The Growing Move to Multi-Tasking

March 12, 2009
Even the economy is motivating the acceptance of multi-tasking machine tools, reports one builder.

"In this current business climate, customer buying motivation shifts. They're not buying a machine to add capacity. They're much more likely to buy those things that can give them really higher productivity, efficiency and accuracy. They want to maximize their competitiveness."

That's Brian Papke, president of Mazak Corp., describing the market's expanding enthusiasm for multi-tasking machines. "Although the business climate is slowing, the area of multi-tasking is doing a larger and larger percentage of our business."

Papke says customer enthusiasm for multi-tasking is beginning to influence the designs of all of the company's offerings. "The lines are beginning to blur as there are fewer and fewer customers that are just buying two-axis turning machines. Consider the small shop buying a turret style machine. These days that shop may be getting the ability to do milling and drilling and perhaps a second spindle. That shop is getting an element of multi-tasking that it didn't have before. So even at that level buyers are getting exposed to multi-tasking productivity, efficiency and accuracy."

Brian PapkeAt the top end of the multi-tasking spectrum is an area Papke refers to as "ultra-tasking," which he describes as going beyond the capability of just combining milling and turning. "Ultra-tasking includes unusual operations that would normally be done on separate grinding, broaching or hobbing machines," he says, "and even incorporates such capabilities as thread rolling."

In the future, multi-tasking equipment will increasingly impact not only how parts are made, but also how they can be designed, adds Papke. "For example, part designers are already beginning to discover that design restrictions on part complexity can be lessened with multi-tasking equipment. With ultra-tasking, part designers will be able to rapidly grow and expand that capability. That means that as manufacturing evolves from mass production to mass customization, the growing presence and capability of multi-tasking equipment will offer compelling competitive advantages."

Multi-tasking for large work pieces: Mazak's new Integrex e-1550V has a payload capacity of 11,000 pounds.For example product designers will discover new degrees of accuracy as the growing acceptance of multi-tasking makes it possible to combine operations in one setup. And designers will discover, increasingly, that multi-part assemblies can now be made as a single integral part.

"Frankly that's one of the reasons why we're able to be competitive in manufacturing in North America," Papke observes. "Multi-tasking gives us a design edge that enables us to compete in the manufacture of machine tools." Papke considers multi-tasking as much of a fundamental advance in machines as the emergence of the machining center. "It's a next generation kind of concept."

Multi-tasking can require some adjustment in management thinking. "For example," he notes, "while fewer machines and operators will be needed to perform a given amount of work, the required employee skill levels will be greater." While multi-tasking equipment can be set up for low-skilled button pushers, the total capability of the equipment is proportional to the amount of training the operators receive. The higher the quality of the training, the higher the productivity potential of the multi-tasking machines.

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