Most changes, as important and cost-saving as they may be, result in only incremental improvement.  
 
Continuous improvement strategies, under many popular names, are now widely practiced with good results. Suppliers of machinery and software are constantly offering new innovative products, which for the most part, provide good ROI values but no overall breakthrough. These improvements allow us to keep up, but not get ahead of the pack.
 
In fact, results often fall short of reaching full potential, for lack of one critical component. That missing ingredient will be the core topic of this blog series. 
 

Most changes result in only incremental improvement. 

On rare occasions, technology takes a leap forward. Something new catches on which clearly offers a radical alternative to conventional methods.  Results are large, with impact across the business, reflected by multiple metrics. Adopting such new technology can provide a significant competitive advantage.  However, these advances are often out of reach for the majority, since cutting-edge technology requires deep pockets and plenty of available resources.
 
As a result, breakthrough technologies are typically implemented first by the largest and most innovative companies, in the top tier of their industries. Only after years of proven success and maturing of the technology, will smaller companies be able to implement these methods within their means.
 
In the wood manufacturing industry, examples of such large improvements have included CNC machines and CAD/CAM systems. Utilizing CAD/CAM and CNC, we have cut engineering time and increased throughput in manufacturing. Connecting the two technologies has had an even larger impact.
 
Each leap forward was first implemented by top tier manufacturers, years before smaller companies could afford the investment. Early CNC equipment was expensive to buy and required highly trained operators, often writing g-code or modifying programs directly on the machine controller. Only the biggest companies could invest under those conditions.
 
But over time the machines became simpler and lower cost CAD/CAM systems now automate code generation from the engineering drawings.  With code created dynamically in the office, machines and operators became focused entirely on production, increasing throughput and capacity at the same time!
 
Today, for example, many small shops use a CNC router in cabinet manufacturing. One machine and one operator now cuts full-size sheets into precision parts and does drilling and routing, all activities that previously required multiple machines and skilled workers.  CAD/CAM systems, built for cabinets and millwork, are now commonplace and a necessary tool in most shops. The appeal of those systems is that they integrate the drafting and engineering process with cut listing, shop floor documentation, optimization, and CNC code generation, all into one platform.
 
What could be better?  What is the missing ingredient?
 
The consistent theme throughout this series will be the importance of integration.  In the above example, integration from engineering, to g-code, to CNC, made a huge difference in direct cost and work simplification.  Now step back and consider the many other processes that are still disconnected.  
 
Connecting all processes is the next leap forward. It will be the focus of this blog, so stay tuned.
 

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