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Machine shops often end up doing their work in a bubble. This is no fault of the shop. It is what we ask these facilities to do.
A machine shop—a facility large or small that is dedicated to making machined components—is an enterprise that has to focus inward. It has to scrutinize its processes and operations minutely enough that inconsistencies producing even thousandth-of-an-inch deviations are discovered and addressed. This is the nature of the work.
Indeed, some of the very best machining facilities are those that have committed to the inward-looking strategy of continuous improvement, the practice of deliberately facing problem after problem that affects the workflow of the shop, until the cumulative effect of solving so many problems adds up to a streamlined facility that is far different—far better—than what anyone in the shop ever could have imagined before the commitment to improvement began.
All of this inward focus produces the phenomenon the staff of this magazine sees routinely as we visit shops and think about how to develop content that is useful to them. Namely, shops differ dramatically in the level of understanding they have about the various technologies and ideas that might be relevant to their operations.
This applies in particular to emerging technologies, of course. I fall into the trap of assuming everyone knows what MTConnect is, or what additive manufacturing is, until I am asked again to explain the term. Yet, to some extent, it also applies to technologies that many shops take for granted. Technologies like tool presetting, robot loading and even horizontal machining are all known to any machining professional, but not every shop owner or manager has fully thought through the extent to which adopting technologies such as these might affect the work of the shop.
The reason is not a lack of potential interest, but instead a lack of bandwidth. In machining, too many variables affect the way the process could be put together, and too many events and decisions of real consequence are taking place within the daily work of the shop. There is simply too much for a shop to know and not enough spare attention with which to know it.
In fact, I believe shop owners are increasingly recognizing this. I have seen them networking more, and more often asking broad questions of people like me who visit many shops, all in search of hints at what they might not be seeing.
And then there is IMTS, which deserves the same open and searching mindset. Almost certainly, there is something of value to your shop at this show—some product or idea—that lies outside the sphere of your preoccupation today and outside of where you have directed your bandwith so far. What is it?
If you’re going to IMTS this year, here is my invitation and challenge: Take a close look at some technology or methodology that doesn’t seem appropriate to your shop—yet. Ask yourself, “If my shop changed to take advantage of that possibility, then what would that change look like and how far would that change go?”
Editor PickSlideshow: Trends and Technology at IMTS 2016
The size and scope of a show like IMTS makes it impossible to cover everything of interest, but here's a taste of the technology and trends we were taking note of this year.