Executive Perspective on the Future

 

Makino experts respond to the following machine tool industry questions posed by American Machinist magazine:

  1. Readers have identified cost per part, followed by flexibility/agility to be the most important factors in their day-to-day operations. What can our readers expect from the machine tool industry in resolving these issues?
  2. A major concern of our readers is the lack of a skilled workforce and the problem of user error. They want machines to be more flexible, but they cannot find skilled workers to run these sophisticated, complex machines. How will the industry address these concerns?
  3. Service and technical support issues were problem areas for a number of companies. What are some of the things the industry is planning to do to help companies keep their operations up and running?

A common element becomes apparent in several of the concerns raised by American Machinist readers. Whether concerned with cost per part, machine tool flexibility and agility, a skilled workforce or better service and technical support, technology plays a key role in addressing these concerns today, and in the future.

Advancements in high-speed machining technology and support will continue to have a positive impact on all of these factors. However, certain concepts, like analyzing cost per part, must be reexamined. Shop owners must compare machine tool cost against the estimated life of the machine, the number of parts it will produce over time and the cost to support the machine to get a clearer understanding of the benefits high-speed machining technology brings to the shop floor. In fact, improved market penetration from better time to market will increase overall capacity and profits.

Now more than ever, machine shops understand that purchasing a machine tool is an investment in productivity. As a result, Makino predicts a continuing shift from the use of vertical machining centers (VMCs) to high-speed horizontal machining centers (HMCs) to realize added flexibility, agility and speed in getting better parts to market faster.

HMCs bring benefits to an application that a VMC usually cannot, including faster spindles, greater spindle utilization, larger tool magazines, a smaller footprint and easier setup and chip disposal. HMCs even require less material handling equipment, less spindle oil, coolant and preventative maintenance. HMC technology also promotes unattended operation, allowing one operator to run multiple HMCs. Fewer operators running multiple high-speed machines quickly translates into lower cost per part, lower demand for skilled labor and much more.

And while these advancements are encouraging, the need for more machinists and better training for all machinists are critical issues no one in this industry can afford to ignore. While additional training opportunities are needed, like apprentice programs, even that will not be enough. To attract a new, skilled workforce, the entire industry needs to build awareness. In an age where school wood shops have been replaced by computer facilities, we must all work towards educating schools on the kind of career, and salary, awaiting a young machinist.

While machine shops accept that machines have become more sophisticated, they often do not accept that a traditional machining background is no longer enough to run them. No machinist can use conventional CNC machining techniques on the latest high-speed machining center and expect good results. Investing in more advanced machine tools requires a commitment to break from tradition and realize there are new ways to "cut chips" and advanced training is needed to utilize them.

Training can also make a positive impact on service and support. It allows the machinist to maximize machine tool performance, minimize downtime and, ultimately, enhance results. Suppliers should offer training programs and support that provide a comprehensive understanding of the entire machining process. Key information like programming, tooling, fixturing and speed and feed calculations are not adequately documented in traditional machining handbooks. By transferring this technology to machinists, they have greater control over the application and its results.

Training and service will continue to be enhanced as the line between the computer and the machine tool continues to blur. Real time supplier communications, training and product manuals will soon be available online, instantly updated and always current. Makino predicts, via shop floor access to supplier extranets, this online resource will bring training, service and support to machinists without them having to leave their machining centers. It could become so advanced that a machine’s self diagnostics will call its manufacturer to not only tell the supplier that it is offline, but why.