MMS Blog

At what point does it make sense to automate production? The founders of a startup eyewear company in New York City decided that even with relatively small production volumes, the benefits of automation far outweighed the cost of robotic integration.

The main benefits swaying their decision were the repeatability and consistency that the UR5 collaborative robot from Universal Robots USA Inc. and gripper from Robotiq brought to the process. “We have 17 different styles of eyeglasses now,” says Brian Vallario, who started Lowercase Eyewear with his friend Gerard Masci. “We really needed something that was easy to program and that we could manipulate on the fly. If I make a change on a design, I have to be able to apply the change quickly. And since we are competing against bigger, high-end eyewear manufacturers, we have to deliver the highest quality, even if we do quite smaller productions.”

Fusion laser cutting uses an inert gas, such as nitrogen, at high pressure to blow molten material out of the kerf. For mild steel, it offers an alternative to flame cutting using oxygen, especially for relatively thick sheets, in that it doesn’t leave behind oxidized cut edges that commonly require reworking.

The issue with conventional solid-state laser cutting machines that perform fusion cutting using nitrogen is high gas consumption/high gas cost. This led Trumpf to develop its Highspeed and Highspeed Eco nozzles that it says can increase the feed rate for solid-state laser machines performing fusion cutting with nitrogen by as much as 100 percent.

I can honestly say I’ve never been to a metalworking tradeshow that I didn’t like. This year’s Westec was no exception. Although it was announced that this show will be moved to Long Beach, California, for its next iteration in September 2019, downtown Los Angeles has given this show a little glitz and glamour that sets it apart—at least sets its setting apart—from other shows. In fact, the LA Convention Center, home to Westec, is next door to several skyscraper building projects, further enhancing this show’s luster.

For my coverage of the event, I focused on what I saw that was new (or at least new to me) in the booths I could visit. Although I am never able to get to as many as I hope to, the ones I can visit are sufficient to reveal developments and trends worth reporting. I also made a point to catch some of the practical, pragmatic exhibits that might be overlooked—solutions for problems a shop might not be aware of until the fix is in front of them.

Toolcraft, a contract machine shop near Seattle, Washington, operates a lot differently since achieving ISO 9001:2008 certification in 2012. “It’s helped us become a lot more process-based,” says Operations Manager Steve Wittenberg about how much things have changed in 5 years. Advice like “Go and ask Joe” is now less common when questions arise, he explains. Rather, the company has built previously “tribal” knowledge into the process.

ISO certification has also helped to ensure everyone always has everything they need, albeit in an indirect way. The work of scrutinizing and documenting processes and procedures inspired a new vision among the shop’s leadership: a laboratory-like environment that would better reflect its more scientific approach. Everything would have its place, and there’d be little room for activities detrimental to spindle uptime, whether searching for a needed tool or leaving one’s station to ask a question. To that end, the Toolcraft crew set about cleaning and reorganizing the entire facility, a task that involved everything from rearranging the machinery layout to conducting targeted 5S exercises to upgrading the air-filtration system.

“When people think about indexables, the same eight or nine brands always come to mind,” Brian Norris said as the tour bus wound its way through the mists toward the mountaintop lake. As the recently appointed president of cutting tool supplier Dormer Pramet’s North American division, Mr. Norris seemed eager to put big plans into action. “There’s plenty of room for another brand,” he continued. “Small- and medium-sized job shops, general machining applications, MRO—we see opportunity there.”

The 11-person group on the bus was dwarfed by some of the other international contingents headed toward the summit that day. And yet, these select American, Mexican and Canadian distributors are the vanguard of Dormer Pramet’s advance into a market that, along with China, is considered the best opportunity for expanding the Pramet line of indexables beyond Europe. These particular North Americans had been invited to travel across the Atlantic because the company considers them the best able (and most likely) to cultivate the kinds of on-the-ground relationships that will be critical to expanding the line in their home countries. “Salespeople aren’t enough,” says Dan Murrell, national sales manager, Canada, about expanding the company’s North American offering beyond its longstanding solid round-tool lines. “We need technical people, people who can stand there at the spindle and talk shop. If they don’t believe in Pramet, the customers certainly won’t.”

RSS RSS  |  Atom Atom