Mazak Leaders Share Observations of Machine Tool Market During Uncertain Year

Cybersecurity, hybrid machines, automation and the state of the market among the topics addressed. Virtual event with product launches to be held August 11.


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Machine tool builder Mazak today gave a press conference in advance of its virtual All Axes Live event to be held August 11 and 11 a.m. Eastern. The virtual event, to be hosted out of the company’s Schaumburg, Illinois tech center, will include debuts of two products, the Variaxis C-600 five-axis machining center and the Mazatrol SmoothAi control.

Mazak Variaxis C-600 five-axis machine to be debuted at virtual event on August 11.


Mazak Variaxis C-600 five-axis machine to be debuted at virtual event on August 11.

At the press conference, members of the North American leadership team for Mazak spoke about various aspects of the company’s business. Some of the interesting points I noted include these:

Cybersecurity is an Increasing Concern

Chuck Birkle, VP of sales and marketing for Mazak’s Cybertec division, spoke about this. All of us are relying on digital connectivity more, manufacturers no exception. However, the environment of increased uncertainty and international tension is also making the leaders of manufacturing enterprises more aware of potential exposure to digital theft or threats. Birkle jokes that, for those with long careers in the machine tool industry, it is a shift to “sell things without spindles,” but the company’s now-established Smart Box system for cybersecurity is increasingly proving to be a fitting product for the time.

Technology Enables Opportunity in Down Markets

Western Canada provides examples of this, says Mazak Corporation president Dan Janka. The company continues to invest in new regional tech centers, with recent additions in Florida and northern California, and one coming in Edmonton, Alberta. The last represents a region that has struggled as oil and gas prices have been low, but Janka says manufacturers still thriving there are using the efficiency resulting from their investment in advanced machining technology to effectively serve customers beyond their region. One he cited in particular has shifted for now from primarily serving the local market to acting as a major supplier to Schlumberger out of Houston.

Hybrid Answers the Trend in Production Quantities

Mazak uses the term “hybrid” to refer to adding even more capability to its multitasking and five-axis machine tools. Capabilities available within its hybrid family of machines include additive manufacturing, friction stir welding, gear machining and hot wire metal deposition. Birkle notes that this offering of more capabilities in one machine is a direct answer to production quantities changing. “Lot sizes are lowering and product mix is increasing,” he says, leaving doing more in one cycle as the only remain choice to keep the number of setups and part handlings low.

Some Simple Machine Features are More Important Than Ever to Keep in Mind

Will you be automating your machine tool in the future? The answer is more and more likely to be yes, and that potential should figure into choices made when the machine is purchased. Midwest regional general manager Kevin Bates and VP of sales and marketing for the company’s Advantec division Greg Papke both spoke to this. Papke cited automatic doors, a fairly straightforward feature that can be hard to install later in the field. Bates, who leads the tech center hosting the coming August 11 virtual event, noted the similar importance of specifying a five-axis machine able to run hydraulics through the table. This is another example of a straightforward feature that may be unnecessary today, but may be vital to realizing an automated application in the future.

Capital Investment Correlates to Covid-19 Cases

Janka believes he is seeing this correlation. The company saw machine tool investment plummet in April as cases of the coronavirus saw major increases in the U.S., return in May and June as cases leveled off in some areas, then drop again in July as cases again increased and some states imposed or re-imposed restrictions on interstate travel. July’s drop was not as bad as April’s — “a dimming of the lights” rather than the lights going out, he says — but still, fluctuations in machine tool purchasing activity reveal manufacturers facing uncertainty and yet doing the best they can to try to remain responsive to the opportunities they see.


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