Baby boomers are retiring at the rate of approximately 10,000 a day. In their wake, Millennials are changing the way manufacturers do things.
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In the metal fabrication business, most companies are small to mid-sized. Yet these manufacturers juggle a bevy of parts and sub-assemblies for a myriad of applications and industries ranging from aerospace and automotive to waste water treatment plants and oil and gas. Collapsed timelines, tighter tolerances and changing requirements have become standard fare. And it isn’t getting any easier. Customers want to be able to make design changes on the fly and get updates on part specifications in real time. If a machine goes down a fabricator may have to rely on a neighboring company to get parts out the door. That means being able to download programs and fixtures without the need to reprogram.
When it comes to coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) most of us focus on what’s right in front of us—the parts we need to inspect. Fabricators tend to be equally concerned about CMM features that can increase throughput while maintaining accuracy and quality requirements. In today’s smart factory environment the need for machine-to-machine communication and the capability to collect data that is actionable has put the spotlight on another piece of the package; the software.
If you look at customer service trends for 2018 you are likely to read about things like chat support with chatbots. In theory, the chatbot eliminates the wait for customers who want answers in real time. But 73 percent of customers surveyed about their experience reported that the experience was less than positive.
Global Industry Analysts reports that by 2020, an increasing focus on quality is expected to push the coordinate measuring machine (CMM) global market past $2.9 billion. Examples include the expanding need for high precision automotive parts inspection on assembly lines and advancements within the medical device market. Both are credited with fueling CMM industry growth.
But if the CMM market is growing, where have all the programmers gone?
Philippe Cochet, GE’s chief productivity officer, wrote in a recent GE Report that “advanced manufacturing industries account for 24 million jobs - 13 percent of all American jobs - and each of those jobs supports another 3.5 jobs throughout the supply chain.” He continues,
The integration of hardware and software is changing the way products are conceived, produced and installed…we can now embed sensors onto our machines, leverage software to gather data and use those insights and analytics to ultimately drive greater productivity.
CMMs are a key component in the push for higher throughput. Their ability to precisely measure parts and part features gives manufactures a critical tool for verifying tolerances. Additionally, the data derived from a CMM can be used for design, testing, assessment, profiling and reverse engineering.
Benjamin Franklin said, “The doors of wisdom are never closed.” Depending on your perspective, his words could apply to the wisdom behind designing and producing a coordinate measuring machine controller with an open architecture design. Despite the fact that a standards-based solution offers manufacturers a number of advantages, most OEMs are marketing branded hardware and software.
"It's a jungle out there." The idiom was coined to describe situations considered dangerous or threatening. But it can also apply to purchasing a new CMM, especially when it comes to navigating the different software and hardware choices.
Depending on your application, it can be difficult to know where to start. Conventional prismatic geometry can’t be used to define or measure free form surfaces. Understanding the kind of data your applications will require is an important first step. But you also have to consider other variables. For example, you never know what your customer will send you. The software functions you need today may not be what you need tomorrow. You have to ask yourself what your objectives are and evaluate what you really need from your hardware and software. Making a checklist can be a helpful tool. Paying attention to the way data flows and the standards customers are using is another consideration.
"Count the cost" is a phrase that's hung over most of us at one time or another like an ominous cloud. As a kid you may have heard something like it when you pleaded for a puppy or made a case for your first car. The Cambridge and MacMillan Dictionaries define the idiom as the first step to “defining how badly something has affected you.” Author Daniel Defoe's protagonist Robinson Crusoe learned the value of these words after he disregarded his father’s advice, went to sea, met with disaster and was marooned on an island for four and a half years. “Now I saw, though too late, the folly of beginning a work before we count the cost, and before we judge rightly of our own strength to go through with it,” he writes.
Remember the Maytag Repairman? He emerged in television commercials during the 1960s as the loneliest man in town - because the appliances never broke down. Nowadays people are more likely to sigh and wistfully say, "They sure don’t make them like they used to." Statistics show that Americans replace their cell phones every two years. Computers can be expected to last at least three years but experts tell you not to push your luck past five. And if you do happen to be in the market for a new appliance like a washing machine, you’ll find the Maytag Repairman is now the Maytag Man - with a new job! Instead of sitting in a deserted shop setting, commercials now feature him taking the place of a downed appliance and performing its tasks until the equipment can be fixed.
When it comes to OEM service and support for coordinate measuring machines, it should be a no brainer right? Truth is, the only thing harder to find than a CMM programmer is a technician with the skill sets to calibrate and service a CMM. It’s an industry wide problem and it has left a lot of manufacturers high and dry. One of the contributing factors can be traced back to 2007 when dire stock predictions prompted large CMM companies to start shedding service technicians. Anticipation of a downturn in machine requirements led companies to reboot their bottom line by picking low hanging fruit [well-paid service technicians] first.
“It's always best to start at the beginning--and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.”
This famous line from L. Frank Baum’s beloved Wizard of Oz is spoken by the Good Witch of the North when Dorothy asks her for directions to the Emerald City, through miles of uncharted wilderness. For most manufacturers, Industry 4.0 is new territory. Trying to balance demands for more parts in shorter timeframes, while trying to connect the right software and measurement tools to make sense of expanding data chunks, can seem a little like trying to navigate a path through no-man’s land.