We’re continuing the success of last year’s “Top Shops” benchmarking initiative with a new survey for 2012 (click here to learn more about the survey and to participate). You’ll benefit by participating because you’ll receive data reports enabling you to gage your shop’s performance in two ways. First, you can see how your shop rates against peer businesses—shops that are similar in type and size to yours. Second, you can see how your shop rates against world-class machining operations. (In this case, it’s our Top Shops benchmarking group: the top 20 percent of facilities determined by totaling the points assigned to select survey questions.)
Last year’s inaugural survey provided a nice snapshot of shopfloor practices and performance levels in 2010. Moving forward, though, I’ll now be able to better track how the business of machining is evolving by following trends identified over multiple surveys. This will reinforce (or possibly challenge) what I learn while visiting with shops and equipment manufacturers.
Based on replies from last year’s survey, here are a few areas I’m interested in following:
• The adoption of additive equipment. Last year, 24 percent of all survey respondents said they use additive manufacturing technology. Additive equipment works well for rapid prototyping, but will it be used more for actual manufacturing applications in the years ahead?
• The use of Swiss-types. Likewise, 24 percent of the benchmarking group use Swiss-type lathes versus only 11 percent of the other surveyed shops. CNC Swiss-types were first used by screw-machine shops wanting more flexibility than their cam-actuated automatics offered. Perhaps conventional shops will continue to look to this technology hoping to machine more parts complete.
• The use of multitasking machines. Last year, 34 percent of all shops surveyed said they use multitasking machines, likely for the same reason as those using Swiss-types. As programming for these machines becomes easier, they may become even more attractive alternatives.
• The move to lights-out machining. A number of shops reported that lights-out machining had a big influence on their success. Of course, automation goes hand in hand with many lights-out applications, and the Top Shops were more likely to use machine-tending robots than other shops (10 percent versus 4 percent). Are these percentages likely to rise?
• The importance of training. Per last year’s survey, the Top Shops provide virtually the same amount of shopfloor training as the other surveyed shops: approximately one-third offer less than 8 hours while another third provide 8 to 20 hours. It’ll be interesting to see if the level of training increases due to the universal challenge of finding skilled workers.