What Do Jazz And Precision Machining Have In Common?

Collaborative machining is more than just working together. It is a strategic choice that, over time, transforms our relationships with customers in unexpected and powerful ways.


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What do jazz greats such as Dizzie Gillespie and Miles Davis have in common with precision machining? We do our best work in a collaborative environment with other talented colleagues. In machining, as in jazz, the best work is generated by the back-and-forth exchange of ideas.

The role of collaboration in the development of works of art was brought to light by columnist Josh Linkner recently in an article he wrote for the Detroit Free Press. Linkner says great music results when highly talented performers merge their own ideas with inspirations from others. Having studied and performed jazz for more than 40 years, Linkner says a masterpiece begins with a loose structure of chords, scales, rhythms and harmonies that are wide open to interpretation. Through improvisation and collaboration with others, this loose structure is magically woven into a masterpiece that none of the individuals would have produced if working alone.

The takeaway for the machining industry is obvious — creativity, breakthrough thinking and innovative machining processes are most often the result of input from multiple machining professionals rather than a machinist or engineer working alone in a cubical with a desktop computer armed with CAD/CAM software.

Linkner further embellishes this point by noting that work produced by a single person locked away in a windowless room is likely to be as bland as the environment, which is exactly what many machining companies do with their design teams. Instead, by opening ourselves and our thinking to new and different ideas from others, we draw inspiration from others and create our most inspired work.

Linkner believes that when we surround ourselves with other talented and creative people, our creative output becomes transcendent. To him, creative collaboration is the best and most direct path to pushing your imagination to new heights.

The same thing is true for the machining industry. At Fordsell Machine, we use collaborative machining every day. Whenever a customer sends us a part to quote, we pull together a team of machining professionals from the customer’s engineering group, our team and other process experts (for example, heat treatment, anodizing, plating and more) for us to develop the very best way to make that part.

Over the years, this collaboration has resulted in breakthrough thinking and innovative machining solutions that have consistently produced better parts at lower total delivered costs. For example, we had a customer experiencing field failures in a spool for their hydraulic valves. Collaborating with the customer’s engineering group, our team of engineers, heat treating specialists and grinding suppliers, we traced the source of the problem to the failure of a stock restrictor screw. Together, we designed a custom screw that could handle the required tight tolerances and hardness issues. Teamwork solved the problem!

Another example of how collaboration solved issues was a part that was being made from 4140 steel. It was being turned from bar stock, machined to specifications and heat treated. The final part, however, had distorted threads. Collaborating with the customer’s engineers, our engineers and a heat treating expert, we found the heat treatment process was causing the part to shrink. Working together, we determined that the solution was to make the part bigger to accommodate shrinkage. The question was how much bigger? The team was able to precisely determine the size the part needed to be and then developed special gages for quality control. Problem solved.

In both cases, highly qualified engineers working independently were unable to solve the problem. Through collaboration, we were able to solve both these problems in just days.

The good news is that developing a collaborative environment in the machining industry is not rocket science, but it does take a laser focus on the part of senior management and a lot of hard work. For many machine shops, it requires a company culture that recognizes everyone is better off asking for and providing help when needed. It also requires partnerships with trusted machining professionals from outside the company for things such as heat treating, plating, anodizing, broaching, painting, metallurgy, welding, finishing and more.

Collaborative machining is more than just working together. It is a strategic choice.

The bottom line is that collaborative machining is more than just working together. It is a strategic choice. Over time, it transforms our relationships with customers in unexpected and powerful ways because collaboration changes how we view ourselves, the parts we make, customers we serve and everyone around us. Collaborative machining ups everybody’s game, builds a higher level of trust and results in outcomes that would have been unattainable otherwise…and that’s as good as it gets.

About the Author

Fordsell Machine

David Redfield is president of Fordsell Machine, a precision machining company that is a major proponent of using collaboration to make better parts and lower a company’s total delivered costs.  Fordsell Machine is located in Warren, Michigan. Contact Fordsell at fordsell.com or 586-751-4700.