Anyone in the automotive performance world has to work with machine shops at some point or another. They have been around as long as people have been building engines. Interestingly, with so many performance shops doing tuning, performance upgrades, and engine building, the assumption would be that quality performance oriented machine shops would be equally as prevalent. In my experience, this has been far from reality. But the question I ask is, why? There are some excellent memes on social media related to performance shops that go like the following:
With such a demand for quality work, the next option would be a fast turnaround or cheap price. My customers haven’t been afraid to spend extra to have it done quickly, but I’ve had a difficult time finding a machine shop around me that could deliver work in a timely manner regardless of price. I’m not alone in this thinking (at least in my general region). So again, why is it hard to find a machine shop that can deliver quality work in a timely manner? If we as performance shops are willing to shell out the cash needed to meet those two requirements, it should be easy.
I have spoken at length about this with a friend who owns a Job Shop machine shop which wouldn’t touch any engine related items (they did fabrication, water jet, CNC, etc..). The owner of the business is a car guy at heart and moved away from the automotive machine for a simple reason:
Years ago there was a big push by dealerships and general service shops to get the cheapest work possible. Machine shops in turn fought for the business by undercutting their competitors. Price of boring a block fell rapidly to 20$/hole or less. A savvy business person would realize that with having to buy a 50k+ machine and having to spend an hour to do the work, the machine would never pay for itself. And this price war put the quality machines out of reach for someone wanting to do automotive machining. Additionally, the barriers of entry for the business are very high from a financial perspective. Having to spend 250k+ just to get started for ultimately no return on the investment just doesn’t make sense. Over time, this has severely limited the number of machine shops capable to do the work that the performance world has needed.
It is interesting to note that of all the machine shops I have used over the years, most have been in business for decades. You don’t see a lot of young entrepreneurial ventures in the performance automotive machining world. They are definitely out there though, and most have figured out how to treat the business more like a manufacturing operation then a walk-in machine shop by focusing on a core niche market with their own specifications and parts, thereby talking the customization out of it.
This lead me to the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) tradeshow in 2015. As an exhibitor, I can walk through the hall before the show actually opens and talk to other people setting up booths to see products I would like to learn more about. I walked by a shop setting up a booth with a Billet 2JZ block on display called Mazworx. Mark was the owner and briefly told us about his operation. We spoke some more during the show and he was able to attend our condensed Essentials of Operating a Shop seminar. After a few months of brief communication, Mark decided to pull the trigger and have us improve his work flow by implementing My Shop Assist (MSA) with our consulting package.
I got the privilege to setup Mark’s shop the week following our full Essentials of Operating a Shop class in Orlando, FL. Having never been to Mazworx before, I didn’t know what to expect. From our phone conversations he had mentioned some systems were in place already and they were using QuickBooks desktop for their accounting.
Day 1 at Mazworx – Shop tour and initial impressions
Walking into Mazworx, I was prepared to wade through mountains of randomly placed engine blocks and cylinder heads. I was expecting to have to call dozens of customers to find out specifics of what they wanted done and what work they had delivered to Mazworx. My years of dealing with that type of machine shop has jaded me to the point that I expect disorganization. Mark’s operation really is a step ahead of the performance machine shops I was accustomed to!
Mark had a decent sized team with 10+ people working at the shop. He also had clearly defined roles for everyone at the shop. His ultimate goal is to make the shop run itself and enable him to step out without the whole operation grinding to a halt. The crew consisted of two front office guys answering phone calls and handling the billing. His wife is an industrial engineer and the VP, dealt with operations, and was the one tracking profitability on all the jobs they performed. His father worked in the parts room and handled the shipping and receiving. He had two guys doing teardowns and cleaning operations. Two guys worked the fabrication area. One guy for running the CNC machines (a task Mark also helped with). Last he had several guys doing engine assembly and running the manual machines. While I was there, Mark was looking to hire a shop foreman or someone to essentially replace him at putting out fires and answering questions. This is a very hard role to fill, and one that Manuel, his primary front office guy, was doing.
We began the day by Mark giving me a tour of the facility. The shop was well laid out with offices for himself, his wife, and the two sales people. Much of what they deal with is internet sales and long distance customers sending them work. They had a clean break room connected to the front office areas and well maintained bathrooms. There wasn’t a waiting room but this type of business isn’t one for people to wait for work to be completed. However, he had some nice display cases with trophies from drag racing as well as many of the products they manufacture.
Walking into the shop, there were several rooms for specific operations. Again, not something I see very often. They had a parts room with actual bin locations tied to QB inventory along with a shipping and receiving area.
They had a rack in the room setup for orders that weren’t complete and waiting for parts on order. There was a window opened to the main shop area where techs could talk to the parts guy. It was one step away from working exactly like a dealership. Next to the parts room window was a PC for their time clock system and Excel sheets to manage all the jobs at the shop.
