Posted on June 6, 2015 · Posted in Uncategorized
I’m an engineer by training and for years specified new equipment for my employers.  When my colleagues and I went looking for new equipment, what did we go looking for?  The newest, the latest, the most bells and whistles.
As I discussed in my post on Standardization of Equipment, buying the latest and greatest often militates against sound business practices, but what happens if the newest equipment provides a technological advantage? 
The answer is simple: design your own equipment modifications.  Who better than you?  Who knows your product better?  Who knows your equipment better? 
Moreover, if you modify your own equipment, you keep your modifications internal and avoid giving your competition insights into how you’re achieving your unique results. 
To do this, you either need to develop internal machine design & modification talent, or enter into a contract with a firm who can provide those capabilities.  In Toyota-speak, this concept is called “Moonshining.”  It refers to the practice of using inexpensive, and often repurposed equipment, in the manufacture of (alcoholic) products.
High on the list of modification techniques is simplicity.  Changes should be as easy as possible to install, use and maintain.  They must also be standard and interchangeable. 

In the photos (above), I’ve provided an example of a machine shop workhorse: the Bridgeport vertical milling machine.  The design of the base machine (illustrated by the photo on left) has changed little since it was introduced prior to WWII. 
One of the few disadvantages of this machine is that it is all manual.  That means that variation from part to part could be significant. 
As new CNC equipment was introduced, many machine shops moved in the direction of new designs and manufacturers; however, the manufacturer of the Bridgeport, and aftermarket suppliers, developed add-on computer systems that turned the manual mill into a CNC mill (photo on right). 
Applying the CNC upgrade gave users the best of both worlds: tried & true equipment, matched with the latest in technological advancements.
The take away from this example is that there are many advantages to upgrading existing equipment as versus buying new.  To recap, they are:
  • Continued ease of use
  • Same spare parts
  • Same maintenance training
  • Same operator training
  • Ability to seamlessly flex operators from one machine to another
  • Improved capability