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Automate the Process, Recover the Profits

Tom Dolan Vice President, Mitsui Seiki (U.S.A.), Inc.
By Tom Dolan Vice President, Mitsui Seiki (U.S.A.), Inc.

Aerospace OEMs and their supply chains are evolving plans to manage the economic impact caused by the health-related shutdown last spring. As part of this significant effort we are all taking stock of what we have, what we can give up, and what we absolutely cannot live without. As businesspersons, however, we can’t lose sight of future opportunities and our needs when we come out of this mess. Investment strategies cannot be completely discarded; they need to be tuned to the real requirements of the enterprise, helping us to navigate the times and build a stronger, more resilient business.

In a manufacturing environment that relies heavily on various machining capabilities, there are several factors that need to be considered: How much do we rely on highly skilled humans? How will those team members help improve the company’s results? What is our real equipment utilization rate? How can we get more from our existing equipment? What is required to protect our financial position and allow for a faster, profitable ramp up when needed? When we carefully and critically look at how we actually work, we will likely realize we can do more with less and positively affect our results.

Automation has been widely recognized as having a significant influence on profitability. Years ago, automatic machine tools supplanted manual machines. This was followed by more digital technology affording freedoms to work in even more effective ways. Today, with advanced CNC machine tools, some tend to believe that they are faster, more accurate, and more productive than ever before. If we add automated material handling to the piece of equipment, we can further improve the output by constantly feeding the machine with workpieces. All this is fundamentally true; however, the heart and soul of the machine is its ability to produce good parts, day in and day out, for years.

The time and energy to develop a machining process, debug it, and maintain it over time is testament to clever and tenacious people. For those in the aerospace and defense industries, objectives are now shifting to remove some of those challenges on our staff by using more available technology to give them the freedom to create more. Imagine “smarter” machine tools. Ones that we do not always have to tell what to do specifically. Machines that can help us to understand what is actually happening inside the processes we create and accommodate the potential issues therein. This promotes the ongoing pursuit of productivity improvement. The technology exists today in many forms and from many sources. Machine tool builders such as Mitsui Seiki are employing more stringent practices to further enhance equipment performance, precision, and reliability to differentiate ourselves to the customer. CNC control manufacturers are doing the same, as are material handling and other peripheral equipment makers. The intriguing part, though, comes from the sheer number of third party offerings for solutions to add to virtually any machine tool to enhance monitoring (to allow people to do something sooner), adapting (to allow the machine to do something on its own), and quality assurance (to allow the machine to measure, compensate, and report). As a leading supplier to the world of critical components machining, we elect to advance the concept of employing any or all of these items to do what is right for the customer. We and our collaborators are constantly evaluating complete tailored process automation solutions to provide the best overall opportunity for our customer to profit, even in challenging market conditions.

Process automation unto itself is not new, as mentioned before. Combining technologies to automate the process automation are though. With so much data available today, it is important to avoid the pitfalls of missing what our collective objectives are: profit from being the very best at what we do. The key to that success starts with the solid foundation of a rigid, robust, and very precise machine tool.

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