Grinding is important. It's powerful. It's precise. Grinding adds value. This value determines the worth of the operations that follow or have gone before. Grinding may be too critical to entrust to outsiders.
Touring several plants in Switzerland recently made this assessment clear to me. These plants belong to Swiss machine tool builders whose reputations rely heavily on the precision and quality of their machine tools. Two of the companies, Agie and Charmilles, build electrical discharge machines (EDMs). The third, Mikron, makes machining centers, including models designed for high speed and ultra high speed machining.
All three plants have high-end grinding systems for precision grinding of machine bases and axis ways. (Favretto, Waldrich-Coburg and Dixi appear to be the preferred sources.) In fact, grinding is the only machining performed in house by the two EDM builders on a production basis. Mikron does some milling but grinding accounts for the majority of the machining of components prior to assembly. The plant even does contract grinding for several other local machine tool builders.
Way surfaces are the basis for the mechanical accuracy of a machine tool. They are a foundation upon which a machine's performance depends. In-house grinding enables these builders to assure that this foundation is certain and secure. As one of the first operations required to build a machine, in-house grinding also ensures that the construction cycle for each machine will commence on schedule. All three builders build only to order, and all three are committed to minimum turn-around on deliveries.
Many other types of manufacturers are following the trend toward outsourcing all but the most critical operations. Grinding is often the one machining operation retained, testimony to the respect this process deserves. Effective grinding, however, represents a serious commitment. It is neither cheap nor without its challenges.
For that reason, some companies would rather not take on the demands of grinding. Partnering with a supplier that has the expertise and a real dedication to the full potential of this process is an alternative. In any case, attention to grinding should be a high priority. Because so many capabilities belong to grinding, grinding belongs where its capabilities will be most esteemed. That is why, as the three Swiss plants show, owning your own grinding is still the ideal.