Musical Chairs. Sort Of.

I was thinking about how the metalworking shop has changed. In the way back old days machines ran off jackshafts, and leather belts provided the power to cut.

Columns From: 10/1/2000 Modern Machine Shop, ,

I was thinking about how the metalworking shop has changed. In the way back old days machines ran off jackshafts, and leather belts provided the power to cut. Power to the jackshafts often came from a steam-powered engine. One engine could run the whole shop.

In those old days, one of the more critical positions in the metalworking shop, I've been told, was the tanner. It was his (probably not her) job to keep the leather belts in good operating order. If a belt broke, the machine was down. That was just as bad news then as it is now.

Maybe it's a stretch, but I see a parallel between this old setup and the way many shops run today. Obviously, the belts, jackshafts and steam engines are gone. Likewise, there aren't many courses where tanning skills for maintaining drive belts are taught. It seems to me though, that the position tanner in the shop structure may exist in today's shop as the Information Services (IS) people. The belts that ran machine tools are being replaced with RS 232 cables, T1 lines and phone lines.

Computers, like the steam engine, distribute the power of information, programs, setup instructions and part checking information to various locations on the shop floor. The programmer/IS people play as vital a role in the operation of a modern machine shop as the tanner did in the old days.

In the old days a machinist received manufacturing marching orders through a sort of command structure. A job came into the shop. Engineering came up with the methods for manufacture. This information passed from engineering to a department supervisor. The supervisor passed the job on to the appropriate shopfloor foreman who gave it to a lead man who gave it to the machinist to make. Well, now imagine the machinist needs to make a change to the method. The whole thing works backwards through the structure from lead man to foreman to supervisor to engineering. Engineering considers the change, approves it or denies it, and the information goes back down through the chain.

In many shops today, engineering is in direct contact with the machinist via a network connection. This connection may terminate in a PC on the shop floor, or increasingly on the machine's CNC. The old repeating system of passing instruction from person to person is now a matter of downloading and uploading information instantly between the machine tool and engineering. Ah, the good new days.

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