A reporter’s notebook from FABTECH

November 20, 2013
By: Tim Heston

FABTECH® is on. It’s big---well on track to be the largest to date. Before Thursday’s close, it’s anticipated that more than 35,000 will walk the halls of McCormick Place. It’s flashy. Solid-state lasers are cutting thin, but also thick stock. I saw a 1-micron laser slice through 1 inch plate like nobody’s business, and leave a clean edge.

In stamping, I saw new laser blanking technology--a coil-fed system with three laser heads working in concert. In forming, I saw a press brake control that accepts voice commands. In welding, I saw a robot programmed not with a teach pendant, and not with offline programming, but with a welder grabbing the arm and guiding it across points of the weld.

I’ve also met, among the throngs of attendees, down-to-earth fabricators. One worked for a firm that helped rebuild the levies around New Orleans. Even though his house and most of his worldly possessions were destroyed, he was called into the plant to help rebuild the city.

I met a shop owner whose company designed and fabricated the top of the new World Trade Center spire (a story we covered earlier this year). Sadly, he has yet to get financial relief from small business administration loans.

I met a shop owner who’s stopped complaining about the skilled labor crisis and is actually doing something about it, by restructuring his business to make training and education an integral part of everybody’s job.

I listened to an economist who said that manufacturing may experience a slowdown in the second half of 2014, thanks in part to government dysfunction and the new health care law.

I listened to a continuous improvement expert point to a chart showing how process variability not only goes up with extended lead times, it goes up exponentially--a “variability spiral,” he called it.

We’ll cover all the above and more here and in the print edition of The FABRICATOR, of course. But take this all in at the show, and you can get a good idea about the essence of metal forming and fabrication, the thread that connects this varied industry of one-man operations, small and medium sized contract shops, high-product-mix OEMs, along with some of the largest corporations on the planet.

It’s about good people doing the right thing, the right way, at the right time, against all odds. So many things make their life difficult--but as becomes so evident every year at this show, good people and ever-progressing technology will prevail.
Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314