As the holidays approach, and work begins to wind down, the excitement of time off to enjoy family and friends, share great meals and exchanging gifts begins to build. It’s a time to reflect on the year, love on others, and give thanks for the abundance of life. As I reflect on my nearly 25 years in the machining trade, I’m struck by how much our essential industry means to the modern world and Christmas, Hanukkah, and any modern holiday. Bear with me as I (geek out and) go deep into why I believe this so deeply.
As you browse through the aisles of any local toy store, or surf Amazon or your favorite online toy retailer, you may recognize that most modern toys are largely made of plastic. Every one of those toys and all their plastic parts were almost certainly made on injection molding machines. Those machines use complex molds to receive molten plastic and form them into the shapes the toy designers envisioned. Those molds are highly complex machined parts, usually machined from solid steel. The molding machines themselves are almost entirely made from machined and fabricated parts. If you can look at the underside, or inside of any plastic part, you’ll often notice circular patterns snaking around the surface - machining marks from the cutters which carved away the metal to produce the mold.
If you are going high-tech this Christmas and gifting the latest iPhone or Android model to a loved one, those phone cases and many internal parts are directly carved out of solid chunks of aluminum or stainless steel. Thousands of CNC machines work 24/7 in factories all over the world making precision machined parts that are accurate to tolerances many times smaller than a human hair to make any modern electronic device sold today.
If you buy something a bit more homemade, a wood craft or handmade jewelry from a local merchant, I can assure you that machining was essential for the creation of those goods as well. The wooden crafts were made with tools, handheld, or machinery, which were built almost entirely of machined parts. The pliers used by the jewelry artist to lovingly bend wire into shape, were cast and finish-machined to make them work precisely. The wire itself was drawn on machines as well, made entirely of, you know what…machined parts.
If you are the type to give experiences rather than physical gifts, good for you! But the experiences your receiver will enjoy are nearly guaranteed to be impossible without machined parts. The hot-air balloon ride could never happen without the huge weaving looms that made the balloon fabric, the machines that wove the ropes which hold the basket, and of course the burner and fuel tank which lift you into the air. What do all these items have in common? They all require machining in order to be made.
For many, the season is celebrated by getting out of the house and enjoying a hike up a local mountain, or hitting the ski slopes. None of you would make it out the door without the benefit of machining. The rubber soles on your hiking boots were molded in a machined mold, and the leather processed on large machines. Same with your ski boots, the hiking or ski poles, and even your coat. None could be made without the benefit of equipment made up almost entirely of precision machined parts.
If gifts or experiences aren’t your style, and a thoughtfully written letter or card is your vehicle for expressing love, I’m excited to tell you it would be impossible without machining! The paper you chose is made on large paper rollers which are large machined cylinders. The pen you craft your loving note with couldn’t have been made without machining and the tiny precision parts needed to make your pen work so perfectly.
Any holiday meal you enjoy will be a marvel of the modern supply chain. Processing foods grown or raised on farms around the world. These farms run on machines, the food is transported on machines, processed on machines, packaged on machines and delivered to your local store and your home via machines. None of this modern equipment could be manufactured without machining. Just one more example of how the holidays would be impossible without the machining industry.
I could go on indefinitely, because every modern product in existence today starts with metal and machining in one way or another. Machining is absolutely a bedrock of our world economy. I encourage you to think about it for a few minutes. Most people don’t stop to think about how products are made these days. They just enjoy the benefits of highly engineered, expertly crafted, and remarkably inexpensive products, all made on incredibly complex machines which are marvels of modern engineering and precision manufacturing. These amazing products are designed by engineers, programmed by CNC programmers, machined by experienced machinists, inspected by skilled inspectors, and they’re all supported by an entire industry of professionals who love coming to work to turn raw materials into the precision products that are essential to our modern world. Most of these professionals work at small and medium sized manufacturing companies that are, more often than not, family run businesses.
So I might make a bold suggestion. Google “CNC machine shops near me” and call up a local machine shop near you - there are nearly guaranteed to be many to choose from. Go visit them, bring your kids to share with them the wonders of modern manufacturing, and help them understand how critically important this industry is to modern life, and their lives. Thank the owners and everyone who works there - and maybe even bring a small gift as a token of gratitude for their efforts running one of the hardest businesses in the world… a gift which would be impossible without other shops just like theirs.