Aug. 1, 2000
The 1970s started off promisingly from a technology standpoint. Manufacturing was starting to see the benefits of computer control. AMERICAN MACHINIST even declared 1970 as the year that "computer control arrives in force." This statement was backed up at

Bourne & Koch Machine Tool Co.; founded 1974

Lawrence Bourn and Loyd Koch also noticed that the remanufacturing niche was going untapped in the mid-1970s. They started Bourn and Koch Machine Tool Co. in 1974 and began refurbishing machines for Lockheed, Ford, and Boeing.

GKI Inc.; founded 1971

J&M Diamond Tool Inc.; founded 1972

CimWorks GageTalker Corp.; founded 1978

Hydromat Inc.; founded 1976

The 1970s started off promisingly from a technology standpoint. Manufacturing was starting to see the benefits of computer control. AMERICAN MACHINIST even declared 1970 as the year that "computer control arrives in force." This statement was backed up at IMTS 1970, which boasted over 50 machines featuring Numerical Control (NC) and Direct Numerical Control (DNC). In fact, according to the AMT — The Association For Manufacturing Technology, this and other technologies were expanding so rapidly that the show switched from a five year to a two year cycle.

Interestingly, lagging sales and downturns in business were driving many of the changes and innovations that the industry saw in the 1970s. The economy was shifting, and a new term was coined, "Stagflation" — describing a market suffering from both stagnation and inflation.

The early 1970s saw price and wage freezes and high unemployment. The oil crisis of 1973 and 1979 served to help slow an already snail-paced economy, and by 1979, the U.S. was experiencing the worst inflation in 33 years.

A growing world market was not helping the economic transition as traditionally strong big businesses like automotive and steel lost market shares to Europe and Japan. At the beginning of the decade, the government bailed out Lockheed Martin with $250 million worth of loan guarantees. Later it did the same for Chrysler—to the tune of $1 billion.

Obviously, the old ways of doing business were failing. The seeds of concern about more efficient operations, more flexibility, and higher quality were taking root in this decade for the eventual growth of a new paradigm in manufacturing that would flourish in the 80s. As NCs and DNCs gained recognition and popularity, the benefits of faster, more accurate cutting began to make demands on traditional tooling, controls, inspection, and other facets of the manufacturing process. This led to the development of many new companies who were ready to meet the challenges of a transitioning decade and make the products that would fulfill the needs of a new world of manufacturing.

As manufacturers looked for inexpensive solutions to their problems, those in the machine tool industry responded with new, lower-cost technologies. GE Fanuc Automation for one developed its Mark Century 550 Series in 1970. The highly-reliable control system was marketed as a complex, low-cost NC and became popular in the worldwide market. It introduced new features like lathe canned cycles, spindle speed monitor, battery backed tool offset, RAM memory, and cutter compensation.

According to GE Fanuc, the MC550 became one of the most common controls used in the U.S. with over 75% of the market. This was also the last hardwired control the company produced without a centralized computer. By 1973, computer technology had advanced to the point where GE could develop and introduce the MC 8500 Series. It was one of the first Computer Numerical Controls (CNC) on the market, and featured a PDP 8 minicomputer.

For companies unwilling to discard their perfectly good manual machines for new, more expensive, NC controlled systems, Robert R. Fuller Sr. had an answer. He started Phoenix Inc. in 1970 to retrofit Potter & Johnson chucking machines and turret lathes. The company chose the name Phoenix because it symbolized the mythical Greek legend signifying rebirth and renewal of an aging product.

Eventually the market for modernized P&Js declined, and Phoenix began building machines. In 1989, however, the company returned to its roots, concentrating on remanufacturing once again.

Machines, though, weren't the only things demanding reuse. In 1971, GKI Inc. got its start reconditioning indexable cutting tools and cutting tool supplies. Its founder Gerhard Klutke knew manufacturers could save money by repairing the tools they had, while maintaining like-new standards.

Unfortunately, GKI did not have a smooth start. Originally, Klutke was to have a partner. But after Klutke spent all his money on a Bridgeport machine, some miscellaneous tools, and a U-Haul, the partner backed out — leaving Klutke with a mortgage on a new home, $30 to start the business, and had no one to help him out financially. His wife allegedly cried for days!

Klutke picked the Bridgeport up anyway, but the rental truck's hydraulic lift failed under the weight of the machine. With only the help of his 10-year-old son, Kluke was miraculously able to hold the machine while his son operated the lift.

The machine now sits in the corner of the company's current facility and stands as a reminder of the company's first days.

Companies repairing and regrinding cutting tools in the 1970s had a bright future ahead since the tooling industry was becoming more innovative and complex as the years progressed. New tool coatings and grades were emerging to meet the demands of faster, more accurate machine tools. Manufacturing companies were specializing their operations to find a niche in the market, and tooling companies discovered that specializing the tooling for particular materials and applications could help improve the manufacturing process across the board.

