Posted by: Matt Danford 19. July 2016

Five Steps to Choosing a Conveyor

Does your business use conveyor systems to move parts from one place to another, and if so, are you considering an upgrade? Alternatively, are you considering purchasing a conveyor, but aren’t sure where to start? If the answer to either of these questions is “yes,” the graphic below is worth a look. Submitted by conveyor manufacturer Dorner (, it’s based on the most frequently asked questions from customers and potential customers. Layout options, configurations, belt material options, accessories—the graphic provides a fast, easy way to understand basics of most of the considerations involved in purchasing a new conveyor system.  

Five Easy Steps to Choosing a Conveyor

Posted by: Peter Zelinski 18. July 2016

Integrating Additive Manufacturing without Inhibiting Machining

Mitsui Seiki is a machine tool builder that aims to excel in the area of precision. It provides machines, often custom-engineered, to meet machining challenges related to high-value parts with particularly demanding tolerances. Therefore, the company’s introduction of additive manufacturing as a capability it can now deliver might seem like an odd fit. Additive manufacturing—building up parts or features through a controlled process of adding material in layers—cannot by itself achieve anything like the fine tolerances that machining can.

But Robb Hudson, technology and business development manager for the company, says additive manufacturing is an addition to machining that brings both design freedom and process efficiency to complement machining’s precision. And by consolidating more of a part’s processing into a single machine, it potentially reduces part handling, which facilitates precision as well. During the past year or more that the company has been preparing to come to market with additive capability, he says, it has been experimenting with how to use metal cutting and metal deposition effectively within the same machine tool, without having to compromise the effectiveness or promise of either capability.

Mr. Hudson says essentially any of the company’s machines can now be made available as a hybrid system, capable of both additive and subtractive operations. A hybrid model of the company’s Vertex five-axis machining center will now be a standard product. The additive capability comes from the company’s partnership with Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies, a firm jointly based in Texas and the UK that offers a system for integrating additive manufacturing capability into an existing machine tool. The Hybrid head performs metal additive manufacturing through laser cladding, feeding metal powder into a pool that is melted by a laser. The head mounts in the machine’s spindle using a toolholder, and when it is not in use, it waits in the machine’s carousel alongside other tools.

A hybrid additive/subtractive version of this machining center is now available as a standard product, but the company says essentially any of its machines can now be made available as hybrids.

Yet integrating additive capability into the machine is not as simple as adding this head. The machine itself is also modified for safe use of the laser, as well as to enable powder flow. And if the full machining capabilities are to remain available, then new processing techniques along with other machine modifications are in order, too.

For example, what about coolant? Generally, coolant and lasers don’t mix, Mr. Hudson observes. But as part of the testing of additive/subtractive processing at Mitsui Seiki’s headquarters in Japan, the company has refined a process for using flood coolant extensively within a cycle that also includes additive layering. In this process, an air blow-off operation removes much of the volume of coolant still clinging to the part, followed by the laser applied at a wide focus to evaporate the rest. The surface dried in this way is ready for a new feature to be grown onto it through laser cladding.

A similarly important consideration is protection of the machine. Because some metal powder invariably escapes, preserving the machining precision demands ensuring that the powder does not affect sensitive mechanical systems such as the ballscrews and ways. Here, the company was able to draw on extensive prior experience, Mr. Hudson says. Guarding and other kinematic protections the company has engineered for machining centers used in precision graphite milling have been adapted to protecting the machine against metal powder.

The reward for all of this development will be the opportunity to deliver much more manufacturing capability within a single cycle, and bring much more of a part’s production into a single machine. CNC machining is the solution for tight precision, while additive manufacturing is potentially the solution where a high level of geometric complexity is needed. Those two benefits need not be separate—a part that includes geometrically challenging features is now also a part that can be machined to tight tolerances, without any handling or travel needed to transition between those objectives.

