Posted by: Mark Albert 8. May 2015

Investing in Technology Is a Strategy. Figuring ROI Is a Strategic Tool.

Why invest in new CNC technology that seems unfamiliar, even a little scary? Jeff Reinert says that a bold approach to justification can show shops that they need to jump in if they want to compete.

This short article by Jeff Reinert, president of Index Corp., outlines the multi-step process for justifying an investment in the latest CNC machining technology. Calculating the return on investment (ROI) is a useful tool, but only one of the factors a manufacturer must consider in the decision to buy a new machine.

Reinert identifies three main steps:

  • Understand your machining costs and evaluate impact of a faster, more capable process.
  • Understand potential benefits of the latest CNC technology (Reinert lists eight measurable ones as a start).
  • Understand the costs of older equipment (including operator skills that may vanish).

After taking these steps, calculating ROI can be a concise and useful analysis to back up a decision. However, as Reinert explains, ROI is not the same as profitability and competitiveness. His advice puts the ROI calculation in perspective.

Read the article here.

Posted by: Stephanie Monsanty 7. May 2015

Additive by the Numbers

The 27th edition of the Additive Manufacturing Users Group (AMUG) Conference wrapped up April 23 in Jacksonville, Florida, after four days packed full of information related to commercial applications of additive manufacturing. As a first-time attendee and AM neophyte I tried to take full advantage of the breadth and depth of the program (which spans everything from stereolithography to aerospace applications to quality control for additive manufactured parts) during my two days there. Here’s my take on the conference, by the numbers:

  • AMUG welcomed 763 paying attendees, an increase of approximately 33 percent over last year’s attendance according to AMUG’s Todd Grimm. Total headcount was more than 850 for this year’s conference, with first-time attendees accounting for 57 percent. 
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Dr. Lonnie Love pointed out that the $4-5 billion additive industry still has plenty of room to grow before it accounts for a significant share of the $11 trillion manufacturing industry. (Read a report on Dr. Love's AMUG keynote address here, and consider coming to ORNL this October for the Additive Manufacturing Conference.)
  • Jim LaHood of Caterpillar reported that the company’s Rapid Prototyping lab produced 50,000 parts last year using FDM, SLA, SLS and metal additive technologies. The heavy equipment manufacturer has also placed six 3D printers in various facilities as part of its recently launched Nomad 3D printing program. Employees are free to experiment with these printers as a means of gaining design and production experience with additive manufacturing.
  • PostProcess Technologies’ Patrick Gannon explained how a multistage, multimedia batch finishing process took an additively manufactured metal chess rook from a surface finish of 620 microinches Ra to 6.2 microinches Ra in just under 5 hours.
  • It still takes a company six to 12 months of experience before it learns to successfully print metal parts, noted Tim Gornet of the University of Louisville in a panel discussion on the state of AM.
  • AMUG international ambassador Graham Tromans reported that the Chinese government plans to place 400,000 3D printers in the nation’s elementary schools over the next two years.
  • Stefan Ritt presented SLM Solutions’ Hull-Core strategy for laser melting, which uses two alternating lasers at 400 and 1,000 W to speed the process. Another of the company’s systems, the Quad laser, uses four lasers that can be independently operated simultaneously.
  • GE’s Edward Herderick underscored the continued importance of material development for AM, noting that currently there are only about 30 common AM alloys and about the same number of common AM polymers, while hundreds of alloys are available for metals-based processes such as welding and approximately 8,000 polymers for injection molding exist. Material science remains a major area of potential growth in additive.

Posted by: Peter Zelinski 6. May 2015

IMC Group President Says Best Tool Value Comes from Productivity

The Ingersoll Cutting Tools event was held at the historic Cleveland Public Auditorium.

An improved cutting tool could deliver its improvement in any of three different ways. That tool could be cheaper, it could provide longer tool life or it could deliver greater productivity. IMC Group President and CEO Jacob Harpaz says go for the productivity. Now is the time for this.

That was his message at an Ingersoll Cutting Tools 125-year anniversary event last week. The event was held in Cleveland, birthplace of the cutting tool company. Now based in Rockford, Illinois, Ingersoll is today part of the IMC Group, which also includes cutting tool makers such as Iscar, Taegutec and Tungaloy. In presentations throughout the day-long event, Mr. Harpaz described various offerings in Ingersoll’s milling, turning and holemaking lines to an audience of about 850.

