A Crystal Ball for Metalworking


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You must always be able to predict what’s next and then have the flexibility to evolve. — Marc Benioff

Local news outlets are forecasting heavy snow for our area for this afternoon as I begin to write this month’s column. This information is good to have so I can plan my day accordingly, including the possibility of taking my work home with me to beat the bad weather, along with potentially canceling my evening plans.

Looking ahead is a useful exercise, and the closer we can come to predicting our future, the more prepared we are to handle any disruption that may come our way. Even though we don’t always know what lies ahead, we should plan for possibilities and consider how they could influence our other expectations.

On a daily, monthly or yearly basis, it helps to think about what needs to be accomplished and schedule our time to be sure it gets done.

In our industry, we have methods at our disposal to help us examine what we can expect for business in the coming months. Gardner Research, alone, offers some great forecasting tools. Brief descriptions and more information can be found at short.productionmachining.com/research.

Gardner’s Capital Spending Survey is the industry’s most comprehensive annual study detailing future spending on capital equipment, tooling and software. Sent in mid-July, the survey gages the views of 28,000 subscribers of Production Machining, Modern Machine Shop, Moldmaking Technology, and Automotive Design & Production magazines regarding their budgeted spending. Their responses are projected across the metalworking industry based on plant size. This information allows builders to better plan their production numbers and gives shops an overall picture of what the competitive landscape holds for the coming year.

The Gardner Business Index monitors the current health of major manufacturing sectors, sortable by U.S. region and by plant size. Each month, Steven Kline, director of market intelligence for Gardner Business Media, provides an updated review of these sectors. His analysis of the precision machining sector can be found in each issue of PM.

The World Machine Tool Survey is another compilation of data from Gardner Research. This survey collects statistics from machine tool producing countries and compares them in U.S. dollars. Methodology remains constant. Data comes from official sources including trade associations and government ministries. For countries in which no official data is available, production and consumption data is estimated based on actual import and export data, along with some assumptions about the nature of production in those countries. Local currencies are converted to U.S. dollars at average interbank rates for the entire year, not at end-of-year rates. Again, this data provides a broad picture of the rates at which machine tools are likely to be produced and sold in the near future, but on a worldwide scale.

Aside from taking a close look at these targeted investigations into the budgeting plans for our industry, we can draw our own conclusions about future trends based on personal gut feelings regarding incoming business. Because I get into a lot of shops and regularly meet with management personnel, I often get asked what my expectations are for the coming months or year. From what I’ve seen lately, shops continue to be busy. Generally, they are growing at encouraging rates. But the common approach is cautiously optimistic. They are putting money into their businesses while keeping a close eye out for any signs of a change.

The truth is, nobody knows exactly what will happen in the future. What’s important is arming oneself with the knowledge of possible and likely scenarios and preparing to deal with the consequences, good or bad. Research done by Gardner is thorough and based on clearly identifiable influencing factors. Guidance derived from the data, while proven to be reliable, is unlikely to be flawless. That’s the nature of forecasting models, or any predictions, for that matter.

We see it regularly in weather reporting. Regardless of how advanced the radar tracking technology has become, knowing for certain exactly what lies ahead is impossible. As it turned out, that snow storm that was predicted for our area left only a dusting here, while 2 feet of snow fell only a couple hundred miles east.