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close this bookBlending of New and Traditional Technologies - Case Studies (ILO - WEP, 1984, 312 p.)
close this folderPART 2: CASE STUDIES
View the documentChapter 3. Application of microcomputers to Portugal’s agricultural management*
View the documentChapter 4. Off-line uses of microcomputers in selected developing countries*
View the documentChapter 5. The use of personal computers in Italian biogas plants*
View the documentChapter 6. Microelectronics in textile production: A family firm (United Kingdom) and cottage industry with AVL looms (United States)
View the documentChapter 7. Microelectronics in small/medium enterprises in the United Kingdom*
View the documentChapter 8. Integration of old and new technologies in the Italian (Prato) textile industry*
View the documentChapter 9. The use of numerically controlled machines on traditional lathes: The Brazilian capital goods industry*
View the documentChapter 10. Electronic load-controlled mini-hydroelectric projects: Experiences from Colombia, Sri Lanka and Thailand*
View the documentChapter 11. The application of biotechnology to metal extraction: The case of the Andean countries*
View the documentChapter 12. Cloning of Palm Oil Trees in Malaysia*
View the documentChapter 13. Technological Change in Palm Oil in Costa Rica*
View the documentChapter 14. Biotechnology applications to some African fermented foods*
View the documentChapter 15. Use of satellite remote-sensing techniques in West Africa*
View the documentChapter 16. India’s rural educational television broadcasting via satellites*
View the documentChapter 17. New construction materials for developing countries*
View the documentChapter 18. Photovoltaic solar-powered pump irrigation in Pakistan*
View the documentChapter 19. Photovoltaic power supply to a village in Upper Volta*

Chapter 9. The use of numerically controlled machines on traditional lathes: The Brazilian capital goods industry*

* Prepared by J.R. Tauile of the Universidad Federal de Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

ECN-40 IS A numerically controlled lathe produced by a private company in Brazil. The first numerically controlled machine tools (NCMT) installed in this country were imported towards the end of the 1960s. However, their diffusion at a significant level started only after 1972/73 when 12 units were imported annually. Since then diffusion of NCMT throughout Brazilian industry has grown consistently. At present, over 850 units are estimated to be in use. As of 1980 there were about 700 NCMTS, out of which almost 20 per cent (130 units) had already been produced locally.1 From the second half of the 1970s, indigenous production capacity developed with the evolution of the local market (including the potential of exports to other countries in Latin America).

Today, the Brazilian company is the largest user (over 70 NCMT units) and producer (at least until 1980) of NCMT in Brazil. In 1971, it was also the first one to produce them in Brazil. Two units of a conventional lathe DCE 380 with a Slo-Syn CN, were produced then. Due mainly to market barriers, it was only in 1975 that it managed to produce NCMT on a regular basis. It substituted the ECN-40 for the DCE 380 (of which it is an improved version). With progressive development of NCMT technology the company is increasingly designing its machine tools with specific NC use although many models offered in the world market are still derived from conventional machines. This is the case of ECN-40.


Technical skills for producing the electro-mechanical part of the NC equipment were provided by an existing traditional machine tool sector (ranked among the best of the Third World countries). Skills were also provided by foreign firms (recent entrants to the market) which are mostly from the Federal Republic of Germany. The latter were already supplying equipment with a numerical control cabinet (NC).

Brazil has considerable engineering capacity of good quality in terms of design for electro-mechanical equipment. This cannot, however, be said for (micro) electronics. Not only production, but also designing of information devices like mini computers has been hardly (or only partially) mastered by the Brazilian engineering industry. Producing and designing NC is a specific part of engineering capacity; the existing small size of the market is a factor discouraging competition and preventing capacity-building. A Special Secretariat of Informatics, linked to the National Security Council, has now been created to formulate and implement policies for the newly emerging technology and to overcome the problems in its development and application in Brazil.

