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US can regain manufacturing prominence.

If the United States wants to become competitive again in the global marketplace, it must do two things: Invest in new technology and invest in education. This is the gist of remarks made by Gary Sihler, president of Index Corporation, Shelton, CT, during an informal interview marking the 75th anniversary of the company's founding.

"Current and future technologies are driven by changing conditions," Sihler points out. "Just-in-time delivery, statistical process control (SPC), and high mix/low volume production have all produced changes in manufacturing and spurred new machining technologies. At Index, we distinguish between high-production machines, which are very important in the US market, and high-flexibility equipment machines used to complete parts in a single setup, with high accuracy and short changeover times. In both fields, machine tool reliability has become extremely important, because it produces the highest possible uptime and machine utilization."

Sihler says that, contrary to what many people think, the trend in manufacturing is to standalone machining cells, consisting of a few related machines or even a single machine, such as a turning center with synchronous spindle, vertical Y-axis capability, and integrated parts handling. According to him the old concept of transfer lines, and queues of parts waiting for secondary operations, is no longer viable in modern manufacturing.

"The major trend in manufacturing today," Sihler says, "is for more and more parts to be made in a single setup. That means less handling and setup, with a consequent improvement in part quality. It also means less operator involvement, lower inventories and greater machine utilization.

"But most important, it means a dramatic increase in the amount of time the tool is in the cut, producing high-quality products ready for immediate sale. Today, it's safe to say that a tool is in contact with a workpiece only about 5 percent of the time that raw material is in the plant. I envision a time when the raw material arrives at the receiving dock, moves immediately to the assigned machine tool, is machined in a single setup, packaged and shipped-not in days or weeks, but in a matter of hours.

"Education is the key to all this. We need more engineers who understand what the new manufacturing processes can offer. We also need a new kind of work force, one which can master the new technologies, especially computer controlled machinery. "

Sihler continues, "The creation of the 12-nation European Common Market in 1992 is a made-to-order opportunity for American industry. Instead of twelve individual markets, there will be just one, looking, as we all do, for the highest possible quality at the lowest possible price. American products have traditionally been in demand in Europe. They can be again, but only if manufacturers abandon their desire for quick, short-term profit and adopt a long-term view of what really constitutes successful manufacturing.

"It's vital for American industry to maintain its historic association with Europe. This has always revolved around the concept of mutual respect and mutual benefit."

Sihler mentions the role of government, which he finds deficient in many countries. "If the central government of any country takes away investment incentives, ignores the education of its workers, and fails to establish links between academia and industry, the quality of manufacturing is bound to decline, and eventually vanish.
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Title Annotation:Gary Sihler of Index Corp.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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