-ft. of space, the shop builds 500-700 engines a year and has somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-60 engines in production at a time. That’s as many as some shops build all year, but that doesn’t mean similar practices can’t be applied to smaller shops.
“I think it applies to every shop at any size,” Thompson says. “When everything has a place and a look to it, anybody can step in and see where it is. With our shop, if you walk through and look at the specific racks that engine jobs are in, you can stop at any point and know that if a block is sitting in this particular rack, the procedures before it have already been done, and then you can grab that green envelope that we have on every motor, slide out the job sheet and verify that everything’s been done. By doing that, even for a smaller shop, it prevents you from having any backwards movement with anything.
“A lot of the higher-volume race engine shops are doing 40-50 engines a year, and even at that, if you’re having to kick it back and do any process over again, you’re losing money. Furthermore, if you miss a process, then you give something to a customer that is not what it’s supposed to be, and you create a warranty issue or a potential failure. By having procedures in place, it’s a check to avoid having those issues.”
In the case of Moran Motorsports, the shop’s cleanliness is as much about staying organized and decluttering as it is a morale booster and a selling point for potential customers.
“Keeping a shop clean is a morale booster,” Mike Moran says. “Even the lights themselves, if you put the correct lights in and not just something off the shelf, it’s been proven in studies to bring out the better person. We use a light with a more natural daylight effect than some of the lights with a bluish tint. Our floors also reflect that light throughout the shop, which helps too. Not only does a clean shop help boost morale, it’s also a reflection of your work to your customers, both current and prospective. If you keep your shop this clean, then you really care about what you’re working on.
“I’m so busy in what it is I’m doing that I get desensitized to the environment I’m in. When we get somebody walking into the shop, they literally stop and are speechless over how clean it is in here. Sometimes I forget.”
Moran can put that intense focus on his business and his engine projects because he’s opted to hire a full-time employee to keep the 24,000 sq.-ft. shop so clean you can eat off of any surface.
“We keep growing and it makes it a lot easier to get organized with a lot more of an open floor plan instead of the clutter,” he says. “You’re able to keep it cleaner easier if you don’t have clutter. To aid in that, every single thing in my shop is on wheels. There isn’t a bench or a work area without wheels – all that stuff rolls.
“I’ve got my full-time guy Ricky who once a week will go area by area systematically and he can roll everything out of his way and clean it. Ricky has been here full time since 2012. Keeping the shop clean is more productive this way, because before I was always holding the guys responsible to clean up their [space]. Sometimes they’d get it done, but in a thrash it wouldn’t. With Ricky, he’s just got one focus and he does it really well.”
Ricky will also Zamboni the floors most days at Moran Motorsports, which is also something Thompson has employed at his shop, in addition to a few other practices his employees need to follow.
“Everybody in the shop is responsible for the equipment that they work on,” Thompson says. “There’s a shop vac at every single piece of equipment that we have, and at the end of the day, everybody wet vacs all of their equipment and wipes down the equipment and empties their shop vac and their trash can next to it. That’s every single piece through the entire building. We should never have a day started with a dirty piece of equipment, a full trash can or a full wet vac.
“In addition, we do have one person in an entry level position who is a helper to everybody throughout the day. At about two o’clock every day, everyone stops what they’re doing and we’ve got one of those Zamboni floor cleaners. That person walks the entire 14,000 square feet of our shop and scrubs and cleans the floors five days a week. We put that in place because we were getting the buildup of oil drips here and there and before you know it, you have black floors everywhere and it’s sticky, and not only is it not appealing, its inefficient and dangerous.
“We also have zones throughout the shop where nothing is ever allowed to be left. Each piece of equipment has specific areas that if you come to it and you’ve got to stop with a cart or with anything, it has to go next to the equipment. That’s so we can get the Zamboni through for cleaning or for getting a forklift from one end of the building to the other if needed, etc.”
Not only are cleanliness practices valuable to a shop, but there are a number of things you can do to become more efficient in your procedures too. In this effort, Thompson Motorsports ensures it trains its employees for best results.
“At every piece of equipment, we have a laminated standard operating procedure,” Thompson says. “Everybody trains on each piece of equipment and they’re trained on our procedures. We don’t put them into it and expect that they’re going to understand that procedure. Even when they’re coming from other race shops or from schools with the knowledge on how to do it, we train on our procedures because I’m really big on everything being done the same.
“Back to that Marine Corps mentality, you know what the guy to the left and the right of you do and you’re able to fill in their position. You may not be able to do it quite as well, but you know how to do it. That’s the same mentality I have here, so we train people on their specific equipment and then we also train them on the equipment before and after theirs so they can recognize things coming through. They know what it’s supposed to look like when it gets to them. They know what’s supposed to be done and then they also know what’s happening afterwards. By doing that, it helps the people in front of and behind them stay caught up and have a problem-free process and product.”
Regardless of how you go about improving your shop’s efficiency, it’s something that needs constant attention in order to keep progressing forward.
“Efficiency within the shop is an evolution that never stops,” Moran says. “I think that until the day I’m gone, it’ll always be evolving and trying to make it better and easier to do our work. We innovate ways to be more efficient because we want to be the best at anything we do.”
As the engine building industry continues to push boundaries and become more and more focused on performance in all aspects, the best thing to remember is that anything worth doing is worth doing right.
“I don’t see any value in 90% finishing anything,” Thompson says. “If you’re operating out of a facility that is disorganized or inefficient, all you’re doing is working harder to do a lesser job at the exact same task. It doesn’t matter if it’s a spreadsheet for sales, if it’s organization of the sockets for tear down, or if it’s cleaning the drill bits and having them ready for the balancer – if you take the time to do it right the first time and have everything organized, you’re not going to spend the extra time looking for that tool or looking for that price or looking for that product. You do it right once and it takes a little bit longer that very first time you set it up, but once it’s set up, it’s done. You never have to come back and do it again as long as you maintain it.
“Anybody in this business, whether it is a brand-new shop or a 50-year-old shop, the goal should always be to continue to grow and do better every year. You can’t do that if you’re not putting things in place to become more efficient in the way that you’re going about it. If you do the same thing today that you do tomorrow and you do it 10 years from now, you will be 10 years from now where you are today. If that’s acceptable to you, you’re never going to get anywhere.”
At the pace of the industry these days, those could be your last 10 years in business, so what are you going to do about it? EB