Turning the Page to Broader Capabilities

Businesses must make choices regarding whether their existing core competencies are sufficient to support the level of growth they are targeting or if they should expand their horizons to draw in new customers.

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
— George Bernard Shaw

Often only a fine line exists between the importance of specialization and the need to increase capabilities. In baseball, a pitcher may have a great fastball and change-up and a moderate curveball. Should he work on developing another pitch such as a slider? Doing so may slow the development of that curveball or detract from his continued success with his specialty pitches. But with another weapon in his arsenal, he could keep hitters guessing more, which may more than make up for any reduction in effectiveness of the other pitches.

Businesses face similar strategic challenges as they grow. They must make choices regarding whether their existing core competencies are sufficient to support the level of growth they are targeting or if they should expand their horizons to draw in new customers. If they take on new types of work, they must determine to what extent their areas of expertise may become watered down (less distinct) and how much that dilution will affect their reputation among existing customers.

When I took the job as an editor for PM 11 years ago, it was clear that our main focus was on high production, small turned parts. The magazine was created several years earlier, in fact, to address the needs of those in screw machine product production and high volume turning.

We still write to the same shops we always have, but many of them are growing beyond the realm of precision turning. It’s not that they don’t do it anymore; in fact, they’re doing even more of it. But with that work and the ever evolving nature of the manufacturing industry, including greater need for parts of varying lot sizes and higher complexity, many more of these shops have looked to broaden their own capabilities by adding new types of machine tools.

To address this gradual shift and keep our primary readers in tune with the topics that are important to them, we sometimes include articles that reach beyond the traditional turning shop. This month, both of our feature articles touch on equipment that is getting a lot more notice from our audience these days.

The first takes a broad look at rotary transfer machines. While these machines certainly perform turning operations (along with a number of other machining operations), the technology is sometimes considered beyond the scope of the smaller shop. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth examining. And it also doesn’t mean there’s not a growing interest among those decision makers looking for ways to become more competitive in certain segments of the market. Check out this primer-like discussion of horizontal and vertical rotary transfer machines and their capabilities for done-in-one operations.

Along the same theme of stretching the limits of the traditional screw machine shop, in this month’s issue, we also feature a story about machining centers and an automation system that can help significantly reduce labor costs. It’s a cool application that was developed by a company to solve its own personnel issues, but was effective enough to bring to market. This company is a great example of one that took a chance by expanding its manufacturing horizons beyond its original business plan.

Every company that wishes to grow should consider what markets it might be able to comfortably reach out to. Examining new technologies, thoughtfully working in additional capabilities, and marketing to new customers can make a big difference. Horizontal growth is good if done in a controlled manner that does not detract from the existing specialization that made a shop successful in the first place.

You can expect to see more of this expanded coverage in PM in the coming months and years. We’ve seen the trend developing for some time now and have been gradually bringing these other technologies under our wing. We keep our eyes out for any products we feel would benefit our readers, so if you have suggestions of topics you would like to see more coverage of, feel free to let us know.