Viewpoints: The Iron is Hot: Are you Ready to Strike?
By Nicolas Giannotte
EDM/Milling and Waterjet
Mitsubishi Corporation Machinery Systems Inc.
Manufacturing is back, and nowhere is it more clearly back than here at home. The world currently views the United States as the strongest country in manufacturing, and the facts bear that out: our manufacturing sector is growing, while that of many other traditionally strong countries is contracting.
So, as an American manufacturer, it’s likely that you feel some of this positive momentum. But how are you harnessing it? How are you maximizing your business’s potential in the feast following the 2008 to 2011 famine? There are a lot of dollars to be made out there, but there’s also a lot of potential to leave too many of those dollars on the table. Being able to optimize production in such a way that garners the best possible business outcome is what will separate the great manufacturers from the average.
This issue of Manufacturing Engineering focuses on automation as a means to maximize productivity, and I couldn’t agree more that it’s a critical focal point for this industry. The name of the game is to get the most possible hours of productivity out of your machines, each and every day. And by lowering your operating cost, you will yield a higher gross profit. The key is to maximize the company revenue by employee head count, better known as revenue per person.
With automated EDM solutions, for instance, customers can greatly increase throughput and maximize their resources. Automated manufacturing processes may employ EDM and vertical machining centers to complete lights-out operations. The MD+CELL allows wire EDM machines to load and cut workpieces in immediate succession, allowing for increased part production.
These advanced technologies will help you build a more autonomous manufacturing business. The more advanced your capabilities, the less likely you’ll need to outsource operations—or worse, lose business to more integrated shops or low-wage countries. One machine that can help you step up your game is the new MV wire EDM—which offers advanced threading, less wire consumption, faster communication through fiber optics and a revolutionary cylindrical drive technology.
Plus, automation doesn’t just maximize production; it also minimizes your reliance on outside forces to get things done. Unpredictable elements like labor, or elements outside your control, like having to outsource specific operations to complete a component, are productivity drains. The more you can take into your own capable hands, take under your own experienced purview, the better off you will be. That’s why investing in technologies that result in increased autonomy, more self-reliance, and therefore, more stability and control, are essential in taking advantage of currently favorable business conditions.
One thing to guard against, however, is automation for automation’s sake. There are a lot of different technologies available to you, and selecting the right level of automation, precisely attuned to the needs and realities of your unique shop and staff, is key.
Most of your suppliers are like us at MC Machinery/Mitsubishi—happy to work with you to gage your needs of the day, goals for the end of the year, and where you hope to be in five or ten years. More aggressive goals sometimes mean more aggressive investment, and skipping a step in automation can potentially save you from having to learn a new technology twice. At the same time, a plunge isn’t always in order, and a measured approach might be the way to go. Either way, a partnership with an experienced supplier who is willing to work with you to determine what success looks like, and how to attain it, is invaluable.
And ensuring that a support system will be there in the inevitable event of a breakdown is of utmost importance. It might be exhilarating to be handed the keys to a shiny new technology, but it’s only worth its salt when you have the peace of mind that comes with the feeling that you won’t be on your own if something goes wrong.
The move toward automation is a move toward greater control over your own shop, all the while minimizing operating costs and maximizing profits. But it’s not necessarily an all-or-nothing venture. Automation is an excellent means to strike while the iron is hot in a good market, and then have the technology to get you through tomorrow’s market, whatever it may hold. ME
This article was first published in the August 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.