We have a saying around Xometry HQ, “If you didn’t make it, a machinist did.” While such a sweeping generalization definitely doesn’t tell the whole truth, we think it tells enough of the truth to explain some things. Chief among them: Why we’ve staked our success on streamlining procurement for companies in need of CNC machined parts.
Before the Computer Age, individual machinists made every machined part by hand on a manual lathe or mill. With eyes, hands, and minds as skilled and precise as Olympic archers, our country’s machinists were responsible for bringing into existence the parts that made up almost everything. Their work was rewarding and appropriately well-rewarded. That expertise was — and is — undeniable, and at Xometry, we aim to provide it in everything we do.
The advent of computer numerical controlled machining, of course, changed how machinists went about their work. Parts could be machined at a much faster rate and with greater and more reliable precision. The CNC machine allowed an increase in productivity and efficiency that continues to improve unabated.
Now, new technologies for producing parts crop up on what seems like a daily basis. 3D printing, injection molding, nanofabrication, crowdsourced designs — it’s clear the manufacturing world is undergoing a significant transformation. Still, we’re betting CNC machining is here to stay. It’s just that integral to all the stuff we’ve made and will continue to make.
This, then is our homage to CNC machines and the women and men who keep feeding them aluminum and churning out parts. From the stability of the technology to its ability to grow, shift and change, here are three and a half reasons we totally dig CNC machining.
There are new-fangled tools, technologies, and techniques coming to light a dozen times a day. Though many of these technologies will make their way onto Xometry, we are never going to lay aside our faith in the CNC machine. Why? Because CNC machining is among the most reliable technological advancements made in the last 100 years, and it remains that way in the midst of rapidly changing times. Whether a company manufactures cars, fire extinguishers, drones, gaskets or door stops, you can almost certainly bet a CNC machine is part of its supply chain.
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution works its way into all our manufacturing processes, CNC machining as an industry necessity will hold fast. Legacy machines can be outfitted with sensors and smart tools, and new CNC machines will have these and other technological wonders built in from the start. The increased connectivity and data yield will then increase the value of CNC machined parts even more.
In changing times, it’s a relief to have a stable partner, and CNC machining is that and then some.
A job in advanced manufacturing — like that held down by a highly skilled and competent CNC machinist — supports up to 16 other jobs in our economy indirectly. Yes, direct employment in manufacturing is decreasing and will continue to do so, but the smart and capable men and women working in an increasingly high-tech manufacturing sector are creating work for the rest of us.
So, if you have a job, you should probably thank a CNC machinist — or an integrator or a manufacturing software developer. There’s no other industry in the United States that adds as many jobs throughout our economy as advanced manufacturing does.
It’s in keeping with the history of the CNC machine that adaptability is one of its strong suits. Because CNC machines, their many axes and the software that guides them were all born out of a trade where individual machinists routinely adapted manual machines and manual machining methods to create anything and everything, today’s CNC machines are amazingly accommodating. They have to be. If they were anything less, they would never have been able to surpass manual machining as one of the primary means of getting machined components.
In other words, whatever you need to have made — regardless of its end purpose — can likely be CNC machined. What’s not to love about that?
3.5. The Reality
Finally, there’s the reality of machining. Our economy is in a transition. We’re becoming a tech-centered country. Why hold on to nostalgic notions about the manufacturing of days past when there’s so much money/opportunity/etc. to be made in tech?
Well, to us at Xometry — and to our nationwide network of CNC machine shops — there’s nothing nostalgic or “in the past” about American manufacturing. No matter how many tech startups come and go, no matter how mind-blowing augmented reality gets, no matter how much money we pour into becoming a post-industrialized/post-manufacturing society, to quote Jim Anderton in an excellent article at Engineering.com: “Manufacturing is either done here, or over there, because it’s pretty hard to deliver a Chevy Impala over a Wi-Fi connection.”
We dig machining because what CNC machinist make is real. In a world that finds itself more and more enamored with the virtual, that’s a feeling and a business model we’re doubling down on — not just today but every day of the year.
This blog was originally posted on MakeTime February 14, 2017 and has been updated and re-posted as part of the MakeTime and Xometry Merger.