IMTS Highlights (Part 1): Embracing Opportunity
Jim King 09.26.2018
This blog post is Part 1 in our series sharing key headlines observed by Okuma's executive leadership at IMTS 2018. Okuma America Corporation President & COO Jim King kicks off the series.
IMTS 2018 will go down in history as one of the most exciting shows the manufacturing industry has ever experienced. Records were shattered across the board, with 129,415 registrations (previous record: 121,764 at IMTS 1998) and 2,123 booths (previous record: 1,808 at IMTS 2016). While it's interesting to capture the enormity of this event by looking at the big-picture numbers, the thing I enjoyed the most is the one-on-one interactions in our booth. Through conversations with customers, and prospective customers, I got a sense of some of the common themes that characterize our industry at this moment in time. Here I'll share just a couple of the headlines I noticed at the show.
Feeling the Excitement
First I have to say, I had a lot of fun just standing in the booth and greeting our guests, asking what I could do to help them. I sensed the over-the-top buzz this year; everyone could feel the excitement. Each day flew by in a flurry of appointments, and each evening people lingered in our booth until security came around telling us the show was closed for the day. I think we were all running on adrenaline and sheer passion for the topics at hand.
Automation Attracts a Crowd
What caused all this excitement? Shops today have more business than they can handle - they're turning away business right now. But people carved out precious time to attend IMTS for two reasons. One, they need to buy some machine tools, or at least to start understanding what's available and how Okuma can help them. Second, they can't find operators to run their machines. We often heard questions like "How do I automate these machines?" and "How can I run these machines longer, without having an operator standing in front of them?" The busiest part of our booth was in what we called Automation Alley (shown in the photo above). Here we showed every form of automation that we can offer in both machine tending and full-on automation. We also showed how easy it is to integrate Okuma machine tools into an automation setup.
Key Message: Get Connected
I had the opportunity to speak on the main stage alongside Mastercam and ISCAR, as part of a series of panel discussions hosted by the folks at Making Chips. One of the questions they asked was, "What is a key message you want to tell our industry?" For me, that's an easy one, so I quickly responded, "get connected." Many companies have invested in automation. What they're finding is, you can take a certain amount of labor out, and that's good. But you're also adding higher wage labor to maintain those machines and the automation. The next step in this evolution is to start getting data off the machines so you can learn what's happening in real time and start applying lean concepts to your processes.
My challenge to our industry is to start small. Start getting some data out of your manufacturing to really understand what’s happening. You'll migrate quickly to connecting more of your machine tools and then collecting data and actually applying analytics to it. Of course, our OSP controls make it easy to connect directly to the network or install MTConnect, which is free software. This will stream basic information such as spindle utilization, uptime, part counts, etc. You can start with little cost, and as you get into analytics, that’s where you can pinpoint areas where you can create efficiencies in your shop.
The Next Step
I talked with a large manufacturer who's already invested heavily in automation. He told me “Jim, I can’t automate any more. I’ve cut as much labor as I’m going to be able to cut out of my overhead, but now, what’s the next step?" The next step is, he needs to connect every machine so that he knows exactly what’s happening on his plant floor. I bounced this concept off several other large users that are in the process of automating or have automated. They’re all having the realization that they need visibility into exactly what's happening on their plant floor at any given moment in time. They want a real-time dashboard of activity - one that you can only get from being connected.
The Time to Act is Now
Machine tool availability was another topic on people's minds. In this busy market, folks want to know when they can take delivery. Add to this the fact that soon we'll reach that point in the calendar year when accountants will be telling shops they haven't used their accelerated depreciation, and they need to take advantage. In light of all the market activity right now I think every builder is saying the time to act is now. If you wait until November, we may not have the exact machine tool you're looking for.
As the Okuma team wrapped up the show, I gathered everyone in our booth, and asked them to close their eyes. I told them to burn this moment in their memory and savor the experience. Manufacturing is at an all-time high - perhaps the highest we'll see in our lifetime. It's our job to help our customers see the possibilities in front of them today and seize their opportunities for growth. We're here to help you chart your course for success, today and into the future.
Jim King is President & COO, Okuma America Corporation.