Automate Or Liquidate Against Low-Wage Economics

There is a solution to at least maintain the “status-quo ante.” This is achievable through automation made available to the backbone of Western industry—the job shop where a beachhead can be established to retaliate against lower labor costs of these “New Age” challengers. Also, automation is available as a cost-effective solution to lower batch quantity production to help reduce leadtime and improve competitiveness.

You’ve seen the headlines: “Factory closures,” “Contracts lost to off-shore low wage economies.” It’s hurting the manufacturing sector—the life blood of wealth creation. Production engineering in the Western world has never been under such intense pressure since World War II.

At that time, countries were tooling up to fight against tyranny. Today, it’s a true production engineering task to reduce costs and fight for the survival of manufacturing against a swathe of low-cost economy nations seeking security for their own future by becoming the engine room to power the needs of the industry on a global scale never seen before.

However, there is a solution to at least maintain the “status-quo ante.” This is achievable through automation made available to the backbone of Western industry—the job shop where a beachhead can be established to retaliate against lower labor costs of these “New Age” challengers. Also, automation no longer has to be viewed as the salvation of the volume-hungry automotive sector. Instead, it is available as a cost-effective solution to lower batch quantity production to help reduce leadtime and improve competitiveness.

Not only does automation counter low-wage economies. It also provides the added benefits of production consistency (and therefore, quality), increases utilization of the machine tool and generates a positive feedback to the balance sheet. This, in turn, charges the coffers for future investment, continuous improvement and the ability to increase business potential.

The problem for the average job shop is trying to drum up the cash for investment against justification for payback. Buying a high-value, high-specification machine tool with the credentials to run unmanned or overtime can be a daunting task, especially when the sums don’t add up to a productive solution that the bank manager is willing to agree on.

Current technology, as represented by my company, Colchester, and others, makes the justification for capital investment in automation a lower bar to hurdle.

The cost to manufacture using what was once considered specialized production equipment has, through in-house development programs over the past 3 years, helped set new standards for production capability per dollar invested.

It’s now to the point where automated cycles—under the “lights-out” banner involving multi-axis technology—is within easy economic reach of the job shop. These new machines are built on the concept of modular automation units. These units are pre-engineered to match the production characteristics of the machine tool and married into a single, easy-to-use, autonomous machining cell capable of high-production rates coupled with quick change-over.

Starting with a well-made and proven machine tool as the base, we can add the automation, mechanics and software to provide a 24/7 unmanned, turn/mill operation for the job shop environment. Complete machining of a part within a single platform is easily attainable within this automated machine tool cell.

The needs of the job shop are unique in metalworking manufacturing. While some shops are able to work with customer contracts that provide some basis for production planning, many must deal with the vagaries of the “spot” machining market. Historically, the nature of this up and down workflow precluded the use of automation.

With the development of economical, user-friendly automated cells built around machines such as our Storm lathes, cost justification and productivity for job shops is now much more practical. Moreover, the manufacturing costs reductions derived from reduced labor costs from performing lights-out machining enable the job shop to hit its delivery dates and produce consistent, high-quality parts while increasing its competitiveness.

In short, job shops have access to a readily available and affordable proven package of the latest combined turning and milling technology including its flexibility and versatility. Such automation is a means to fight back against the global onslought of low wage-based manufacturing.