A familiar scene occasionally unfolds when I am paying a visit to a shop. I discover a clever metalworking tool, device or system that the shop invented itself...I reach for my camera ...and I see the shop owner or manager cringe.
It's not that the invention is confidential. Instead, my host is worried because the thing I want to photograph is not at all pretty.
“It's not much to look at” is a comment I frequently hear.
The reaction is understandable. That small invention is not the reason for my visit. I’m there to research an article on some larger topic related to an unusual or noteworthy way this shop makes its parts. The shop owner or manager naturally hopes the article will portray the shop in the best possible light. He wants readers to see that this shop uses the best possible equipment and the best possible practices. And at first blush, some rough-looking, homemade invention—no matter how well it works—may seem inconsistent with that perception.
But I think the rough-looking invention actually says a great deal that's significant. It says the shop is focused not just on maintaining the process, but also on making the process better. Not all of the equipment has to appear as finished and self-contained as the machine tools, tooling and workholding purchased new. The end product, the part shipped out the door—including its cost, accuracy and delivery date—is all that has to look good.
Off-the-shelf metalworking equipment is exactly right for most applications. That's why it can be sold off-the-shelf. However, in some cases, a shop will perceive how an unusual machine, tool or setup accessory will help it meet an unusual manufacturing challenge. And the kinds of shops that undertake to develop this equipment themselves when they can't find it elsewhere often make the best subjects for articles in this magazine.
To the cringing shop owner, I usually respond that Modern Machine Shop is read by people who oversee machining processes. Our readers will understand and appreciate the rough-but-effective invention.
That much is true. However, I could also say something more. This evidence of careful, continuous attention to improving the process has a lot to do with why the shop was chosen as the subject of an article in the first place.