Machining and the NBA

By Lloyd Graff

Typical of the demographics at metalworking tradeshows

I was watching the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers thug it out on Monday Night Football thinking this is all so Howard Cosell and Dandy Don Meredith. The National Football League is still raking in the bucks but it’s fan base is old and getting older. Kids don’t want NFL jerseys in Chicago, they want hockey and basketball. They want Rose and Toews on their backs.

If the NFL is yesterday, Major League Baseball is yesterday-er.

I love baseball and I always will, but kids aren’t playing it much anymore in America. Maybe a little in California and Texas but it is mostly Latin America and Japan where they still toss the horsehide. Few black kids in America know Jackie Robinson from Robinson Cano.

The world changes and I’d like to apply the sports analogy to manufacturing today.

In my world of machining the fresh capital is flowing into robots that take people off the machining floor. Companies are also buying peripheral equipment like washers and parts cleaners which simplify their lives and make the workplace cleaner.

Certainly people are also investing in Citizens and Eurotechs and Okumas but robots are going down dramatically in price and deliver enormous value. Replace a person and forget about health insurance and the absentee chart.

My screw machine and rotary transfer world is more viable these days, with automotive and ammo quite bouncy and America the place to be for turning metal. But the machines require massive investments and long term faith in a chronically cyclical industry.

The most interesting manufacturing technology I see is 3D printing. It’s getting better and better and revenues are doubling year over year. I think it it is still in its infancy. It will not replace machining for decades, but it will be a significant player. The stock market has been propelling 3D printing pioneer, Strataysys into the stratosphere.

My question to you folks on the front lines is simple. Is machining the NFL of manufacturing — hauling in the bucks today, but sloping downward? Can you make money with human machine tenders or will they vanish like African American ball players?

Question: Is machining the bastion of old white guys in an NBA or NHL kind of world?

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10 thoughts on “Machining and the NBA

  1. Emily Halgrimson Post author

    It can be intimidating being a woman at the industry trade shows. Now that I have three IMTS shows and three PMTS shows under my belt I feel a bit more at ease. Emphasis on the “a bit.”

  2. Josh

    Manufacturing is a field that is bound to change with technology. I think 3D printers will certainly take their share of the market but until we’ve got devices assembling atoms like something out of The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson or replicators from Star Trek I think machining will still have it’s place. As for people in manufacturing, well, I’m of a mind that in the next 50 to 100 years our entire society will begin a radical shift towards something completely different than it is today. With increased mechanization in all fields from manufacturing to McDonald’s labor will be required less and less. I don’t believe we can link articles here, but a quick google search for “bull shit jobs article” will pull up a great piece by David Graeber that makes a compelling argument. What will society do when labor isn’t needed? How then do you make an income? How do you stay happy without making something? Our society is going to have to figure out the next step somehow.

    1. Jeff Adamson

      Josh, you hit a fair point. How will we make income if we don’t produce anything? I remember going to the NY world’s Fair as a child and seeing some exhibit showing how we would all have more leisure time in the future because of productivity innovations. What the exhibitors didn’t tell us was that we weren’t going to get paid for that leisure!
      I do see a future where manufacturing plants will choose robots over humans to tend machines but that will open the door for smart young people to program and service the robots. Us old farts will be retired from machine tending but hopefully the manufacturing knowledge we’ve accumulated will have some value somewhere in the marketplace.

  3. jared

    How would robots fit into a job shop, where the quanity
    Are small and setups are frequent. It seems to me that
    Robots wouldnt fit into situations like that. But i must be
    Honest i dont know much bout robots in the work shop at all?

    1. Josh

      I think you may be underestimating how powerful/capable robots could be in 50 to 100 years at our current rate of development.

      1. Jim Miller

        I think you underestimate the progress being made with robot and 3D printing development.
        I believe a MAJOR impact will take place within 15 years at the most.

  4. dave

    3D printing will replace machining in a hurry once the strength of materials is solved. Automation in factories has already significantly impacted jobs and the internet / computer has “automated the office” impacting jobs there. I am a 57 yer old toolmaker. I will be able to retire from the trade, but the guys starting out today will have to retrain several time over their careers.

  5. Sun

    Excellent points made. moreover, with automation, people can get paid more for doing less, at least physically.

  6. John Bressoud

    Plenty of football and baseball jerseys in New England. Maybe Chicago just needs a winning team.

  7. Jim Goerges

    Interesting thoughts there Lloyd. I wonder if it is going to matter? Either the ol’ farts will sell, pass on the business if they want there kids to hassle with government and a future where consumers have no money. Either you’re in with the crowd receiving government funding or you are paying for it. The rich will get richer, the poor will have more. Wanna bet?


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