The incredible shrinking cutting-tool market Essay

The cutting-tool market is shrinking fast. In fact, in constant
terms it has contracted to a 1968 level (see graph). Cutting-tool
technology is improving productivity and expanding applications;
however, these same factors are reducing use of carbide tools from 5
percent to 20 percent, both in dollars and units.

Kevin E Carey, VP, Indumar Inc (an industrial marketing consulting
firm), Cincinnati, OH, remarks, “Factors impacting the potential
market include tool-material innovations, such as coatings, ceramics,
and CBN, and clever tool geometries. Then there are new generation
coolants and synthetic additives, which further enhance tool life.

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“In addition, machine sensors now compensate for tool wear and
mitigate the havoc of potential breakage. Near-net shape workpieces,
free machining work materials, and increasing use of plastic parts
requiring no machining also are factors.

“We did a limited survey of 53 randomly-selected cutting-tool
users and suppliers, and found that, on average, they had little more
than three exposures to new metalcutting technology; only 27 percent had
four or more exposures.” He cautions that this isn’t
statistically conclusive, but is an indication of problems and
opportunities facing carbide-tool suppliers.

Some 94 percent of the polled users had experience with carbide
improvements, about 56 percent with new tool materials, and 44 percent
with smaller or near-net-shape workpieces. Another 44 percent had used
machine sensors, 38 percent were aware of new work materials, and only
31 percent were familiar with new generation coolants. The figure
dropped to 13 percent for those working with parts not requiring

For suppliers, 78 percent had experience with smaller or
near-net-shape workpieces, 67 percent with new work materials, and 44
percent with carbide improvements, new tool materials, and new coolants.
Only 13 percent knew about the intricacies of sensor technology.

“We found that few respondents, whether end user or supplier,
had systematic testing and evaluation programs,” Carey notes.
“Thus, they weren’t able to provide detailed information on
productivity improvements. Nevertheless, those that do have organized
programs report higher productivity, longer tool life, and less machine
downtime because of tool wear and breakage. Moreover, they have lower
tool costs and total cost per produced piece.”

The study concludes that the shrinking carbide-tool market is
impacted by more sophisticated and costly product, increased tool life,
and inflation resulting in higher prices, i.e., the industry is selling
less of a higher price, more productive product. This is likely to
continue as cutting-tool technology improves, more users systematically
address tooling options, and suppliers upgrade consultive
problem-solving selling.


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