How to Make the Most of IMTS 2018

Posted by: Jedd Cole 20. August 2018


Next month, my colleagues will be descending on Chicago, Illinois—along with some 115,000 other visitors—to attend the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), set to take place September 10-15.


To learn. For us, the idea is to soak up as much as possible in order to share it with you, the reader, in the pages of Modern Machine Shop. But you’re also going there to learn: about new products, new technologies, new processes, new faces. But with over a million square feet of ground to cover and hundreds of thousands of attendees weaving their way through tens of thousands of exhibits, how can you make the most of the short time you’re at the show?

In collaboration with AMT—The Association For Manufacturing Technology, Modern Machine Shop published a blog post back in February with five keys to doing just that. They were:

1. Plan your visit by registering, downloading the MyShow Planner mobile app (link) and taking a divide-and-conquer approach to prioritize must-see exhibit. 

2. Listen to industry experts both in the booth and at one or more of the over 150 conference sessions scheduled. This year, IMTS will host learning sessions specifically geared toward owner-operated job shops, among them: 

  • Uncopyable: Creating an Unfair Advantage Over the Competition,” at 11:00 a.m. on Wednesday, September 12 or Friday, September 14. Gain insights from marketing master Steve Miller, who will discuss new ideas for business growth and lessons from his new book (complimentary to all participants) of the same title.
  • “The Unending Search for Qualified Labor” on Wednesday, September 12 from 12:45 to 1:45 p.m. An elite panel of job shop peers will share how they are overcoming this major challenge facing our industry.

3. Connect socially with fellow shop types and potential suppliers, as well as tap into the state of the industry by talking with industry thought leaders.

4. Watch live demonstrations on the show floor and presentations in booths and conference sessions. 

5. Apply what you learn later by documenting your experience as you go (keep a notebook, take pictures and video, etc.).

Come to think of it, these tips are as useful for our purposes as they are for yours. All of us are trying to understand developments in the industry, and that’s what IMTS is all about.


What to Consider When Buying a CMM

9. August 2018
CMMs at a trade show

Industry expert Barry Rogers has completed another article for the Techspex Knowledge Center, this time considering the purchase of coordinate measuring machines, or CMMs.  

Rogers walks through an introduction to the technology, with special consideration of the future uses of CMMs: 

With the increasing versatility of CMMs and advances in sensor technology, along with more automation, CMMs will become an ever more essential part of the overall process.  For example, CMMs are likely to be used to digitize objects so this data can become part of the digital thread that is unifying the supply chain.

Read up on the basics of coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) here. 

This marks the seventh article in our ongoing series on the considerations machine tool buyers should keep in mind, focusing on various technologies monitored in Techspex’s database of over 7,000 machine models. Past articles include: 

Find all these articles as well as a sampling of products from our supplier partners on the Knowledge Center mini-site


IMTS 2018's Metal Cutting Pavilion Is Will Show You the Way to Data-Driven Manufacturing (Even Job Shops)

6. August 2018
IMTS 2016 Metal Cutting Pavilion entrance

First came smart phones, then intelligent cars and houses. Now, visitors to the Metal Cutting Pavilion of the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) 2018 can experience the explosive productivity growth made possible by smart, connected machining centers.

“The conversations at IMTS have changed from spindle speeds and traverse rates to how to deliver pertinent information so job shops and manufacturers can better manage their assets,” says Marlow Knabach, Executive VP, National Engineering, DMG MORI USA. “To start the conversation, exhibitors in the Metal Cutting Pavilion at IMTS will demonstrate smart machines with the ability to monitor critical elements, such as spindle bearing temperature, spindle vibration, ballscrew temperature, coolant level and tool wear to identify potential sources of downtime before they occur.”

“Lean companies need smarter approaches, and connecting with the exhibitors in the Metal Cutting Pavilion exhibitors in the Metal Cutting Pavilion at IMTS 2018 will help them develop new strategies for more efficient part manufacturing,” says Peter R. Eelman, Vice President of Exhibitions & Business Development with AMT–The Association For Manufacturing Technology, which owns and produces IMTS.

In addition to connectivity, Eelman says that technology highlights from the Metal Cutting Pavilion exhibitors at IMTS 2018 include more collaboration between CNC and automation providers, more process integration to create multitasking machines, and more powerful software and user-friendly CNCs.

