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Innovation is the Light at the Bottom of the Barrel

Sarah Webster 1



  Sarah A. Webster
Editor in Chief
Sir Isaac Newton famously observed that what goes up must come down. If only the reverse—what goes down must come up—were reliably true. Especially when it came to oil prices.
As I write this, sagging oil prices are showing a little sign of lift, with help from both the supply and demand side of the equation. On the supply side, at least six straight weeks of production cuts supported a price increase. But the demand side has been improving, too, helped by a strong US jobs report and stronger demand for gasoline.
Given the wild ride this sector has been on, however, I won’t predict where prices will be by the time you read this. They could be at the bottom of the barrel again, which wouldn’t be surprising now that we know the US has a huge supply of energy-rich shale just waiting to be fully unleashed.
The most important thing for manufacturers who service the unpredictable oil patch has always been innovation. To reduce costs, improve quality, secure a greater share of business—and diversify.
At a conference I attended last year, an expert predicted that the new global equilibria would eventually settle at $65 to $80 a barrel. But those prices aren’t likely to retrigger a new wave of fracking activity, given that it takes a bit more margin than that to get investors excited about blasting it out of the rock. But what if somebody found a way to make the  process more affordable? By, say, making the machines and equipment needed more affordably?
This issue of ME is focused on the new innovations that can help manufacturers serving the energy sector sharpen their game of making big, complex precision parts. Senior Editor James Lorincz writes about innovations in turning machines for the oil field, while Senior Editor Bill Koenig addresses the cutting tools.
In Viewpoints, Courtney Ortner of Absolute Machine Tools also writes about big Swiss-type machines on steroids that can help improve the business equation for making energy parts. As an example, she notes a new configuration from Taiwan’s You Ji. It offers multiaxis, multitasking machines that combine a five-axis machining center with a vertical turning center and complete all milling and turning operations on five sides of a workpiece—eliminating the need to transfer the workpiece to another machine for secondary operations.

This article was first published in the April 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here to view the PDF on "Innovation is the Light at the Bottom of the Barrel."

Published Date : 4/1/2016

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