The machine tool market has never been more diverse than it is today. With such a large offering of machine tool types and brands, the process of selecting a machine brand and type can be a daunting one.
For many shops the choice is to simply use the same machine that they have always used, which could be a smart move, or it could be perpetuating a poor decision made years ago. Making an informed decision is the key to this process. If we arm ourselves with information, we are putting ourselves in position to make the right choice for our business. Every business is unique, and the importance of the criteria of a machine tool is also unique to each business. Notice, I said the importance of the criteria, not the criteria itself. That’s because the criteria are usually the same, or similar. Things like price, accuracy, dependability are on everyone’s list. Common criteria in selecting machine tools:
Service: Having local & reliable service in your area is essential to reducing unplanned downtime events caused by machine breakdowns. Obviously, we don’t expect a new machine to have problems, but it’s quite common. Aside from that, machine breakdowns are often the result of user error, causing crashes, which are especially problematic in complex machines like Swiss machines. I always recommend talking with local customers about the product to get their input on their experience with service.
Accuracy: Machines vary in accuracy & repeatability. Some folks work to fractions, others work to microns with glass scales, so accuracy needs tend to be relative to the work that you do.
Longevity: Is there a history of the machines being long lasting?
Control: Is the controller user friendly. Does it have the necessary power for your purposes? Are your employees familiar with the control or is it something entirely new? People familiar with Mazatrol, may not necessarily get on to well with a Fanuc control. People used to a plain jane Fanuc control, may be lost on something modern and powerful like Hurcos Winmax. Which is probably the most powerful controls on the market.
Familiarity: Is the machine and control familiar to your employees?
Programming: Conversational or G-code, which do you prefer? Is programming the machine within your current capabilities or will it require additional resources or training.
Support: Haas is well known for online support whether on its website or YouTube and is a good example of a machine tool builder with excellent support. With some foreign brands, there are a couple that come to mind, you'll find that support is virtually nonexistent, unless you speak Korean or German that is. As for service, I recommend talking with local customers of the product to get their input on support.
Capability: Does the capability fill the need you are trying to fill
Delivery: Especially today, with delivery dates in the 6 months or more for some machines, this could play a large part in the decision-making process.
This is not an exhaustive list, but you get the idea, and you can plug in any criteria that makes sense for you. Which is the first step, deciding which criteria you want as part of the decision-making process. Maybe you like to monitor your machines remotely, or you want the factory to have remote access to aid in diagnostics. In that case Wi-Fi access or LAN connection would be a must. These types are decisions are always best if well thought out, so take your time with it. Nobody wants to spend a couple hundred grand to find out in a few months that there is a machine that can do the job in a fraction of the time; or come to find out that your employees are avoiding the new machine like the plague. If we take the right approach, and weigh up all the options, we can be confident that we have made the best choice for our business.
Decision Making Matrix
For important decisions, like purchasing a machine tool, I recommend using a tool to help you avoid falling prey to marketing gimmicks or slick salesman. In these situations, a simple decision matrix is very valuable. With a tool like a decision matrix, we can capture the criteria that are important to us and assign a weight to the category based on how important the category is to us. The weight is a multiplier, usually 1, 3, 9, or something similar. We can then score each machine tool based on its performance in the particular category. Once you’ve entered all the data, the highest score wins. As with any important decision, it’s important that we remove all emotion and bias while performing the scoring process. I would suggest getting a few of your most trusted folks and SME in on the process with you.
In the example in image 1, the machines are listed on the far-left column, and the total score is listed on the far right column. In this scenario, Machine Brand 2 & 3 scored very close to each other, eliminating Machine Brand 1 from the competition, which is a success. Even though Brand 2 is the winner, we shouldn't feel comfortable stopping there. By taking this process one step further, using the same process of elimination, we can add additional criteria to the matrix, to fine tune our results until there is a clear winner. And even if we can't get to a clear winner, we have proven that the final two machines are very evenly tied, and we win either way.
Now that you’ve made the decision on your next machine purchase, and the machine is delivered, the first step is to perform an Install Qualification (IQ). And that's what we'll talk more about next time.
If you are currently in the decision-making process but feel stuck, that's ok, we’re happy to walk you through the process we’ve outlined and help you make an informed decision. If you’d like a copy of the decision-making matrix, please send us an email. As always, if you need applications engineering support, or training for you staff please contact us @ firstname.lastname@example.org.