PM Blog

The Gardner Business Index: Precision Machining registered 53.9 during March, bringing the first-quarter average reading to 54.8. Compared with the past eight quarters—which capture almost all the expansion experienced in the current business cycle—the latest quarterly reading was higher than four of the last eight quarterly readings. This is no small feat considering that many market analysts believe that the economy is at the late-cycle stage. This limited outlook is understandable considering that the GBI: PM peaked in January 2018 and that compared with the same month one year ago, the Index is 9.9 percent lower, indicating much slower, but still positive industry growth. Gardner Intelligence’s review of the underlying components of the Index revealed that it was driven foremost by an increase in new orders followed by supplier deliveries and production. The Index—a calculated average of the components—was pulled lower modestly by employment and further by backlogs and exports. All components less exports expanded in March.

The surprise expansion in new orders during March marks the first time since January 2018 that new orders was the fastest growing component of the Index. Based on past analyses, an expansion in new order often has positive lagged effects on many of the other components of the business index. In past research, when the expansion in new orders is relatively larger than that of production, backlogs expand almost immediately, and production frequently expands in the following month. Furthermore, an increase in new orders activity is frequently correlated to additional supplier deliveries two to three months afterwards. The influence of new orders on other business index components was particularly evident at the peak of the business cycle in early 2018. The impact of new orders in January resulted in elevated production and at least 12 months of elevated supplier deliveries between March 2018 and present.

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Panel building on machine tools is no longer as simple as wiring a few components. Now, there are more deadlines, cost pressures, standards, new directives and increasing pressure to innovate. Besides common problems related to time, cost, compliance and quality, there is also an increased degree of automation in the pre-fabrication of cables and production of sheet metal parts. In addition to the mechanical design and development of the automation concept, planning the electrical power supply and distribution is the third engineering discipline involved in producing a new machine. Electrical planning provides the framework for the automation engineer, as it involves specifying basics such as communication, topology and the control concept.

Increasingly, the daily work of electrical designers involves more than planning. It includes downloading, storing, processing and backing up data. Data management is an important part of the process, but it is time-consuming. To save time, machine tool companies should create and implement a plan for handling data. Machine tool builders with more than one electrical designer should relocate product databases to a central server. Data only needs to be imported once, then every user can access it. Because the engineering process is closely tied to other processes like procurement, storage, project-specific provisioning, assembly and inspection, it is useful to connect them electronically. Electrical computer-aided design (ECAD) programs can connect to enterprise resource planning systems, making it easier to calculate the price of a control panel. The prices can then be transferred from the ERP system to the ECAD solution’s product database.

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When a shop is in the market for machine tools, it might depend on the experts for guidance. The machine tool manufacturers know their equipment and its capabilities; they should be able to determine the applications for which it is best suited and those where it may fail.

Otto Engineering Inc. of Carpentersville, Illinois, however, thinks outside the box and likes to challenge its suppliers with new approaches to traditional practices. Production Machining told Otto’s story 15 years ago. This follow-up shows a double-down bet on the success the company has realized from what was once such a radical plan that the supplier was even reluctant to sell the machine. While it’s use of a CNC multi for small lots may not be unheard of, buying the machine for that specific purpose and having huge success with the strategy is surprising to most outside of the organization.

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The firearms manufacturing industry is a competitive landscape marked with various sized players producing intricate small handguns to large weapons used by the military, law enforcement, hunters, hobbyists, and other specialists. Within this production environment, many complex precision parts and pieces are required for key elements such as frames, barrels, and trigger assemblies—along with a range of other special products including tooling, triggers, safety equipment, fixtures, lower/upper receivers, and others.

Approximately 95 percent of gun parts are manufactured by milling. Large manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson (one of America’s longest-standing, leading firearm brands) recognize that tool life is vital to keeping up with production cycle optimization. Therefore, more advanced, rigid machines are being leveraged with the highest grade and exotic materials to overcome associated tool life problems.

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At the core of just about every type of business is a supply chain, and as the economy continues becoming more global in nature, it’s more challenging for companies to ensure that their supply chains are operating at peak efficiency.

Maintaining a high level of efficiency is particularly important in tech, given the industry’s complexity and the large number of partners and vendors in tech supply chains.

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