Derek Korn

Derek Korn joined Modern Machine Shop in 2004, but he has been writing about manufacturing since 1997. His mechanical engineering degree from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Applied Science provides a solid foundation for understanding and explaining how innovative shops leverage advanced machining technologies, equipment and processes to their advantage. Derek also manages the magazine's annual Top Shops benchmarking survey, which enables U.S. machine shops to see how their technology- and business-related key performance indicators stack up against the country's leading machining businesses.

Posted by: Derek Korn 12. June 2019

A Virtual Visit to the TIMTOS Manufacturing Trade Show

This post originally appeared on the blog of MMS Online.

Before leaving for a Taiwanese machine tool trade show a few months ago, I forced my own @MMS_Derek Twitter hand(le).

Knowing many of my Twitter followers might never attend the Taipei International Machine Tool Show (TIMTOS) — or visit Taiwan for that matter — I tweeted prior to my trip that I would capture some of my experiences (silly or otherwise) from the time I left my house to when I returned home one week later. My goal was to offer a taste of what it is like to travel halfway around the world seeking insight into the latest machining and manufacturing technology. You can find all those tweets (and video) here. You’ll also find fun facts about traveling in Taiwan.

This exercise in social media helped shape this article. Here, I present five interesting booth demonstrations, including links to video, that I thought would draw your attention had you been walking TIMTOS with me, although there was plenty more to see. The addition of a fourth show hall enabled this year’s event to accommodate more than 7,000 booths, making biennial TIMTOS the world’s third-largest manufacturing trade show. So, at best, the following five demonstrations (video of each included in the link above) offer just a taste of what I saw there.

Facial recognition for CNCs

Artificial intelligence (AI) and data-driven manufacturing are common themes of manufacturing trade shows. TIMTOS 2019 was no different. For example, Hartford demonstrated facial-recognition technology that ensures only authorized operators can take control of a machine’s CNC. A manager would have the new operator stand in front of the CNC, select “operator” from an onscreen menu, and then click to take a photo for the facial-recognition app to process. From that point on, the operator can access the CNC by looking into the camera and pressing the “access” button. This is one example of more than 40 other apps the company offers for this control.

Unattended five-axis machining

Quaser manufactures automation-friendly five-axis machines as well as vertical machining centers, horizontal machining centers (all with hand-scraped ways) and flexible manufacturing systems (FMS). The company opened its U.S. location in Rock Hill, South Carolina, in late 2016 after using an importer for a number of years. One of its booth demonstrations showed technology to maximize the potential of unattended five-axis machining on the company’s UX500APC machine. For example, the machine’s tilting rotary table is not a trunnion design supporting the table on two sides, so it offers more open access for an integrated pallet changing system to swap pallets in 12 seconds. A laser probe on the side of the table helped track wear through automated measurement of the barrel cutters demonstrating how the part would be cut. These tools have a larger radius than ballnose end mills, which reduces the cycle time by reducing the number of step-down passes required down a part feature. Automatic tool measurement and breakage detection is performed using a laser probe mounted on the side of the tilting rotary table.

AIVs for part handling

Campro offered its spin on smart flexible manufacturing systems with a robotic cell incorporating the company’s U255C five-axis (4 + 1) machine and NT208 turning center. An Omron self-navigating autonomous intelligent vehicle (AIV) was topped with conveyor rollers to accept pallets of parts and part blanks. The AIV delivered fresh workpiece blanks to the five-axis machine, moved work in process from that machine to the turning center, and delivered completed parts to a storage rack. AIVs such as the Omron unit feature software and controls that enable intelligently navigating around people and unplanned obstacles. In fact, these types of robotic-loading/AIV demonstrations are becoming more commonplace at manufacturing trade shows such as TIMTOS.

On-machine probing

A demonstration on Palmary ’s VIG-50 vertical cylindrical grinding machine demonstrated the value of in-process probing, in this case to check the inner diameter (ID) of a customer’s landing gear component after grinding. The machine also had a ground master artifact with known ID and made from the same material as the part. This artifact was mounted near the wheel dresser, where it would react in the same way as the part to any temperature or other environmental changes. The demonstration showed how periodically probing the artifact and comparing that measurement to the known ID value enables adjusting the grinding process to account for fluctuating environmental conditions. 

