Nick Bloom

Nick is the founder of Techspex, billed as “THE machine tool database” and found at Since graduating from SMU in Dallas in 1973, he has worked in sales and management at various levels of the machine tool industry, including working for two builders, a national importer and a local distributor. Techspex is an online database of machine tools that helps visitors quickly find the machine tool model(s) they need. People often ask Nick how the idea of Techspex came about. “Figuring out which builders make machines that can best handle a job was time-consuming and hit-or-miss,” he says. Seeing the potential early on for the Internet to help solve this problem, he launched Techspex in 1996.

Posted by: Nick Bloom 3. August 2015

New Technology. But How Does That Make It Better?

New technologies are routinely applied to machine tool design and construction. As a former machine tool sales engineer, I tried to call attention to the new technology whenever it was introduced to one of the machines I was selling. But because the technology was new, more often than not, very few people would actually understand how the difference between the old and new might change the way they machined parts.  It isn’t good enough to quote the specs and machine features. It’s critical to state the feature and the benefit to the user.

No one machine tool builder has a monopoly on new technology. But maybe better than any other builder, Makino does a great job explaining what their technology can do for you.  And they don’t wait for a face to face meeting between their sales people and the customer. They do it in their marketing, their white papers, their technical descriptions, and on their website.

Case in point is what Makino says publically about their new a40 horizontal machining center.  Notice the targeted focus on what the technology they’ve applied to the a40 means to companies that machine die cast and other near net shape parts. I’ll paraphrase slightly…

Makino’s  a40 is the first and only horizontal machining center purpose-built for non-ferrous die-cast parts machining. Until now, machine tool selection for the die cast market has been limited to general-purpose horizontals that possess unnecessary capabilities and result in extended cycle times in the machining of near net shape die cast parts. The a40 addresses the unique needs of the die cast market by enhancing machine attributes most critical to improving productivity and per-piece costs in the machining of near net shape die-cast aluminum parts.

“Die cast manufacturers are under intense pricing pressure with mandatory cost reductions from OEMs and increasing global competition. The keys to overcoming these challenges lies in the reduction of machining cycle time and elimination of unplanned down time,” said David Ward, horizontal product line manager for Makino. “To address the cycle time issue, Makino has re-evaluated each of the major castings using an Intelligent R.O.I [Reduction of Inertia] design philosophy. The new design provides superior linear and radial agility and acceleration.”

With the introduction of the a40, die cast manufacturers now have a machine that is designed specifically with their production goals in mind. The machine’s ability to reduce part machining cycle time not only cuts down on per-piece cost, but also has far-reaching savings affecting capital investment, labor, floor space, utility consumption and durable tooling.

Makino’s Intelligent R.O.I. (Reduction of Inertia) design is a collection of innovative technologies designed to slash un-productive non-cut times from part processes. Through this unique design strategy the a40 is able to provide:

- Responsive CAT40 spindle acceleration to 12,000 rpm in 0.5 seconds.

- Quick completion of common tapping operations with 6,000-rpm rigid tapping synchronization speed.

- An  average of 29% faster time to full rapid traverse rate, minimizing common feature to feature positioning time.

- Optimal acceleration performance of multiple machine systems with evaluation of fixture and tool weights through Inertia Active Control (IAC) technology.

Unplanned down time is devastating to high-volume die cast production machining. As such, the reliability of the machining system is paramount. The a40 utilizes several of the robust, proven systems from Makino’s 1-Series horizontal machining centers. Systems like single-piece X- and Z-axis covers, center trough chip and coolant management and dual supported ATC mechanisms provide exceptional reliability throughout the life of the machine. The a40 leverages these proven technologies, but then advances reliability with a host of new systems:

- Standard Vision type broken tool detection supports unattended operation by quickly validating the condition of the cutting tools after each tool change.

- Dedicated tool taper cleaning nozzles wash the tool taper with 20μ filtered coolant with each tool change, ensuring contamination free tool clamping.

- Three stage coolant filtration with 20μ hydro-cyclone, eliminates coolant tank sludge common with aluminum machining, extending time between coolant system PM or cleaning.

Posted by: Nick Bloom 22. July 2015

Have Parts. Need Machine.

