MMS Blog

Much of this anniversary issue dwells on the past to celebrate accomplishments and commemorate progress. It also affirms an implicit commitment to stay the course as we move forward. Now, let us turn our thinking to the future. Although we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it. Perhaps we can say a few useful things about what might happen in the nine or 10 years ahead (a reasonable window for speculation). 

Dream big and boldly. Most of our casual thinking about the future begins with impulses such as “I wish I had,” “I would like to,” and “If only I could” as our minds quickly picture the wish granted, the want fulfilled or power granted. The same urge can be applied more rigorously to how we envision the future for manufacturing. We should think about the constraints that currently are holding us back and imagine our situation if those constraints were eased or removed entirely. What would we ask for first or want the most?

Technology certainly moves in this direction (as amply illustrated in the series of retrospective articles in this issue). We can expect machines to become more capable, more reliable and more flexible. They will become bigger or smaller as the advantage of size becomes apparent. Likewise, our cutting tools, computer systems, measurement devices and so on, will improve, too. These changes may seem incremental at first, but magnifying their implications will lead to insights. What opportunities will open? How can we exploit these advances?

Expect the unexpected. When wishful thinking becomes imaginative thinking, it often leads to profoundly inventive thinking. This inventiveness is a powerful force that shapes manufacturing. Just as cutting processes using high-powered forms of light, high-pressure streams of water and highly controlled sparks of electrical energy were once unthought of, equally amazing developments lie ahead. Currently, processes that build up rather than remove material are dramatically changing the manufacturing landscape. What forces are yet to be harnessed? Perhaps we will learn to manipulate magnetism or gravity to arrange particles into objects with properties of an astounding nature.

Consider consequences. We all know that our wishes and daydreams, however compelling, could have dire consequences if they did come true. The same holds for our visions of the factory of the future. We are wise to watch for unintended results or negative reactions to seeming benefits. Conflicts surely will arise, as we see today in the crises over data security and personal privacy. 

Entertain contrarian thinking. People are fickle. Consumer preferences can flip overnight. For example, the materialistic impulse to acquire a lot of stuff already seems to be giving way to an interest in fewer, more personalized or handcrafted goods. Being rooted in a community may outweigh upward mobility as many eschew high-paying jobs. Walkable neighborhoods hosting a cluster of micro-factories could defy suburban sprawl and the expansive industrial park. Society may pull back from a digital connectedness that it deems intrusive and divisive. In our industry, I doubt these concerns will diminish the move to data-driven manufacturing, but they may make it a bumpy ride.

Be optimistic. Perhaps our most useful way to ponder the future begins with the thought “I hope.” These words inspire a commitment to renewal and a positive direction. Hope never sneers at change, even when it appears massively disruptive. Hope simply smiles back.   

Sponsored Content 15. June 2018

Moving Up to Five-Axis Machining

With so many options for implementing five-axis technology—and in some cases, for the first time—how do you know which is the best buy for your job shop?

If for no other reason than being able to eliminate additional setups or processes, five-axis machining can be justified in a wide range of applications, and at a surprisingly affordable cost. Regardless of the complexity of your part, there are several ways to implement five-axis machining easily and efficiently. For those simply trying to get at all five sides of a part, a 3+2 machine configuration is a great place to start.

Known mostly for sweeping cultural and political change, the 1960s also were shaped heavily by machining technology. Pastel-toned Modern Machine Shop issues from that decade feature images of jets and rockets, evidencing the primacy of the space race and the Cold War and the associated need to deal with new materials and material requirements. The first articles appeared about industrial lasers , and about electrical discharge machines (EDMs) that could cut with wire rather than solid electrodes. Perhaps most notably, the first MMS issues published without ads on the cover were also among the first to regularly dive deep into numerical control (NC) technology. Running mostly on perforated tape, NC machine tools were becoming small and inexpensive enough to change life within the shop as radically as new attitudes and ideas were changing life outside it.

“There is the likelihood of a bleak future” for shops that do not stay abreast of the latest NC developments, wrote then Editor-in-Chief Fred Vogel in November 1964. And yet, even in a column surrounded by editorial and ads alike cheerleading NC’s proliferation, his tone remained measured. “It would be foolhardy to quickly discard those processes that have proven themselves for the past century and enjoy many inherent advantages,” he continued. “There is a real need for both the new and traditional, and the wise production man will coolly evaluate each situation and make his choice based on facts and not emotion.”

Modern Machine Shop published just hints of numerical control (NC) prior to the July 1956 issue.

For example, the May 1955 issue contains a two-page article titled “Tape-Controlled Boring,” which appears to be the first time the magazine published an article about automated machining as an alternative to manual machining. The brief article presents an application of the “punched-tape principle” of automatic machine operation, describing “a standard four-spindle Ex-Cell-O precision boring machine modified with built-in electronic controls and circuitry and a tape ‘reader’ housed in a specially built control cabinet.” One indication that the potential impact of this type of technology perhaps was not appreciated or apparent at that early time was that this article was not promoted on the May cover as other articles were.

Here is a statement few would contest: U.S. manufacturing capability was vital to the Allied victory in World War II. Judging by the ads and articles in issues of Modern Machine Shop through the early 1940s, that same point was just as apparent while the war raged. Indeed, by 1943, manufacturers were already anticipating the coming victory. An ad from South Bend Lathe Works in that year invited readers to place advance orders for machines that would be manufactured for them just as soon as the needs of the War Department no longer dictated production.

That same year, a nine-page feature article appeared in the pages of MMS offering a detailed appreciation for—of all things—roller bearings. The article caught my eye in no small part because the bearing is frequently an underappreciated component. Even among manufacturers, the bearings allowing smooth and precise motion of their machines are items rarely considered unless one fails. Yet the editors of Modern Machine Shop in 1943, and presumably the readers then as well, could easily recognize the significance of roller bearings as a component of the vehicles and weaponry our forces were using to fight overseas. Nine pages about how Timken roller bearings are manufactured was apparently exactly the right piece for the time.

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