Computers on the Shop Floor

Does a computer belong in the shop? Here's a debate about efficiency, workflow, dust control, and other aspects of shop computerization. April 24, 2006

I am about to open a small shop (3 guys). I'm planning on using Cut List Plus. Does anyone else think it's a good idea to have a PC set up next to the table saw, so that the bloke cutting is looking at the layouts, or should I just print off and give hard copies?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor S:
I don't think that your PC will last very long! The dust will eventually kill both the HDD and the keyboard in pretty short order unless you opt for an industrialized PC. Also, you are running the risk of clouting the PC with pieces of wood - another killer. Hard copies may not be as high tech, but they withstand use in the workshop a bit better.

From contributor T:
We've had a MacIntosh computer, of some kind, on the shop floor for close to 10 years. Periodically we open up a machine to find about a half inch of dust on the motherboard, but we've never had one fail because of it. The only time we would replace a shop computer is in the course of computer upgrades.

We do have problems with CD drives and printers. We got around the CD drive by networking to the office. Printers have also been problematic over the years, but the Epson we use now has been marching along for over 5 years.

Right now we have a Mac G5 that is networked to the office. We are bringing some software on line that manages activities as well as math. I anticipate we will network a half dozen or so of these stations throughout the shop.

But just because you can, doesn't mean you should. (The CNC story.) I don't think we will ever become paperless, but that doesn't mean we need to continue taping notes to the company refrigerator just to pass out a task.

From contributor J:
Macs will survive a certain amount of dustů PCs will not. This comes from experience. I've had 10 CAD PC stations perish in a room adjacent to my shop due too dust. I've had one Mac the entire time and no problems with it. Dust gets in the fan of the PCs and shuts them down... Not the Mac, though.

From the original questioner:
Not so much worried about the PC and the dust. The plan is to isolate the box away from the dust and just have a screen and keyboard at the saw. I am looking at how effective using the PC is in the building process.

From contributor B:
Where I work, we have the box at a remote location. It has a unit attached to allow the keyboard and monitor to be about 25' away. We use a flat screen monitor and a membrane keyboard.

From contributor D:
The PC belongs in the office! Print a hard copy, put it on a clipboard. It will be a lot easier for the cut man to read and will be moveable and he will be able to check off anything he has already cut.

From contributor L:
We've got 5 PC's in the shop for job and time tracking. Every couple of years we dump the dust out of them, and have never had one fail. We do have them in a cabinet and a fan draws air through a furnace filter and into the cabinet to cool them, but still they get really dirty inside. They are all connected to the server in the office so they don't need removable drives.

From contributor C:
We have had PC's out on the shop floor for several years. First we remove the case or cover and throw it away. Next I instruct our operators to blow off the dust on a regular basis, which is easy because everything is open. Besides a few fans, we have not had any problems.

From contributor M:
I do not suggest putting a computer out in the shop so employees can mess around on the thing looking at files that do not need to be used and just plain wasting time. Paper is faster and less confusing than a computer. I do not know what type of machine the PC serves a purpose for, but if your employees learn to operate it, they will soon think they are computer techs and feel they need more money.

Print the paperwork in the office, review it, send it out into the shop. Your only problem will be following the papers around the shop. You may what to color code the clipboards.

From contributor I:
I've used Cut List Plus (get the Gold edition) for years for cut lists for dovetailed drawer boxes I supply to other cabinet shops and it's one of the best purchases I've ever made. I like using hard copy printouts, which I also label with my own codes by hand as I'm cutting sheet blanks and individual parts to keep track of where I am with the hundreds of pieces each project has.

Pick up a package of clear plastic page sleeves at the office supply to keep each project organized - writing on them with dry erase markers can also help with checking off parts and keeping track.

I also have started using the label printing function and sticking labels on each part, which seems to be overkill and a waste of time, but it is not, even for the small shop. It has speeded me up considerably!

From contributor A:
Keep the computer in the office. You don't want your whole shop to come to a complete stop because someone hit the monitor with a piece of wood. Print off a hard copy for the shop and one for your files. Save your drawing on your computer.

Also you said you were planning to use cut lists for the shop. Are you planning to buy software? I would say wait. If you know anyone that knows anything about Microsoft Excel, they can write you a program that will do the same as a cut list program except at 1/2 to 1/4 of the price. Since you're just starting out, this is where you want to save, while spending more on stuff like a nice Altendorf table saw with a 10ft sliding table (well worth the money).

From contributor G:
Put the computer in the shop. It is good start. If you go to a woodworking show (any) you have to look very hard to find a woodworking machine with no computer attached.

From contributor L:
The shop computers allow time tracking of jobs so their costs are known. When we used paper, employees would often estimate the time spent at the end of the day. It was really difficult and time consuming to read and figure times for both costing and payroll. Now there is a record that allows automated payroll and easy cost tracking. It's still not perfect, but much better than paper. Employees have access to what you allow. They can't even see files or folders that they don't need. They can't make changes to the information but can add notes/comments. (Information that used to be put on scraps of paper and often lost.)

As for feeling like they are now computer geniuses and deserve more pay - I don't think so - but they do feel like they are more part of the process. They don't feel like they don't know the schedule or are being purposely kept uninformed. The day before payday they get a printout of the times they were logged in. There is little or no question about getting the right amount of hours paid.