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CUT TO THE CHASE

Viewpoint Revisited: Two years after this presentation was originally published, the insights being explored to bring cutting technology to the frontline of U.S. manufacturing are worth thinking through one more time, in the face of some potentially tough economic times.

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Today, precision, productivity and production capability are the driving forces in North American manufacturing. As tolerances get tighter and cycle times become the difference between profit and loss, tool users need ever higher skills, equipment and solutions to be successful. The cutting tool industry is responding with new tools of their own: Advanced technology, education and collaboration.

Over the past decade, North American machine shops have been through a competitive gauntlet involving too little business to go around and relentless pressure from imports. Survival demanded exponentially greater productivity, an improvement only available with advanced tooling. In these plants, fewer operators ran more machines, leaving no time to nurse inferior tools through a day's work. To survive, American industry had to concentrate on decreasing and/or eliminating machining operations and cycle times. The firms that have made improvements are now positioned to take advantage of economic changes that are creating new opportunities.

For example, offshore outsourcing, one of the manufacturing trends over the past decade, is losing much of its luster as costs and complications reduce its appeal. The demands of growing Asian domestic economies have not only created competing demands for shipping, but resulted in rising costs for materials and energy and rising labor costs for contract manufacturers. Language barriers and the difficulties of implementing in-process changes have taken their toll in production and delivery losses.

Two-month surface shipping cycles and the complexities of the import/export process have frustrated both manufacturer and customer alike. The true cost of offshore outsourcing is revealing just how competitive North American manufacturers are.

European manufacturers have continued to invest in technology and successfully adapt to competitive pressures from all over the world. North America has the technology available to compete straight up with Asian and European competition, but needs better access to technology and supporting education. There is a disparity in the knowledge pool because mechanical engineers and machinists have not always had the resources at their disposal to keep up with new technologies in machining and cutting tools. But this is changing rapidly with the advent of new technology centers and closer working relationships between manufacturers and toolmakers.

We can, and should, be making machined products in this country and we should be continuously investing in the technologies required to make them more efficiently and of higher quality. Sometimes, new technology is expensive, but it allows you to do things faster and more precisely. Over the past five years, there has been a revolution in American manufacturing based on the ability to make things faster and more cost effectively. We are poised for a similar revolution in machining. This is why education in the latest advances in tooling, materials, parts design and CNC machining is vital to our industry.

Recognizing the importance of demonstrating the value of advanced tooling and machining methods, cutting tool manufacturers are reaching out to the users of their products, inviting them to make their requirements known and collaborating with them on creating solutions and demonstrating the value of new technologies and methods.

At our company, for example, collaboration and education are focal points of our Technology Center in West Boylston, MA. This facility is equipped with a Hermle 5-Axis CNC machining center and an adjoining classroom/auditorium prepared for seminars, demonstrations, and diagnostic sessions. We're focusing on the issues and challenges cutting tool users face every day: From tapping, thread milling, and end milling to clamping and work-holding methods. Customers can bring us a part and evaluate methods and processes that solve problems and improve machining operations. In essence, we can help bring concepts into reality.

Our Technology Center is part of the cutting tool industry's response to a resurgent and far more competitive North American industrial base. By investing in technical education, and advanced tool development for the latest machining methods, we are helping America tool up for future success.

Peter Matysiak is the president of Emuge Corporation, 1800 Century Drivem West Boylston, MA 01583-2121, 508-595-3600, Fax: 508-595-3650, www.emuge.com.

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