In manufacturing, a machine tool normally is not considered a primary competitive advantage, admits Leonard Barron Jr., global commodity manager, machine repair and operations with Flowserve, a manufacturer of pumps, valves and seals. But that's exactly the strategy for the multi-tasking machine tools Barron is helping to implement at his company. His multi-tasking efforts are transforming the company's production processes with hundreds of machines already installed at its plants in North and South America, Europe and Asia.
Barron says the winning characteristic of the multi-tasking approach is its ability to quickly, efficiently and accurately meet customer needs. Instead of requiring the conventional sequence of setups on separate equipment, the multi-tasking machine, as the name implies, quickly performs multiple tasks on one machine, in one setup. Those characteristics are important for the company, a producer of many different brands, each with unique parts that are configurable to customer needs, Barron explains.
"Transitioning to multi-tasking equipment can reduce time needed for some work from days to just hours," he says. "In addition, the need to quickly make a special part has minimal effect -- delaying only one multi-tasking machine, not a whole line of conventional machines. Multi-tasking gives us the ability to meet even special customer needs with a minimal impact on production."
While makers of multi-tasking machines emphasize that fewer machines and operators will be needed for a given work load, such reductions rarely seem to happen. The reason, says Barron, is that the resulting competitive success of multi-tasking typically requires expansion instead.
Barron describes multi-tasking as a revolution in terms of the concept's ability to respond faster to customer needs. The challenge, he says, lies in the user's ability to change and accept the new potential. "When some users buy a machine tool, they treat it as a pure commodity. When I buy a machine tool, I look at it as a marriage with the tool builder and I look at the machine tool itself as the offspring of that marriage. The partnership that evolves with the vendor is key to ongoing collaborative success with training and achieving performance goals."
"Transitioning to multi-tasking equipment can reduce time needed for some work from days to just hours." Leonard Barron Jr., global commodity manager, MRO, Flowserve Corp. (left). Right, Tom Wheller, machine operator.
Barron says that collaborative partnering is critically important in meeting the greatest challenge -- the assessment of how multi-tasking fits the requirements of the part. In addition, the assessment needs to determine if the multi-tasking equipment can meet the processing requirements of other parts. It is important to remember that multi-tasking equipment can process a wide variety of parts that normally might be assigned to separate dedicated equipment. In addition, some part features that might be prohibitively expensive on conventional equipment might be low-cost or free possibilities on multi-tasking equipment, adds Barron. "A huge penalty awaits those who do not analyze the potential of multi-tasking equipment," he asserts.
Multi-tasking also translates into improved production-floor safety, especially when processing heavy parts. "For example, with a part weighing a thousand pounds, consider that processing it on conventional machine tools would require moving that heavy part from machine to machine," Barron notes. "With multi-tasking's ability to combine metal cutting operations on one machine tool in one setup, the user gains part-handling safety as well as productivity and quality benefits."
Barron says multi-tasking machine tools have the kind of performance characteristics that would help a capital investment stimulus meet national economic goals. "The competitive advantages of multi-tasking enable the technology to be implemented at our plant sites, to efficiently serve nearby customers." Flowserve has 25 manufacturing facilities in North America, 26 in Europe plus facilities in Asia. Flowserve's newest plant was launched in March 2009 in Saudi Arabia.