By far the best aspect of my job at Modern Machine Shop is the opportunity to get out and meet readers of the magazine. Through plant visits I get to spend time with metalworking professionals who are doing the job well, day in and day out. A key lesson learned in my travels is that shops are as individual as people. Trying to catalog a metalworking enterprise into a neat demographic box is not only futile, it demonstrates a misunderstanding of the subject.
A major attraction of the metalworking field is the ability to be creative in the application of solutions to problems. It's the application that calls the tune. Two shops may make identical workpieces, but the process that each chooses to use in the manufacture of those workpieces can be different. Each process decision is valid because it meets the ultimate metalworking test—good results. Trying to quantify into a black and white, right and wrong strict construction definition of process is confounding for many who don't appreciate the details of the business.
Too often we see executives come into this industry armed to the hilt with a freshly minted business school degree and determination to impress upon metalworking and manufacturing a "one business model fits all" style of management. Usually, it doesn't work out very well. Making things is a discrete blend of engineering, metallurgy and management sciences with the unquantifiable vagaries of creative expression, touch, feel, and if you will, art. Metalworking manufacturing is a rare repository of pragmatic science and the unpredictability of art mixed together in a business. It's this messy mixture that tends to confound those looking in from the outside.
From financiers, regulators, legislators and the ubiquitous legal professionals, few appreciate that the creation of wealth generated by manufacturing is precarious and susceptible to bad decisions made for ostensibly good reasons. Many of the classic beliefs that drive business in general are anathema to the unique environment of metalworking manufacturing. Our world is one of good times and bad times. As prescribed in the old parable, it's in good times that we need to prepare for the bad times. Those who have financial, legislative or regulatory influence over the machine that is metalworking manufacturing need to understand and appreciate that the current halcyon days will not go on indefinitely.