Does Your Machine Shop Have a Story to Tell? Here Is What We’re Looking for in 2021

The world has changed, but machining facilities are still making parts and we will keep telling their stories. Join us: Let us know how your shop is succeeding.


Facebook Share Icon LinkedIn Share Icon Twitter Share Icon Share by EMail icon Print Icon

There is one simple element of our formula for developing the contents of this site, and our magazine, that I have always treasured and never want to see us reduce or change. Namely: We visit machine shops. We go there. To report on what shops are doing, we visit them and we walk the shop floor. Machining facilities serving an array of markets are making an array of choices related to the technologies they use and the procedures they employ. Being present, being on-site, spending time there — these are the only ways to pick up the full context and the subtler complexities that prove so valuable in authentically telling the story of a shop’s success. Yet in recent months, the writing staff of Modern Machine Shop has not made nearly as many visits to machine shops as we would have hoped.

Modern Machine Shop visit to BIC Precision Machine

We do still make visits to machining facilities when we can. Peter Zelinski (right) speaks with Bob Lenhart of BIC Precision Machine Co. Watch for an upcoming article about this shop.

You know the reason why. As I write this, new case rates for COVID-19 are climbing in much of the country. Employers (including mine) are cautious about having employees travel, and companies we might visit are cautious about admitting guests. We still do get into shops, we still write stories based on direct on-site observation of the way machining is done, but doing so is not as commonplace for us as it once was. Many more of our stories for now have to be pursued remotely, researched through phone and video calls. Like many other organizations doing many other types of work, the team producing MMS has had to adapt and do the best we can within the set of conditions given to us this year.

And, it would seem, next year as well. While there has been encouraging news lately related to the progress toward a vaccine, still it’s apparent that the virus, and the concern it warrants, will be with us well into 2021. Indeed, the longer this predicament goes on, the longer it seems it will go on.

So the only proper response is for us to go on, too.

Move ahead. That is what to focus on now. I believe most of us, as individuals and within our organizations, have ceased to mark our progress through this time or forecast when it might end. It will end, but until it does, here we are within it, and there is nothing to do but proceed. Speaking for MMS, we will proceed because machining facilities are still proceeding, and we want to keep telling their stories whether we visit the shop or not.

Would you join us?

Here is an invitation, as we begin to think about the articles we might develop in the coming year: If you have a story to tell that you think Modern Machine Shop might be interested in covering — that is, the way a new idea, practice or piece of equipment is playing out for your shop — please email me to describe a little about your shop’s story. That story might be in some way related to COVID-19, but to be frank, I’d also be pleased if it is not. Right now, it would mean a lot to learn of more stories of shops succeeding within the pandemic, in which the pandemic itself is only a minor background detail.

Here are some hints at the kinds of stories we are looking for. If your shop has an interesting answer to one of the following questions, and you might like to see that story told to a wider audience, get in touch. The questions we are most interested in exploring right now include:

1. How is your shop expanding its output per person? Setup time is what stands in the way of this. Unattended machine hours through the night represent another opportunity. Is your shop doing something new to reduce setup or to run lights-out?

2. Are you thinking differently about cutting tools? The tool is the most basic element of machining. Small advances here can have a significant impact. Has a change related to cutting tools recently meant something meaningful to your process or parts?

3. Are you adapting to materials you haven’t seen before? Some shops have recently advanced from aluminum and steel to nickel-based alloys. Some might find themselves now machining non-metals — engineered polymers or polymer composites. How have you succeeded in the face of material changes?

4. How are you using 3D printing? In various ways, 3D printing is a complement to CNC machining. It provides an effective method to create tooling. It offers an alternative means for part production. What has been your experience using machining and 3D printing in tandem?

5. How is the culture of your shop changing? Is your shop now taking different steps to coordinate, empower, support or elevate employees than it might have taken in the past? How did you come to this and how is it working?

I can’t promise we will pursue the story you propose, and if we do, months might pass before we get to it. We might very well get a number of great story ideas in response to this appeal — which is the very reason I am making it.

But here is one consideration that might help your chances, a change for the current times: Expect us to ask you about photography. When we cannot visit, we rely on our sources for illustrations. If we need to cover your story from a distance, we will ask for illustrations from you. It won’t be just a few photos we are looking for; we will want several dozen photos — lots of different shots of scenes, people and objects relevant to the story, taken at different moments and from different angles, because it is hard to predict what the magazine layout of an article ultimately might need. Quantity will be as meaningful as quality. Therefore, to hint at your willingness to work with us on illustrations in this way, consider including a few photos with your email. I look forward to hearing from you.