Reorganizing for Machining Solutions

June 16, 2009
Increasingly, the evolution of manufacturing technologies such as machining is enabling automation vendors to reach for strategies that embrace the total solution.

The emerging premise: Technology development is proceeding so quickly that metal cutting and other manufacturing processes need to be evaluated in new, sometimes unexpected, customer service contexts. The process can reveal new opportunities for automation vendors to enhance customer value by presenting a more integrated solution for the customer.

For example, in manufacturing, the traditional stand-alone islands of automation are now being replaced by more integrated production processes. That is being increasingly reflected in the growing integration of solutions provided by the automation equipment vendor. For example, machine tool builder MAG Industrial Automation now also augments its machine tool capability via its own line of cutting tools -- the MAG Cyclo-Cut brand. In addition, MAG's service operation also supports its customers with a complete line of cutting fluids, part processing recommendations, programmers and other product lifecycle support, says MAG's Dan Cooper, Cyclo-Cut product manager.

Cooper says MAG's goal is to increasingly deliver more value to its customers. "The more value you deliver to your customers, the better your chances in being able to solve their problems."

"That approach helps build and maintain a competitive edge," notes PLM consultant Alan Christman, chairman, CIMdata Inc. He says leading machine tool builders increasingly seek the goal of becoming a single-source solution provider. "Builders are now becoming more oriented as solution providers than was necessary in the past. Customers look for more than just a good piece of equipment. They also look for the technologies and expertise that will help them compete in this global economy. Builders must fully understand their customer's industry, application, volume and goals for growth and expansion."

Establishing that understanding with the aerospace and automotive market sectors helped speed the technology integration of MAG's machining solutions, says Michael Judge, vice president, productivity solutions/maintenance technologies. "For MAG, being able to integrate the technology of machine tools with cutting tools is a continuing critical factor in helping our aerospace customers meet their new process challenges with composites and titanium," adds Judge.

MAG Industrial Automation's Michael Judge says integrating the technology of machine tools with cutting tools will help the aerospace industry meet process challenges with composites.

He's referring to MAG's success in supporting the continuing materials revolution in aircraft design. As with the Boeing 787, designs moved away from aluminum structures assembled from hundreds of thousands of parts to composite aircraft built from large monolithic components of lightweight composite materials. MAG was ready to serve as a single source provider of systems to machine and shape the new materials -- composites and titanium.

"Also, in an effort to further differentiate MAG from the competition, we launched the Productivity Solutions business unit. The goal: providing our customers -- and potential customers -- with a solution that goes beyond the machine tool." Judge is referring to how the company continues to build a more comprehensive solution with the integration of application support services, cutting tools, work-holding equipment and metalworking fluids.

"The biggest success that we've had is just being able to assist and support our customers with the new issues that they have when it comes to machining a part better," he says. The Cyclo-Cut portfolio offers a selection of over 25,000 tool types including solid carbide, brazed carbide, high speed steel, indexable carbide and accessories.

Judge says that the increased pace of innovation in machine tools and cutting tools requires an integrated strategy to maximize competitive advantage. "Today's goal is to excel in the role of solution provider, a strategy MAG reinforced two years ago with the introduction of its Cyclo-Cut cutting tools," Judge says. "Rapidly emerging technology makes it unreasonable to consider machine tools and cutting tools as separate, independent technology silos that do not affect each other's design assumptions," he adds. "Manufacturing is too competitive of an environment for a company like MAG to be just a machine tool supplier. There is much more value to the manufacturing industry when a machine tool builder supplies, promotes and proactively addresses solutions to help customers generate revenue on the parts that they're cutting."

A Cyclo-Cut Ripper end mill is capable of roughing titanium at up to 20 cubic inches per minute.

MAG's next move is to broaden its composites focus by presenting customers with integrated technology solutions, says Judge. "MAG has a complete portfolio of composite automation machines that have historically done aircraft components, both military and commercial components," he says. "We're looking ahead to understand how composite material is going to go to other things." For example, MAG is designing and engineering machines to make composite components in the wind energy market and evaluating how it can supply and lower manufacturing costs for windmill components manufacturing and machining with cutting tools and composite automation equipment.

"We're also working with the automotive OEMs to explore what type of auto components, frames or other parts can benefit from composites," Judge says. "That's the next wave of applications where we feel there's a lot of opportunity for our integrated technology approach."

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