Indeed, that promise is particularly beneficial to manufacturers in the aerospace industry, Mr. Hudson says. A large portion of the machine tool builder’s customers are in this sector. “Their aim is often the buy-to-fly ratio, or how much material they have to purchase versus how much is left once all of the part’s machining is done,” he says. Buy-to-fly ratios are often high to machine elaborate aircraft components out of solid billet or even out of forgings, meaning material waste is high. But hybrid manufacturing offers a solution here as well. That is, instead of an oversize workpiece going into the machine to get much of its material cut away, what if a workpiece that was actually incomplete went into the machine instead? For material efficiency, some of this part’s features would still be produced through machining, while other features—narrow fins and other projections, for example—could instead be produced cost-effectively by additively building them on.

Posted by: Mark Albert 15. July 2016

Making History with the Right Technology

The USS Pampanito, a famous WWII submarine, is being restored and refurbished in an effort to return it to its original condition.

A passion for historical accuracy and authenticity is essential to individuals devoted to preserving important pieces of our national heritage. The donation of an Acu-Rite digital readout (DRO) to the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Association is aiding in this effort. The DRO, a gift of the Heidenhain Corp. and corporate parent of the Acu-Rite brand, has made an old Bridgeport milling machine capable of producing accurate copies of missing parts needed in the restoration of the USS Pampanito, a World War II submarine preserved by the Maritime Park Association.

The milling machine will also be used to repair original historic artifacts—items that embody the significance and authenticity of this unique museum display. In this case, the preserved submarine is also a memorial to the men and women of the armed forces who served in World War II. The Pampanito was well known as having made six patrols in the Pacific during the war. It is currently undergoing important restoration and replication projects to bring it as reasonably close to its original operational condition as when it sailed in the summer of 1945.

The submarine has been docked and open to the public at Fisherman’s Wharf since 1981, where it educates approximately 4,000 students in day and overnight programs annually, and 100,000 visitors a year who tour the boat. Maintaining the submarine as a non-profit is a huge challenge, and the Maritime Park Association relies heavily on donations to further its goals of bringing maritime history to life, offer future generations its important teachings, as well as honor the men that served there. To that end, when Heidenhain staff learned that the project received an old Bridgeport mill from a local machine shop as a donation, and that the 1980 digital readout on it was broken and obsolete, they approved the donation of an Acu-Rite VUE 2 digital readout kit. The VUE came with two SENC 150 scales and accompanying brackets.

With a new DRO and accompanying scales, this milling machine will be "making history" as it produces historically accurate copies of parts for the USS Pampanito.

 “We were very happy that someone at Heidenhain/Acu-Rite took the time to understand our mission and donate this DRO,” says Rich Pekelney, one of the Maritime Park Association’s trustees and volunteers. “I’ve been doing hands-on restoration like this for 23 years, and our small machine shop is a vital part of our project.

“With our refurbished mill, we expect to be able to do many things ourselves now,” Mr. Pekelney explains. “For example, we recently acquired an old five-inch deck gun that would have been used here during WWII but is missing parts. Now we can make them so that this piece can be showcased appropriately. Or we can also make the mounting brackets that are needed so that we can hang the bunk beds as they were in 1945, and so on.”

The well-used Bridgeport mill received by the Maritime Park Association is a classic 42-inch table type, not unlike many of the legacy machines that shops want to save for one-offs or utility applications such as repair work or fixture making.

“We know that DROs have great value on any manual milling machine in order to do accurate work, particularly on older ones which might have a little more side-play or backlash, so this DRO is very much appreciated,” Mr. Pekelney says. “We were familiar with Acu-Rite DROs and our machinists have experience with them. We know they are easy to use and reliable products.

“We found the DRO quite easy to retrofit onto the machine, and were thrilled that the mounting brackets and all were included in the kit. Overall, we are very grateful that Acu-Rite recognized the importance of and for participating in this project to preserve this part of our national history.”

Posted by: Hannah Coombs 14. July 2016

Print, Like Manufacturing, Is Changing

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Last month, employees from Modern Machine Shop and other brands from our publisher, Gardner Business Media, attended a tour at Publishers Press, the company that prints Modern’s monthly issues. As we toured the expansive printing operation, located in Lebanon Junction, Kentucky, we were amazed.

