UpFront: Better Days Lie Ahead
By Brian J. Hogan
Here at Manufacturing Engineering, our subject is the use of technology and human intelligence to enhance manufacturing productivity. All of our articles are intended to present new equipment or techniques to our readers that can help improve productivity. We believe that doing so is the key to manufacturing success.
Productivity means manufacturing more good parts and products with the same (or less) inputs of capital and labor. It's not simply the result of buying new equipment. Careful process design, reduction in variance (six sigma), and lean manufacturing approaches that reduce inventory all play a role.
Having said all that, let's give some thought to the new machine tools and other equipment (CMMs, cutting tools, automation, controllers) coming onto the market. Today's laser welding and cutting systems, waterjets, and the newest EDM systems surpass all of their predecessors. This new production equipment really does offer users entry to a new world. Whether your shop emphasizes traditional mass production or shorter-run, semicustom products and components, the new systems and machines can enable you to do more with less, and do it better than you could in the past.
And finally, after years of promises not quite fulfilled, rapid prototyping is morphing into true additive fabrication technology (direct digital manufacturing). Where the new capabilities of this technology will lead today's manufacturers is quite unclear, but you should have no doubt at all that it represents a new game, and new challenges.
Give some thought to the high-productivity world that's emerging around us. Certainly the economic situation would seem to demand cutting back everywhere, holding onto cash, and running your operation as cheaply as possible. Perhaps, just now, becoming more productive is the last thing on your mind.
After all, it's high summer and the recession isn't over. Suppliers to the automotive industry are living on the edge, layoffs are in the news, and if our political class has a clue as to what to do about all that, they've concealed the fact quite well.
But—unless the world is ending and there will never be a recovery—this recession will not last forever. When the economy picks up, high-productivity shops will have an enormous competitive advantage. You must invest in productivity. Invest carefully, but by all means don't fail to acquire the systems you need to emerge from this time of troubles as a winner.
Don't lose heart.
Manufacturing produces all of the things people need. Hard skills are assets, and manufacturing is driven by the exercise of hard skills. Your manufacturing knowledge is vital to society, and it will carry you through the recession and onward into a brighter, more rewarding future.
This article was first published in the August 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.