UpFront: What Are You Buying?
By Brian J. Hogan
Sometimes the price of manufacturing equipment gives me sticker shock. The number can seem too high for any group that's not part of a Fortune 500 company.
And then the words of a hardboiled old manufacturing guy come to mind: "If a machine makes money for me, it's not expensive, no matter how much it cost. If a machine doesn't make money for me it's not cheap, no matter how low the price was."
The point is sound, of course. Machine tools and other manufacturing equipment are capital goods, not furniture. Purchasers buy equipment to fulfill a contract (or help win a contract, and then fulfill it), not as decorations. So if the equipment can pay for itself and generate a surplus, price really should be a secondary consideration.
What are the primary considerations? Well, in this issue our editors and contributors try to provide answers to that question. We look at the cost advantages provided by automation, the impact of after-purchase service and support, on-line training for operators and engineers, and the influence of technical obsolescence on the purchasing decision.
Here at Manufacturing Engineering and SME, we're well aware that the performance of modern machine tools has improved dramatically over the last decade or so. Techniques such as high-speed machining, improved manufacturing software of every variety, and management approaches like lean manufacturing have all contributed to changes in the way shops do their work. Technology has had a great impact on vendors of manufacturing equipment. Almost all equipment builders now understand that buyers need, and are willing to pay for, innovations that can enhance manufacturing productivity. Is the improved productivity truly worth the price? Making that decision is up to you.
After you've selected the machine or machines you want on your floor, there are always pestiferous barriers to overcome. Once the equipment is in-house, can you maintain it yourself? Can/will the vendor maintain it? Can you learn to keep it running without spending months away from your business? Are spare parts available, and how long does it take to get those parts to your shop?
That last point seems critical. As the market functions these days, there are not many manufacturing houses that can put up with extended downtime on the floor.
Always and always, it's key to remember that if the equipment makes money it has value. If it doesn't earn money for you, you're looking at either scrap metal or a rather costly boat anchor.
This article was first published in the December 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.