Achieving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) rates greater than 80 percent in job shops is said to be a greater challenge compared to higher-volume manufacturing. Traditionally, job shops could not take advantage of software-based systems for automation and process monitoring or Ethernet-based communication protocols because the cost and complexity were too prohibitive. Things have changed, according to Dr. Paul Gray, Manager for Path Planning, Front-End Design and R&D with Hurco: “Communication protocols and software-based systems process monitoring enable considerable cost and time reductions in total system operation. Smaller job shops and those with high-mix, low volume parts who attend IMTS 2018 will find that the benefits of intelligent machining and automation are within their reach.”

Knabach adds that, “The return on investment for machine monitoring is so pronounced that I would challenge anyone if they could not obtain a return on investment within one year.” ROI is said to occur quickly because monitoring usually reveals an OEE much lower than expected. “Understanding utilization rates, causes of common alarms and premature tool wear and so much more are available with a connection, especially since the growth of devices compliant with the MTConnect standard.” For companies that are not prepared for a cloud-based operation or cannot do so because of industry regulations (for example, defense contractors), he notes that connected machines, devices and systems can operate entirely behind a company firewall.

Learn more about how to apply these developments to your shop at the show. IMTS 2018 takes places September 10-14. Register here. 


10 Lean Manufacturing Ideas for Machine Shops

20. July 2018

This blog post is adapted from an article that appeared in the June 2018 issue of Modern Machine Shop magazine.


Lean manufacturing as it is traditionally practiced is of benefit to machine shops, but the extent of its benefit is often limited. The Toyota Production System on which lean manufacturing is based was designed for assembly plants that produce automobiles by the thousands. While an assembly plant focuses on low-mix, high-volume production, a typical machine shop focuses on high-mix low-volume production. A machine shop and assembly plant cannot expect to realize the same lean benefits with the same lean tools.

With this article, I would like to describe a different toolkit. Even for machine shops that are lean today, there are benefits yet to be gained by implementing some or all of the tools described in this article.

Here are some of the new tools that belong in the machine shop’s lean manufacturing toolkit:

1. Segment the Product Mix

Most machine shops choose to make a diverse range of products that differ in their respective annual production volume, demand pattern and margin. Based on these three business attributes, divide the products into two segments: Runners/Repeaters and Strangers.

For parts in the Runners/Repeaters segment, batch sizes will tend to be medium or large with many parts having long-term agreements. In contrast, for parts in the Strangers segment, batch sizes will trend small. These orders tend to be one-offs, repairs, prototypes, or start- or end-of-lifecycle jobs. Different order fulfillment strategies, rules for CRM (customer relationship management), business practices and so on need to be used for either of these two segments. A job shop can think of itself like a hospital wherein the Emergency Department operates as a separate “mini-hospital” within the main facility for rapid care delivery. Ideally, the average lead time to deliver care to any given patient is short.

2. Rationalize the Product Mix Annually

At the end of each year, eliminate the “cats and dogs”—those products that are losing money. As a machine shop manager quipped to me years ago, “We are happy to send our difficult parts, and sometimes our difficult customers, too, to our competitors. It does not hurt our business if their production efficiencies and profit margins are affected!”

3. Split One Machine Shop into Two

In Shop 1, produce orders for parts or products that are in the Runners/Repeaters segment of the product mix. In Shop 2, produce orders for parts or products that are in the Strangerssegment of the product mix. Set up Shop 2 to operate as a quick-turnaround shop with resources such as additive manufacturing, flexible automation, multitasking machines and machining centers with pallet-changers that can produce any part in a single setup, no matter how small the quantity. Even the skill levels of the employees in the two shops will be different. Employees in Shop 1 will tend to prefer production runs of mature parts, whereas employees in Shop 2 will prefer the challenges of manufacturing complex one-offs and mastering new technology.

4. If the Shop Currently Uses a Process Layout, Change It

In a process layout, similar machines are co-located in functional departments (manual lathes, CNC lathes, manual mills, CNC mills and so on). Any machine shop that has a process layout will always operate in a batch-and-queue production mode.

5. Implement a Cellular Layout in Shop 1

First, identify the product families in the Runners/Repeaters segment of the shop’s product mix. From the ERP system, extract the routings of all the parts or products to create the initial Product-Process Matrix. An example is shown in Figure 1. Next, use any commercially available data analysis package (like Minitab, JMP or R) to manipulate this matrix to get the final Product-Process Matrix. In this latter matrix, each family of parts whose routings contain the same (or similar) machines indicates the group of machines that should be co-located as a manufacturing cell to produce those parts.

figure 1

Figure 1: On left, a machine shop’s initial Product-Process Matrix; on right, the final matrix after identifying and grouping by part families. (Courtesy of Strategos Lean Manufacturing.)

