The market for machine tools is booming. Which means the question of accurate measurement is more important than ever.

In a great many ways modern industry relies on machine tools. They’re the backbone of most of the efficiency and productivity gains that the world has experienced since the industrial revolution. So perhaps it should be no surprise that presently the market for machine tools is booming, with companies across vertical industries searching for innovative ways to automate or upgrade their production processes and turning to tool manufacturers for help do that.

The statistics bear this out. According to research firm Statista, world machine tool demand more than doubled between 2010 and 2019, reaching roughly 181 billion U.S. dollars by the end of that period. According to another firm, Grandview Research, the machine tool market is anticipated to continue expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.7% between now and 2030.

What’s fueling the boom?  In part advances in technology, robotics being one obvious example, but also the growth of the manufacturing industry itself. The automotive sector particularly is driving rising demand for machine tools given the expanding market for electronic vehicles which is reliant on the supply of automotive components.

Implications for machine tool manufacturers

In the face of increasing demand for their products, machine tool manufacturers face several challenges. These must be understood if they are to be met successfully and they underline the importance of the tools themselves. Foremost among them are:

  1. Greater demand means production must be increased. That requires scaling up operations, investing in additional capacity, and often optimizing existing processes for efficiency.
  2. Technology innovation will continue at pace as manufacturers are driven to invest in research and development to remain competitive. Outcomes will likely be seen in areas like new product features, improved automation, and enhanced tool capabilities.
  3. Supply chain issues can be a by-product of expansion, particularly in the area of sourcing raw materials (where reducing or eliminating manufacturing waste will be critical). Building a robust and efficient supply chain is going to be vital.
  4. Booming markets yield opportunity which often attracts new market entrants or increases competition among existing ones. The result tends to be pricing pressures leading to an enhanced focus on differentiation, often achieved through innovative product quality and features.

There will be other challenges too, including building an expanded yet still expert workforce and accounting for global economic and geopolitical conditions. Yet despite the importance of machine tools for industrial production, only a handful of countries are specialized in their manufacture, mainly because of the high capital and knowledge intensity of machine tool manufacturing operations. Of these, China, Germany, and Japan are very much to the fore.

As machine tools proliferate, so do measurement systems, a vital cog in the wheel of successful expansion

Thus far, we’ve learned that to keep pace with demand, machine tool manufacturers face a number of challenges. To meet them, measurement and measurement systems will play a highly significant role. The issue of measurement is a critical and integral aspect of the operation of machine tools, playing a central role in quality control for their output, so it’s entirely reasonable to anticipate that as the market itself expands, measurement will become ever more important. This is not least because it helps address many of the concerns identified in the preceding section. Let’s spell out exactly why this is the case:

  • Machine tools are (by definition) designed to produce precise and accurate components. Substandard tools can’t, for the most part, be used at all. It’s the measurement systems deployed to measure tools and workpieces that ensure quality control, so that the manufactured parts meet the specified tolerances and adhere to the required precision levels. If a tool is to perform its role, the centrality of measurement in its manufacturing cannot be overlooked.
  • It is only through measuring and inspecting the components it produces that a manufacturer can identify and rectify any deviations from the desired specifications. Without accurate measurement, a manufacturer can’t ensure that end products meet required quality standards.
  • Most industrial components don’t work in isolation from each other. Rather, they need to fit together seamlessly, allowing for interchangeability. It is through precise measurements taken in the manufacturing process that parts produced by different machines or at different times are consistent in size and shape, facilitating easy assembly and maintenance.
  • Delivering the required output during machining is a complex process involving different cutting tools, fixtures, and accessories. It is only through proper measurement techniques that these can be calibrated to ensure that they are in optimal condition for efficient and accurate machining processes.
  • Measurement data is also the basis for monitoring and analyzing machine tool performance. It’s through identifying trends and variations that tool manufacturers can optimize processes, reduce waste, and enhance overall efficiency in production. By extension, this means that accurate measurement helps in controlling costs by minimizing material waste which, as we saw in the preceding section, is an increasingly important issue. When parts are produced to standard (within specified tolerances), there is less likelihood of producing defective components that may need to be scrapped or reworked, saving both time and resources.

There’s also the question of standards and regulations, adhering to which is essential for ensuring the safety, reliability, and compatibility of the machine tools with other components and systems. Here, again, the role of measurement is central.

The bottom line is simple. As the market for machine tools continues to expand at pace, the importance of measurement increases. Measurement systems are a cornerstone in the production cycles for which they are used – and without accurately capturing metrics from the tools and workpieces, the quality, precision, and reliability of the produced components could not be assured.

Conoptica is the market leader for measurement equipment in the machine tool manufacturing industry and has been providing high tech camera-based measurement solutions since 1993. We make sure that the industry has access to key quantitative data about their products and tools.