6/17/2010 | 2 MINUTE READ

The Way Forward

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Last Word


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It’s true that the Great Recession that we are only now climbing out of has left many in the precision parts-making industry badly beaten.

Some have closed their doors, unable to weather the long draught of little or no work. Many may have survived, but have sacrificed irreplaceable skilled workers to stay afloat or have hobbled themselves by analysis paralysis. They have acted like so many deer in headlights, waiting on someone else to make a move, to show a signal that it’s OK to invest in today for tomorrow.

However, a number of shops have taken control of their future, have looked beyond the malaise of recent years and prepared themselves for the nascent turnaround. What they’ve seen is a precision parts-making industry of a different shape.

The shape they see is an industry that requires shops to invest in advanced technology for economic survival. They see CNC multi-spindle machines and turning centers replacing outdated, labor-intensive, single-spindle CAM operations. Further, they understand that lot sizes will be smaller in the future. The parts, however, will be much more complex, requiring sophisticated, multitasking, multi-spindle CNC machines, which have the ability to machine parts in a single handling and can run virtually untended.

They also sense a resourcing move by many customers who have grown weary of offshore suppliers delivering poor quality and reliability, and at unpredictable delivery windows. This observable swing will dictate that well-positioned shops find ways to eliminate non-cut setup times and deliver nothing but the highest quality and reliability with precise predictably. Shops who become known for quality production of complex, precision parts on an on-demand basis will be getting an increasing share of the business because that’s the nature of the business that will be available ongoing.

Also shaping the future is the reality that there will be fewer shops for customers to turn to. This will drive shops with foresight to add capacity to meet and satisfy demand, while at the same time broadening capabilities to do more and different kinds of work for those customers. This capacity must come in the form of justifying and investing in new technology to replace older, more cost-intensive methods, reducing setup times, refocusing personnel opportunities and opening up highly valued shopfloor real estate.

Just as our customers are seeing the way forward differently, we, too, can testify to these changes. Throughout the last 5 years, high-precision, high-volume parts production has been increasingly handled by multi-spindle CNC machines, which offer the advantages of quick cycle times, the precision of a single-spindle turning center, and rapid change-over to handle a range of parts.

The old paradigm that CNC multi-spindle machines are too expensive has been overcome by multiple users of the technology that still leap the competition. As a matter of fact, most of the shops visited during the last year had all of their CNC multis busy, but much of the rest of the equipment was almost idle. It shows that the need for high precision parts completed in one setup is still there—even in a bad economy.

Coming out of it, we all see now that the industry that was hit the most—automotive—is now again the strongest. That’s not new. The automotive industry has reinvented itself many times throughout the past few decades.

Also, the requirement for more high precision parts is now more important than before. Why? Well, if you want to gain market share in a recession, we all know that you need to upgrade your products in a competitive market.