The Future Of Machining

An introduction to a collection of forward-looking articles.

Article From: 7/11/2005 Modern Machine Shop

Don't let the "the" send the wrong message. This special issue about The Future of Machining does not present the future, as in the one and only future, in either a complete or a certain picture. The future is not ours to know.

But the future is ours to think about. The urgency and the distractions of the present moment can make it easy to forget that the future will find us, and yet at the same time, the present does offer us clues to what's coming. Certainly the future will be determined by more than just today's developments, but today's developments are at least here for us to see. Our coverage this month is an attempt to consider what some of today's trends and changes might mean.

The future is a big place. Our magazine is small by comparison. So in order to cover a topic as large as "the future of machining," and cover it in a useful way, we have given ourselves some ground rules.

One rule is that we focus on the near future—the next 5 years or so—instead of looking farther out than that. Bill Gates has written that we tend to overestimate how much will change in two years, while we underestimate how much will change in 10 years. That middle distance between overestimating and underestimating seemed like the right window in which to make predictions.

Another guiding principle we adopted is that generalizations are generally useless. Rather than offering broad statements of little practical value, we have tried to offer specifics. To do this, we address a variety of general topics, but we focus on particular details within them. In our attempt to illuminate the future, we shine our flashlight here and there.

The article immediately following this one offers a big-picture view. After that, the topics we cover, and the aspects we've focused on within those topics, include the following:

  • Tooling. Follow the incentives (The Incentive Effect).
  • Equipment. How you think about cost and capacity may change (Surviving Global Competition Through Aggressive Business Practices.).
  • Programming. Smarter models are coming, but how soon? (The Changing Face of CNC Programming)
  • Automation. Add vision, and things look different (Re-envisioning Automomation).
  • Where to machine. The work may not be done in a shop (Machining Outside The Shop).
  • Where to get work. It may not come from a customer you'll meet (An Alternate Contract Machining Business Model).
  • People. Meet one new member of machining's future (A Startup Shop In The Digital Age).
    That last topic, people, hints at one more challenge. What happens in the future will be determined by people—what they care about, what they hope for and what they find the will to do. That's not a problem; that's the future's promise. But it makes forecasting the future that much more difficult.

We tried nonetheless. Turn the page. The articles to follow offer specific predictions related to machining technology and the business of metalworking. (Or the business of "materials working"—Machining In Transition.)

But before you read ahead, let us add two other important predictions to the list. The first one has already been suggested—that people will make the difference. That prediction is closely related to the second one, which is that your own future will be yours to create.

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