Many times since we first launched Techspex in 1996, users have suggested we expand querying function to enable machine search based on part configuration. In other words, instead of defining machine specs for the application, users might be able to define the part itself, then be shown machines that can do the job.  We never attempted this approach because part processing is usually much more complicated than that. For instance, there may be one machine, such as a mill/turn center that can process a part complete. But based on volume, cycle time, tolerances, workholding, and other considerations, the job may be more optimally run on a lathe, a mill, and a grinder.

I suppose a decision tree might be included that also allowed the user to answer questions about volume, tolerance, budget, part value, number of shifts, etc. But frankly, I think there’s a practical limit when it comes to search engines. For instance, as good as Google is, one cannot enter keywords and get back a comprehensive list of 20-30 HP, single spindle, horizontal turning/milling centers, with 10”-15” chuck and at least 25” of turning length capacity. But this list of about 120 models made by 44 builders is easily discovered at Techspex. The point is that web apps should keep it simple or else they lose most of the audience that could otherwise benefit.

That being said, Okuma has introduced an interactive online “Parts Viewer” designed to aid users in the selection of Okuma machine models.  Visitors to Okuma’s website can choose a part common to the Oil, Aerospace, or Automotive industries from exploded assembly views. Part size, volume, materials, and other variables can’t be specified.  This app depends on Okuma’s own knowledge base in client part processing, which enables real world examples to be referenced. While a prospect’s own exact part can’t be used to identify the most appropriate machine to do the job, Okuma shares their approach to processing similar parts by outlining the operations performed on the machine(s). Sample parts can be viewed from any angle by clicking and dragging the part. Some parts are processed on multiple machines.

No, Okuma’s “Parts Viewer” does not enable users to define their parts in order to find Okuma’s ideal machine for the application. But it does show visitors generally how Okuma has processed similar parts on their machines. And this is a great way to help process engineers consider their options. Simple and useful. 

Posted by: Nick Bloom 10. July 2015

Machine Selector Helps Organize Website For Speedy Inquiry

What can I say?  Okuma’s “Machine Selector” is a good way to help machine tool buyers quickly zero-in on the best Okuma machine model for their application when visiting the Okuma website. It’s similar to Techspex as it allows self-guided discovery, but for Okuma’s machines, only.  It’s different, too. On Techspex, you can construct sophisticated queries on Okuma-specific machines, as well, that may help you identify features or specifications that are important that you couldn’t find using the Okuma Machine Selector and vice versa.

For instance, using the Okuma selector you can search for turning centers that use an ATC, or specifically query turning models that include a Y-axis. On Techspex, turning search range fields (chuck diameter, bar capacity, HP, top RPM, and turning length) enable min/max values to be entered that serve to include some models while simultaneously excluding other models. And Techspex enables differentiation by horizontal and vertical lathes, as well as newly introduced models, and identification by bar type, chucker type (no bar capacity), universal type (bar, chucker and shaft work), or swiss style.

Using the machining center search module at Okuma, you can quickly find the range of products they offer. At Techspex, you can find models in many discrete ways. For instance if you’re looking for Okuma machining centers with at least 2000 ipm rapid traverse rates, you won’t find any verticals, but the MA and MB series of horizontals offer several. Or if you need to find verticals that can handle at least 4,000 pound workloads but don’t want to be bothered considering models that handle more than 8,000 pounds, you can construct that query to find six models. Want to find the most recently introduced Okuma turning centers?  Yes, you can do that on Techspex, too.

I’m glad to see Okuma introduce this fine tool at their website. Most machine tool builder websites list models by categories that are way too general that don’t really help visitors quickly find what they need. The Okuma Machine Selector solves that problem so visitors can get on to the work of evaluating their options, generating RFQs, watching videos, finding their local Okuma distributor, requesting alerts and requesting whitepapers and newsletters.

What can I say?  Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, so hat’s off to Okuma for following Techspex’s lead. 

Posted by: Nick Bloom 18. June 2015

Who's On First?

Did you know there are over 900 machine tool distributors representing over 500 brands in the United States?  California and Texas lead all states with the most machine tool distributors at more than 60. There are 188 distributors located in the lower 48 that sell EDMs and over 600 that sell turning machinesMazak has 18 distributors nationwide, with 28 locations. Between Haas Factory Outlet and DMG Mori distribution locations there are 49 distributors which are named after their primary brands. The U.S. city with the most distributors is Houston with 21. And Cincinnati, Anaheim, Charlotte, and Tulsa each boast between eight and ten. Mississauga and Edmonton is home to 13 and 10 distributors, respectively.

