Albert B. Albrecht has a new book out and it is a good one. It is an enlarged, updated and revised edition of his book “The American Machine Tool Industry,” first published in 2009. The original title has been retained, but the subtitle has been changed from “Its History, Growth and Decline” to “Its History, Growth, and Restructuring & Recovery.” Mr. Albrecht’s discussion and analysis of the industry’s current resurgence are chiefly what makes this new edition different and worth buying to replace the earlier editions. You’ll find the bulk of this enhanced content in the last 60 pages or so.
Here, Mr. Albrecht focuses on the positive changes and developments in the industry that have occurred in the first part of the 21st century. The main message is that machine tool building in the United States is alive, well and gaining strength (although serious challenges and obstacles persist). The author is apparently reconciled to the fact that many of the machine tool factories that are growing and prospering in this country belong to builders based overseas. It is also apparent that he is quite gratified that the machine tool factories belonging to U.S.-based builders, such as Haas Automation, are as advanced and productive as any in the world.
Of the seven chapters in the new section, the two most interesting are 20: Machine Tool Builders of the 21st Century and 21: Machine Tools of Today & Tomorrow. The former includes short profiles of builders whose outlook and capability exemplify the state of U.S. machine tool building. Mr. Albrecht pinpoints what he says are the keys to their success: a clear-cut corporate purpose, a strong sense of identity and values beyond just making a profit. The following chapter presents a sample of advanced machine tools that characterizes the current level of metalworking and metalcutting technology.
The next two chapters reiterate the commonly held notions that the biggest hindrances to the American machine tool industry, and to manufacturing in general, are unenlightened public policy (mainly misguided tax laws) and the shortage of skilled workers. The fixes that he endorses for this shortage are projecting a “cooler” image for manufacturing and reviving traditional apprenticeships.
My positive comments in the review of the first edition of Mr. Albrecht’s book still apply to the preceding sections of the latest version. His history of the industry comes to life in his personal accounts of what he observed and learned as an engineer, then a manager, during the “Golden Years” of U.S. machine tool building when it was the dominant force in the global industry. This period, he says, lasted from 1948 to 1998. The color illustrations added throughout the book are especially complementary to the vivid descriptions in these historical chapters.
I found this latest edition to be better organized and easier to follow than prior editions, yet it retains the intensity and earnestness of the original work. As in the prior editions, however, you will have to overlook some pesky lapses in proofreading and copyediting.
Anyone interested in machine tools and the history of manufacturing technology as told from an insider’s perspective should own this book. I wish a copy could be given to every young person entering an educational program related to machining, manufacturing or engineering. I would tell these recipients that reading it cover to cover right away may not be the best way to absorb the value of this book. Instead, I would recommend that they page through it every once and a while as they learn more about technology and develop their manufacturing skills. Each time they did this, they would be reminded of the tradition and promise that still inspire careers in manufacturing. And each time, they would find facts, comments and lively stories that impart a greater significance than they were able to perceive the time before.
In my 2010 review, I said Mr. Albrecht’s original book represented a fitting “closing act” in his long career. I’m glad I was wrong about that. I hope further encores in perceptive writing by Mr. Albrecht still lie ahead.
To obtain a copy, write to Albert B. Albrecht, 3290 Toddsbury Lane, Richmond, Indiana 47374. Thanks to support from AMT-The Association For Manufacturing Technology, the cover price of this new edition has been reduced to $32. Shipping by priority mail is $7.50. You can also reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are a few past Top Shops “Honors Program” winners showin’ the goods.
This is the time of year when I ask shop owners and managers to consider participating in our magazine’s annual Top Shops benchmarking survey. There are a variety of reasons why I feel it’s valuable to participate, which I outline in this article. That article also includes comments from past participants about past survey results they found interesting or surprising, how they’ve applied what they’ve learned from the results, and so on.
Back when I was single (about a decade ago), I never would have considered meeting women on the Internet. Online matchmaking services were just coming into their own at that time, and not only did I not trust them, I thought they were, well, weird. Oh, how wrong I was. Since that time, I’ve seen online dating work—that is, I’ve seen long-term relationships blossom—for almost every friend and acquaintance who have tried it.
I’ve never considered that manufacturers and their employees might benefit from similar technology, but why not? That is, if algorithms can match potential mates based on information they enter about themselves, why can’t the same thing be done to connect manufacturing job seekers with increasingly desperate employers? That’s the idea behind CraftForce, an online matchmaking platform dedicated specifically to the skilled trades, including manufacturing.
Job seekers enter basic information about themselves and their qualifications into online forms, and the site automatically generates a downloadable and printable resume in PDF format that can be sent to any employer of their choosing. To narrow down options, the site enables users to filter employers based on how far they’re willing to travel, their expected salary and other preferences, and it’s complete with a geographic map of prospective opportunities and real-time alerts when a match is made. Employers, meanwhile, can easily and immediately verify whether a potential employee is a good fit based on experience, skills and certifications.
I heard about the platform on my local National Public Radio (NPR) station here in Cincinnati. In that interview, CEO Dustin Grutza said the company plans for the service to be national. Although he emphasizes that it’s particularly useful for quickly finding hands for seasonal or temporary jobs, I see plenty of advantages for machining companies in a platform dedicated specifically to the skilled trades, as opposed to generic job-search sites that make it difficult to find a good match.
Would you consider using something like CraftForce? Why, or why not? Do you know of any similar platforms, or are you taking advantage of one already? If so, leave a comment below, I’d love to hear about it.
I’ve noticed how some shops here and there have improved their lighting, recognizing that both the accuracy and the psychology of the shop stand to improve with better ambient light.
3V Precision has arguably taken the next step, giving thought to ambient sound. In this Tacoma, Washington, job shop, there are no competing radios at different toolboxes, or boomboxes struggling to be heard over the machines. Instead, a sound system appropriate to the shop’s noise and acoustics has been installed with speakers mounted high above the machines. Two of those speakers are visible in this photo. As the machine tools run here, upbeat music playing through them can be heard at a level that does not seem loud, but nevertheless comes through clearly enough to sing along.
The music is selected by shop owner Peter Boucher, and he keeps it light. Read more about Mr. Boucher, 3V Precision and this shop’s attention to employees.
Mold manufacturer TriPro Technologies prides itself on working closely with customers to prototype and help refine the design of products before building the molds. Its Maker Gear M2 3D printer helps with this service, enabling the shop to quickly turn out prototypes. But the printer is also used in production. 3D-printed custom supports and workholding fixtures have saved the shop money and time in turning around its moldmaking work.
The image above depicts one example. The plastic injection-molded part on the left is a component for a feed auger, used to push product up and out of a chute. The piece was designed to be held in place with two stainless steel rivets pressed into the two holes and attached to the auger via rare earth magnets.
The angle of the holes combined with the curve of the part made it necessary to build the B side of the injection mold in three parts, so that they could be removed without damaging the features. Holding this section of the mold for machining in the shop’s sinker EDM proved to be a challenge; aside from consisting of multiple pieces, this portion of the mold offered no parallel sides for clamping. A custom 3D-printed fixture (visible on the right) held the parts together and provided the necessary straight edges.