Machine Tools with Style

“Looking good” is often part of the work that a machine tool has to do.

Columns From: 2/15/2012 Modern Machine Shop, ,

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Mark Albert, MMS Editor in Chief

Mark has been writing his Mark: My Word column every month since January, 1981.

Image and branding seem to be an obsession for many companies these days. Machine shops have to heed these considerations as well. For certain customers, the appearance of a supplier’s workplace can be a deciding factor. Aerospace and medical contractors, for example, know that buying from clean, orderly shops with up-to-date equipment supports the quality and safety image that their consumers expect. Projecting the aura of high-tech capability, whether it is presented in a facilities tour or an online photo gallery, can make a difference for a machine shop.

Machine tool builders are aware of this trend, and it is increasingly reflected in the outward appearance of their latest model offerings. Today’s machine tools are sleeker and shapelier. The lines and curves in their design are obviously chosen with aesthetics in mind. Brushed metal and chrome hardware lend elegance to the styling. In fact, several builders tout the big-name designer they have hired to revamp product styling.
 
Fortunately, machine tool design doesn’t seem to be sacrificing functionality for form. Machine enclosures, for example, are likely to feature larger doors that swing wide, but out of the way, to provide better access to the machine’s interior. This makes it easier to load and unload workpieces or tend to the details of setup. Slim and trim control units on jointed arms or pendants can be pulled in close for convenient use. Ergonomics is clearly part of the art.
 
Likewise, larger windows in the enclosure provide better visibility when the machine is in operation. Gone are the undersized portholes with cage bars that typified past designs. It is not unusual to see video cameras mounted inside to provide multiple views of the workzone for near or remote observation. Visual devices that give at-a-glance machine status and spindle load to help operators and managers monitor machine performance are new options on some models.
 
The uncluttered appearance of many machines reflects a compact arrangement of auxiliary equipment. Benefits include a better use of floor space as well as improved access for maintenance and servicing. The presence of these great-looking machines in the shop might inspire more attention to housekeeping and workplace tidiness. Shops that are serious about the basics of lean manufacturing can appreciate this value.
 
Of course, the substance underlying the style is critical. The capabilities of a machine are the top consideration, with support and service from the builder or dealer right behind. The importance of looks has to be kept in perspective. Some emerging machine builders from overseas offer world-class engineering, but they are still catching up with the refinements of styling. It would be a mistake to let that be a prejudice.
 
I’d be reluctant to characterize our industry as fashion-conscious, but being a bit more image-conscious would serve us well. Manufacturing is getting more media attention in an economy searching for bright spots. Getting new talent to take a look at jobs in manufacturing is also an objective. With these considerations in mind, the fine styling of today’s machine tools is truly an asset.
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