Metal Fab Shop Organization Tips for Large Complex Fabrications

Welder examining tablet on shop floor

Top metal fabrication companies spend millions on machines and equipment to produce large complex fabrications. They also invest considerable resources hiring highly skilled workers and providing them with robust training. 

Equally important to a successful project is a well organized shop floor. And the more complex a project is, the more critical it becomes.

Benefits of an Organized Shop Floor

A properly organized metal fabrication shop benefits both the company and its customers in the following ways. 


Manufacturers often say that safety is their number one priority. How well their production floor is organized will reflect just how sincere those sentiments are. The top work-related injuries in the U.S. result from trip and fall accidents, according to OSHA. One of the best ways to minimize injuries in manufacturing settings is to maintain clean and organized work areas, aisles, and access ways

Increased Quality

When a work area is organized and well kept, there’s less likelihood of items slipping off surfaces or tipping over onto a project being worked on, which can result in damaged surfaces or dinged-up finishes. And when welders, finishers, or assemblers don’t have to work around clutter, they can more easily focus on the job at hand rather than worry about stumbling over misplaced tools or parts.


Large complex fabrications produced for the Department of Defense may require quality data packages (QDPs) outlining the traceability of materials and processes. Searching for tools or parts creates inefficiencies and interrupts processes such as machine setup or materials handling. When workers spend their time running around looking for parts or tools, it will inevitably have a ripple effect, resulting in poor delivery rates and missed deadlines. Part of proper project management also involves managing a shop’s organization and workflows.

Employee Morale

A reputable metal fabrication shop will equip their employees for success. AWS and NAVSEA certification training is one way to invest in employees, but investing in protocols and processes that ensure a safe and organized work environment can directly impact employee morale. If a worker doesn’t have sufficient workspace or is frustrated every day because they can’t find what they need, attitudes will suffer and so will their workmanship.


An organized facility reflects the professionalism of a company and how much pride they take in their work. In addition to equipment and capabilities, an organized work environment should be added to the list of criteria to look for on a facility tour

Tips for Metal Fabrication Optimization

Consider the following best practices and ways a metal fabrication company can improve their organization and outcomes.

1. Centralize Tool Centers

The placement of machining tools and other frequently used components should be centrally located for convenience. Sometimes there’s a fine line between centrally locating items and their point of use, however. If one machining center uses various tooling more than any other, it may make sense to move their items closer.

2. Optimize Shop Floor Workflows

Ideally, materials will flow through a facility in one direction and not cross paths with other products during production. At times, a facility’s capacity or layout can hinder this principle, however. From the moment raw materials come in to when finished products are sent out the loading dock, there should be a cohesive and logical path. This minimizes excess transporting from one station to the next. 

3. Minimize Outsourced Services

When vetting a metal fabricator, consider whether they need to outsource some of their services, such as painting or finishing. Outsourced finishing requires loading fabrications onto a truck, hauling to another facility, cleaning, masking, painting, and sending them back for final assembly and shipping. The ability to complete all processes in one facility creates considerable efficiencies.

VIEW RELATED STORY: Fox Valley Metal-Tech Expansion Allows For All-in-One Fabrication and Finishing Facility

4. Provide Employee Training

Provide training on organizational protocols for all new employees, and outline expectations for cleaning, wiping down surfaces, emptying garbage cans, and end-of-day procedures. Workspaces should be clean and ready to go when workers return for their next shift.

5. Follow 5S Lean Principles

Most manufacturers practice lean principles to some degree to help maximize productivity. These steps typically happen behind the scenes and the customer might not be aware of them, but they make a major difference in the end result.

Lean principles known as 5S were specifically developed to help ensure that a workplace is clean, well organized, and safe, reducing waste and optimizing productivity. They include:

  • Sort — Determine a cadence for going through parts, tools, and other elements to determine their use. Get rid of anything that isn’t necessary.
  • Set in Order — Determine what items are used more often and by whom, and arrange them in the most logical order. Think through the paths people take to get to items, and create a place for everything.
  • Shine — Set up a routine schedule for cleaning and housekeeping to stay on top of clutter and messes. Establish protocols, such as closed-lid trash receptacles so welding sparks don’t start a fire.
  • Standardize — Everyone should follow the same standardized procedures for labeling and tool placement. 
  • Sustain — Maintain consistency and watch for variances. Don’t allow individuals to fall backwards or overstep protocols. 

6. Streamline Setup Procedures

The less time you spend setting up equipment and workstations, the more time you have to dedicate to production and value-added services. The ultimate goal is to get set up quickly without sacrificing quality or safety. Consider using quick-change clamping or utilizing standardized tooling. Look for opportunities to prep another area while waiting on a different prep cycle. Follow Poka-Yoke techniques, or error-proofing, by automating processes or incorporating fixtures or design elements that minimize variances. 

7. Encourage and Facilitate Employee Engagement

The best ideas most often come from those who are on the shop floor and dealing with issues on a daily basis. Encourage employee participation to help increase efficiencies. Place an idea board in a prominent location or provide another easy-access method for employees to share ideas for improving workflows or organization. Management should review these ideas, prioritize them, and act on those most critical. A way to encourage participation is to incentivize ideation with recognition or a financial reward or perk. 

Metal fab shop organization can be an indicator of how proficient a company is at tackling large complex fabrications and complying with tight tolerances and specifications. To learn more about the types of specifications that sometimes get overlooked in RFQ proposals, be sure to download our guide below. Questions? Want to request a tour of our facility? Reach out to our experts today.

Metal Fabrication RFQ Guide