Technology- Profit Differentiator or Limiter?

I have had some interesting conversations with a couple of shop owners after they read our article Technology or People in the July issue of Production Machining.

The point that I had hoped to convey was that while the contributions of technology to our shops’ bottom lines is undeniable, it is up to us to get our people in position to take maximum advantage of the technology- to lead the technology.

Technology As Enabler

One correspondent pointed out that they purchased technology so that they could still get production with the available manpower in their area. They thought that getting people who could use the technology that they had was chore enough. They were buying technology with canned cycles so that they could produce with out a lot of engineering and programming, which was not a strength of theirs based on their workforce.

Technology As Equalizer

Another person called to discuss the article and said that to them, they thought that technology was in fact a “great equalizer” or “homogenizer.” That shops with the same technologies would likely quote similar parts to similar times and costs based on using the technology in similar ways based on how it was equipped from the factory. So they saw technology not as a way to differentiate  shops, as much as a way for multiple shops to get to a common and competitive level of performance.

Technology as Empowerment

The third caller raised the point that I had tried to make, but in much richer detail. “If you use the machine just out of the box, you’re no different from anyone else. If you use the machine’s built in roughing cycles,  for example, you’ll get the exact same result as everyone else with that same machine. The profits are made when you go out past the “built in” capability and create greater value by customizing your process.  On a complicated part, using the machine “normally” might require you to use 12 tools, and require a very expensive machine because of the relationship of certain features to each other. But what if I build several of those interdependent features into a special tool, whether OD form, or ID step drill, for example? Now I don’t need so many consecutive tool’s stacked up to do the cutting and adding up time for each part. Because the features are built into the tool, I don’t need so much precision out of my machine. And now I don’t need all of those expensive stations… ”

They had quite a bit more to say about how the canned cycles are conservative and wasteful and in some cases a compromise that  might not be best for the particular job. But when I thought about what he had said, it raised a question in my mind- “Since we don’t need so many tools and so much precision because of the “novel way” that was determined that would work- “Doesn’t that mean we don’t need that original expensive high tech machine tool?”

Not So Fast, Vigo!

The third caller shared how they were able to make parts using a sub $100,000 mill in their shop- while their Customer could not get the parts correct on their million dollar plus technology.

Was he saying that the little guy and the cheap equipment will always beat the big guy and their expensive technology? Not at all.

What he was saying is that it is up to all of us to assure that our people and our technology are operating at their highest and best use. Not just their nameplate or nominal capacity.

He was saying that technology is the tool that can best help us achieve our vision and fully realize our abilities. Technology is the best means available to us to deliver the best that we can think of. It is our thinking therefore, that leads our technology.

Final Questions

What is the purpose of technology in our shops?

Is it to substitute for knowledgeable people and still get acceptable parts to ship?

Is it to ensure that our shops are competitive in the market?

Is technology merely a means to an end, and best driven by deliberate intention to give the engineer the ability to make the parts the best way that they know how? Without the need for an unnecessary investment?

Or is technology the tool that empowers our people to deliver the best that that they can imagine?

What Is The Purpose of Technology In YOUR Shop?

Thanks to the folks that gave me a shout to discuss the article. We learn so much from our conversations.

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