Mark Albert

Mark Albert is editor-in-chief of Modern Machine Shop Magazine, a position he has held since July 2000. He was associate editor and then executive editor of the magazine in prior years. Mark has been writing about metalworking for more than 30 years. Currently, his favorite topics are lean manufacturing and global competitiveness. Mark’s editorial activities have taken him to numerous countries in Europe and Asia as well as across the United States many times. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana).

Posted by: Mark Albert 1. July 2016

Mazak SmartBox at Cisco Live

The Mazak SmartBox with cloud connectivity

The Mazak SmartBox with cloud connectivity encompasses integrated services such as secure file transfer, remote access and machine history.

Later this month, Mazak Corp. will present the next phases of its Mazak SmartBox at Cisco System Inc.'s Cisco Live event in Las Vegas. This announcement is significant for several reasons: 

  1. Mazak is continuing to show leadership in the transition to data-driven manufacturing throughout the industry.
  2. Cisco Systems is taking serious interest in the networking, security and connectivity needs of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)—the essential infrastructure that enables data-driven manufacturing.
  3. In addition, notable organizational changes in the top management positions at Mazak will be apparent.

In announcing its participation at Cisco Live, Mazak states that, in its next phases, the Mazak SmartBox IIoT platform (developed in collaboration with Cisco) will offer Mazak iSmart Cloud connectivity, machine learning and predictive maintenance capabilities, in addition to process analytics. The Mazak SmartBox enables manufacturers to access and use real-time manufacturing data to improve productivity and react quickly to customer needs. Likewise, iSmart Cloud connectivity helps shops identify machine issues before they escalate into machine downtime.

Cisco Live, described as the one of the industry’s largest such events, will focus on process analytics as well as ideas and technologies to optimize factory floor performance and production. More than 1,000 technical sessions will take place and cover various topics involving the IIoT, analytics and manufacturing. This event signifies the merger of corporate and factory-floor information technology.

Mazak will be a special guest at the Cisco event. Mazak’s Daniel Janka will participate in panel discussions and present on Mazak’s use of the SmartBox technology within its own iSmart Factory in Florence, Kentucky. This will mark one of Mr. Janka’s first public appearances as company president, replacing Brian Papke, who has accepted a new position as chairman. As of July 1, Mr. Janka will assume the normal operating functions of Mazak’s North American operations, including the iSmart Factory and North American Headquarters in Kentucky, along with the company’s eight Technology Centers located throughout North America.

The company says it is positioning itself for continued growth and further advances in the manufacturing industry’s new digital frontier, as well as developing technology in multitasking, five-axis machining and additive manufacturing. The company says Mr. Papke personally selected Mr. Janka, who joined Mazak in early 2016, because his experience in the machine tool industry and his extensive involvement with machine tool utilization software and five-axis technology at past positions meshes well with Mazak’s iSmart Factory and the company’s commitment to MTConnect.

Mr. Papke has been with Mazak since 1987, and company president since 1989. Under his leadership, the Kentucky plant grew from one building to its current five-building, 800,000-square-foot campus where the company now designs and builds advanced manufacturing systems, including five-axis and multitasking machines. Mr. Papke promoted the iSmart Factory Concept and the Mazak SmartBox to facilitate further integration of digital solutions in manufacturing.

Posted by: Mark Albert 24. June 2016

Retelling the Story of Manufacturing

Metrology holds a clue to how the story of manufacturing can be retold along bold new lines, says Ola Rollén, president and CEO of Hexagon. In his keynote address at the recent HxGN Live event, he made the point that, in manufacturing, dimensional measurement data have to be part of the total process narrative—from beginning to end.

In manufacturing, the single source of truth is metrology, he said. That’s because the only way to verify that a manufacturing process is producing parts that meet specifications is to measure the parts. Good parts get shipped. Bad parts get scrapped. And that, he said, is how most manufacturing stories end. He insisted that this has to change. This kind of story is incomplete.

The new, complete narrative for manufacturing processes must include a feedback loop in which measurement data, the “truth” about manufactured parts, flows back to the design model in CAD, to the simulation and optimization results from CAE (computer-aided engineering) and to the plan and control decisions made in CAM. The new storyline in manufacturing must be about self-improving, auto-correcting systems. “We have to leverage the lessons learned from metrology. It has to tell us what to do and what to avoid— at every step along the way,” he said, noting that the gaps that now exist can be bridged by metrology data.

