Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Keeping a neat Shop...

My review at my first ever "real" engineering job said something like:

"Paul Moves his assigned projects directly to the desired result with exceptional speed and skill leaving a trail of destruction in his wake."

This was a job where we built real prototype hardware controlled by electronics and
some of the earliest embedded computers. (6502 anyone?). I got the Job done but I left a wake of debris behind. Not much has changed. My rocket shop occupies a two car garage and a 8x10' office at my home. I find the continuous mess and inability to find things is probably the biggest frustration in my life.

I intellectually realize that I'm whining about my own personal shortcomings and should just gut it out and clean up my space. In my life I've never achieved that for any period of time measured in units longer than an hour. So I'm asking my readers if anyone has successfully overcome the this particular demon? I'm open to suggestions?

Its really a two part problem

Part One I have way to much stuff crammed in too small a space. So it needs a Major organizational redo. ( I can actually envision someday solving this part of the problem.)

Part Two once everything is organized how does one maintain cleaned up?
The Failure Scenario goes something like: Come home from work, family is going to have dinner in an hour so I go out to garage and start machining a pressure test plug, then dinner is called and I go in and eat... not to return to that project for a few days. This is complicated by the fact that I often have half a dozen partially finished projects in work at one time and I work on the different projects as I'm inspired to do so. This is not a complete failure as I actually do finish a significant percentage of what I start. (It may take 12 calendar months on a project that is only one real week of work)

Some specific questions for comment:

How do you handle partially finished projects in a way that you can efficiently task switch without leaving piles of half done all over the shop?

How do you decide when to throw something out?
Our current rule is if it is not a tool and has not been touched in (Replacement Cost /25) months it goes in the trash. If the value is over $250 it goes in the ebay pile... (The Ebay pile may someday actually make its way onto ebay)

How often do you redo your storage systems.....
How much dynamic range to you leave for expansion?
IE I have a drawer for AN male elbows. When I create the drawer its 25% full, a year later its over full and won't close so it sits on top the pile....

Has anyone ever tried to hire someone to clean up/ maintain their shop?
How did that work? How did you find such a person?
In So Cal one can find lots of low skill labor that will follow directions, but I think I really need someone that knows the difference between a drill bit and a mill bit, a servo and a valve etc...

Do you think it would be possible to hire a Science/Tech interested high school student to work on this without leaving them emotionally scared for life?


QuantumG said...

No-one else using your shop is both a blessing and a curse, and hiring someone to clean up really does sound like a great way to lose stuff :)

Perhaps the real problem is that you are controlling your motivation to work on a project by visually seeing it? You might be able to fix that by taking a picture of it, putting it away and sticking the picture into a reminder app with an appropriate note.

George Katz said...

Don't spend too much time cleaning up, as that is precious time taken away from creating something new.

A clean workshop will not reach the edge of space.

Try to clean a little as you go. Even if the mess continues to get worse at least it will grow slower. Schedule a time once a month to do a more thorough clean.

If there are tools you are always loosing, paint them in bright colours so they stand out. :)

Paul Breed said...

When I lived in NH I tried the "screw driver experiment", every time I could not find a screw driver of the proper kind I noted that and next time I went to Home Depot I bought the big set of screwdrivers. This was an attempt to increase the screwdriver density to the point that I couldn't possibly not find when. When we moved from NH to CA we had a garage sale I cleaned up everything... I had 5 ,5 Gallon buckets overflowing with screwdrivers. The orange paint might not be enough ;-)

Ben Reytblat said...

I use worksets, which are complete "core dumps" of a project: parts, assemblies, tools, fixtures, etc. At any one time I have at most two worksets on the bench - that's all the space I have in a 1 garage-sized shop (Although I also have storage privileges in the other garage, and half of the 12x20 shed in the back yard is used for raw materials, too).

If I'm about to start a project that needs to preempt a project already on the bench, the preempted project gets put away in a 33 qt or 66qt plastic bin (Target sells cheap Sterilites) and gets stacked in the "storage" garage.

Sometimes I have to go searching through preempted worksets for a tool/fixture. Oh, well.

Stevo Harrington said...

Hire Ryan
When we were at your office, he offered to straighten up, but I did not know if it was OK.
He will organize and clean up your shop, just like at Flo.


Monroe L King said...

"Do you think it would be possible to hire a Science/Tech interested high school student to work on this without leaving them emotionally scared for life?"

Look in the mirror and try that one again :)


S. MacEwan said...

I use something similar to the work-set idea. Instead of incorporating the tools and consumables, I keep a paper sheet in the project bin with the name and location of the common stuff (fasteners, screwdrivers, yellow vs black duct tape, etc). Projects that are "making progress" go on the shelf above the work bench. Those in stasis go in the attic/storage. I try and set aside 15min's post work to re-organze and cleanup. It has saved me a lot of prep time and stress as a result... Hope that helps.

