Here is a question that is as fundamental as the name of this magazine: Just what does a “modern machine shop” look like today?
It seems like the right time to ask. Manufacturers were transformed earlier in this decade. Business was lean, and many shops went lean in response. Now, manufacturers are being transformed even faster, partly because of customers’ changing needs and partly just to keep pace with the demand.
When I look for some of the ways that shops are different today—some of the newer developments that seem to characterize thriving machine shops across various industries—here is some of what I see:
- There is not just “metal” in metalworking. Shops are increasingly finding business through their ability to machine plastics or composites in addition to metal parts.
- There is not just “machining” in the machine shop. Deeper integration with customers means providing services beyond just making parts. Many machine shops today are also assemblers. Many others are intimately involved in the design and development stages of the final product.
- Employment and output are two different things. A shop’s head count used to provide a reasonable gage of its economic size. The connection is looser today. Automation and unattended machining can allow a small staff to keep a large amount of capital engaged.
- Foreign currency is not so cheap anymore. I may eat these words, because currencies do fluctuate. However, the weaker U.S. dollar does seem likely to remain that way. This affects the playing field for a manufacturer competing internationally (which is almost any manufacturer).
- Opportunities lie at the extremes. Shops are buying bigger machines to increase the sizes of parts they can machine. Shops are also improving their effectiveness at machining parts at micro scales. Opportunities are growing at either extreme, away from the more comfortable part sizes,.
- Opportunities lie at the extremes, part two. Shops are thriving off of highly engineered work. Shops are also thriving off of relatively simple machining where automation or process discipline can lower the costs significantly. The hardest jobs to win and keep seem to lie in between—the parts with just a little bit of difficulty.
Does any of this sound familiar? What points would you add to your own list of how a “modern machine shop” is different today? Please e-mail me.