This data is the missing link in the story of how most products, from gears and bone screws to automobiles and airplanes, are manufactured. For example, metrology data can and should be used to adjust or refine CNC programs in CAM software to update files being executed on the shop floor—seamlessly and automatically.

Mr. Rollén explained that manufacturers have been missing this link because the connections needed to close the loop have not existed before or were not fully utilized. All this has changed as the Industrial Internet of Things has emerged. In this context, metrology can bring new levels of automation, conductivity and intelligence to the manufacturing story. These three elements are the key enablers that make the new narrative possible.

He concluded this part of his keynote by focusing on the worldwide automotive industry and how it is being reshaped. You can find his keynote address here. (Suggestion: fast forward to 0:13:00 to jump to remarks most pertinent to manufacturers.)

Other events, presentations and product demos during Hxgn Live fleshed out how Hexagon is positioned to provide these solutions to manufacturers through Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, one of Hexagon’s primary businesses. Significantly, Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence is a 2015 rebranding of Hexagon Metrology. This change reflects how this business has moved beyond its core competence in dimensional metrology to include statistical process control and CAD/CAM software.

Posted by: Mark Albert 10. June 2016

All Fired Up

The company’s new facility in Batavia, Illinois, relies on this bank of 16 ANCA cutting tool grinders for its production needs.

After Taurus Tool and Engineering, a manufacturer of custom carbide cutting tools, lost its production facility to a disastrous fire, it was able to rebuild the business on an entirely new basis. New production methods and management practices enabled the company to achieve six essential goals.

  • Provide fresh tool design thinking for better tool performance;
  • Save all programs in one place and eliminate paper;
  • Enable any machine to produce any tool;
  • Reduce cycle times and improve turnaround times;
  • Capture tool makers’ experience and eliminate tribal knowledge; and
  • Make programming easy.

ANCA, a supplier of CNC tool grinders, played a key role in this recovery. Read the complete story, told from ANCA’s point of view is here.

Posted by: Mark Albert 27. May 2016

More Shop Dogs

A few weeks ago, I introduced Bandit, a border collie who runs a continuous mood improvement program at a CNC Swiss shop in North Carolina.

This is Bentley. Bentley is the official greeter at MRS Machining in Wisconsin.

In response to that post, Matt Guse, president and owner of MRS Machining, sent me a picture of Bentley, who is the official greeter and top dog at this shop in Augusta, Wisconsin. Matt says that “Bentley loves to greet folks from time to time when they come and visit. Having a shop in a rural area, we don’t get many visitors, so he is always excited to see folks when they show up. My wife even brought him some shop shoes so he doesn’t get chips in his paws when walking through the shop, but like most dogs he doesn’t really care for them.”

Al Popovich, the owner of Accurate Design & Fabrication in Custer Park, Illinois, sent this picture of the shop dogs at his company (apparently after they had had a long day of strenuous morale building).

Al appreciated our spotlight on shops dogs and said it was “a nice change from trying to keep up with all the automation and technology. A good dog often puts things in perspective.” He also added that these shop dogs are “all members of Fabricators Union Local K9.”

Preben Hansen with Nelly and Cooper.

Preben Hansen, president of Heimatec Inc.. in Prospect Heights, Illinois, sent this picture of him with Nelly (on the left) and Cooper. I am told that these fine dogs are a big part of the company family and roam freely throughout the office, always lifting everyone's spirits. 

My sincere thanks to Matt, Al and Preben for sharing these photos.

Posted by: Mark Albert 13. May 2016

Meet Bandit, This Shop’s CMO

Making people smile is one of the chief duties of any shop dog. Bandit is good at this job, as proven by this shot of Gary Bruner and his CMO.   

CMO—that’s “Chief Morale Officer.” Bandit is a border collie whose main occupation is keeping attitudes well-adjusted at Carolina Precision Manufacturing in Mooresville, North Carolina. I visited this shop recently to see its newly installed machine monitoring system. Company President Gary Bruner introduced me to Bandit, who tagged along for my tour of this prosperous and forward-thinking CNC Swiss shop. Bandit’s positive influence was evident at every stop on the tour.

Of course, Bandit didn’t distract me from getting a good look at how the new machine monitoring system is helping CPM improve machine uptime and hit critical production targets. I’m planning to report on this shop’s experience in an upcoming feature article. How the monitoring system and the upbeat shop culture there were mutually beneficial will be part of this story.

Having a friendly dog or other pet around the shop can be part of a company’s unique culture. To see more about why I like “shop dogs,” click here. Have a picture or story about your shop dog? Send it me at

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