The Need for Face Time

Turning Point

It’s an established fact that we live in a globalized, Googlized, Facebooked, iPhoned, Web woven world where the capabilities of the internet are transforming how we communicate. This is a good thing. It makes us more efficient and productive and hence more competitive.

I think of the working world my kids (ages ranging from 23 to 27) experience as they begin their careers. In just one generation, the information revolution has swept pretty much everyone along like a giant wave. And it makes me wonder what they will think about technology 30 years hence.

While I enjoy telling some of our younger colleagues about how we used to publish magazines, it’s information that isn’t useful to them. They have no real interest or use for color separation process or typesetting or paste-ups. And it’s OK. I probably had the same glazed look at their age when my seniors would wax on about linotype machines.

One of the things I take away as I reflect on where we are and where we’ve been is that where we’re going will be different. It’s continuum of change, and it happens very fast. The challenge for my generation and those coming behind me is to adapt to the change by finding how best to apply it to how we operate.

I’ve said many times in this column that technology is democratic. Anybody with the money can purchase technology. But it’s the application of technology, the art if you will, that differentiates success from failure. That’s been the cornerstone of my editorial career—seeking out and writing about those shops that demonstrate best practices in the use of technology. 

And that brings me around to the point of this column. In spite of all the communication horsepower that can be harnessed via the Internet, there is and I believe always will be a role for face-to-face communication. Word processing, digital photography, direct to plate printing are some of the vastly improved tools available to print and online publishers such as us. But without the skill of the photographer, art director and the writer applying these tools to make a compelling presentation, they are like a car with no driver.

In my travels for this magazine, I have had the pleasure of meeting some amazing people involved in precision machining. Sometimes a phone interview is sufficient to get enough for a story, but I much prefer hitting the road and making the visit. What I find in my face-to-face discussions is that shops are as unique as the faces that run them. No two shops are the same, and that fact keeps me going.

A good example of this is Highland Products, a Mentor, Ohio, Swiss shop featured on page 36 of this issue. It’s owned by Mark Erickson and specializes in Swiss machining of parts from 1.25-inch diameters and smaller.

I’ve known Mark for 11 years when I first covered his shop for Modern Machine Shop. Even in 1999, he was running his floor full of Citizens and LNS bar feeders untended. As you’ll read in the article, Mark and his plant manager, Matt Nolan, have a culture and manufacturing ethos as unique as their personalities. And it works.

Another shop I visited last year is a contrast to Highland, yet no less successful. OEM padlock maker Wilson Bohannan was the cover article in our September issue. The company has been in continuous operation since 1860. The current president and sixth generation family owner is Howard Smith whose guest column appears in as our February 2011 Last Word. 

I was directed to visit this shop to report on how they were employing an eight-spindle CNC Tornos to run a variety of part families for the locks in relatively short lots and sometimes using the machine’s double-drop capability.

I consider WB an excellent example of how technology itself is neutral until it is applied, and it is through innovative application that progress is made. And it is shops that foster the innovative application that I want to meet face to face.

Of course, these are two examples of why I believe the need for face-to-face contact, for my job, will continue to be an important tool in my tool box. I guess one could say the technology for manufacturing magazines has made huge advances, but the art still comes down to filling the pages and home pages with useful content.