IMTS Offers Ideas to Increase Efficiency, Lower Costs

I can trace a number of improvements directly to my first IMTS visit: discovering and evaluating new types of equipment better suited to the parts we make; learning about new technologies and methods that reduce reliance on operators to make quality parts; and applying automation to every process possible.

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I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect during my first trip to the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in 2012. What I did find, however, surpassed my expectations and bolstered my company’s bottom line.

The Chicagoans were outgoing and friendly, the food was great, and the early September weather erased years of bad memories of missed late-night flight connections in the darkest nights of winter. While I didn’t head to the Windy City for the food and friendly conversation, it certainly was a plus.

In truth, I attended IMTS to look for a new lathe with live tooling and a subspindle. I found one, and it’s still making parts for me every day. More important, I discovered new possibilities for my manufacturing business that will bring me back to IMTS this year as a vendor.

The show is a great opportunity to get up close and personal with the latest machine tools. Having all the machines on your shopping list under one big roof allows you to make more informed decisions on key investments for your business. But for me, the best part of IMTS is seeing what isn’t necessarily on my shopping list. If Donald Rumsfeld were to describe the show, he might say, “IMTS is the perfect place to discover the things we know we don’t know and the things we don’t know we don’t know.”

My foray into CNC manufacturing began in 2002 after developing a new type of motorcycle clutch in my spare time. The closest thing to machining I had ever been around was a wood lathe collecting dust in a friend’s garage. CNC manufacturing was a whole new world to me, and I was hooked from the start. The sights and sound of carbide spraying a steady stream of metal chips and coolant onto the glass door of my first CNC lathe stirred my soul.

Walking into IMTS on my first day, in September 2012, was better than any candy store I’d ever entered. Seeing a five-axis multitasking turning center the size of a small house slackened my jaw. The robot demos mesmerized me, and 3D metrology fascinated me. Further, watching five-axis machining in action created new possibilities for me. The show offered so many types of machines and software I had never seen before. My mind raced with ideas to incorporate new technologies to make my business better.

Manufacturing is inextricably tied to technology. Technological advancements in manufacturing improve throughput, lower costs and create possibilities for products that didn’t exist only a few years ago. The ability to find, evaluate and choose manufacturing technology best suited to your business is critical to long-term success. How do you think your business will fare if your nearest competitor implements technology that reduces their cost by 15 percent? Could you make up that deficit by pushing your team harder? What if your competitor implemented technology that cut costs by 30 percent or more?

Comparing the first half of 2016 with the same period in 2012, my company reduced the cost of the CNC department as a percentage of gross sales by 33 percent. We reduced the cost of manufacturing labor as a percentage of gross sales by 71 percent. Throughout the same period, we increased sales by 208 percent and decreased our peak sales backlog by more than 90 percent. We produced more parts, on time, for less money.

I can trace a number of improvements directly to my first IMTS visit: discovering and evaluating new types of equipment better suited to the parts we make; learning about new technologies and methods that reduce reliance on operators to make quality parts; and applying automation to every process possible.

Introducing robotics for machine tending was most impactful for my company. Of all the technology I discovered at IMTS that first year, I believed robotics could provide the greatest benefit.

We started by working with a local integrator on a single part family. It was so successful that we decided to expand robotics to as many part families as possible. Ultimately, that project led to the development of a new robot gripper that we recognized had applications well beyond our machine shop.

This year, I’ll spend most of IMTS on the show floor in a booth talking to people about why I think robotics for machine tending is the best thing since sliced bread (come see me at VersaBuilt in the ABB Robotics booth, N-6251). I love talking to people about my passions.

And I’ll leave plenty of time to walk the aisles to discover what I don’t know I don’t know. Hope to see you there.