How would you use this information? Say, for example, that you need to find all distributors that sell grinding machines in your area? Techspex Distributor Search can do it in less than a minute.

From any page in (including this one), place your cursor over “Machine Distributors” in the navigation bar. A menu will appear. Click “Grinding” to go to the Grinder distributor home page. If you wish to find distributors of a specific brand, select the brand name from the Manufacturer list, then click the “search distributors” button to find all distributors or select a region to narrow the search before clicking the button. If you just want to find all grinding machine distributors in your region, don’t select a manufacturer name, but do select your region. If, for instance, you live in the Chicagoland area, select “In the region of IL” and click the “search distributors” button.

The default display of the list includes all distributors that represent grinder builders in Illinois and all states that are adjacent to Illinois. The list is displayed alphabetical by distributor name. But by clicking on the “City” or “State” headers, you can resort the list by city name or state. This same type of research can be performed when you are looking for distributors of five other types of machines.


See the YouTube video demo on Distributor Search. See all Techspex Expert video demos on YouTube.

Posted by: Nick Bloom 13. June 2015

What It Means When A Conventional Machine Builder's Lineup Begins Looking Less Conventional

Maybe more than any other high-volume builder of turning and machining centers, Doosan Infracore has continually kept one foot firmly planted in the “commodity” machine tool market while the other traverses the ever-changing landscape of machines based around multi-function, hybrid, and emerging technologies. Yes, Doosan’s lineup includes a fair number of traditional style three and four axis vertical and horizontal machining centers, and two-axis lathes. But the preponderance of new machines being introduced by Doosan feature advanced functions, higher speeds, combined process, and multi-axis capabilities.

Sure, there are always going to be a few companies who carve out a “specialty” or “advanced technology” niche.  These companies don’t necessarily foretell an industry-wide shift or direction. But when a conservative, more traditional company like Doosan introduces advanced technology equipment at the rate they have been, something is up.

What does this tell us about the future of machining in the United States? The future is now and the most successful metalworking shops know that they must do more to add value, reduce cost, improve quality, and deliver parts that are difficult to produce in an efficient manner. So, when a company that has always exceled in the production of basic but solid machinery, shifts its emphasis to the production of more sophisticated machines, it’s showing us the direction of the new normal in metalworking.

With the introduction of their latest machines, Doosan continues its strategy of addressing market trends and needs by “filling in” the small, medium and large envelope of more complex machine tools already in their lineup.

The PUMA SMX series of multi-tasking turning centers feature 5-axis turning/milling centers with X, Y, Z, B, and C axes. The B axis enables unlimited secondary milling function on and off centerline of the part. The 7-axis “S” version includes a programmable sub spindle (A1 and C2). The A1 axis allows the sub spindle to move along centerline to pick up the first operation completed part directly from main to sub spindle. And the C2 axis provides unlimited rotational positioning and feed of the spindle like a rotary table. Doosan introduced the SMX 2600 and SMX 2600S models with 35 HP, A2-8” spindle, and 10” chuck first and have now filled in with the SMX 3100 and SMX 3100S models with 40 HP, A2-11” spindle, and 12” chuck. With practically infinite capability to handle any part geometry, machining capability is limited on by the imagination.

The PUMA 5100 series offers the 5100 version, a large envelope, heavy duty 50 or 60 horse power 2-axis turning center (the one foot firmly planted in the traditional side of the machining marketplace). Taking the series one small step further, the 5100M is a basic turning/milling center with simple on-center secondary milling capability. The 5100Y offers turning and on and off center secondary milling function, with considerably less flexibility than the SMX series. The main difference between a B and Y axis is that a B axis is programmable infinitely both above and below centerline but also in the rotational axis in 0.001 degree increments as well as at a feed rate in the rotary axis.

The PUMA GT series is expanded to include the GT2100 and GT2600 2-axis and 2100M and 2600M 3-axis versions. These box way equipped models reflect the traditional solid, though basic function design of traditional Doosan lineup. 

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