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Viewpoints: Advanced Solutions Can Overcome Challenges

Don Lane
By Don Lane
President and CEO
Makino Inc.
Mason, OH

There is no question that manufacturing in the United States is ramping up and driving demand for additional capacity. From automotive to aerospace, companies are seeking new ways to turn up capacity while simultaneously working to overcome shortages in skilled labor. This situation has left many onlookers asking, “Is the United States truly capable of meeting these demands?” The short answer is yes, and many of today’s leading companies are proving this through investments in sophisticated technologies and contracted engineering services.

There’s a bifurcation in the machine tool market today that’s drawing a definitive line between commodity equipment and high-performance equipment. While sales of stand-alone commodity machines have recently fallen, demand for sophisticated machining technologies, such as multi-axis machining centers and automation, have continued to grow. This trend speaks clearly to the fact that this is a highly sophisticated market that demands highly sophisticated technology solutions. It’s a movement that is reshaping the way in which US manufacturers grow capacity and compete in today’s global market.

While many people view manufacturing trends on a micro-level, evaluating sales and usage of very specific types of technologies and processes, the reality is that everything points to one overarching idea of manufacturing more efficiently. From a practical standpoint, efficiency has many manufacturers leaning on their machinery to accomplish more independently. A perfect example is the growing prevalence of multiaxis machining technologies, which facilitate single-setup operations that reduce workhandling and resulting machine downtime. A number of manufacturers, both large and small, are taking this idea a step further by deploying fully automated flexible manufacturing systems to boost machine utilization, maintain production scheduling and eliminate all manual workhandling. These types of capabilities have become enablers for companies to overcome capacity constraints, even as the labor market stretches increasingly thin.

Shortages in skilled manpower impact not only the tending and operation of machinery but also the companies’ internal engineering capacity. This is a subject that few people typically recognize or discuss when reflecting on the issue of skilled labor. For many companies, internal engineering resources are already overextended, making it difficult to quickly develop processes when quoting new work, bringing new products into production or integrating new equipment. Such constraints become even more troublesome for companies requiring one-time process engineering of long-term contracts.

In many circumstances, leading manufacturers are turning to contracted services to manage or support their engineering needs. An experienced engineering service provider is able to coordinate all aspects of a project, regardless of complexity, supporting companies with process development, programming, fixture design and acquisition, installation and operator training—all with guaranteed cycle times, Cpk and cost per part that meet or exceed production goals. This level of service and support is helping US manufacturers compensate for labor shortages and maintain lower overhead cost. Rather than increase long-term internal engineering resources for a single project, companies can outsource services on a per-project basis to meet demand. Contracted services can also work as a supplement to current internal resources, helping alleviate stress and confusion in managing complex projects.

While nothing can replace the long-term value of educating and inspiring a new generation of internal manufacturing engineers, solutions are available today to help companies meet existing capacity demands to grow their business. At IMTS 2014, Makino is showcasing an array of sophisticated technologies and services, including several fully automated systems and new five-axis machining centers—the solutions that matter most in meeting today’s demands. Join us in booth S-8700 to see how US manufacturing is overcoming challenges for a globally competitive future. ME 

This article was first published in the September 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.

Published Date : 9/1/2014

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