MMS Blog

By: Anthony Staub 22. May 2019

Making Good Decisions for Your Machine Shop

How do you make decisions? What guides you? Do you have a set of principles or a trusted team that you lean on? Ethics, cost, past experience, future expectations and many more factors can be a part of every decision. Time is important too. Do we need to get a job done as quickly as possible, or do we need to prioritize the long-term impact over short-term gain? We all have a decision-making process, whether we recognize it or not. My decision-making process has changed over the years, and I’ve embraced a strategy that I’d like to share with you. Reflecting on my past decisions has helped me learn how to make better ones in the future.

In my case, I use a variety of criteria to make decisions. The final measure is deciding how I will feel about this decision once I get to my rocking chair. I’m a big proponent of the “Rocking Chair Theory.” There are different versions of this theory, and I like all of them. As I’m sitting in my chair rocking away, I like to reflect on my career and the decisions I’ve made. Not every decision ages the way we think it will—some decisions are decidedly poor, others improve over time and still others simply depend on how you look at them. Experience has shown me that a good decision is one that I can look back on with warm thoughts many years later.

While quite durable and reliable compared to mechanical gages, air gaging is not carefree. Accurate air gaging requires proper tooling maintenance and air supply vigilance.

Let’s start with the foundation of air gaging: the air supply. Shop air is difficult to keep clean and dry. Air dryers are not entirely adequate. The very act of compressing air produces moisture, and a compressor’s need for lubrication inevitably generates some oil mist in the line. Oil and water mist can actually act as an abrasive and cause part wear over long periods of time. Air also can be costly, so don’t let it run unless needed. The goal is simply to prevent mist from entering the gage and fouling the jets. To do this, we must employ proper air-line design to intercept it before it enters the meter.

Over the years, I have acquired a small but diverse assortment of antique sales catalogs and product handbooks for metalworking equipment. These publications from cutting tool and machine tool manufacturers are 80 to 125 years old. The oldest ones are especially remarkable for the illustrations—exquisite images reproduced from hand-engraved plates prepared by highly skilled artisans. In these engravings, the rendering of detail and shading is strikingly realistic. Although these engravings were created as strictly technical drawings to reveal the fine quality of the products and thus persuade the buyer, their aesthetic qualities are timeless. Like signatures of the artist on a watercolor or oil painting, the name of the responsible engraving firm usually appears in a corner or shaded portion of the illustration.

For example, the 1885 catalog of Lodge, Barker & Co., showcases its line of lathes, shapers and drill presses. The engraved illustrations inside perfectly capture the shapes of well-proportioned bases, beds, columns and tables. More remarkable is how the levers, gears, handles, even company name plates, appear in sharp, crisp clarity.

Likewise, for the upright drill presses in the 1888 catalog of the Bickford Drill Co. The individual links in every chain, the teeth on every gear and the steps of every pulley cone are distinct and unmistakable. In fact, the mechanical workings of these machines seem more apparent and intuitive than in some of the photos we are used to seeing today.

If the commercial aviation industry effectively doubles in the next 20 years, as projected by the two largest aerospace manufacturing companies in the world, how can aerospace manufacturers and suppliers possibly keep up? The growth prediction, made by both Boeing and Airbus, is that the in-service fleet of passenger and freight aircraft will increase from roughly 21,000 today to more than 40,000 by the year 2037, largely to accommodate the expected surge of international travelers from emerging economies. Meeting that demand will require new technologies and unprecedented manufacturing rates. What does that look like?

The story series included in the Next Generation Aerospace issue show more than just a snapshot of aerospace manufacturing as it exists today. Instead, these stories reveal technologies, processes and materials that are poised to accelerate aerospace manufacturing throughput and increase scalability for industry suppliers in the coming years.

When I first stepped into the machine tool production facility at the Index Group’s German open house in April, I was surprised at how much of the operation consisted not of automated equipment, but of skilled employees working independently. While the company’s high-end turning machines, including mill-turns and multi-spindles, have the capability to produce complex parts sometimes complete in one set up, its approach to manufacturing these CNC machines is surprisingly hands-on. After machining sizeable components on some truly massive CNC mills, the company conducts assembly by assigning a single skilled worker to each machine who only passes the job on when it is time for a different set of skills. For example, one worker will assemble the entire machine bed or multi-spindle assembly for any of the company’s turning or multi-spindle machines over the course of several days. After the bed is fully assembled, the job of attaching it to the frame falls to another worker, who again operates on the machine for several days. Finally, an electrical engineer will install all of the electrical components.

With each worker entirely responsible for the part of the machine they assemble, every worker is accountable for for their own work, removing the possibility of shifting blame and recriminations. Further, this accountability builds a sense of ownership and pride in one’s work that encourages the workers to pursue excellence as they tackle every machine. According to the company, this approach has improved the quality of both the work environment and the machines it produces.

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