The Technology vs. Knowledge Debate
Paul Kingsley 02.11.2015
I’ve been in manufacturing for going on 30 years now and I’ve seen a lot of changes. Mainly in technology, but also in the people involved. For years, the people involved in the manufacture of a given product were highly talented individuals who usually went through some training in school, and then did a lot of training in an “apprentice-type” role. Or sometimes they worked their way up to a given position by starting at the bottom of the line, so to speak. These days, however, this is changing. We’re seeing more and more reliance on technology to make things easier. Now, easier is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s great. As long as we don’t forget that we still have a job to do, and knowledge is something that really can’t be substituted.
A Time-Saving Backup
New advancements in technology – from the machines we run, to the tooling we run in them, and the software we use to program them – have, indeed, given the individual the ability to be more productive. That being said, it’s very easy to give back much of those gains by not educating ourselves on the parts of the process that the technology is now taking care of for us. For instance, having a probing system on a machining center most definitely makes setups easier and faster. But does that mean the operator or setup guy no longer needs to know what a work offset is, or how to set one manually? What happens when there’s a mistake and your probe gets crashed? A talented operator or setup guy will say, “No problem, I can set that offset manually until we get the probe fixed.” Therefore, loss of time is minimal. However, these days, in that scenario, people believe that because of the technology, there’s no need to learn how to set an offset. The machine does that for them. It’s then that the gains from technology can be wiped out.
Cutting a New Path: Where Technology Ends and Knowledge Begins
In the past, programmers were extremely talented because they had to be. When there were no CAM Systems, a guy had to literally drive a tool by hand. He would work out the angles and depths of cut. He had to know speeds, feeds and a whole plethora of other variables to create a program. He had to know the code a machine was capable of using and how to utilize that code to get the best results. These days, that has changed. We have CAM Systems that make our jobs much easier, but does that mean we don’t need to know anything about the code a machine needs to run? Or what’s an appropriate depth of cut or step over for that tool, or this application? Every decision or task handled for us by the technology we’re using can be a source for a problem if we don’t maintain an understanding of what’s being handled for us and how.
Technology vs. Knowledge? The Answer is BOTH
Manufacturing has always been, and will continue to be, a process of dealing with variables. Technology will continue to evolve and, hopefully, make our jobs easier and more productive. But let’s not forget that it’s not a replacement for knowledge. The more you know about the different aspects of your job – whether you are an operator/setup guy, programmer or engineer – the better off you will be. Some of us may remember high school math classes, where calculators were prohibited in order to make sure we knew how to do calculations manually. Of course, calculators are easier and faster, but we had to learn the knowledge behind them before becoming dependent on them. Today, we should use the technology available to us every chance we get! But also take the time to learn just what it’s doing for you and you’ll be that much better off. Just something to think about.
Paul Kingsley is Applications Engineer, Okuma America Corporation.
P.S. I originally wrote this article when I was with Barefoot CNC, under the title “Cutting a New Path – Where Technology Ends & Knowledge Begins.” Now that I work at Okuma, I find that our technology makes it easier than ever to achieve productivity gains. At the same time, we (along with our distributors) are also here to help you understand how the latest technology works and what it’s doing for you.