Sausage-making at its best and worst

October 15, 2013
By: Tim Heston

When it comes to government, I don’t particularly want to know about the sausage-making—the bargaining, arguing, and deals made (and now almost always required) to get anything accomplished. I know reading about it would just infuriate me, because inside the beltway, at least, it seems that winning has become more important than governing.

When it comes to manufacturing, of course, I want to know all about the sausage-making—the details about what exactly is happening on the shop floor. And as was evident at Mazak Corp.’s Discover 2013 event in Florence, Ky., last week, so too do manufacturers.

The company had various machines on display, including the new fiber laser from Mazak Optonics. Mazak’s Kentucky factory (which uses several Mazak Optonics lasers, of course) is undergoing a significant expansion. Almost 200,000 square feet of space will open in the company’s milling and turning center manufacturing plant early next year. During this transformation, the company has connected many of its machines to what’s known as MTConnect, a data standard designed to foster interoperability between devices, essentially establishing an open channel of communication between machines, regardless of their brand. So if you want to know the uptime for certain machines or its cutting tool performance, you can use software compatible with this open standard to measure overall equipment effectiveness.

So why is Mazak—a machine tool maker that itself has proprietary software—adopting this open, brand-neutral communication standard? During a trade press breakfast last week, Mazak Corp. President Brian Papke put it this way: “I would like to dream that everybody would buy Mazak machines, but that isn't the reality. But we feel it’s good for manufacturing, to improve machine utilization. From here, we asked ourselves, ‘What about our own factory?’”

Thus far MTConnect has focused mainly on milling and turning, applications in which improving efficiency within the work envelope—say, with a smarter cutting tool path or cutting insert engagement strategy—can really help shorten overall cycle time. The standard hasn’t penetrated the metal forming and fabrication market, though William Sobel, CEO of Berkeley, Calif.-based System Insights, and a key architect behind MTConnect, said that he has applied the standard to a few plate rolling applications.

Regardless, the data can show sausage-making at its finest. With that data comes the power to improve efficiency and quality, and shorten overall manufacturing time.

On Thursday last week I visited a contract fabricator in Cincinnati (to be featured in an upcoming FABRICATOR magazine). My tour guide pointed to a pile of finished goods near the loading dock. He told me those projects were on hold thanks to the government shutdown.

That’s sausage-making at its worst.

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

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