Co-location of all the machines, personnel and support services relevant to a given set of parts streamlines and simplifies material flows. If a cell is implemented with management’s support, it will probably be apt to have manufacturing focus; operational flexibility; a culture of continuous improvement through teamwork;performance metrics that do not promote individualistic or elitist behavior; and a sense of ownership and autonomy for its members.

6. Right-Size Non-Machining Processes

CNC machine tools alone do not determine a machine shop’s delivery performance and profitability. Manual processes such as sawing and inspection, and non-machining processes such as heat treatment, electroplating, coating and washing are often root causes for long delivery times.

Right-sizing a process that is currently external to a cell, such as washing, painting, deburring or inspection, can allow it to be brought into the cell. This can have a significant impact on quality, delivery time and work in process. This shift also can improve morale and job satisfaction for the cell personnel, because the team’s performance will not be affected by the workmanship and schedule priorities of others, including those who work in both other cells and external departments that serve all cells.

There are limitations to this idea. Processes like heat treatment or electro-plating could hardly ever be co-located with CNC machines. Inspection is often the real bottleneck, but this problem is not necessarily easy to address. When will the day come when inspection in a shop can be right-sized and the inspection department eliminated?

7. Purchase a Multifunction Machine Tool

Metal removal rates generally remain the chief driver of a machine shop’s capital investment choices. Unfortunately, the mindset of “keep making chips” can result in the purchase of machines that 1) do not alleviate the shop’s capacity constraints, 2) do not increase throughput at bottlenecks, 3) waste payroll to keep employees busy producing WIP, and 4) do not reduce the total distance that the typical order must travel through the shop.

Instead of fixating on metal removal rates and machine utilization, machine shops should look to multifunction machines and systems that combine consecutive operations currently being done on different machines, especially if those machines are currently located in separate departments. The shop could first do a Product-Process Matrix analysis of its product mix to find part families. For a particular part family, the shop can then compute workloads on the different machines in that cell, identifying a set of two or three machines performing consecutive operations that appear in the routings of most parts in the family. For all those operations that would have to be done on a single machine, the shop then prepares the list of specifications—work envelope, axes, number of tools, in-process gaging and so on—and presents that list of specifications to machine tool vendors that could build the multifunction machine or system.

8. Standardize Routings within Part Families

Every effort should be made to critique and re-engineer the routings of all parts that have been grouped into a family based on their similar routings. First, the routings should be standardized by eliminating the differences in the machines used and the sequences in which the machines are used. Next, the routings should be standardized by eliminating the differences in the fixtures, tools and gages used. The ideal for any shop is material flowing in linear, assembly-line fashion from one end of the facility to the other as depicted in Figure 2, a stark contrast to the common spaghetti diagram.

figure 2

Figure 2: An example of material flows for a part family after implementation of a machining cell. Before, the parts machined followed a spaghetti diagram that sent them to different stations throughout the facility.

9. Move from Make-To-Stock to Make-To-Order Scheduling

A machine shop typically executes a different schedule every day. Each day’s schedule could include jobs with a different mix ofdue dates,lot sizes, number of operations, and setup run times. Regardless of all these differences, it is important that the shop’s daily schedule loads all work centers with jobs with a workload that does not exceed available capacity constraints on key resources such as machines, labor and materials.

A machine shop should not expect its ERP (enterprise resource planning) system to achieve this goal. The typical ERP system uses an MRP (material requirements planning) or MRP-II (manufacturing resources planning) engine to plan production and schedule operations. MRP assumes infinite capacity, fixed lead times and batch production to reduce setup times. An alternative to relying on an ERP system is to use finite capacity schedulers (FCSs) that employ either the Drum-Buffer-Rope method of scheduling (DBR+, InforVisual EasyLean) or advanced dispatching heuristics and user-defined rules (Preactor, Tactic, Schedlyzer).

However, in the case of a manufacturing cell, there may not even be a need for scheduling software. Ideally, a cell contains all equipment needed to produce any part in the cell’s part family (except vendor operations or true monuments such as heat treat). At the daily morning huddle, the cell’s team could meet with the production controller. They could eyeball the jobs in process or in queue from the previous day and determine whether the cell could process any new jobs if they were released that day. A cell guarantees start-to-finish control of the flow of its orders within a small area of the shop. So, except for unforeseen emergencies, the cell team members can execute as a team to easily ensure on-time completion of all jobs by their due dates. Never underestimate the do-or-die determination of a cell’s team to deliver customer service by completing orders at the right time with the right quality at (or below) cost!