The tour guides shared the history of the family business, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year having proved itself adaptable to a century of challenges in its industry.  

As with manufacturing, publishing has been affected by the unanticipated consequences of digital technology and publishers struggled to keep up. Businesses downsized, made major cuts and sought new forms of revenue. Several papers closed their doors.

Word got out that print was dying.

I thought back to some of my teachers and instructors who argued against pursuing a career in a dwindling industry. I was under the impression that because of increasingly essential digital media, print was doomed.

Coming from a small, family-owned manufacturing business, I also saw firsthand the struggles of keeping up with changing technology. Crippling recession and competition overseas threatened small businesses around the country, including the one that I had grown up with. Many did fail. But I also saw several companies emerge stronger than ever.

Getting up close with print last month exposed misconceptions some of us had about the current state of publishing. Walking around the facilities, to our surprise, print did not appear dead.

At Publishers Press, anywhere from 720,000 to 800,000 pounds of paper rushes through the machines every day. Thousands of titles produced there go out to an average of 155,000,000 people each month. Needless to say, a lot of people are reading print.

Similarly, manufacturing suffers from its own share of false perception. Contrary to these ideas, manufacturers are more advanced than ever before. Modern Machine Shop finds no shortage of businesses exceeding expectations and driving the metalworking industry with innovation and new technology.

What lies at the root of the misconceptions is that these industries are not dying; they are simply changing. With dramatic changes come new demands and threats to companies that cannot rise to meet them. The ones that do, however, never fail to surprise us and pave the way for future growth.

Posted by: Matt Danford 13. July 2016

Today’s Overkill May Be Tomorrow’s Competitive Edge

investing with eye

Dynamic Tool & Design has yet to realize the full capabilities of its new on-machine probes and software.

Although the future is always uncertain, Dynamic Tool & Design is a shop that knows where it wants to go, and it’s not afraid to invest in order to get there. At least, that’s the message I took from this plastic injection mold manufacturer’s recent addition of on-machine probing capabilities that exceed anything required on the floor right now.

That investment consisted of new probes and software for hard milling machines, graphite milling machines and sinker EDMs. As detailed in this June-issue feature article, this technology was required to move beyond just “indicating” workpieces (i.e., “finding zero”) and into full 3D part measurements. In turn, capability for these measurements has reduced downtime on individual machines and boosted the shop’s overall throughput.

However, the article quotes John Kemeny, hard milling department supervisor, as saying that the PC-DMIS software driving the probes is “overkill to some extent.” Purchased along with the new probes from Hexagon Metrology, this is the same system used to program the shop’s CMM, and it’s no less powerful. In fact, only a portion of the software’s capability is required for in-process inspections that are more about avoiding errors and keeping the process moving than passing final judgment on mold components and electrodes. Although these inspections could also be performed with the shop’s previous on-machine metrology software, or perhaps another less costly and less capable system, the investment in PC-DMIS was about more than what’s needed today. Leadership was also thinking about how the process might look tomorrow.

Currently, the 13 automated machines targeted for new probes stand alone with their carousel-style robots. Unlike the shop’s previous software, PC-DMIS could potentially enable these physically isolated workstations to automatically share offsets and other data gleaned from in-process measurements via standardized pallets with radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags. This capability could potentially also ease a transition toward multi-process cells that incorporate multiple machines of different types, should the shop choose to go that route. The software can also accommodate five-axis motion, were the shop to ever invest in that type of machine. And whatever the future holds, using the same software for both floor inspections and final quality control helps ensure no discrepencies with measurements taken on the CMM. 

First, of course, the rest of the 13 machines have to be fitted with probes (so far, only four have been equipped). Regardless, Dynamic Tool’s journey so far reveals a shop that’s anything but short-sighted when it comes to technology investment. After all, recognizing the benefits of on-machine verification in the first place can require an open mind and a willingness to challenge preconceived notions.  Learn more in the article.   

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