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No short cuts to new technology.

Touring a machine-tool builder's plant recently, we came upon a group of customers in the midst of acceptance testing a machine with sample workpieces. Evidently, the test was not going too well. A customdesigned workpiece-feeding device had malfunctioned. It was not clear whether workpiece discrepancies had caused the problem, or the machine's design was faulty. In any case, two sets of engineers--the user's and builder's--scurried about trying to make a correction. Pinpointing the blame was not the issue; the builder simply wanted a sign-off, and the user urgently needed the machine in production.

It's a scene played out hundreds of times a week throughout the industrialized world. It signifies the final ceremony in a long series of events that starts with the need to perform some production operation on a component of a product. However, the problem of getting a piece of production equipment to do what it was designed to do has been complicated by the need to design the production worker out of the process, while at the same time, allow the machine to accommodate a family of workpieces.

This is essentially what flexible manufacturing systems--or even single, unattended machines--are all about. They reduce costs by eliminating the need for human intervention while permitting economical changeover between batches of similar parts.

This noble-sounding purpose. however, radically alters the relationship between machine builder and user. No longer is it simply a matter of calling for a generic machine tool to perform a given standard operation, with the hope that a good operator will make it work. You can't order an automatic machining system out of a catalog by model number. It requires close cooperation between builder and user. As in the scenario described above, cooperation is needed all the way through the project to sign-off. But the most critical stage is the proposal.

More than one builder has told us that potential users of these systems frequently place an unfair burden on them by failing to do enough preliminary planning and by failing to decide early in the game what it is they are trying to accomplish. Dumping a stack of part prints on the builder's engineering department, to have them sort out families of parts, is typical of the burden that can escalate the cost of making a proposal. Some machining-system builders charge for engineering proposal work, crediting cost against an eventual order.

A caller recently asked if a ranking of brands of a certain special-purpose machine tool were available. He was looking for a kind of Consumers' Report on industrial products, complaining that it was too time consuming to sort through all the advertising claims of each to make a determination for himself. Besides, he wasn't qualified to judge technical merits of each, he said.

If not the user, then who should be qualified? There are no short cuts to the application of new technology. A potential user, wanting to upgrade his production processes, has to be up to speed on the merits of available technology. The builder can then become his partner in making it pay off.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Green, Dick
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:editorial
Date:May 1, 1984
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