How Important Is Technology?

The first year we devoted a special issue to high speed machining was 1997. The climate could not be more different today.

Columns From: 8/1/2003 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Peter Zelinski

The first year we devoted a special issue to high speed machining was 1997. The climate could not be more different today. Giving such prominent coverage to HSM made perfect sense 6 years ago. This year, we paused to question whether it deserves the same coverage now.

The focus of high speed machining is the cut itself. The topic addresses metalcutting technology and technique. It addresses products. HSM has to do with choosing the right tooling, the right programming and the right machine, and integrating all of these elements into a process that realizes a different kind of cutting.

That focus is a long way from the concerns of some of our readers today. Shop owners and managers worry about foreign competition and the challenges of manufacturing in the United States. They worry about how to find skilled personnel, and even more about how to pay the personnel they do find. They question whether a business model that may have served the company for decades still makes sense today.

How important is manufacturing technology in the light of these concerns?

Our own answer is this: It’s as important as it ever was.

U.S. manufacturing is changing. Modern Machine Shop will change along with it. Manufacturers and production facilities throughout North America will retreat from certain traditional work, and they will commit themselves more fully to more specialized work whose challenges promise a higher return. They will organize themselves in new ways to serve their changing markets, and they will more aggressively adopt some of the old organizational improvements that have long been proven in other shops. And ultimately, every one of these changes will involve a technology component.

Once the business is leaner, once it has pruned certain capabilities and expanded others, once it has adapted itself to thrive in a chosen niche, the priority that remains is simply to do the work well. Better production technology, and better use of that technology, is the key to improving competitiveness from that point forward.

The coming changes to the ways U.S. manufacturers see themselves and serve their customers deserve to be documented and analyzed. The economic forces at work suggest these changes will be dramatic.

But in the midst of all this change, one constant remains. A metalworking business, as well as a metalworking magazine, still needs to keep at least part of its attention focused on the cut.

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