UpFront: Things Will Get Better
By Brian J. Hogan
Once again we've rolled into the time of year when WESTEC is on the horizon. But there are new facts to consider in 2009, such as global recession, a new administration in Washington, DC, and the widespread expectation that the worst is yet to come. Not a pretty picture.
Consequently, if you feel that you've got enough work in the shop to keep things going for a year or so, it's not a bad time to begin pressurizing your friendly local supplier of machine tools and other manufacturing equipment. These days, an organization that has work and can generate cash income is in a lovely situation. Distributors and OEMs are hungry; they will be eager to make deals. And the equipment that has come onto the market these last few years is just great stuff. It can have a terrific impact on your shop's productivity.
You might be inclined to hunker down, and avoid any inclination to purchase new equipment this year. Not a good idea. When the economy recovers, your customers will want delivery now, now, now, and when you try to add capacity, you'll find your supplier can get you a machine in four months, or six, or whenever, at a price. Order now and, unless your shop requires special, customized equipment, you'll see the new gear very quickly.
Obviously, if your shop is going broke, this sort of suggestion is worthless. But if you're not underwater, look ahead. Remember, it does no good to plan for what you'll do after the world ends. All economic downturns hit bottom and start up again. Plan for the better days that lie ahead.
This editor has been told many times that the average age of machine tools in the US is about 15 years. Now, older machine tools are not necessarily scrap-metal-in-waiting, but few of them can match the performance and flexibility of new machines. Older machine tools that are purpose-built or just plain huge are special cases. They can probably be rebuilt, equipped with new controls, and upgraded at a cost very competitive with the cost of new equipment. But before you decide on a rebuild, make sure you speak to a distributor or OEM that offers new equipment capable of making your parts. Quite a few of those guys are looking, very hard, for enough orders to keep the doors open; they're hungry—take advantage!
Make it to WESTEC 2009 in Los Angeles, if you can. There will be plenty of interesting exhibits on the floor that will make the visit worth your time. And while you're there, drop by the SME booth and say hello.
This article was first published in the March 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.