In January it's customary to look into our respective crystal balls and try to divine what fortune or misfortune is likely to befall us. One interesting aspect of this exercise is that in spite of our confidence that some of our guesses will be right or close to right—and indeed some will—experience tells us the completely unanticipated blind-sides are lurking as well. The following are some of the things that I think will happen as we cruise through 2001, officially the first year of the new millennium.
Call me a wide-eyed dreamer, but I do think we will inaugurate a new president of the United States on January 20. Obviously, half of us will be happy with the new guy, and half of us won't be. But, I see we the people coming together, as is our custom, to support our new leader—at least until he screws up, which I also predict will happen.
I think that some consolidation of the machine tool industry will continue, as too many builders chase too few customers. Moreover the increasing demands of globalization require companies to join together to create a competitive level of critical mass (read size) to play the global chess game.
On the other side of the coin, I think some builders are going to look hard at some of their product offerings and lop off non-viable machines in an effort to define and focus more resources on their core competencies.
As far as processing technology, I see a continuation of the trend of more operations performed on a single machine tool platform. Better programming tools and increased performance of the metalcutting modules will represent continued refinement of this multiple process class of machine tool.
I see the market drivers for these developments coming from shops looking to increase the performance of each spindle in the shop. The shortage of qualified workers will continue to plague the nation's shop floors in 2001, making the need for process automation, reduced setup times and reduced workpiece handling even more acute.
Everyone is interested in what business levels will be in the upcoming year. Most guesses seem to indicate a flat to moderately up year for metalworking overall. One way to keep tabs on metalworking's health is to monitor the plant capacity utilization index. It reflects a percentage of the theoretical metalworking capacity of the nation. If the number is 80 percent or above, it indicates growth. It's a helpful index. Now, let's sit back and see what happens.