Many of the evolving technologies related to machining will expand the traditional concept of the machine tool industry. Preprocessing of materials into net or near-net shapes will reduce or even eliminate the need for machining operations. Conversion of particles into parts is one generic approach which, when automated, could be integrated into a machining center. Similarly diecasting or squeeze casting could become an integrated part of the machining center for volume production. The machine tool industry could automate die manufacturing so that dies could be made in real time and could justify net shape production for small quantities and rush jobs.
Much and often most of the time and costs within a “machining” operation are generated by secondary operations such as heat treating, plating, and welding–operations done in different parts of or even at different plants. The concept of extending the machining center to include these secondary operations has been considered for several years and to a limited extent, has occurred. Laser extended machining centers provide one possibility for integrating several of the secondary operations with machines at a single site.
Post processing of machined parts at the site of the machining center can result in parts oriented and appropriately presented or packaged for subsequent operations. When several machined parts subsequently become an assembly or subassembly, the concept of machining could be extended to include the assembly.
When machining is considered in this broader context, the technology futures of the machine tool industry are considerably broadened. Smarter machine tools, improved support structures, and high speed machining are important, but competitors are looking at the same opportunities and the competitive advantage is likely to be limited. “Leap frog” improvement depends on some of the less conventional technologies considered in this paper. Broadening of the machine tool horizons is likely to offer the technology path for revitalization and growth of the machine tool industry.