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Viewpoints: The Challenges of Innovation

Tomohisa YamazakiAs manufacturing technologies advance at a fast pace, it has become more and more difficult for companies to utilize and fully benefit from innovation, though they absolutely must do so to achieve real competitiveness and long-term success.

In part, this is due to the global scarcity of highly trained and experienced personnel as alternate careers may appear more attractive than working in a factory—even a "high-tech" one. The fact of the matter is that all of us in manufacturing must leverage the pool of talent we have through education and elimination of non-value-added activities. Ours is a "life cycle" approach. It begins with product innovation, following through with application engineering, education, and support over the life of the equipment.   

Certainly process breakthroughs such as multitasking and multiaxis machining delivered leverage by reducing labor, lead time, and fixtures and tooling for parts that used to be processed with multiple setups. These technologies will continue to be refined to address the needs of specific industries. But we are going much further today in reducing operators' tasks by providing our machine tools with the ability to think. Indeed, "INTELLIGENT" has become a key word in developing our company's new machine tools.

Just in the past two years, seven intelligent functions have been introduced, which give our machines the ability to automatically respond to changes in their status or environment. These range from setup aids to cycle and interference simulations plus automatic compensation for temperature variations in the factory. Our newest intelligent functions include IPS, which continually monitors spindle performance; IMS, which is a real-time maintenance module, and IBA, which analyzes the load on machine pallets to ensure balanced, accurate machining. All of these provide relevant data to the operator before reaching a critical level, allowing him or her to concentrate on key production tasks.

The next phase in the life cycle of a machine is key. This is the learning, studying and process engineering between customer and machine builder, which leads to the most productive result available. For the past decade or more, our approach to this need has been through a global network of Technology Centers, now numbering 30, with a new one under construction in Thailand. The atmosphere at our Technology Centers is one of learning, cooperation, consultation, and engineering. Customers are welcome for seminars or to work on turnkey solutions with us and our trusted suppliers.

Our personnel are committed to weeks of training each year, with emphasis on new technologies and cross-disciplines for a broader view in problem solving. We know that most customers simply can't develop this kind of machine and process expertise, so we consider it our responsibility and our privilege to make it available. The Multi-Tasking Academy in Japan and the Center for Multi-Tasking and Manufacturing Excellence in Florence, KY, are two examples of our dedication to learning for employees and customers. However, the broad network of Technology Centers worldwide allows training for customers at local levels in a wide array of classes.

But, the Technology Center concept delivers more than education and process solutions alone. The Centers become our eyes and ears into local markets for the purpose of product refinement and customer support. Language barriers are eliminated and relationships formed over many years of doing business together. Expert advice or trouble-shooting is always available by phone, and factory technicians are scheduled from the nearest Technology Center on a priority basis to supplement the efforts of a customer's personnel.

We also know that the best technology is of no value when it's not running. In the design process and manufacture of the machine, we concentrate on quality and reliability to minimize downtime once the machine is installed. And over many years of production in a customer's plant, we offer parts support with an average of 97% of all parts shipped within 24 hr. In addition, we operate remanufacturing centers for spindles and other assemblies, so a simple exchange can occur rather than extensive in-plant repairs. Our commitment includes stocking a wide variety of spindles for various models of our machines.

All of these principles and ideas are designed with high customer productivity in mind. And more will follow. Innovative manufacturing generates growth. We recognize that our customers alone cannot secure our mutual success. We must be their partner and deliver our expertise in every way possible.


This article was first published in the May 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 5/1/2008

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