The future development of the Brazilian NCMT market depends on many factors. Among them certainly is the recovery from the present economic crisis. Other specific factors will also influence the pace of replacement of depreciated or obsolete equipment. Increasing competition in the world market necessitates adaptation to international technical patterns of production. The availability of adequate skills and local capability for developing NCMT are factors which should help improve the quality and reduce the cost of such equipment. Unless quality and cost factors are favourable, the diffusion of NCMT is unlikely to be rapid and widespread.


In 1980, 87 per cent of NCMT users were in the capital goods sector;2 62 per cent of them being foreign owned - of these 64 per cent by European capital, and only 6 per cent by Japanese capital.3 Two-thirds of the firms employed more than 500 workers.4 It is estimated that an overall displacement of between 4,200 and 7,000 jobs occurred due to the introduction of NCMT. Of these only about 2,200 jobs were directly recuperated by workers whose activities were directly related to the use of such equipment.

However, there are some compensatory factors that reduce the relative technological unemployment due to the diffusion of NCMT in Brazil. Among them are the job opportunities created to produce and eventually design NCMT within the country. Employment in these activities makes the diffusion process qualitatively different from what it would be if the equipment were imported and utilised. The degree of technological self-sufficiency of an economy increases accordingly, and the learning effects tend to multiply when machinery is produced locally.


As one can imagine, there are some pros and cons in the choice between adapting a design of a conventional machine, or making a totally new one in order to use NC efficiently. Because of its older design the ECN-40 suffers from the following limitations: the machine tools are less robust; they are still driven by a DC motor; their beds are not properly designed to permit a large flow-off of chips; and the number of tools in the turret is small (there are only four). However, some of these pitfalls can be overcome by stipulating specific requirements for its use like local availability of good manual skills. Moreover, there are some significant advantages in choosing to design the equipment in this way. For example, the equipment is more versatile in terms of the variety of products to be machined; it is also much cheaper, if compared to a corresponding completely redesigned model. In this case, its weight would increase from actual three metric tonnes to about seven metric tonnes, and its costs would at least double.

Another reason for the cheapness of the machine is that the Brazilian company also produces the E-40 that is basically the same lathe, but without NC. Cost advantages through economies of scale can be reaped to turn the ECN-40 into an economically viable equipment for clients who produce batches of a certain size. This is one of the main reasons why the company can supply this type of machine for a particular segment of the market, where firms would otherwise not be able to buy any numerically controlled machine tools because of their high prices.

The ECN-40 has many technical improvements over the E-40 because of its use of NC: it is equipped with guideways in the carriage, ballscrews in the two axles, centralised lubrication, etc. This option in product design by the company (this firm also displays other NCMT models with imported design, specially suited for the new operational conditions) leads to a very important consequence, namely, the positive learning effects.

More than 40 ECN-40 units have been sold since 1975, and the technical staff of the company is progressively absorbing the new product and process technology which has been adapted in part, in the light of customer’s complaints and suggestions. Customers are sometimes emphatic about the need for totally redesigning the equipment. The company argues, however, that these customers do not know, or do not respect, the operational limits of the equipment and thus are using it inefficiently. The fact is that orders have been increasing consistently year after year, and the company is improving its knowledge about the peculiarities of the Brazilian market. The introduction of new and more appropriate models for such a market is expected in the near future.

The company has recently been engaged in a programme to produce the CNC itself. Up to now, the ECN-40 has been equipped with GE controls (550 LM, 550 T and 1050 TZ - a CNC), but from the beginning of 1984 onwards the “MACH 3”, a CNC derived from the Allen Bradley AB 8400, will be a substitute for GE controls. Such a move is a response to government policies, promoted by the Special Secretariat of Informatics, to create local production and designing capacity for CNC technology (there are also three other Brazilian firms committed to such policies of CNC technology transfer).

To conclude, in spite of occasional deficiencies, ECN-40 have played, in the past, and still play an important role in the technological transformation of the Brazilian economy.


1. J.R. Tauile: A difusa maquinas ferramenta com controle numco no Brasil, paper prepared for the Seminario Internacional sobre inas e Desenvolvimento no Setor Industrial, Campinas, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, 1982.

2. ibid.

3. ibid.

4. ibid.