How often are you hitting your customer’s delivery deadlines? One-hundred percent of the time? Ninety percent? Less than 80 percent? If hitting deadlines are a problem for you, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Many machine shops struggle with the challenges of meeting customer demands.

And let’s face it – customers can be pretty demanding. They can change the order’s specs at the last minute. They can tighten their deadlines or drop a big order at the last minute. Many larger customers are now using their leverage to ask shops to manage inventory as well as produce product. That’s another wrinkle that only adds more complexity to the process.

If you want to take your shop’s success and profits to the next level, though, then you’ll have to get your shop’s schedule under control. For many customers, timely delivery is akin to quality. It’s not a benefit; it’s something that they require to even be considered for the job. If you want to work with larger volume or larger dollar customers, efficient scheduling is mandatory.

Job shop software with a robust scheduling model can help. For example, Shoptech’s E2 system allows you to collect a vast amount of data so you can see bottlenecks before they happen. It also allows you to schedule by machine or department, prioritize jobs, and whiteboard your processes to make them more efficient. A machine shop software system with those capabilities can go a long way toward keeping you on track.

Your software can only do so much, though. The software is only as good as the information that goes into it. There’s still a large human element that heavily influences your ability to meet deadlines.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve your delivery success rates. Here are three tips that successful machine shops have implemented to make their scheduling process more efficient. Try implementing these in your shop to improve your delivery rates.

Quote accurately from the beginning.

Sometimes the worst logjams actually aren’t your fault. They come out of nowhere. The customer gives you too little notice. Or they ask you to produce something that’s a little outside your shop’s skill set. Maybe they want something unique for which you don’t have the materials in stock.

These things happen. Change and uncertainty are part of the machine shop world. There will never be a day in which you’ve eliminated 100 percent of these unexpected challenges.

However, you can reduce them and you can better prepare for them by getting more detailed during the quoting process. How much information is in your typical quote? A description of the job along with the price?

Try thinking about all of the complexities that could arise with the job. What’s the acceptable turnaround time? Which materials will you keep in stock? Which do you need advance notice to order? What types of jobs may the order that require extra setup?

By clarifying and detailing all of these items in the estimate, you can set-up a framework for how  you and the client can work together. The customer will have reasonable expectations, which means they should know that you can’t just turn some jobs around on a dime.

Your customers will likely appreciate the attention to detail. After all, they want to have a beneficial and mutually productive relationship with you. Setting reasonable expectations will both of your work together better.

Group jobs to reduce setup time.

Do you have one station where it seems like all they do is set up for the next job? Some jobs just require more prep time than others. That’s a fact of life in the machine shop business.

However, if you’re running without a scheduling system, you may not know exactly how much time is being spent on set-up. And also may not know how you can change job sequences to reduce that set-up time.

Machine shop software with a scheduling component gives you the data you need to see how set-up time is creating chaos on your floor. Think about it – if one machine has to be adjusted every time it does a certain job and that adjustment takes 15 minutes, you’d lose nearly an hour a day to set-up if you ran four of those jobs. That’s probably an hour that you don’t have to lose.

If you’re using a robust scheduling system, you can see what jobs you have coming down the pipe. All things being equal, you may opt to group similar jobs together. That way, you can do the set-up once instead of several times.

It’s tough to do this kind of planning, though, if you’re working off of a series or spreadsheets, or if one master scheduler is in control of the whole operation. This is one way in which the right machine shop software can seriously reduce your bottlenecks and improve your on-time delivery rates.

Keep the lines of communication open.

Customer service isn’t a strong spot in a lot of machine shops. Many shops view service as a responsive action. When the customer has a question or needs help, then they respond accordingly. While that might be sufficient service, it’s not excellent service.

The shops that excel at customer service are proactive. They hold regular calls with their customers. They dive into their customers’ businesses to identify additional opportunities. They check in with their customers without any nudging or prodding to do so.

All of this communication actually improves workflow. When you have regular conversations with your customers, you learn new information all the time. For instance, you might learn that they’ll be placing an order the following work that will require some special tools. By getting that information a week early, you can get the tools lined up so you’re ready when the order arrives.

In a customer conversation, you may find out that a job has been delayed, giving you more time and flexibility. If you’re running into a logjam, you can work with your customer to prioritize jobs so they get the most important ones first.

Communication can facilitate more flexibility and allow you to sequence jobs appropriately. Your customers will also likely appreciate your proactive stance and reward you with more business. Want to improve your scheduling problems? Talk to your customers. You’ll learn lots of new information that can help you improve your processes.

If you don’t have scheduling software in place, you may want to cross that hurdle before you do anything. Shoptech’s E2 software system has helped thousands of machine shops improve their delivery rates. Contact us for more information on how E2 can help your shop.