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    Default Software Solutions for Machine Shop

    I've been helping out at my uncle's machine shop for the past year. My uncle has been saying for a while that it's a shame more younger people don't go into the trade as he feels it's a dying art. While learning the ropes on machining (we focus primarily on oil & gas) and engineering, I've been putting my "young tech-eyes," as my uncle calls it, towards the shop's workflow and operations.

    We currently run everything out of a patchwork of Excel spreadsheets - is this common with other machine shops? I've been looking at some MES software solutions, but none really seem to fit contact manufacturing or oil & gas precision machining.

    I've also been playing around with an idea to make adding bubble/balloon numbers to drawings easier. Would love to get some of your feedback on it as well. Juronga – Bubble Numbers for Engineering Drawings

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    You are talking about software "solutions", but what exactly are the problems you are looking to solve?
    CAD/drafting/CAM, job planning, accounting/payroll, quoting, shop supplies organization?
    There's a lot of discussion about software modernization here and lots of knowledgeable people but the first step is to clearly define which processes you want to improve. Think ranked list- most important (most potential time/money saved) to least.

    Sometimes one tech solution can solve multiple problems, but FWIW there is rarely a ready made, 1 size fits all, all-in-one software solution for any business, in any field. I am also a younger person, have a professional background in the tech industry and have been tasked with modernizing older business software in a manufacturing/wholesale environment. Often data migration from older systems and transitioning processes from old to new can be the most challenging part.

    As far as the bubble numbers, I would add as an annotation within solidworks as I draft my drawings, rather than using a third-party program. I don't see the added utility in Juronga that justifies the extra complication of another program in the mix, unless your process is very different than mine. How does your shop produce drawings now?

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    Carbonbl's point is valid. But even assuming I have an interest for something like your program, your "Free Trial" feels like a trap in which I have no interest.

    Just give the user the experience of using your software on some document with some restrictions if you want. Let him browse and try. If it's good, he'll contact you.

    My 2 cents

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    Thanks for the feedback. Our shop only does contract jobs (no in-house products) so we have to work with the tiff/pdf file the customer gives us. We have to label the drawing with bubble/balloon numbers and create a separate dimension report. My uncle always says how the paperwork requirements from customers have increased over the years and I figure there have to be other shops facing the same problem as us or have a better solution than typing numbers and drawing circles over and over. Since we focus on oil & gas, maybe there's a better solution for those doing aerospace or some other industry?

    Aside from this, the biggest area is planning and tracking parts on our shop floor. We use a rudimentary manufacturing software which unfortunately was never onboarded properly 10 years ago. Doing basic data tasks like forecasting lead times or seeing machine utilization can be a battle. Our customers are always demanding to produce high-quality parts cheaper and faster - are these some of the same problems you're facing in your shop or something else?

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    Quote Originally Posted by machinesurf View Post
    Aside from this, the biggest area is planning and tracking parts on our shop floor. We use a rudimentary manufacturing software which unfortunately was never onboarded properly 10 years ago. Doing basic data tasks like forecasting lead times or seeing machine utilization can be a battle. Our customers are always demanding to produce high-quality parts cheaper and faster - are these some of the same problems you're facing in your shop or something else?
    In custom manufacturing and high-mix, low-volume (HMLV) manufacturing, it is often difficult to fix a ration due date and find an optimal start time for a new order. It is also difficult to predict production lead times of jobs, job completion times, bottleneck formation over time, etc and perform reliable what-if analysis. The difficulty increases when multi-functional machines and multi-skilled workers are to be optimally used for maximizing shop throughput. Some small and mid-sized job shops regularly face such difficulty.

    ERP/MRP systems and shop management software do not seem to have powerful tools for dealing with this difficulty. However, there are a few job shop scheduling software like Schedlyzer Lite (as shown in YouTube Video) to deal with such difficulty in complex job shops.

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    I have no answers, but questions

    How many "working" employees. People fulfilling the work orders.
    How many work orders does the shop process a day/week?

