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June 2014: Building FAB Machines in the U.S.


How a Multi-National Has Built an American Identity

When you have four decades of experience in a field, you get to see history unfold before your eyes. Your editor has seen it in the U.S. machine tool industry. Foreign-owned machine tool companies were just moving in during the ‘70s. Our initial reaction was curiosity; then alarm; and then resignation as U.S. builders either were bought out or folded. What was to become of us?

But we were focused on the wrong questions. If we had looked with open eyes, we would have seen enormous potential benefits, from the new competition, new ideas, and, especially in machine tools, new ways of doing business that benefitted consumers of industrial equipment. The U.S. machine tool industry in 1975 had become as stodgy and unresponsive as a horse-drawn buggy. They needed a kick in the pants, and they got one.

Deciphering Data with Dashboards

It’s been said that data is not information; information is not knowledge; and knowledge is not action. But, today, taking action that doesn’t start with data, or with data that isn’t transformed into knowledge, is a short route to losing money.

And so data is all-important to a successful business today. However, this revelation is still relatively new – it was shortly after the turn of the new millennium that the business world began to realize that it needed data, and a lot of it. So businesses began to collect it. Data was squeezed out of all kinds of nooks and crannies, and before they knew it, they had mountains of it.

CO2 Versus Fiber Laser: Cost to Cut a Part

CO2 laser, flat-material cutting machines have been around for more than 20 years while fiber laser cutters first gained acceptance in 2008. What a difference six years make! Important changes that took 15 years with CO2 lasers, took fiber lasers less than three years. That is, to go from a kW to 4kW with reliable performance.

When fiber lasers were first introduced, at IMTS in 2008, there were only a couple of companies demonstrating them at the show; and they were first introduced at the 2kW level. Contrast that with virtually every major fabrication machine manufacturer, who were showing and demonstrating a startling variety of CO2 laser cutters.

The High-Definition Revolution in Plasma Cutting

High-definition plasma cutting has been available for almost 20 years. Its original development relied on new technology that could improve conventional plasma cut quality in terms of edge squareness (especially on thinner materials) and cut-part accuracy, while maintaining respectable consumable life and operating cost. The earliest systems were limited to 30 amps of output power and ¼-in. cut thickness. These systems could produce cut quality on thinner materials that was far better than previously seen with plasma.

The OEM builders of CNC cutting machines that utilized plasma actually had to go back to their engineering teams for further development, as the plasma cutter’s accuracy had finally exceeded the motion control capabilities of existing machine designs. Better mechanical components (linear bearings), drive motors (AC brushless servos), software and height control systems had to be developed in order to maximize the capability of these new technology plasma systems in the mid 1990s.

Punching in the Age of Lasers

Looking at the past decade or so, it could be argued that lasers have become one of the key technologies, if not the major one, in the sheet-metal fabricating industry. They are simultaneously a versatile tool and a precise, even surgical, instrument for job shops. With their seemingly ever increasing power, speed and cutting capability, they help fabricators to become more and more productive – and competitive.

It’s hard to imagine working without them now, but job shops didn’t always have the utility of lasers at their fingertips. Before laser cutting machines entered the landscape, punching was relied upon much more heavily.

Sawing Through the Competition

When you’re one of the nation’s largest suppliers of galvanized steel tube and pipe, moving an annual volume of 50,000 tons, what name in sawing do you trust to help you get the job done? For Tubular USA, founded in 1993 and located in Weldon Springs, MO, that name is Scotchman.

Tubular USA serves the Midwest and Mountain States, handling and fabricating tubing sizes from 1/2-in. to 5-in. Schedule 40, and has over 150 years of collective tubing experience, says plant manager John Tracy.

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