From there, the second partitioned area was for the short block assembly. It was a climate controlled clean room with about a half dozen stations for assembling motors. The room was laid out nicely with a staging area for stuff coming in and a rack for various torque plates, ring compressors, and other tools in tool chests.
Outside the engine room was the primary area for the bulk of the work. They had a lift and two shop race cars, CNC machines, engine and cylinder head machines, and a staging area for incoming and outgoing jobs. The last section of the shop, was roughly equal in size to the main area but was focused on fabrication/manufacturing, storing materials, bead blasting machine, and vat cleaning washers.
The Layout of the shop was well thought out with only slight inefficiencies with some back and forth work to include a cleaning step in between every machining step. This may sound inefficient, but through years of experience, Mark has figured out its better to have a clean engine then damage something from FOD (foreign object debris).
After the initial tour, Mark spent some time showing me how they handle the jobs. This included printing out the steps involved from their QuickBooks jobs. Mazworx had a nicely setup QuickBooks database with memorized transactions for common engine builds. When they took an order in, they would add it to an excel sheet, add it into QuickBooks, and had a third system which handled their time working on tasks. Even though this was essentially triple entry, compared to what I have been used to seeing, this was a pleasant surprise! The goal of my visit was to replace the time clock system and excel sheets with My Shop Assist.
We would implement MSA to tie in with QuickBooks so they can use it to track job progress and times for any and all tasks. They could then run reports on specific tasks (such as sleeving an EJ block or assembling a 2JZ) to see the number of times performed, an average time to complete, and what they estimate the job to take. These powerful metrics are what a successful business needs to ensure they are pricing jobs appropriately. It is ok for a shop to undercharge on a job from time to time. But if you always undercharge for that job, you’re doing something wrong.
With a goal of what we needed to accomplish in mind, I took the parts, labor, and customer lists he had in QuickBooks and imported them into MSA. This first day was largely getting the system information entered and all the employees added with their appropriate roles. I then took the active jobs Mark had printed for me from the QuickBooks invoices and added the jobs into MSA. Additionally, Mark printed off their packages for specific engine assemblies as well as cylinder head builds from the memorized transactions in QuickBooks. Those proved to be very useful as I created the same transactions as groups in MSA. Many of the open invoices had 5-10 steps and a slew of parts to go with it which could now be created with 3-4 clicks of the mouse.
Day 2 – Implementing My Shop Assist
Most of my second day was spent entering this data so the team could begin using the system with everything ready to go. I also made a point to walk around the shop and give each tech a demo of how they would log in, clock in and out, how they would know what to do, and how to track time on those tasks. Mark’s goal was to have everyone start using MSA in parallel to their existing system for the rest of the week and then transition over once the pay period ended.
Day 3 – Finishing up
On day three, the techs began using MSA to track their time. I made sure everyone was getting up to speed by answering questions and making corrections as needed. What made the system so easy to use for everyone was the fact that they were already used to entering this data, just through three different systems at once. Luckily, Mark didn’t have pushback from his employees on using a new system. This is a very common problem we see with shop owners wanting to implement a new way of running their shops.
Mark has an excellent team behind him and he fully understood where the inefficiencies are at his shop. We addressed a big one with MSA’s customer login portal. This portal allows customers of Mazworx to log in online and view the status of their job(s). If you have run any type of shop, you understand how the endless phone calls you get from impatient customers can really drag you down. These calls take time and add little value. The customer login portal can augment your customer service by giving customers a quick and easy way of viewing jobs which reduces the number of phone calls you get.
Real world benefits
A perfect example of this interaction with the customer is through my own shop working with Mazworx. Mark has the ability to line hone cam caps on smaller cylinder heads. I have literally thrown thousands of dollars’ worth of cylinder heads away in the past because I couldn’t find anyone local to do it for me. Immediately after getting back from the visit with them I shipped a head out to them to be fixed for this. Shortly after shipping it I got an email from them with the job information.
Since my shop uses MSA, the job immediately showed up in my outsourced work window. This feature gives me a quick glance at all the jobs I have at other shops that use MSA. Some other examples are the numerous jobs I have at Sheperd Transmission and also Eddie, a local machinist I use in the Dallas area.
MSA gives Mazworx some simple metrics to show them that the system is working as well. They have a customer login graph that shows how many times customers have logged in to view their respective jobs. The higher this number would correlate to a reduction in phone calls asking for status updates. The best way to get your customers to use this feature is to email them once the job comes in, just like Mazworx did for me. The email contains the link at the bottom which directs them to the login. My interaction with Mazworx consisted of one phone call to verify they could do the work, where to ship the box, and what to include with the head. From there, I got the email and over the course of a few days, they completed the work I requested. All of this I could see via my outsourced work tab in MSA. A day after it was completed, Manuel called me to say what I asked for was ready, but recommended I do an additional step before they ship it back. I agreed to do the work, and was able to see they updated the job with the new task. This interaction between two shops could not have been any smoother! I fully expect Mazworx to become the benchmark as they refine the way they use MSA at their shop.