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The screw machine industry in our country continues to change. It was changing 2 years ago when we started PM. In that time we’ve been able to better see in what direction that change is likely to be headed.

 

It’s been 2 years since the premiere issue of Production Machining. Time sure does fly. In those 2 years I’ve been asked the “What were you thinking?” question many times. On the surface, it would seem that starting any new venture in a business climate like we’ve had in the past 2 years is more than just risky—foolhardy comes to mind as an apt description. But we’ve bucked the trend and continue to grow this magazine, with your help and input.

The screw machine industry in our country continues to change. It was changing 2 years ago when we started PM. In that time we’ve been able to better see in what direction that change is likely to be headed.

We’ve seen much of the bread and butter work that was the historical backbone of our domestic screw machine industry migrate to other countries following—in many cases—the OEM customers themselves. In general, what’s left is higher value added work. Tighter tolerance jobs with lower relative volumes represent a significant percentage of the current precision parts manufacturing market.

My sense is that some of the business lost to overseas suppliers will come back—we’ve seen this in metalworking before with Mexico. However, the screw machine industry that is able to regain the lost business will look different from the one today.

Understanding this trend, it becomes imperative to understand that our collective job, as an industry, is to retain the work we have and grow our businesses in ways that make recapturing some of the lost work competitively advantageous to the OEMs. I believe that growth and restructuring can come from a couple of areas. One is specialization. The other is reduction in the cost of manufacturing. Let’s face it: It’s probably going to be a while longer before more capacity is needed.

To me, the idea now is to optimize shop processes by investing in technology that supports process optimization along with manufacturing cost reduction and to service customers as though your life depends on it; certainly your livelihood does.

Process optimization can begin with listening to everyone in the shop. Good ideas pay no homage to rank or position. They come from everywhere. But without an environment that captures, analyzes, and, if worthy, implements these ideas, lots of good stuff goes out the door with the chip barrel.

Investing in process optimization technology certainly doesn’t have to begin with a new machine tool. It can be something inexpensive but full of impact, such as a quick change toolholder, an upgraded quotation software package, or even a new arrangement of existing equipment into a lean based, ergonomic plan that reduces work flow restrictions. Simple changes can pay big dividends. The worst thing to do is nothing.

Our current economic recession is really a manufacturing recession. You can tell by looking at the major economic indicators that this recession seems to be peculiarly focused on manufacturing. If one looks at the overall economic situation, interest rates are historically low, unemployment remains relatively low, and, in spite of increased emergency spending, the government deficits remain low.

I submit that to a large degree a manufacturing recovery is possible only with a change in confidence in the manufacturing community itself. It’s like everyone is waiting for someone else to make the first move as far as investment.

There is little likelihood of external help from the government in the foreseeable future. So as I see it, manufacturing’s recovery is in its own hands. It’s going to start when we start it, and that’s going to be triggered by investment.

Sure there’s risk involved, but it may be the case that the risk of not making the hard decision is that we lose more business.

The general economy has relied on consumer spending to keep it propped up. Precision parts manufacturers are consumers too. What we consume is other manufactured products and services.