MMS Blog

Tungsten inert gas (TIG) welding has been the traditional method for building-up worn or damaged mold and die surfaces prior to subsequent hand finishing or CNC machining to complete a repair. However, pulsed laser welding technology, which has been popular in Germany for decades, is gaining acceptance here in the United States as an option for mold repair (as well as other welding applications).

These welders fire a laser beam in 5- to 10-millisecond pulses that melts the base workpiece metal and filler wire that is deposited and then re-solidifies the weld pool before the next pulse. It offers high peak power, but low heat input into the base metal compared to continuous TIG and other welding operations. In fact, most workpieces are said to be cool to the touch immediately after welding.

Jim Goerges is in the eyeglasses business. He could see from a long way off what was coming.

His shop, Precision Tool Technologies of Brainerd, Minnesota, makes tooling that is used in manufacturing eyeglass lenses. Serving this specialty has enabled the shop to thrive and grow off the ongoing business of two major customers that account for much of its optical-industry business. But more than a decade ago, Mr. Goerges recognized the vulnerability in this. That is, the possibility that these two large customers might one day come together. He saw how logical it would be for them to merge, leaving his shop significantly beholden to just one customer. To prepare for this, he decided that Precision Tool had to diversify.

In 2016, Justin Quinn became owner and president of Focused On Machining, a 10-person job shop located in Denver, Colorado. Prior to purchasing the company, Mr. Quinn was an aircraft mechanic in the U.S. Air Force and then worked as a commercial banker. Having always wanted to own his own business, he saw an opportunity in manufacturing. He realized that there are numerous baby boomer shop owners who are eyeing retirement and considering business exit strategies.

After purchasing the shop, Mr. Quinn parted ways with a couple employees and sought to fill their positions. He initially used what he says is a traditional job description for a machining business, one that asked about specific machine shop experience and talents, and also described common daily tasks using words like “operating a mill” or “using hand gages to measure parts.”

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.” 

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