Shops Cite Their One Big Technology Addition

Here are three technologies that participants in our Top Shops benchmarking survey say have been particularly impactful on their machining businesses.
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Those who have taken our Top Shops survey know that it includes a “silver bullet” question. This is an open-ended question that asks participants to identify one new technology, machining strategy or strategic initiative that has been most influential in contributing to the overall success of their businesses in recent years.

In fact, I recently created a Top Shops presentation based on silver bullets commonly mentioned over the years. I prepared it to give at a few regional “How to be a Top Shop” seminars hosted by the NTMA, the first of which was held last month in Cleveland, Ohio. Steve Kline, director of market intelligence for our Gardner Business Intelligence division, presented some of the trends in technology and business strategies he’s tracked in our past six annual surveys, and I followed up with my presentation. (We’ll be presenting at two other similar events, one this month in Los Angeles, and another in August in St. Louis.)

Over the years, some answers to the open-ended question have been more thoughtful and helpful than others. (For example, I found “adding better lighting in our parking lot so we don’t get robbed as much” not to be terribly helpful.) Here are three good responses that represent concepts that seem to be cited by multiple shops each year:

“Implementing ERP software revealed actual costs and revenue, and where they happen.”

Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software offers advantages with respect to job costing, estimating, scheduling and tracking. Having interactive access to process control software enables supervisors to stay close to activities on the shop floor so they can access pertinent information and make changes on the spot. Each year, it seems that ERP is the most commonly cited silver bullet. 

“Allowing machines to ‘feel’ for the location of parts using a probe eliminates the need to manually position each part precisely. What used to be a 90-minute setup is now 10 minutes.”

I don’t know why more shops don’t use spindle probes to speed setups. After an automatic probing routine identifies the location of several points on a fixtured part or workholding device to establish the part’s exact location on a machine, the machine’s CNC can automatically adjust the native work coordinate system to match it. This eliminates time-consuming duties that would otherwise be required to get the part leveled and aligned to perfectly match the machine’s coordinate system.

“Value stream mapping and 5S have been our primary lean manufacturing tools, but the culture of continuous improvement is the fundamental change that sustains the use of those tools.”

I find this to be a great statement. Implementing a few lean concepts doesn’t make a shop “lean.” Lean only works when an organization adopts a lean-manufacturing culture and makes it an integral  part of its corporate mindset.