A Shop’s IMTS Thoughts

Here are a few thoughts from representatives of a Michigan machine shop who attended this year’s big show in Chicago.

In this column, I offered a few of my takeaways from this year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS). Interestingly enough, I recently received a press release along those lines, and I can’t recall ever getting one like it. It was sent to me by Protomatic, a machine shop in Dexter, Michigan, that specializes in prototype and short-run work, primarily for the medical and aerospace industries. It highlights three observations from the shop’s staff that attended IMTS said to confirm that the company is on track with its future plans.

These are worth sharing, so here they are (pretty much as they appear in the press release):

• The business climate is improving. Manufacturing businesses in the United States are improving. “It was encouraging and invigorating to see IMTS ‘show euphoria’ after such a long drought of economic malaise,” confirmed Doug Wetzel, vice president at Protomatic. The buzz in many discussions was about reshoring, as many parts are coming back to the United States for manufacturing. OEMs report that extra manufacturing costs are being incurred due to difficult communications, miscommunication, special fees, import duties, slow responses to product demands and higher transportation costs. The economic value in purchasing locally is creating significantly healthier local economies.

• There is a shortage of trained labor. There is a trained-labor shortage both here and abroad. This may be due to demography here, but China’s “one-child policy” will continue to result in shortages of talented employees. Show discussions confirmed increasing focus on leveraging automation to reduce reliance on highly talented workers who are not often available. This implies utilizing “smart systems” and “software tools” to simplify growing, complex problems. Protomatic realized this some time ago, and provides a positive work environment for employee retention. This includes a combination of ongoing training and providing advanced tools to employees so they are able to solve complex manufacturing problems.

• Equipment is aging. The aging of machines here in the United States was also a major topic of conversation at the show, and most everyone seemed to be actively shopping for new equipment and tools. The intuitive reason is that machining performance is said to drop 10 to 20 percent for a 10-year-old machine compared to a modern one, and drops 20 to 30 percent for a 20-year-old machine. These numbers do not include loss due to reliability or increasing costs to find repair parts for aging computer equipment. Protomatic keeps a close watch on the productivity and lifespan of its machines. By being consistent with equipment purchases, the shop is currently experiencing an average equipment life of 8.4 years, which is close to the industry’s suggested target average of 7 years. This enables the equipment to hit a 16-year age limit. When its older equipment is averaged with newer equipment, the average is nearly an ideal 8 years.

So what do you say? If you attended the show, share your impressions with me. We always appreciate getting this type of reader feedback.