The U.S. economy appears to be on the mend. In January, the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation gave a tentative thumbs up to sustained business expansion through the first half of 2013. And the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index rose again in January, painting an optimistic picture. Maybe it’s time to buy that machining center you’ve been thinking about.
Before you whip out your checkbook, though, some homework is in order. There’s a lot more to machining centers than spindle speeds and rapid traverse rates. Sure, you’ve had good results over the years buying machines based on that, but that might be the wrong criteria in this brave new manufacturing world. You’re facing growing competition from overseas and down the street, so you owe it to yourself to take a look at what’s changed in the years since you bought your tried and true 20 “×40 ” vertical machining center.
Most everyone’s seen them at trade shows—5-axis wonder machines whittling away at intricate shapes such as motorcycle helmets, jet turbine blades and titanium knee implants. Recently, 5-axis machining centers have redefined many shops’ definition of complexity. But maybe you don’t do complex aerospace work, or you simply can’t afford to spend $500,000 on a machine tool. And 5-axis programming is way too complicated, right?