Focusing on Workforce Development in 2019: 10 Stories You Need to See

Posted by: Jedd Cole 22. February 2019
employee training at Westminster Tool

Photo by Peter Zelinski, Modern Machine Shop


As 2019 unfolds, one of the most important topics on the minds of manufacturers everywhere seems to be finding skilled labor. As happens cyclically in all forms of modern industry, competition presents a moment of decision for shop owners: find ways to automate existing processes, or figure out how to engage more workers.

The industry at present (as at all times) demonstrates a mixture of these two approaches among owners of capital. The movement behind the so-called Industrial Internet of Things advocates ever-increasing levels of automation through software, machine interconnectivity and monitoring, and robotics. But many are also seeking new ways to find, hire and train new workers across manufacturing. While the so-called “skills gap” may be a fraught and unhelpful (or just plain incorrect) way of viewing the most recent crisis of productivity and labor in manufacturing as a whole, there are certainly struggles on the local level as shops of varying sizes decide how to adapt to their particular conditions of competition, productivity and access to labor. 

Modern Machine Shop and her sister magazines covering manufacturing from metalworking to plastic injection to composites have devoted a special effort in recent months to covering stories of shops addressing the development and engagement of workers and their training. But while the settings may be particular, the lessons learned span all areas of manufacturing. 

These stories are well worth your time: 


Look at Your Machine Shop’s Progress Over the Long Term

Posted by: Anthony Staub 14. February 2019

About a year ago, I found myself very frustrated because our shop was not doing well. You see, we had to throw away an entire run of parts because an insert chipped. Despite how many times I have said to check the tools before we leave for the night because it is cheaper to change the insert than to rick a bucket of bad parts, we had forgotten to change the insert. It failed soon after we closed the doors.

I walked back to our scrap barrels and found dozens of parts piled up. Additionally, we had an assembly project that had been lingering for months, and the customer was calling, telling us to deliver the unit. Ouch.

What was going on here? All of a sudden, it seemed like we couldn’t get out of our own way. Our scrap rates had spiked, deliveries were being missed, parts were being returned and our customers were complaining. Why couldn’t we seem to do even the basic things right? I was angry. First, we made bad parts that no one discovered, and then we shipped them out. To make matters worse, our new five-axis machining center, with a fancy robot and 35 pallet stations, was still sitting idle. We spent $1 million on a machine that was not running. Not only that, it hadn’t even been powered up since it was installed a year and a half ago.

At this point I was not happy. “Slow down, Tony, I told myself. Maybe, just maybe, the problem was not in the shop, maybe it was me. Or, maybe it was the way I was looking at things. So, I decided to turn things around by not focusing on the negatives. Instead, I would look at the positives. I have always believed that it is important to look at the big picture even though it is easy to forget to practice what I preach. All the things I described above happened in a relatively short period of time. In order for me to see our situation with more clarity, I needed to look at things over for a longer period of time.

When I looked back at the situation a year later, I realized that we had significantly changed our customer base. We reduced our dependence on a major customer, and we worked to bring in customers from new industries. We developed our own parts washer and added it to our production line. We were continuing to work toward a change in ownership. We had employees step up and assume leadership roles when we lost our main programmer and engineer. Our workforce has been increasing, and we even hired a full-time Human Resources person to help fill the open positions as we continue to grow. What a difference a year can make.

During a recent conversation with Mike, the head of our lathe department, I asked, “Can you think back a year ago? Where were we, and what changes or improvements have we made since then?” He paused for a moment and reflected that we made two personnel changes within the lathe department during the past year. We also replaced one operator with another, which resulted in improved quality and reduced scrap. More recently, we added a young man who is “green,” but eager to learn.

Mike is feeling the effects of these changes. He has significantly more time for projects, such as adding a robot to a grinding operation and squeezing more productivity out of automated cells. Mike also reminded me that our workload has increased substantially. The lathes are busier, and they run for many more hours after we lock the doors and go home. This shows in our sales figures.

And what about that $1 million investment in the five-axis mill? Another year has passed, and we have a great job on the mill.  It’s running 95 hours per week with minimal labor.  In addition, we have a second job lined up that will consume another 40 hours.  We are even beginning to talk about another machine.

Sometimes, it really is hard to see the forest through the trees. We all work hard; we all are busy. When you are in the heat of the battle, it is hard to see the day-to-day progress that you are making. Let’s remember to look at things over a longer period of time. Think back one month, six months, one year or even more. Where were you then, what were your struggles and where are you today? Chances are you are much further ahead. By looking back over a longer period of time, I realized that things were not really that bad. Maybe they were actually pretty good. So, take a minute, reflect and give yourself some credit. When you are finished looking back, turn toward the future. Where could you be next year?