    My job "job shop" experience was at a shop with 15 machinists, 4 millwrights and 6 welders.
    We used a system called "e2" for all work order generation and data tracking.
    Solid works for drawings.
    We where deep in oil and gas. Seemed to work. All drawings, parts and napkins from customers where re drawn into solid works to maintain a standard format to avoid shop floor mistakes. (Looking back, well worth the 2 full time cad staff)
    We where a 1-10 off shop, where a machinist would often work on multiple jobs a day.
    Lots of 1 off repair and manufacturing. From a single bushing to rebuilding a drilling draw works.
    Standardized instruction was key.

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    Q-Pulse FAIR | Ideagen Plc

    For FAI and such

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    Quote Originally Posted by machinesurf View Post

    We currently run everything out of a patchwork of Excel spreadsheets - is this common with other machine shops? ....
    Yes in even in very big shops. Linked Excel stuff can be very powerful.
    Maybe not the best way but workable.
    At some point you need a database but you can do amazing things in Excel without needing to learn SQL.
    Not a fan of such and a performance penalty but it works well for many.

    E2 is very nice and a big step up but somewhat constricted and a learning and price cure.
    Bob

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    Excel is everywhere. It's the single most overused and misapplied piece of software on the planet, simply because the barrier to entry is low and it does work. But it gets messy quick.

    When I started here ten years ago, everything was an excel spreadsheet. Job tracking was functional in a basic sense but seriously labour intensive for the office staff and mistakes were common, not to mention the wasted time waiting for someone else to do whatever they were doing and close the file so you could open it. Multiuser access is essential when there are more than two or three people working with the same data.

    I have managed over the years to get rid of most of the spreadsheets but there are a couple that linger on, mostly redundant, but whatever.

    I rebuilt the job tracking, quoting, and QA side of things with Filemaker. Simultaneous multiuser and offsite/mobile access, purpose built databases and UI's. Took a bit of time and is still a WIP but I also have to run the machineshop so I don't have much time to spend on it!

    Filemaker is an excellent database builder, kind of in a class of it's own. All the power and flexibility of SQL but much easier to build and deploy.

    After experimenting with a few different forecasting/planning softwares we found them all to be overcomplicated to the point that people avoided using them. We now use simple Gantt charting software for planning (GanttProject - free and open source, simple and functional).

    We use an ERP platform called Access, but it's seriously underutilized - only used for payroll, invoicing, and some basic inventory tracking for a legacy part of the business. Management won't upgrade to a more useful package, but they also won't drop it in favour of something else. That was the incentive for me to build the databases that we now use for everything else - I knew that trying to get them to switch to a more suitable ERP platform like E2 was pointless as it would never be properly adopted.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gregormarwick View Post

    After experimenting with a few different forecasting/planning softwares we found them all to be overcomplicated to the point that people avoided using them. We now use simple Gantt charting software for planning (GanttProject - free and open source, simple and functional).
    Could you explain in more details your difficulties during the experimentation with those planning software? In my opinion, a majority of commercial production scheduling software are based on weak scheduling logic which is mostly hidden behind impressive user interfaces. Actually, the weak scheduling logic creates more difficulty for users in production systems.

    Most project management software (based on Critical Path Method) do not adequately take into account resource capacities and requirements for scheduling while honoring the task precedence relations. This could be a major deficiency for job shops which run with meager production resources. This criticism applies to popular tools like MS Project as well. Such software may regularly demand a lot of manual effort to tweak the production schedule for eliminating resource overloading. Quick schedule revision without resource overloading is also a problem with such software. I don't know whether GanttProject is an exception to this deficiency. There is a trade-off among simplicity, quality of output and the amount of time and effort we have to spend.

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    Default Atlas Solutions

    Quote Originally Posted by machinesurf View Post
    I've been helping out at my uncle's machine shop for the past year. My uncle has been saying for a while that it's a shame more younger people don't go into the trade as he feels it's a dying art. While learning the ropes on machining (we focus primarily on oil & gas) and engineering, I've been putting my "young tech-eyes," as my uncle calls it, towards the shop's workflow and operations.

    We currently run everything out of a patchwork of Excel spreadsheets - is this common with other machine shops? I've been looking at some MES software solutions, but none really seem to fit contact manufacturing or oil & gas precision machining.

