While it is widely accepted that technology is changing people’s daily lives, the extent to which it is completely altering the face of many industries is perhaps less well known. The world of machine tools is a prime example of this.
In broad terms, the term “machine tool” is used to refer to machines that shape rigid materials, often metals, although alternatives to metal are becoming increasingly common. Use of the term can vary, but most people use it to describe machines that make items such as component parts, by grinding, cutting and/or shaping metals or other materials to create them. Use of a machine tool is often referred to simply as “machining.”
Machine tools are crucial to virtually all manufacturing industries, and it is as a result of the development of machining processes that we have much of the technology that is now taken for granted. However, this in itself has brought challenges: in order to keep up with the demand for machined items that modern gadgets generate, machining must become ever leaner, faster and more efficient.
Fortunately, advanced technology is also pushing machine tools forward. Having begun as simple, manually-operated tools such as lathes and turning machines, the future for machine tools seems clear: they must become increasingly intelligent machines, ultimately able to reflect their “learning” and “experience” and innately capable of responding to novel challenges and materials. The most pressing new requirements are for the machining of complex shapes; increased accuracy and precision; the ability to machine challenging and new materials; to be multi-functional and to save energy/contribute to environmental protection. Not much to ask, eh?
At the moment, machine tools are some way along this journey. Most are now digitally controlled and use a certain amount of their own (artificial) intelligence via the application of sensors. The use of CAD software is extremely widespread and of increasing importance – such software in itself is undergoing constant change and improvement.
Perhaps most importantly of all, thanks to advanced technology, modern machine tools are becoming ever faster, without sacrificing accuracy. This is crucial for several reasons. Demand for machined items is rocketing, to the point that machining tools simply have to speed up in order for that demand to be met. Further, high speed machining can often lead to a better quality result in terms of both accuracy and function.
For those working with machine tools, or in related industries, these huge changes have fundamentally altered what they must look for when selecting new machinery and suppliers. Whether looking for a deburring machine company or a highly specialized multi-functional cutting tool, purchasers must make sure that they are fully aware of the technology available to them and the likely future demands upon their resources. With production rates increasing exponentially, one bad purchase or contract can seriously damage business, just as one great, well-considered purchase or alliance can hugely enhance it. With modern technological advances affecting machine tools in terms of both their own capability and demand from the markets, nobody working in this sector can afford to be ignorant of the impact of technology in this area.