Peter Zelinski has been a writer and editor for Modern Machine Shop for more than a decade. One of the aspects of this work that he enjoys the most is visiting machining facilities to learn about the manufacturing technology, systems and strategies they have adopted, and the successes they’ve realized as a result. Pete earned his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Cincinnati, and he first learned about machining by running and programming machine tools in a metalworking laboratory within GE Aircraft Engines. Follow Pete on Twitter at Z_Axis_MMS.
Implementing ERP is “probably the biggest change you’ll make in your business in your lifetime,” said Kevin Prouty of the Aberdeen Group in a recent webinar that made the case for ERP, and also detailed how to think about selecting such a system. Research by Aberdeen has identified top pressures facing manufacturers (illustration), as well as capabilities of manufacturers that are best-in-class. Modern ERP systems help companies address those pressures and realize those capabilities, Mr. Prouty says.
The webinar, which was sponsored by Epicor, discusses ERP in general without advocating a specific product. To view the webinar’s recorded version, go to this registration page.
Okuma wants to help its customers succeed. Part of that is helping them fail.
According to Wade Anderson, the company’s manager of technology centers, providing customers with “a place to fail” is a large part of the reason why the machine tool builder this year opened a new technology center devoted to aerospace machining. The company’s initial development partners in this new aerospace-focused facility include Sandvik Coromant and 5ME.
The 10,000-square-foot space at Okuma’s Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. headquarters includes a range of machine tool types the makers of critical aircraft components are likely to employ, including large-travel five-axis machining centers and Y-axis live-tool lathes. For a manufacturer to commit its own in-house resources to developing and proving out a new machining process is often impractical, Mr. Anderson says, because no one can say how long the trial-and-error will take. This is particularly true in aerospace machining, which often involves materials that are difficult to cut and geometries that are difficult to achieve.
In fact, Mr. Anderson says it’s increasingly likely that the expertise for process innovation might not be available within a manufacturer’s own facility, either. The very nature of expertise has changed, he says. We see this at the level of our individual work and interests, where we no longer master information to the extent that someone might have done a generation ago, but instead we rely on online searches for the information we need as the need arises. Something similar is true at the level of manufacturing process innovation, he says. Technologies are advancing rapidly enough and interrelating to such an extent that, for a production manufacturer, trying to develop and maintain up-to-date manufacturing expertise might be a hopeless struggle. Better to rely on resources able to provide current knowledge as needed.
One of the center’s partners exemplifies this. 5ME is a manufacturing technology firm offering various tooling and shopfloor management technologies, as well as (perhaps most significantly) cryogenic machining. This is a technology still unknown or little known to many manufacturers, though it has the potential to benefit various processes involving machining aerospace alloys.
Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson observes that tooling technology has advanced to the point that previously accepted expectations about productive machining parameters are now in some cases far off-base. And machine tool capabilities have advanced to the point that even basic decisions such as whether a machining center or a turning machine is the right choice for a part might deserve to be reevaluated. Getting outside of the organization to encounter people thinking about these topics is valuable, particularly experts from different technology suppliers knowledgeable about different facets of these questions.
He says the aerospace center is a logical step forward for Okuma’s “Partners in THINC,” the affiliation of companies all offering technology complementary with Okuma’s THINC control. With 50 companies now part of Partners in THINC, the range of potential technology solutions is vast but potentially daunting. In the aerospace center, by contrast, engaging partners on a project-by-project basis is part of maintaining the sole-industry focus of the center. If this works well, he believes it is likely that other industry-focused centers will follow.
Photos of the new aerospace tech center were taken at a recent open house, where Wade Anderson (seen here) was one of the presenters.
Jon Baklund of Baklund R&D has a distinctive approach to marketing that I described in this article. The Minnesota shop owner does not score his business development reps’ efforts on how much business they bring in, but instead on how many live contacts they make with prospects. That’s it. His theory is that spreading awareness and continuing to establish and build positive relationships—without being pushy about getting business—is ultimately going to translate to more business in the long term.
He even tracks these positive contacts with prospects as a real-time business performance metric for all of the shop to see. In the various bar graphs on the right side of this shopfloor display, the green bar tracks business shipped relative to the shop’s costs across various time horizons. All employees know that 80 percent is the break-even on this bar. The business is making a profit above that. Meanwhile, the blue bar in each of these graphs displays a score based on a system Mr. Baklund devised to show the number and quality of direct contacts the business development reps have made. In other words, both the manufacturing personnel and the marketing personnel are generating real-time metrics for all of the company to see.
Machining verification and simulation software developer CGTech says it prefers to develop its software capabilities internally rather than licensing capabilities that were developed outside. It made an exception in the case of Vericut Force, a physics-based machining optimization tool newly made available for the company’s Vericut software. This resource was developed not by another software company, but by manufacturer United Technologies Corporation, or UTC, the OEM owner of Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, Otis Elevator and other industrial brands.
Within UTC, streamlining machining processes using the optimization tool, which was formerly called PromptFM, has cut some cycle times by 50 percent. The company manufacturing leaders and researchers involved in developing the utility therefore want to see it used by company suppliers (ultimately saving cost for UTC). To realize this hope, however, the company needed an established software provider willing to back the product and support its users. Allowing CGTech to adopt it was the answer.
Vericut software from CGTech already has machining feed rate optimization capability. This existing optimization is based on the simulated sweep of the tool’s envelope through the workpiece material. Feed rate changes are calculated from changes in the area of the tool’s material engagement throughout the cut. By contrast, Vericut Force’s optimization draws on modeling of the cut based on metalcutting theory combined with machining experimentation. UTC researchers ran and monitored cutting trials with various tools at various conditions, then interpolated within those results and iteratively refined the software until it produced recommendations that accord with real-world testing.
CGTech says the result is more effective optimization of the cut when cutting conditions are unusual or extreme. Its existing optimization and Vericut Force produce similar results during typical roughing in freer-machining metals, but in finishing hard metals with complex cutter contact conditions, for example, the UTC system offers feed rate recommendations that are nearer to the ideal for that cut.
The initial release of Vericut Force is to UTC companies and their suppliers. The existence of this potential customer base was part of the business case that made licensing the external software product appealing to CGTech. After proving out the new option with these customers, the company says it will extend its availability to the rest of Vericut’s users.
Tony Staub (left) has dramatically changed what he looks for in evaluating machine-shop employees. At the two links in the text below, find our original article describing the shop owner’s change, and also read some additional insights provided by the hiring consultant Mr. Staub works with.
Readers of our recent article describing Staub Machine’s change in hiring philosophy—the shop now hires for personal strengths instead of aiming for metalworking skills—asked about the role of the consultant mentioned in the article. The consultant, whom the article does not name, helps this shop evaluate prospective hires for attributes such as communication ability and the capacity to learn.
His name is Patrick Crotty. The firm he founded is PXC Associates in Orchard Park, New York. He works with various manufacturers on recruitment, and he says the place to evaluate candidates’ soft skills is in the interview. Most hiring managers dislike interviews and have too little experience with them, he says, so they end up doing most of the talking. I recently reached out to him, and he shared these thoughts on evaluating prospective manufacturing employees.