Capital Investments Pay Off

Dec. 21, 2004
Machine tools have boosted industrial prosperity over the last decade.

Fadal Machining Centers' progress in meeting customers' productivity needs parallels the contributions of all machine tool makers to today's industrial economy, observes Charles F. Carter Jr., vice president, AMT-Assn. for Manufacturing Technology, McLean, Va. He says the technological innovations in the company's vertical machining centers represent the kinds of improvements to be found in every category of machine tool. "The advances present in such things as high-speed machining, tool changers, slide-way designs, spindles, controls, and feedback devices are independent of the kind of machine they're used on," says Carter. "Those advances permeate the machine tool world in general." He cites the dramatic example of the benefits an aerospace company receives from high-speed machining. "Under the new process bulkheads are made in two parts, rather than 72, and require only 35 fasteners to hold them together, rather than 1,720 under the previous method. Furthermore, machining was completed 15 times faster." Carter says that such contributions to manufacturing efficiency rival those of computers and information technology in the last decade. He draws his conclusions from a study by Washington-based economic consultants Joel Popkin and Co., "Producing Prosperity-Manufacturing Technology's Unmeasured Role in Economic Expansion." The study, which dramatically reveals the role of machine tool technology in the economic success of the past decade, bolsters the industry's assertion that investments in capital equipment are strategically important, especially in a downturn. However, first-quarter 2001 figures for U.S. machine tool consumption totaled $738.48 million, down 30.6% compared to the same period in 2000. "The long string of productivity gains which fueled the recent economic expansion are not likely to resume until capital spending for manufacturing equipment picks up," says Don F. Carlson, AMT president. "To return to the growth rates of the '90s, manufacturers need to exhibit the courage to invest in the latest technology to drive costs down and their competitiveness up."

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