Two technologies have popped up as reminders that new ideas don't always provide the lowest cost or most effective tool to do the job. Manufacturers increasingly are seeing that toolholders designed for standard machine tools can be used as effectively in high speed machining operations, and that those toolholders often are more economical than the centrifugal-fit toolholders - the newer technology - that are designed specifically for those machines.
The older technology toolholders may require minor modifications to accommodate high-speed spindles, but shops are seeing that they can be as useful as centrifugal shrink toolholders and that they typically cost less.
The other technology that has been modified to meet new demands is the old transfer line. Formerly transfer lines comprised a dedicated string or circle of machines that were designed and combined to make a huge number of a single product. If you needed a million engine blocks that were rough and fine milled, then drilled, bored and reamed, a transfer line likely was the tool you relied on. It could be set up and run for a long time.
However, they required days or weeks to set up, and each station represented an independent setup. With those old lines, an engineering change had the potential to halt production while tooling and work holding were adjusted to accommodate the change.
Hydromat, one of the leading producers of transfer lines, recently redeveloped the transfer line concept to redefine them as multipurpose, flexible tools that can be changed to accommodate varying manufacturing needs. The company says its transfer lines can compete with the latest multifunction, multitasking machine tools. In both instances, older technologies that appeared to have been replaced by new technologies or techniques are proving to be competitive, and, in some cases, the low-cost alternative.
These examples only confirm that there are trade offs made with each decision, and that good ideas can remain good - when they are developed; and can be as competitive as technologies designed to replace them.
In next month's American Machinist, we will be providing the first information available from our industry benchmarking study. The results of our survey are in, and we had a larger response than we initially expected.
We will be using data from the survey to provide tools that shop owners and managers can use to determine their competitive position and areas in which they can focus to improve their operations.
An initial report from The Manufacturing Performance Institute, the outside organization that we hired to help us conduct the survey, shows that results were returned from every region of the U.S., and that we have abundant data that can be used to determine the best practices used to run successful shops. MPI is compiling the data as this issue goes to press.
We are looking forward to seeing the complete set of data from the survey and, more importantly, to sharing that data with you in ways that help you to stay competitive in our global marketplace.