10. Use “Water Spiders” to Manage Shop-Floor Logistics

Let’s assume that after its ERP system is integrated with a commercial FCS, a machine shop can generate a feasible daily schedule, both for each cell and for external monuments that are shared by the cells and support departments (Receiving, Shipping, Inspection, etc.). Next, the shop must release that schedule to the floor, execute it and, at the end of each shift, publish the current status of all active jobs to the ERP system. The role of schedule execution and status updating in the ERP system is fulfilled by a manufacturing execution system (MES). There is merit in implementing a fully integrated system comprising an ERP, FCS and MES if the facility is large. However, in the case of a single-location, high-mix, low-volume machine shop, especially a small family-owned job shop, it may not be advisable to immediately purchase an MES to complement the FCS that took over scheduling from the ERP system. Instead, I advise these smaller machine shops to create the position of “water spider” by freeing up one or more employees on the current payroll.

This job combines the work that is typically done by a material handler (who reports to the plant manager) and an expeditor (who reports to the production controller). Specifically, the water spider handles the logistics of moving raw materials, in-process batches and finished parts among workstations as specified in the routers of the different parts. By virtue of being all over the shop floor, the water spider has both the situational awareness and the authority needed to execute, monitor and update the daily schedule that was released to the floor.

In a recent implementation project at one shop (see Modern Machine Shop’s July 2017 article, “Lean Comes Alive”), two water spiders eliminated the previous practice where every employee (including the skilled CNC machinists) was responsible for moving the pair of finished parts to the next workstation. This machine shop realized significant savings after consolidating non-value-added walking time into the work done by just the two water spiders.

A lean machine shop should not stop with implementing only those tools commonly associated with lean. Other approaches can help to extend the lean journey and avoid leaving benefits on the table.


About the Author

Dr. Shahrukh A. Irani is the president and founder of Lean and Flexible LLC, a consulting company delivering advisory, training and implementation services based on his expertise in JobshopLean. Prior to his current position, he was the Director of IE Research at Hoerbiger Corporation of America Inc., where he was tasked with implementing JobshopLean in that facility. During his career at The Ohio State University, his team developed the Production Flow Analysis and Simplification Toolkit.


This Year's Top Shops Conference Is at IMTS 2018

12. July 2018
Top Shops Conference attendees


Is your shop a top shop?

That’s the question this year’s Modern Machine Shop Top Shops Conference answers. How does your machining business compare to other businesses? Where are you strong? Where could you get stronger? Who can help?

In order to answer those questions, organizers have created a conference program that is built “by Top Shops, for Top Shops”:

  • topics related to machining, like turning, five-axis and automation;
  • topics related to shopfloor practices like lean manufacturing and machine monitoring;
  • topics related to business strategies like customer retention, sales and marketing; and
  • topics related to human resources like compensation and professional development.

It’s hard running a machining business and it’s even harder building a machining business. The Modern Machine Shop Top Shops Conference hopes to make it easier by delivering actionable insights based on input from real machining businesses that attendees can take back to their facilities and start working on right away. 

Top Shops at IMTS 2018

Modern Machine Shop’s Top Shops event returns at this year’s largest manufacturing event: the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS). The immersive workshop will take place Thursday, September 13, serving as a valuable addition to attendees’ IMTS 2018 visit.

The technical program and peer-to-peer discussion will deliver practical solutions and business strategies that complement the variety of cutting-edge technologies on display at the trade show.

Attendees can register for the Top Shops conference for:

  • Full access to all MMS Top Shops technical sessions
  • Admission to the IMTS 2018 Exhibit Hall
  • Admission to the MMS Top Shops networking room
  • Exclusive MMS Top Shops 2018 Report
  • Complimentary meals and refreshments throughout the event
  • Entry to the Top Shops Awards Program

Meet the Top Shops

Each year, an analysis of the Modern Machine Shop Top Shops survey data reveals machine shops that define excellence in each of the four primary Top Shops categories: machining technology, shopfloor practices, business strategies and human resources.

In fact, the technical program at this year’s conference will open with an in-depth examination of the 2018 Top Shops data. Gardner Business Media Director of Intelligence Steve Kline Jr. will deliver the presentation that will identify the specific metrics that define and differentiate best-in-class machining businesses. Immediately following Kline’s presentation, this year’s Top Shops Honorees will take the stage for a panel discussion delivering practical, real-life explanations of how these shops developed category expertise in specific areas vital to not just running, but building a successful machining business.

“The event allows us to take these ideas that we've captured numerically, and talk them out, ask questions,” says Pete Zelinski, Editor in Chief of Modern Machine Shop. “It's also the chance to network with other leaders of other shops who are trying to advance their own organizations forward.”

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