Specialization was originally what got J&M Diamond Tool Inc. started in 1972. The owners Leo Mongeau and Leonard Johnson started making faceting, watchcase, and finishing tools for the jewelry market. But after GE developed polycrystalline diamond material in the early 1970s, J&M began to cut inserts made from the hard new material. Once the company made this move, it found great success and switched from the jewelry to the machine tool industry.

Tooling innovation helped spawn higher accuracies, and these, in turn, made quality assurance techniques more crucial as the decade wore on. Companies like CimWorks GageTalker Corp. took advantage of the opportunity. The company initially got its start servicing the science industry exclusively. It began as Observational Systems Inc. in 1978, founded by Richard A. Holm and James P. Gamache to sell data collection equipment to behavioral scientists. In the company's early days, data collectors were used for keeping track of monkeys and their daily habits, the mating rituals of bumblebees, and fish exploration studies.

These collectors stood up to some harsh conditions. For example, one scientist was charged by an elephant when using the collector to observe Apes in Kenya. When she saw the elephant coming, she threw the data collector one direction and dove the other. She survived the incident, as did the data collector, which was not only intact after she retrieved it, but still held all her data.

Holm and Gamache soon discovered that their hearty equipment could, with minor modifications, be used for time-motion work studies in industrial engineering. Their work led them to the Statistical Process Control field, which is still one of the company's principle markets.

There were no charging elephants in Hydromat Inc.'s past, only a market demanding more flexibility and efficiency. The business started because companies needed to combine multiple operations into a single machine, eliminating the need for multiple machines, secondary operations and part handling.

The company's claim to fame was the introduction of the first production rotary transfer machine to North America. Introduced in 1978, the machine was installed at the R.L. Pohlman Co.

Hydromat has assisted the industry in other ways as well. In 1983, it launched its apprenticeship program, accredited by the National Tooling and Machining Association and the U.S. Dept. of Labor. Today, the Hydromat Education foundation funds qualified high school students to pursue careers in manufacturing technology, CNC machining, CAD systems, and process design.

New technology not only focused on improving the traditional machine tool and its operations; some innovations fostered the growth of new cutting methods. Flow International Corp., for example, started when a former senior research scientist at Boeing commercialized the ultrahigh-pressure waterjet as an industrial cutting tool. His new company began producing pure waterjet machines, powered by intensifier pumps, to cut disposable diapers.

In 1979, Flow worked to increase the cutting power of the waterjet so it could cut metals. A team of researchers led by Dr. Mohamed Hashish found that entraining fine mesh garnet abrasive into the waterjet stream did the trick, and the abrasive waterjet was born. While Flow was cutting disposable diapers, Laser Machining Inc. was cutting sail cloth with its laser systems. Founder William E. Lawson started the company in 1978 after working as an engineer consultant on a sail cloth cutting project.Once he saw the laser in action, he borrowed the money to purchase the system, mounted it to his Bridgeport, and started cutting in his basement. The company was the first to do laser airbag cutting and did high-tolerance welding of housing detectors used to search the origins of the universe. Laser Machining is now a laser systems manufacturer and jobshop specializing in laser welding, heat treating, laser converting, and wood and plastic cutting.

While the need for specialty cutting was beginning to establish itself, so was the demand for new forming innovations. Amada America Inc. started in 1971 making bandsaws and bandsaw blades, but soon realized there was a need for bridge-frame turret-punch presses.

Amada Co. was also one of many companies with globalized roots emerging that decade. Many of these global giants helped American manufacturers re-think the way they did business, and companies from all countries began to promote new ideas that would emerge in the coming decades. For Amada, that meant the start of its show plaza concept — styled upon the concept of a car dealer showroom for Amada machines. The founder of Amada America's parent company came up with the idea because he wanted customers and engineers to gather together in the showroom to see the machines in operation and to discuss individual application challenges.

Companies founded in the 1970s

Flow International Corp. (1970), Phoenix Inc. (1970), Amada America Inc. (1971), GKI Inc. (1971), J&M Diamond Tool Inc. (1972), Bourne & Koch Machine Tool Co. (1974), CLC Lubricants (1976), Hydromat Inc. (1976), CimWorks GageTalker/GE Fanuc (1978), Laser Machining Inc. (1978)


Francis, Adrian, David, and Larry de Caussin Fadal Engineering

Through their business, Fadal Engineering (now Fadal Machining Centers), this family pioneered toolchanger automation in 1970. First a power drawbar was designed, which allowed toolchanges without the use of a wrench. Then in 1972, Fadal began marketing an aftermarket automated toolchanger that could be attached to a mill to automate the entire toolchanging process.

Francis founded the company, Adrian designed Fadal's first CNC control, David was responsible for the design of toolchangers and vertical machining centers, and Larry headed setup and implementation of the building processes. By 1979, Fadal had designed and built its first prototype of a complete vertical machining center. This VMC was one of the first sold for less than $100,000 during the 1980s.