The merits of off-line versus shop-floor programming have been much discussed. Conventional wisdom says to program complex parts off-line and to program simpler parts on the shop floor.
Articles in this issue of Modern Machine Shop look at reasons why the opposite may actually be the best choice for some shops. On one hand, we see shops that find programming 3D tool paths on the shop floor to be the most efficient approach in many cases (like this article). On the other hand, we also look at a shop that finds off-line programming of simpler parts to be the most efficient approach in many cases (like this one).
In both situations, advances in computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) systems make this interesting reversal possible. New software tools allow people in these companies to make better use of their know-how. The ability to record that which has been learned through doing and succeeding so that it can be applied readily and consistently in re-occurring instances is at the heart of these developments.
"Knowledge-based" or "knowledge-capture" are terms being attached to these software features. "Know-how sharing," might be an even better term because these tools are about making everybody smarter.
It follows, then, that knowledge-based systems should have a lifting and leveling effect. Whether on the shopfloor or in the programming office, the best practices and methods will be applied, regardless of who is making decisions. The quality of these decisions is far less likely to reflect differences in the talent or experience of the user. That's good. Finished workpieces ought to be more consistent and consistently better.
It also follows that knowledge-based systems should have a leveraging effect. Shops with greater talent and experience will be able to turn this edge into a more decisive competitive advantage. With everybody working as smart as the smartest person in the shop, shops with extra smart people are more likely to be winners.
So it all gets down to who has the best people. You'll notice that both articles make the point that shopfloor experience is critical. There is no substitute for having people with lots of hands-on, at-the-machine know-how. If wizards are to rule, let them be that kind of wizard.
With the mind and eye of the machinist once again at the pivot, we can be sure that the heart and soul of our industry will remain its turning point.