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The Constancy of Change and Transformative Technology

Everything from the chemistry of the insert to the capacity of the spindle drive to the control algorithms for the axes is different. And the differences are accelerating. So what we “know” could be what we “knew” because of the change in tech.
Feb 02, 2022

One of the things that I’ve learned in my career in manufacturing technology is that while there are certainly some fundamentals when it comes to cutting and forming and measuring and assembling and scheduling and all those things we’ve learned about performing business, there is one thing that is, paradoxically, the same: Change is a constant.

In other words, while machining in the macro may be the same process it was 20 years ago, in any given operation, it may be entirely different. Everything from the chemistry of the insert to the capacity of the spindle drive to the control algorithms for the axes is different. And the differences are accelerating.

So what we “know” could be what we “knew” because of the change in tech.

For example, it very well may be that in some applications, like complex short-run part creation, the part isn’t machined at all: it is created through an additive manufacturing process.

In that space even five years ago, it would likely be some sort of resin-based material used for part production, which is one of the reasons why it was referred to as “rapid prototyping” – because what was being made was likely not to be a final part but a model of one, and “rapid” was an optimistic adjective, as it was fast only if you took the entire process into account.

Now a part can be produced with materials including titanium and nickel-based superalloys. The “rapid” is becoming real as additive methods, in some cases, go from weeks to days to hours to minutes.

While to say that the digital transformation is driving change in all aspects of our lives is about as surprising as “water is wet” and “the sky is blue,” in the technology space, the level of sophistication being realized by companies developing digital tools allows the highest levels of computational fluid dynamics and virtual reality capabilities that could make you believe the sky is green.

Another way that we are in the midst of a transformation in the way we work is evidenced by the fact that while sourcing machinery and equipment from companies largely based in the Midwest has long been the case, there are now startups in places like San Francisco that are building manufacturing systems – admittedly software-centric – capable of producing products at volume.

An additional paradox regarding change is that the pandemic – far from being a good thing – has led to a clear focus on the importance of strengthening both our domestic manufacturing capabilities and our supply chains – certainly something positive for producers and consumers alike. Long overlooked by many, it is now realized to be critical by most.

What we are now seeing is a move on behalf of manufacturers to leverage what technology provides, such as advances in automation that allow the manufacture of products efficiently and effectively at even lower volumes, which is important to address shifting consumer demands. What’s more, we are seeing the development of manufacturing networks, not only within the walls of one’s own facility but in connecting to other firms with supplemental capabilities and capacities. And digital connectivity is reducing the amount of friction in going from CAD file to parts shipment.

Navigating the massive, ongoing changes isn’t simple. But we can’t help but be encouraged to see that the field of manufacturing technology is rapidly evolving to help develop the tools and techniques that drive all of us forward.

If you stay on top of it, change can be better than good.

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Author
Douglas K. Woods
President
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