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A solution looking for a problem.

A solution looking for a problem

When we write about manufacturing technology for the benefit of those who practice it, we try to put new developments into proper perspective. To do this, we first must be able to appreciate the significance of a new idea as it applies to the job of shaping metal. However, no matter how innovative a new metalworking method, its acceptance by potential users will depend on how they perceive its application in their own manufacturing situations.

Often, even incremental improvements in traditional manufacturing methods are viewed with skepticism. A potential user doesn't rush out to buy a new cutting tool insert, for example, just because someone says it will cut faster, take heavier cuts, and get out more production. The reason he doesn't buy it isn't because the new tool might not perform as promised, but because it simply may not meet his perception of what he needs to solve his problem.

Machine tools and the cutting and forming tools used on them have a long history. Innovations in their design and application have been evolutionary. Each improvement goes through a long period of proveout time, during which users have a chance to become comfortable with their application.

Some manufacturing developments, on the other hand, came onto the scene from scientific disciplines that had nothing to do with manufacturing. One of these was the laser. Its application as a metalworking tool did not gain wide acceptance quickly. Even though it has proven to be unique as a means to cut and weld metal, skeptics remain. The article in this issue, "Throwing a little light on laser-cutting issues", gives an update on how this technology is being used today and what needs to be done to take full advantage of the benefits it offers.

About ten years ago, I attended a seminar designed to introduce manufacturing engineers to the possibilities offered by the laser in manufacturing operations. After about a day of lectures on laser theory, an engineer was overheard to say, "I understand what the laser can do, but I still don't understand how the light gets out of the tube." What was missing in those early years, when the laser was being introduced to the manufacturing scene, was an appreciation of the manufacturing engineer's viewpoint. The laser community was saying the technology is available; all you have to do to use it is understand it. Back then, someone described the laser as a solution looking for a problem.

While it may be prudent for the seller of new technology to fully understand and appreciate his customer's point of view, it is also fair to expect the user to learn some of the operating fundamentals of the new technology.

To be fair, we feel that, on the whole, laser people and metalworking people are meeting on the common ground of the factory floor. We see much evidence that laser people have taken the responsibility of outfitting machine tools with lasers, and are providing unique solutions to production problems.

For example, one such company, Coherent General, Sturbridge, MA, not only outfits standard milling machines with laser tools, but is building special production machinery for automatic handling, positioning, and laser welding of intricate aircraft parts. These are custom-designed machines built on a turnkey basis. In addition, the company has offered regularly scheduled courses in metalworking applications of the laser for over ten years, proving the industry has long since left the laboratory and is working hard to meet potential user's needs.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:laser manufacturing technology
Author:Green, Dick
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1989
Words:584
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