The Future is Bright for Machine Shops

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Increased product diversity and shorter development cycles are changing the face of machining as we know it. Feeding this is an exceedingly demanding end user that is armed with its own abilities to design, engineer and produce through various channels. This is causing a flattening of supply chains and a need for establishing machining
best practices.

The lines are getting very gray, where consumers are producers and producers are consumers. A quick glance at Kickstarter’s most funded page or Etsy’s top sellers shows a small, but relevant shift. The people behind these new companies and products are having trouble getting traditional manufacturers and machine shops to make their goods. This highlights a clash of cultures; one where technology, transparency and “nowness” are keys to success and another that values “trade secrets” and closely guarded supply chain components.

This new producer/consumer (prosumer) will forever shift the way we make things, the same way baby boomers created our current manufacturing thinking. At the core of this group are millennials, which are already the largest population, representing more than 80 million customers. Soon, this will be the demographic that will crush current automotive, aerospace and industrial sectors with their needs for immediacy and differentiation.

The marrying of new consumer demographics with increased technological capabilities has the ability to create one of the most fruitful manufacturing climates in U.S. history. However, there are many things that need to be addressed. The pillars of future machining should support fault-tolerant, just-in-time production that promotes quicker introduction to market and faster product/market fit testing cycles.

At the core of the American machine shop are some of the most advanced machines on earth working in tandem with more than 470,000 capable machinists. Likewise, we are spending more and more on machines and becoming more automated. The machines do what they are told and the engineers and machinists do well to put the program together correctly. In order to truly succeed in the next decade, machine shops should also invest in dialogue and communication to establish next generation business practices.

Quality should be at the forefront of this conversation. To feed just-in-time needs, machine shops need to operate as close to fault tolerant as possible. It seems odd that there is no universally supported standard for business fault tolerance in the machine world. Likewise, no matter what the input or management processes, it seems that the final product is all that matters.

My favorite response to questions about how front-office opportunity estimation is done is that there are “so many variables involved.” To the outside buying world, machine shops paint a magical, opaque picture. Yet, there are so many variables in banking as well, and we have all bought in to credit scores. The financial services sector has, by teaching us how to monitor and improve our credit scores, made us all into DIY financial managers. That three digit number makes us spend or save, and communicates to the world whether we’re worth lending to. Why can’t we have a more accurate scoring and tracking system of shop performance?

Closely aligned with quality is trust and verification. This is important. More and more transactions will be conducted without meeting. It will be crucial to establish a method to convey trustworthiness and competency (with quality score). This means digging in and really laying out machine shops’ value add. In the future, machine shops will have more diverse, aggregated work. So to start, a machine shop should be able to convey flexibility, maintenance acumen and programming excellence.

The future is bright for machining. There is a world of stuff to produce. Machine shops need to focus just as much on core business logic as part of their value add. Ultimately, it is the machinist’s ability and management’s opportunity to maximize the rapidly increasing flexibility and speed of contemporary machines. MakeTime’s role in the future is as a facilitator. By providing a network of prequalified suppliers and supporting digital transactions, we address the need for a uniform quality standard, flexibility, and faster production cycles.