According to Gardner Intelligence, the metalworking industry is riding the crest of an all-time high wave, one which is still peaking. The Gardner arm which relates to the metalworking industry is the Gardener Business Index for Metalworking, and in 2017 it climbed to an all-time high of 56. In the early months of 2018, that figure continued to rise to 61.3, and this figure is a reflection of the more than $8 billion spent on machine tools in the US during 2017.
Foreign countries which purchase their machine tools from the U.S. increased their purchases almost across the board, such that of the top 15 consumers of tools, 12 of them had major increases. It is expected that at least 13 of the top 15 will again increase their machine tool consumption in the 2018 calendar year. While this is indeed a rosy picture for domestic machine tool companies, the boom times are not limited to U.S. firms, but are instead indicative of a worldwide surge in consumption.
As a typical example, China increased its machine tool consumption by nearly $2 billion last year, even though the country increased its domestic production, and consumed more of it. China’s total machine tool consumption for 2017 was nearly $30 billion, and the volume of its imports rose by almost $1.2 billion.
What is the domestic impact?
The fact that China and other countries around the world have dramatically increased their machine tool consumption is actually making it difficult for companies located in the U.S. to fulfill their own machine tool needs. With the soaring demand from China, global machine tool exports increased to that country by nearly $200 million, while exports decreased to the United States by $126 million during the same time frame.
Standby sources such as Japan, could not help make up the difference for the U.S., because of commitments with Chinese contracts, so other countries further down the line were tapped, in order to try and supply U.S. demand. However, the fact remains that machine tools have been much more difficult to acquire domestically than in the past, simply because other giant consumers are also competing for available resources.
What can be done to supply US machine tool needs?
US metalworking companies simply cannot keep up with the demand at present for machine tools, and any new machinery which could be implemented, would take too much time to satisfy the immediate demand. In the meantime, possible solutions have been considered, which include some of the following recommendations.
Some automation equipment such as rotary tables, pallet systems, and robots might be used to increase productivity on machinery already in place. Efficiency of part setups could be increased by using new workholding equipment like pedestal fixtures or indexers. Metal removal rates could be improved by using new cutting tools, or by installing more advanced CAM programming.
Any inefficiencies which currently act as a brake on production capabilities can be identified and remediated through shop control software and machine monitoring systems. Until the booming machine tool market slows down a bit to allow for the installation of new machinery, any and all stopgap measures should be implemented, to try and meet today’s soaring domestic demand.
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