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Tips Maintenance Shop Organization - Maintenance Cruz

Updated on May 23, 2015

I have seen shops in many different states from immaculately organized to back shed grease pit. I can say from experience that organization is definitely the way to go no matter how rough and dirty the work. I do not accept excuses in this area as I think organization and cleanliness go hand-in-hand with professionalism and safety. As a shop manager or lead you have the responsibility and authority to have your shop kept in order, it is not too much to ask and really should be natural.

I wish all technicians felt as I do about work area organization and cleanliness, but sadly they do not. I am not saying all techs are slobs as there are plenty of organized professionals out there. I am also not saying that a mess can not be made, but the guys who know how to get the job done in an orderly fashion while controlling the mess are the professionals. There is an easy flow when you do a block of work, stop to clean and reset, and then continue.

I like to work until I am ready to move to another stage and take that time to tidy up and reorganize my tools a bit. I find that little break refreshes everything such as the mind, body, work area, tools, and parts. Very often during this brief intermission I will have a little time to reflect on my project while I am pushing the broom and many times come up with a better method or a time saving step. I am refreshed, I have a clean area, I have a safer area, and now I am ready for round two. The other added benefit is that the mess stays manageable at all times so if I get called away a quick brooming leaves the area in a good condition until I return and is much easier at the end of the day.

This article is about organization of maintenance shops, but I started off with work cleanliness for a reason. If the techs do not make a continuous effort to keep their own projects clean and organized than it will bleed over into how they take care in the shop. You can 5S your shop up one side and down the other, but if the techs don't care it won' matter. Also, a shop is a shared workplace and I feel it is very unfair and disrespectful for one tech to leave his mess for another to have to deal with. There are times when this is inevitable, but I expect every effort to be made to control it and do as much as possible to not pass down the mess. I do not allow the thinking that if a techs stretches his work until quitting time that he gets to skate on clean up, this is a major pet peeve of mine.

In organizing a shop I think a few initial priorities need to be established. First I think space and availability should be considered. A well thought out layout that makes common sense at every turn needs to be developed. Like putting all the threading tools in one location that is also a good place to do threading with adequate space. All the machining tools need to be at hand in the machine room and the machines need to be situated to allow adequate room to work. The more you compartmentalize your areas the better, this is basic 5S. It is important to consider were the clean up materials will be located to promote cleanliness and work flow. Your people should never have to hunt for cleaning supplies, they must always be ready at hand. This is one of the best points to 5S and I strongly suggest that you make a statement by posting cleaning supplies in a loud way, it sends the correct message.

You also must consider ventilation and dust carefully. This is one area I see lacking in many shops, even organized ones. Somewhere someone did not take into account the welding and grinding dust which has migrated to the bearing shelves, nothing like a bearing covered in abrasive dust. I once saw a welding station backed against the shelves that held the spare motor drives and everything was covered in conductive dust. I saw a machining area that threw chips into the open ports of the rebuilt pumps on the nearby shelves, nothing like metal chips in a pump. Some careful consideration with some forethought of what will happen if I put my chemical parts cleaner in close proximity to my electrical test station, nothing like flammable solvent in the same room where you may be producing arcs. Don't laugh because I have seen every one of these situation and more.

I notice that these strange pairings occur mainly due to space restrictions more often than not. Somehow, if enough thought is put into it, a sensible setup can be achieved. It may be as simple as using tall curtains as dividers to help confine one areas by-products from migrating elsewhere while also increasing the organizational factor of the shop. Welding is in its own curtained environment complete with ventilation, dust\fume collection, all the welding tools, and all the clean up supplies. Curtains are very good and relatively cheap alternative to constructed walls to compartmentalize, but if you have the resources to build specific rooms for specific functions than more power to you.

Another 5S favorite is the shadow board where every tool has a hanger and a painted shadow. How do you know if all your tools made it back to your shop after the contractors left or just on a daily basis if they are just thrown under benches or all crammed into a toolbox, simple, you don't. When you spend 250+ dollars for a 48" pipe wrench it is nice to know that after a job you can check to see if it made it back to it home on the shadow board and if not you can immediately start the search for it.

Organization makes everything easier for all concerned. For the technicians, they have a much easier time finding what they need which increases workflow as well as making cleanup easier. For the manager, tool inventory becomes a very easy thing and finding out who is taking care of the shop and the tools also becomes very easy. When you can slide open a drawer in a tool chest and immediately see that a tool is not in it special spot you can inquire about it now, instead of discovering that it has been missing for a long time and now you need it.

Having an organized area for your technicians to store their on going projects is a great idea. Many technicians will have multiple items that they have disassembled and are now waiting on parts, this stuff needs a safe place to wait and not be disturbed. This is another pet peeve, I do not think a professional technician should ever lose parts. Anything a technician takes a part should have every part secured in plastic sealing bags, sealed boxes, or some other secure method. The technician's personal project area should be strictly off limits to anyone elses hands.

There is a lot that can be done to improve workflow and cleanliness in a maintenance shop. A clean shop just runs better and having organization reduces stress on a lot of levels. This one of those things that takes a lot of work in the beginning, but if it is done right it pays dividends forever. Organization can transform your technicians into orderly machine surgeons and those are the kind of techs really shine. I also promote the idea of company supplied tools and no technicians tool boxes on site. Technicians tool boxes clutter up your shop, choke off valuable space, are a great place for your specialty tools to end up, and are in general a repeat of the same tool over and over again. Also, techs tool boxes are a hassle to get into the workplaces and even more awkward when they need to leave.

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