Oh, and Fastenal does some great deals on storage options. Something to consider.

Anonymous said...

Heh, similar problems here :)

Wrt stuff not used...
I generally sort things out immediately (or just after work if there is a bit of time and no one calls me for dinner or something) into 2 categories: "trash" (T) and "might be useful" (MbU). MbU stuff then from time to time (if there is no more place to move, or things overflow, or my Wife is upset with stuff occupying our common space) is again sorted into subcategories: "it was trash from the beginning" (T), "could be sold / given out" (SGO), "I'm not ready to part with that but I'm not gonna use that soon for sure" (NRtPW), "still might be usefull"(SMbU). The last category (SMbU) goes into unsorted useful thing bin, two previous categories (NRtPW & SGO) go to storage (sometimes when Wife insists SGO goes to car trunk to hopefully[*] get really riden off finally) and trash is trash.
So that way I transfer some of outright mess into need for more of storage space.

I still have problem with storage space (I live in a centre of a city, I have just a 1 car garage (there were no car in that garage for a few years) and tiny storage (filled up long time ago) in an apartment). Thus one of the projects (and I have to do that Real Soon Now) is to make overhead storage in my garage (storage which could be lifted up and down) -- that will buy me some more place.

[*] hope dies last :)


Reuben said...

For me, shop clean up is somewhat therapeutic. When something isn't working as thought or I just can't think straight, the clean up process provides a mental process snap. I suspect the brain subconsciously works on the problem while I am cleaning. Instead of sitting idle spinning the wheels, for me the sorting and cleaning usually results in some idea or recovery of lost data that gets things going again. If nothing else the shop is cleaner.

Clive said...

Well, I am of two minds here... When I do my large machining at the community education center, part of the deal is that you clean up PERFECTLY at the close of the evening. Problem with this is that if you have a large multi-operation part, you lose an hour or two a day cleaning up and setting up. In my shop at Crashspace (local hacker space), I can leave it as messy as I want, and I too suffer from multi-projectitis. I have the lathe DRO upgrade 70% complete, I have parts to mount the LCD on the CNC that I haven't done yet, I have upgrade parts for the flood cooler, and I have not even started to cut real flight rocket parts on the whole setup.

My rule is that tools get put away. I have over $100 in label tape and a label printer, and I use that, and will be using that, extensively. All my milling bits are organized by flute and end type ( ball or end), and my drills and countersinks have drawers, i have marked off misc drawers so random crap is at least labeled. All my measurement tools and alignment equipment go into one drawer, all my lathe tools go into another, etc. I keep drawers closed during machining for chip control. I built a bib for my mill (soon be be enclosed) for even more chip control.

This weekend I am going to do one of my tornado cleans. usually, my shop gets more and more and more and more awful as projects progress, to the point where at the end every surface and tool is covered in stainless steel chip and cutting fluid, my tools are everywhere, etc. Then I just go berzerk and spend 12 hours cleaning. Ultrasonic everything important, re-oil all steels, etc. put everything together proper.

Biggest problem I face right now: Not enough space. I find your lab gets super messy if you don't have room. You can have multiple projects going if you have huge table space to keep everything organized, but I have about 12" square inches of table in my main lab which is no covered in receipts, keyboards and organizing supplies. I am gonna move into commercial space sometime this fall and fix that.

Anonymous said...

Its Bush's fault.

Gabriel said...

As a fast fix for the "lost screwdrivers" problem, i recommand using some cylindrical pots (or tin cans...) to stock all pencil-like tools in vertical bunchs. This works surprisingly well and you can use different can sizes to sort the precision little tools from the big ones.

Greg said...

Here's some tips, learned from working on cars, boats, computers, and planes over the last 20 years..

I was a mechanic in the army, and the shop was always cleaned before anyone went home for the day. It meant a little work every evening, but it meant the shop never got so messy that it was an overwelming project to clean it up.

Take a lesson from those efficient Japanize car manufacturers - they use Kanban (googlable) which basically means you don't go beyond a small fixed number of projects going at-one-time. If you _really_ want to start that new project wrap up one of your old ones.

I guess I'm 'lucky' in that I reach my frustration level quickly when my shop is too messy to find things. Try and judge the amount of time you spend searching for tools or frustrated that you can't find something - and weigh it against the amount of time you'd have to spend keeping your shop neat. You'll be suprised, either that you'd save a lot of time with a neat shop OR that your messy shop isn't really impacting your productivity so cleaning would be a waste of time.

Every now and again purge your shop of tools & parts you don't use. It'll make it much easier to find the ones you do. You could 'throw away' tools you never use - but tools are expensive.. You may want to just store them somewhere.

Generic Cialis said...

I'd say that it's a good project, because of the prototype hardware controlled by electronics, actually it was something many people was waiting for.

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