Business is good. After Ingersoll’s sales dropped in ’09, following the crash, the company had sales in ’10 that surpassed ’08. Then, after a flattening from ’11 to ’12, business has been increasing through the past two years. All of this is relevant to his message because many machining facilities have seen something like this same pattern of activity. Business is now strong enough in machining, particularly in North America, that any open time on a plant’s machine tools often can be filled. That means far and away the most lucrative return to get from a cutting tool is an improvement in productivity.

Shops do not necessarily see this, Mr. Harpaz says. Because a cutting tool is a consumable that is purchased again and again, its price is seen frequently, and therefore seems more significant than it might be. In most manufacturing processes, the impact of fixed costs and labor costs are actually much higher.

Specifically, for a representative machined part, he says the cost of machinery represents 26 percent of the cost of machining a part. Overhead represents 21 percent of the unit cost of machining. Labor and raw material account for 28 and 22 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the cost of cutting tools accounts for just 3 percent.

That such a low share of the total cost comes from cutting tools has significant implications. Dropping the price of the tool by 20 percent, as big a change as this might seem, would deliver only a 0.6-percent unit cost reduction. The seemingly even greater change of increasing the life of the tool by a factor of 2 would save only 1.5 percent. But increasing productivity would increase the number of pieces the shop can produce in the same period of time, meaning the labor cost, overhead cost, and machinery cost per piece all go down. Increasing productivity by 20 percent thus produces a savings of 15 percent overall. Productivity increase delivers far and away the greatest savings, he says, because it is the only type of cutting tool improvement that can affect all the other cost factors.

The Ingersoll event showcased various new or improved cutting tool offerings aimed at this productivity increase. For example, the company’s TC430 whisker-reinforced ceramic insert for turning superalloys is more expensive than carbide tools used to turn these metals, but it is so much more productive that the cost increase is easily justified. (See video of the tool turning Inconel.) A couple of the company’s unusual offerings for productivity include:

  • The Chip Surfer milling tool line, which consists of tools with changeable tips. The time savings here comes from quickly being able to replace a worn tool or switch to a different tool type just by changing the tip.
  • Coolant-driven spindles able to deliver 40,000 rpm on a lower-speed machine for small tools requiring this rotational speed.

The most prominent product line at the event was the company’s “Gold Rush” line, which consists of tools benefiting from a post-coating treatment that enhances performance. Tools in this line can deliver long tool life compared to tools without the surface treatment. However, the more profitable use of the tooling is to let tool life remain steady, he says, and instead use the performance enhancement to increase speed and feed rate. Now is the time to go for productivity.

Posted by: Russ Willcutt 5. May 2015

Lightweight Gears for Robots

Photo courtesy of Harmonic Drive AG

Gearing specialist Harmonic Drive UK has launched a new series of extremely lightweight and compact gears for the next generation of robots. Targeting the semiconductor electronics market, the new CSD Component Set is equipped with a heavy-duty cross roller bearing to deliver high payload performance in environments with limited space.

The CSD Series delivers the required high power to weight ratio in a compact form factor, and is available in two variants. The CSD-2UH range boasts the smallest outside diameter, and the CSD-2UF has the shortest overall length. “We’ve designed the CSD range to be compatible with existing systems,” says Graham Mackrell, managing director. “While it’s primarily targeted at the robotic and semiconductor market, it will perform equally as well in other demanding high precision applications such as broadcast, aerospace and machine tools.”

This news put me in mind of a couple of things. One, lower costs and increased ease of use will spur significant growth in industrial robotics over the next decade, according to a study conducted by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). And while automation isn’t necessarily the first market that springs to mind when thinking of gears—that’s usually automotive and aerospace—it’s a good indication of how evolving technologies and designs create new markets for manufacturers. These same improvements are being made in other areas, such as marine drives, mining and construction vehicles, hand tools, motorcycles and various industrial mechanisms such as machine tools, just to name a few. If you can train yourself to identify new design trends, you’ll be ready to take advantage of a new revenue stream once it starts to flow.

Posted by: Derek Korn 4. May 2015

Why Not Lights-Out Inspection?

PDQ is working toward developing a lights-out approach to CMM inspection, leveraging CMM and quick-change fixturing technologies to enable unattended measurement of multiple parts.

A number of shops have implemented lights-out machining processes to enable machine tools to run unattended overnight or during the day.

What about lights-out CMM inspection?

Read this article to learn about the unattended measurement process one shop is developing to realize that goal.

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