Benchmarks Point Toward Excellence

In this issue, we have the first report from the American Machinist 2007 survey of U.S. machine shops.

We conducted the survey from February 1 through March 12, and had a great response from our readers. We estimate that filling out the survey required an hour of work, and we had about 10 percent more responses this year than a year ago.

The point of this survey is to help our readers develop plans and programs to make their shops more competitive and profitable; to provide industry-based data so that you can take stock of where your operations are and where you might have deficiencies -- then develop strategies to make improvements. And, when you've done that, to return to the benchmark data and compare your results to real data from shops that you compete with.

Our survey information is anonymous, so you can't find specific information on any one competitor, but the data has substance and authority. We have developed data that is specific to operating a machine shop so that you can see how the best-run shops are cutting cycle time and set-up time, and the technologies they use to stay ahead of the competition. We have data on the wages that shops pay to their machine operators and set-up personnel, and what shops are seeing in cost increases and profit.

We will make the complete set of raw data available to anyone who wants to use it via our Internet site, The data from the 2007 survey will be posted by July 15 under the "Community" hot button near the top of our home page. It will be listed alongside the complete data from last year's survey, so that you can use and compare results from both years. We changed our survey slightly this year -- to fine-tune – but the majority of information is comparable between the two years.

The report in this month's issue centers on the performance of the top 20 percent of shops, those that are the most profitable and that have the best overall operating results.

In looking at the numbers it is important to remember that these results are composite figures. While they might combine to identify an "ideal" shop, you have to keep in mind that, as with any perfect example, such a shop really is beyond the reach of most managers. The results from your shop may not align perfectly with the data that we are showing in our report, but it may be higher in one area and lower in another. Keeping track of your individual data is the important point.

We are hoping that you find this data a useful tool that will help you to gage the performance of your operations, to develop values to aim for, and to form your own measurements and programs that will help you to compete more effectively and put more profit into your pocket.

Senior Editor Chuck Bates talked to several shops that continue to use manual machines to produce the parts that their customers need.

This story arose from a commentary I wrote in February in which I advocated teaching CNC machining to students. The outcry from that commentary was so loud and strong that we decided to look at some of the shops that have steered clear of CNC technology to see how they are doing. And, we found they are doing very well.

That being said, I continue to believe that students coming up into machining need to know CNC technology so they can enter the workforce with knowledge of the most current, most productive and most efficient machining methods.

I do think there is a place for – and a need for students to know about – the basics about manual machining, and I agree with our readers who pointed out that the ability to run a manual machine provides the base of knowledge and the principles that underlie CNC machining.

However, I continue to believe that knowledge of CNC machines is necessary to give students the all of the abilities they need to be successful, and to give them a foundation that goes beyond manual machining so that they can use the latest technologies to their fullest potential.

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