Why Manufacturing Is So Cool

By Kip Hanson

Part of Machining For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Whether it was Tinkertoys or mud pies, papier-mâché or a fort in the woods, all of us made things as kids. Somewhere along the way, most of us turned to less tangible pastimes and vocations, but think back wistfully now and then to the rocket you built with your brother, the triple-decker card house you and sis made over summer vacation.

Machinists, however, are lucky—they get to keep making things, all day every day, until the last day when they hang up their shop coats and spend what’s left of their time boring their grandkids with stories about lathes and mills and drill presses. Hopefully, these grandchildren listen, because there’s some really neat manufacturing technology coming down the pike, and all of us will depend on smart, qualified people to leverage it.

  • Additive manufacturing (you probably know it as 3D printing) has been around for three decades, but it’s going through some dramatic changes right now. Chances are good that we will soon have the ability to print whatever we want, whenever we want, and in many cases cost-effectively and accurately enough to compete with traditional manufacturing methods.
  • If you’re wondering why you should open a shop or pursue a career in manufacturing when we’ll soon be able to just print everything, don’t worry about it. Even while additive manufacturing grows more capable, so too does subtractive manufacturing (that is, machining). Machine tools get smarter, faster, and more accurate every year. They’re not going anywhere, at least not in our lifetime.
  • As machine tools become more capable, the technologies that support and enhance them grow increasingly relevant. Robots are getting smarter and less expensive, freeing humans to do more important tasks than put chunks of metal into a machine all day. Cloud-based software tools help us humans manage the awesome complexity of our manufacturing processes and avoid expensive mistakes. And the Internet of Things—the same technology that gave us smart thermostats and (soon) self-driving cars—is playing a big role on the factory floor, spotting trends to help us improve our manufacturing processes and allowing us to go home at night while our smart systems keep an eye on things.