MMS Blog

On the surface, the findings of Gardner Intelligence’s latest World Machine Tool Survey portray a seemingly ordinary year for the machine tool industry. But scratch the surface, and we find something remarkable happening: Major geographic regions for machine tools are moving in very different directions.

According to the latest survey, the results of which have recently been published, global machine tool consumption increased $4.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, to $91.9 billion in 2018. This made 2018 an apparently ordinary year, as the median annual increase in global machine tool consumption since 1961 is 4.2 percent. Plus, 2018’s consumption growth rate was slightly slower than 2017’s, which was 6.9 percent.

Like many other machine shops, Creations Unlimited (Morgan Hill, California) faces increasing pressures from shrinking lead times. “Every customer we have would take things in a week or two if we could do it,” says owner Dennis Rathi. “Everyone wants everything tomorrow.” 

To reduce lead times, the family-operated shop has invested heavily in automation, equipping some of its 15 machine tools (including five-axis machining centers) with machine-tending pallet changers with dozens of pallets and large toolchangers. “We have a lot of equipment that can run unattended,” Mr. Rathi says. “We can do large production batches or one-piece prototypes without change-overs or lengthy setups.” These have been the company’s advantages. “We focus on the more complex parts that other job shops don’t want to make or don’t have the capability to make,” Mr. Rathi says. “That’s how we have grown the company.” 

Last month I discussed the concept of hybrid manufacturing—combining additive manufacturing (AM) and subtractive machining together within a single machine to make parts more efficiently. This month, I want to touch on another form of hybrid manufacturing that AM is enabling, namely, making the tooling to make the part (versus making the part itself).

Numerous companies have been using polymer 3D printing for years to make fixtures and jigs to aid production and fabrication with conventional manufacturing methods. Some have even been using polymer 3D printed parts to make soft tooling. However, with metal AM, companies can now make hard tooling for injection molding, for instance, and that can be game changing.

This story describes Rise Up, a CNC machine-operator training program that helps individuals prepare for sustainable employment as a vital element for successful reentry into society and departure from gang live.

Visitors from the industry are often inspired by what they see and hear at Rise Up, says Dustin Greeves, the program’s machine shop manager. A good example he cites is a recent visit by Greg Mercurio, president of Shop Floor Automations, a manufacturing integrator based in La Mesa, California. Mr. Mercurio heard about Rise Up while planning activities to mark his company’s 20th anniversary. “I was looking for a special way to mark this milestone by giving something back to the industry and the community,” he says. “I was intrigued by the concept behind Rise Up because it touches two key concerns of mine—the skills gap that is holding back U.S. machine shops and the false impression held by many people outside our industry that factories are dark, dirty dungeons.”

Within a manufacturing enterprise, who should own the decision to implement additive manufacturing (AM)?

If you think about additive manufacturing as purely a manufacturing tool, it makes sense that this task would fall to manufacturing engineers. But AM is not just a manufacturing tool. AM’s promise is not that it offers a different way of building the same part, but that it enables additional benefits such as changing the way that part is designed, limiting the amount of material it uses and reducing its lead time. These benefits to the part also have further implications for the supply chain, such as reduced assembly work and transportation needs.

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