    I've also been playing around with an idea to make adding bubble/balloon numbers to drawings easier. Would love to get some of your feedback on it as well. Juronga – Bubble Numbers for Engineering Drawings
    Have you looked into Atlas Solutions (www.atlas-x.com)? Custom manufacturing software deployed modularly so you don't have to do any kind of overhaul of your entire operations. It integrates with other systems and beats purchasing an entire software suite that only helps part of the business

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    Quote Originally Posted by gregormarwick View Post

    After experimenting with a few different forecasting/planning softwares we found them all to be overcomplicated to the point that people avoided using them. We now use simple Gantt charting software for planning (GanttProject - free and open source, simple and functional).
    Hi Gregor,
    I'd be interested how you use GanttProject for scheduling. We're just experimenting with 'Project Libre'
    which seems very similar to Microsoft Project.
    eg. do you have a separate gantt for each machine? We originally tried putting everything in one project but it rapidly became very complex, despite the fact there are only 5 of us with 6 machines.
    I'm trying to get something more flexible than excel.
    I'd be interested in your strategy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by barratt View Post
    Hi Gregor,
    I'd be interested how you use GanttProject for scheduling. We're just experimenting with 'Project Libre'
    which seems very similar to Microsoft Project.
    eg. do you have a separate gantt for each machine? We originally tried putting everything in one project but it rapidly became very complex, despite the fact there are only 5 of us with 6 machines.
    I'm trying to get something more flexible than excel.
    I'd be interested in your strategy.
    GanttProject is very basic, it does gantt charts (and PERT charts but we don't use those) and that's it.

    We have each machine and each involved employee as a resource and every job goes in as a line item and gets machines and people assigned to it with durations according to how the job was quoted. Pretty much as you'd expect.

    GP can highlight resource availability and overloading, but doesn't do anything about it automatically.

    How complex it gets depends on how many different jobs you are juggling at once, and how far into the future you are projecting. We are more or less the same size as you, a few more machines but same ballpark.

    It's not perfect, but what is? We can't afford to have a full time staff member who does nothing but tracking and forecasting, so whatever we use has to be something that can be maintained with minimum time and effort.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gregormarwick View Post
    GanttProject is very basic, it does gantt charts (and PERT charts but we don't use those) and that's it.
    We used dotProject for a while when I was more excited about computers, might go back to that some day. It seemed to have a few more features than GanttProject, but was still pretty clean. Worth a look, perhaps.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gregormarwick View Post
    GanttProject is very basic, it does gantt charts (and PERT charts but we don't use those) and that's it. ........
    GP can highlight resource availability and overloading, but doesn't do anything about it automatically.

    How complex it gets depends on how many different jobs you are juggling at once.........
    Positive aspects of GP are zero price and easiness to develop Gantt chart for any single project. I do not know how multiple jobs sharing common resources can be scheduled in the same Gantt chart.

    This free tool also has a few deficiencies. If overallocations cannot be tolerated in the schedule for some resources, then creation of a right schedule (without resource overallocations) for a set of jobs could be laborious and time consuming. Moreover, updating such schedule taking into account the current progress of jobs and the addition of new jobs is also laborious and time consuming. There is no provision for quick, meaningful what-if analysis in this tool. For example, the schedule may get affected drastically when there is a change in job priorities or major interruptions in resource availability occur.

    We get what we pay for. One can make a trade-off between price and utility.

    Quote Originally Posted by gregormarwick View Post
    It's not perfect, but what is? We can't afford to have a full time staff member who does nothing but tracking and forecasting, so whatever we use has to be something that can be maintained with minimum time and effort.
    Frequent tracking and forecasting of work progress using a lot of man hours is unnecessary in my opinion. If we can update work progress every morning and then generate (using a right tool) a sensible schedule of the pending work without resource allocations and distribute daily dispatch lists to resources, the scheduling function could be simple and efficient. Of course, such function may still demand about an hour everyday when there are scores of operations to be updated. Having a full-time employee mainly for tracking, scheduling and forecasting may be a luxury for many small job shops.

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    Excel can definitely do that job, I've built programs in Excel that manage jobs effectively before, but it takes some time to get it all together. One solution I'm about to bring to the table is low-cost custom manufacturing software. There's always been a gap in the market for smaller shops to be able to get a MRP that financially makes sense and is built for them.

    If there's anything I can help you with, let me know! Manufacturing software is my wheelhouse.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike1974 View Post
    Has the software stopped being ridiculously horrible to use since it was bought out?


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