Automated tube bending and measurement

Soco is well known in the United States for its CNC tube sawing, bending and laser machining equipment. In fact, the United States was the company’s first export target. At TIMTOS, the company showed an automated cell to cut, bend and measure tubular frames for automotive headrests. The cell featured an all-electric, eight-axis SB-22x8A CNC tube bender that can perform both left- and right-side bends to produce U-shaped parts. Its Direct Gear Transmission (DGT) system, which features a gearbox with direct connection to the servomotor, offers angular tube bending accuracy ranging from ±0.05 to ±0.1 degree. The critical dimensions for the headrest frames in this demonstration are the diameters of the tube ends where they insert into the seat and distance between the two vertical tube sections at the top inverted “U”. After bending, the cell’s Yazkawa robot delivers each frame to a gaging station for automated measurement.


Posted by: Derek Korn 18. January 2019

Top 3 Questions about the Top Shops Benchmarking Program

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.

Posted by: Derek Korn 8. January 2018

Top Shops Survey Now Live, Participate for Custom Report

This blog post originally appeared on MMS Online.

an example of a custom Top Shops Report

We’re on to the eighth edition of our annual Top Shops benchmarking survey. In fact, the online survey is now live and will remain open through the end of February. In short, the survey enables shops of all types and sizes to see how they compare against leading U.S. machining operations in terms of tactics and metrics in categories including machining technology, shopfloor practices, business strategies and human resources/workforce development. 

Last year was the first time we offered custom reports that rank a participant’s responses to the survey’s quantitative questions against other applicable participants. We’re doing that again this year. Learn more about the reports, and visit our Top Shops Zone to access information from past surveys.

Posted by: Derek Korn 7. September 2017

The Top Shops 2017 Benchmarking Survey Results Are Now Available

2017 Top Shops Executive Summary

This blog post is adapted from a post that originally appeared at MMS Online. 

It’s hard to believe we’re on our seventh edition of our Top Shops benchmarking survey. The results of that survey are available in the 2017 Executive Summary, which compares the top-tier benchmarking group’s data to the other shops that participated. Here are two interesting tidbits I gleaned about types of equipment used by a majority of the shops in this year’s benchmarking group:

  • 32 percent use Swiss-type lathes, which is up from 19 percent last survey. Although screw-machine shops were the first to adopt multifunction CNC Swiss-type lathes, an increasing number of “traditional” shops are considering this machining platform to, in some cases, produce complex parts complete, reducing setups, secondary operations and work-in-process.
  • 37 percent have additive manufacturing/3D-printing capability, which is up from 19 percent during the last survey. Virtually all of those shops use this capability for prototyping, but 74 percent of them also use it to 3D-print tooling and fixturing for their own use on the shop floor.

The Executive Summary includes much more about the types of machining and business strategies being applied by leading U.S. machining businesses as well as key performance metrics they’re attaining. Give it a read. It could be that information could help direct your own continuous improvement efforts.

Posted by: Derek Korn 7. July 2017

What Is Low-Frequency-Vibration (LFV) Turning?

This article originally appeared as a blog post for Modern Machine Shop titled “Video: What’s Low-Frequency-Vibration Turning?”

In most cases, turning operations involve continuous cuts in which the tool remains engaged with the material from the time it starts the cut to the time the cut is completed. Marubeni Citizen-Cincom has developed what it calls low-frequency-vibration (LFV) technology, which is available on its L20 sliding-headstock Swiss-type lathes. This technology purposely oscillates the cutter in the Z axis in time to the rotation of the barstock. At times, it actually brings the cutter completely out of the cut.

The company says the advantage of this programmed oscillation is that the intentional air cuts break the chips into small pieces so they can be readily expelled, minimizing the problems of spiraling chip entanglement around the workpiece known as “bird nesting.”

This strategy is said to be particularly effective in controlling chips/preventing bird nesting when turning materials such as copper, plastic, Inconel and stainless steel—a challenging task for conventional turning operations. Additional benefits are said to include increased cutting tool life, minimized build-up on cutter edges, and reduced heat generation and power consumption. In addition, the same type of cutting tools a shop would use for conventional turning can also be used for LFV turning, the company says.


The video above demonstrates the concept, showing the changing amount of cutter engagement with the material as it oscillates. To make a 90-degree square shoulder, the oscillation stops and the tool is fed in a conventional manner.

The LFV concept also can be applied to drilling and grooving operations. In the case of the latter, the grooving tool oscillates/plunges in and out normal to the barstock circumference in the X axis.

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