An executive from a well known machine tool builder made an interesting comment the other day. There he was, amid an impressive array of sophisticated technology, saying that it's a mistake for manufacturers to ask vendors to provide turnkey solutions. It seemed surprising that he would say such a thing considering that his company is nothing if not well regarded for its engineering expertise, and surely turnkeys are a great way to flex their considerable technical muscles.
But that was an exercise, he said, they could well do without. It wasn't just that these projects can sometimes turn into a resource black hole for vendors, having to live up to original expectations set ten engineering revisions ago. His point was that a manufacturer's most valuable assets are not its machines, but its processes, and it is foolish to depend on outsiders to keep them valuable.
Now you might think that, granted, a manufacturer must have excellent processes in order to maintain its competitiveness over time. What better way to do that than to turn it over to the professionals? But time is precisely the issue. Excellent manufacturers are constantly improving their processes, and the notion of holding pat for five years is flatly unacceptable. Competition is simply moving too fast.
It takes people who truly understand a process to create meaningful improvement. That's the people who live with it on a day-to-day basis--if they are so inclined to take on ownership both for what they have and what they can make it become.
And then there's the matter of the "professionals." Talk to a good technical person at just about any machine tool builder and he'll admit that some customers routinely do things with their machines that amaze the original developers. Test labs are fine places to determine what machines can do, but shop floors are even better when those machines are in the hands of creative practitioners bent on seeing how far they can push the envelope.
Thankfully, we had the opportunity to visit two such shops whose stories appear in this issue--Micro Med Machining and Leupold and Stevens. By all means, give them a read and then ask yourself, would these companies be where they are had they entrusted their processes to somebody else?