Changing Business Strategy For U.S. Builders

The U.S. machine tool market has undergone significant changes during the last few years, and there are more to come. For those few domestic builders that still exist, producing products and competing in today’s domestic market is different from just a few years ago. Today more than 70 percent of all machines sold in the United States are imported.

The U.S. machine tool market has undergone significant changes during the last few years, and there are more to come. The U.S. market for machine tools is at its lowest point since the Great Depression, ranking fourth in the world in machine tool consumption. Only 4 or 5 years ago, it was a clear No. 1. Many U.S. companies have moved manufacturing operations offshore, and there are serious questions as to the fate of manufacturing in the United States. For those few domestic builders that still exist, producing products and competing in today’s domestic market is different from just a few years ago. Today more than 70 percent of all machines sold in the United States are imported.

The need to understand and compete in a global market is paramount. Products produced in the United States must be performance- and price-competitive with the best products available in the world. Information on products produced and supplied from around the world is on the Internet and can influence a buying decision. So with all this as a backdrop, how is Hardinge coping with this market?

The machine tool market is not only cyclical, but international also. Therefore, in the early 1990s, we elected to transform our company to be better positioned to survive in this business environment. We diversified our product line and increased our international business. The logic was simple—broaden your business base so that when one product or market is slow, products or markets that are doing well can offset it. We have been successful with this transformation during the last 10 years. Today, Hardinge has manufacturing operations throughout the world and offers a diverse line of products including turning, milling and grinding machines; collets; and workholding products. This transformation allowed Hardinge to weather the storm our industry faced the last few years when many other manufacturers were merged or closed.

One way we made our operations more efficient began with the implementation of “lean” techniques. Another was the integration of Autodesk Inventor 3D mechanical design software into the design stage of the new products. This software allows our engineers to optimize the overall product development cycle, bringing the product to market quickly. Combined with FEA (finite element analysis) tools, Autodesk further qualified structural integrity of the assembled components and machine prior to production. These tools and techniques allow Hardinge to bring better, more reliable products with the latest technological features to market faster and at a lower cost. We can, therefore, be more responsive to customers’ needs and remain competitive in a difficult environment.

To help companies that are shedding their traditional manufacturing support personnel, we developed a support services business unit. This group offers expanded support services to assist customers in justifying and implementing new capital projects, provides support for their daily operations, and offers preventive maintenance programs that keep equipment running at peak efficiency.

In order for U.S.-based manufacturers to remain competitive in the world market, they must either be capable of producing parts that someone else cannot produce (because of tolerance or finish requirements), or they must produce the part differently from their competitors, either through a more efficient process or by a process requiring less labor.

One area often overlooked when developing a robust manufacturing process is the workholding device used to hold the part or tooling. Improved part holding reduces part run-out, which in turn reduces scrap costs. The bottom line is that customers can’t afford to scrap parts and compete globally.

The Hardinge goal is to be a world-class, international company that is taking steps to compete globally in the difficult machine tool business.