MMS Blog

By: Udo Jahn 2/26/2020

Can the Skills Gap Be Solved?

Can the Skills Gap Be Solved?

Like many of you, I am seriously concerned about the skills gap — a term that basically means there is a higher demand for skilled people than those available to meet this demand. Unless you are a one-person shop, the skills gap is already affecting you, and it will only get worse. This issue is all over the news; all I hear these days is that it is hard to find good skilled employees.

Upon investigation and speaking to many others in industry, I think I may have come upon the reason for this: We are not training enough people to meet the needs of the machining industry. It seems that metalworking trades have seemingly been taking out of many high schools due to budget issues. This is very true where I live.

CNC Machine Shop Captures Its Conversations

If you want to know how well a machining job shop is doing at communication, talk to the people who do the estimating and quoting. Although every function in a shop calls for the exchange of timely, reliable information, the quoting and estimating processes are especially dependent on getting all the right information from the right sources at the right time. A prompt and accurate quote can’t be prepared without input from others with critical insights into machining processes, cutting tool considerations, workholding and fixturing options, CNC programming strategies, and the work of other inside collaborators. Even for the most expert and experienced quote preparers, the challenge of information gathering and processing can be difficult.

This was the situation at C&M Precision Tech, a provider of CNC lathe machining, Swiss-type machining and other precision machining services. Located in Hudson, New Hampshire, C&M has customers in a range of industries — aerospace, defense, medical and electronics to name a few — all having in common the requirement for high-precision components, especially round parts as large as 4 inches in diameter and 9 feet in length.

New CMMs Gather More Data, Faster, for Automotive QC Department

To upgrade the inspection capabilities of its measurement laboratory, the quality department at the Chassis & Safety division of automotive equipment manufacturer Continental, located in Veszpren, Hungary, invested in two LK Metrology Altera multi-sensor coordinate measuring machines (CMMs). Continental needed a high-capacity system capable of rapid inspection cycles combined with fast surface scanning and accurate feature measurements, the aim being to gain more comprehensive insight into the company’s products. These products range from electronic and hydraulic brake and chassis control systems to wheel and engine speed sensors, airbag electronics and electronic air suspension systems.

The quality department processes approximately 1,600 inspection reports per year, each consisting of about 20 measured parts. But Continental needed to gain quicker, more comprehensive insight and obtain more information per report.

Small Shop Achieves Logistical Autonomy with MES

Laser subcontractor AFDL operates with between five and eight employees at any given time. A small shop like this might not be the first context that comes to mind when it comes to the trends of Industry 4.0 and data-driven “smart production.” But implementing the Workplan manufacturing execution system (MES) in conjunction with Radan sheet metal CAD/CAM software — both systems from Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence — enabled the company to achieve gains by moving into a more autonomous mode of operation. 

Focusing on laser cutting of 0.2- to 25-mm-thick sheet metal, French company AFDL has also developed its capabilities in bending and welding, producing stainless steel tables for the furniture industry and working for pharmacies and the public sector. After recent growth, the company now produces as many as 50 orders a day, comprising individual unit parts as well as large series.

Rotary Broaching: Making Hard Materials Look Easy

High-production CNC machining environments often rely on small process improvements to save a lot of money on a given job. The economies of scale simply mean that shaving a few seconds off a cycle will lead to shaving hours off the total time needed to machine all the parts. However, just as savings can add up in a high-production environment, so can costs. This is often a major hurdle in the production of medical-grade screws.

Medical screws can provide a challenge to manufacturers, as they join the scale of high-production jobs with the challenges of working with difficult materials. Using metals such as titanium and high-strength, low-nickel alloys like BioDur 108, medical screws often demand robust cutting tools in order to make any cuts at all, and even then tool life can suffer. When production volumes are high, the added tooling costs can rocket to tens of thousands of dollars per year, if not more. For screws requiring rotary broaching, the costs are especially prohibitive.