This article originally appeared on MMS Online. 


New Specs: Milling and Turning Machines from Hurco

1. February 2019
new specs Hurco

Techspex has added specs on several machine tools that Hurco introduced in 2018, with more to come, including:

  • The VC500i, a five-axis cantilever VMC, with XYZ travels measuring 20.5" × 17.7" × 15.8" (520 × 450 × 400 mm) and a 10,000-rpm, 15-hp spindle
  • The HM1700Ri, a four-axis horizontal milling machine with XYZ travels measuring 67" × 47" × 35" (1,700 × 1,200 × 900 mm) and an 8,000-rpm, 35.4-hp spindle
  • The HTL8-60i, a toolroom lathe with X and Z travels measuring 11.81" and 63", respectively, and a 24-hp spindle with 100 to 2,600 hp

We have added other machine specs as well. Find more Hurco machine models to browse and compare soon on its company showroom here on Techspex.

And while you’re at it, subscribe to our free email newsletter and follow us on Twitter @techspex to stay current on additions and updates to the Techspex database.


Top 3 Questions about the Top Shops Benchmarking Program

Posted by: Derek Korn 18. January 2019
Top Shops logo

This year marks the ninth edition of Modern Machine Shop’s annual Top Shops benchmarking program. Here are the top three questions I am asked about the program:

1. What is it?

Top Shops starts with a survey. The survey, which is now live at through the end of February, enables shops of all types and sizes to see how they compare against leading U.S. machining businesses in terms of machining technology, shopfloor practices, business strategies and human resources/workforce development.

The survey prompts for equipment, process and financial information, and includes a few open-ended questions. It does not ask for specific financial figures, such as gross sales or net income. Instead, it asks you to supply financial measures as percentages, including net income per gross sales, annual sales growth rate and capital equipment expenditure per gross sales. Our thought is that this will encourage greater participation from shops that are not inclined (or allowed) to provide financial data. Nonetheless, all survey responses will remain confidential.

2. What is a “Top Shop?”

Once we receive the survey responses and scrub the data to remove outlier responses, we establish a Top Shops benchmarking group. That group represents the top 20 percent of shops based on points assigned to select survey questions in each of the four survey categories (i.e. they are the “Top Shops”). That way, you can compare your key performance indicators with the nation’s most successful shops and see what equipment and strategies they are leveraging to their advantage on the shop floor and in the front office.

3. Why should I participate?

You will benefit in various ways. For example, you will receive a free custom report comparing your responses to quantitative questions to all other survey participants. A data plot for each question provides a general performance summary for your company. The report also includes your shop’s overall survey rank among the surveys received and lists key metrics for which your company is particularly strong, is on par with others, or perhaps should be targeted for improvement.

Top Shops includes an Honors Program, too. The Honors Program highlights successful participating companies in each of the survey’s four aforementioned sections, identified by responses to select questions and follow-up interviews by me. Those shops are profiled in Modern Machine Shop and on MMS Online. In addition, we offer a prize package that includes a large Top Shops banner that can be displayed in your shop, T-shirts, hats, toolbox magnets and so on. We also provide winners with a press release template that can be modified and sent to various press outlets to get the word out about winning the award.


This article was adapted from a piece first appearing on MMS Online.


According to the Gardner Business Index, Metalworking Set a Two-Year Expansion Record

Posted by: Michael Guckes 11. January 2019

The Gardner Business Index (GBI): Metalworking registered 53.4 for December. Although December’s above-50 reading was slightly lower than the prior month, it was still a milestone for the Metalworking Index: It marked the first time in recorded history that the index has recorded two years of consecutive expansion. Furthermore, it established 2018 as the fastest expanding calendar year since 2012, with an average monthly reading of 57.7. (The prior record was set in 2017 with a reading of 55.8.) The index was supported by supplier deliveries, production, new orders and employment. Backlogs and exports contracted during the month, pulling the average-based index reading lower.

Among all components, supplier deliveries registered the fastest rate of expansion since April, suggesting that manufacturing supply chains were still reacting to the unprecedented expansion of new orders initiated during the first quarter of 2017. As recently as October, new orders readings registered above 60; however, most components in recent months signaled slowing growth.

Should the first quarter or first half of 2019 experience additional periods of slower growth in new orders and production, manufacturers will have to carefully monitor and adjust their input supply flows.

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