Posted by: Mark Albert 10. April 2015

2014 Autodesk Inventor of the Year is Gear Manufacturer in Indiana

Proficient use of 3D design software from Autodesk distinguishes ITAMCO as a gear manufacturer.

Once a year, members from the Autodesk Manufacturing Community choose among the past year's monthly “Inventing the Future” honorees to select an Autodesk Inventor of the Year. The 2014 winner was recently announced and it is ITAMCO, a custom gear manufacturer based in Plymouth, Indiana.

ITAMCO delivers precision-machined components to original equipment manufacturers in a wide range of industries, including oil and gas and renewable energy; mining and construction; aerospace; and defense. Autodesk Inventor 3D design software, as part of Autodesk Product Design Suite and Autodesk Factory Design Suite, are among the tools ITAMCO leverages to serve its customers more effectively.

It's great to see a precision machining company receive this honor because it highlights the strength of this industry and the importance of the advanced metalworking technology in place there. Although precision gear manufacturing may not have much glamour among the general public, ITAMCO’s products have been used in a number of high-profile applications. NASA has chosen the company’s gears for the mechanical arm that built the international space station. The Department of Defense has used ITAMCO’s gears on its land-based satellite systems. 

More recently, the company designed, manufactured and assembled a new gearbox for construction vehicles in record time by using Inventor and Autodesk Inventor HSM Pro. The software enabled ITAMCO to verify the assembly virtually for any interference issues prior to manufacturing and to utilize the advanced computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) capabilities within Inventor HSM Pro for machining the components.

It is also worth noting that ITAMCO’s operations have been enhanced by Factory Design Suite, which enables users to optimize a factory layout in a digital environment before it is completed. The company uses this software to lay out new machining cells and determine the placement of equipment to make sure the plant meets industry standards of organization and efficiency across the factory floor.

Posted by: Peter Zelinski 9. April 2015

My Take on Titan

Since I don’t have cable TV, I have been missing out on a show that practically everyone reading this is liable to be interested in checking out. Titan: American Built is a reality show on MAVTV about a northern California CNC machining job shop founded and led by Titan Gilroy. Recently, another shop owner connected me with Mr. Gilroy, who shared an episode with me that I enjoyed watching.

Here are some of my thoughts about the show:

  • Mr. Gilroy (I’ll call him Titan hereafter) is more than what a quick sample of the show’s promotional materials might portray him to be. His trademark expression is the hard, stern game face. But part of the fun of the show is watching for the times when his humor, sensitivity or gentleness come through. He has the strong personality needed to be the central figure in the show, but in some of the impassioned speeches he gives about American manufacturing, he is also seen to be an able communicator who knows what he wants to say.
  • The producers of the show often choose to show manufacturing technology without any explanation. This is an interesting choice. I am so familiar with the work and technology of CNC machining that I can follow everything that happens on the show. But when I watch a scene such as the one in which Titan is explaining G-code programming to his son (also Titan), I wonder what the uninitiated viewer is seeing in this, and how much the viewer is getting. (Maybe a great deal.)
  • Titan is also speaking to other shop owners with his show. He knows they’re watching. In his comments about five-axis machining, software, and the use of capable cutting tools, he has a message for other owners: You’ve got to invest in technology.
  • The machining footage in this show is beautiful. One of my favorite moments is where Titan explains why it is beautiful. That is, he explains to the viewer that he is not using coolant in the milling of an aluminum part specifically for the sake of the footage, which is a choice he could not get away with if he was milling a different metal such as titanium. Every TV reality show is unreal to a certain extent, but in this case Titan took care to note the unreality, and to describe how authentic machining might look different.
  • Though there was added dramatic flourish, the episode I saw portrayed a realistic job shop situation that really is dramatic. That is, a customer called with a sudden order, needing a complex, critical, tight-tolerance part in a short period of time. When the part was machined, Titan got in his truck to hand-deliver it. Cinematically, this was done to shift the scene to where the customer would use and install the part. However, how many job shop owners haven’t also gotten in their trucks to make precisely this kind of hand delivery to a waiting customer?
  • The part in question was a prototype. I’d like to see an episode about production in the U.S. Can this challenge be realistically dramatized? I bet it can! When the challenge is to machine, say, 2,000 pieces of the same part, or 300 per month over the course of a year, then how does a manufacturer do this in the most efficient way, with the least cost for labor, material, cycle time and tooling? Manufacturing professionals do not just wield skill and technology, they also fight against cost. By applying the same respect for the audience that shows G-code programming without explanation, could the show portray the kind of thinking that goes into successfully winning and keeping a production job?

Learn more: (PS. A recent episode includes a visit to Cardinal Manufacturing. That episode is titled "Unveiling the Future," and the schedule here says it will be rebroadcast on April 11.)

Posted by: Derek Korn 8. April 2015

Why You Should Attend PMTS

Although screw machine shops were the first to integrate CNC Swiss-type lathes when those machines were introduced years ago, “conventional” shops are considering them more these days. If you’d like to learn more about that and other precision machining technologies, consider joining me at the Precision Machining Technology Show this month in Columbus, Ohio.

Learn more about PMTS.

Posted by: Peter Zelinski 7. April 2015

Welcome to Machining, Kris

Modern Machine Shop recently devoted a cover story to the idea of hiring employees for personal strengths rather than manufacturing skills. The skills can be taught, but character and a good fit with the culture of the company cannot. Bob Bussey, manufacturing director of Excelsior Marking, sent me an email recently to say he had read that article and taken it to heart.

“I hired someone who knew nothing about machining,” he wrote. “He’s been employed with us over two months now and is doing very well operating a Haas Mini Mill,” one of five CNC machines in the shop. Mr. Bussey said the idea that a person with desire but lacking machining skills could begin to succeed in machining made sense to him, because he himself began to learn about manufacturing in his father’s tool and template shop when he was completely unskilled at 14 years old.

The new employee Excelsior hired and began to train is Kris Porter. Mr. Porter had previously worked in warehousing and for an insulation company. He also had worked near to skilled manufacturing with a previous employer, initially helping with preventative maintenance, then being moved into a role of tool crib superintendent.

However, given the lack of credentials or direct experience in CNC machining, Mr. Bussey had to evaluate this prospective hire according to other criteria. He says these are some of the valuable traits he saw in Mr. Porter before hiring him or just after he began to work:

  1. He is friendly, Mr. Bussey says—not argumentative or convinced he’s right.
  2. He wants to learn.
  3. He is teachable. Company leaders saw this in his first week on the job, when he took interest in a Basics of Machining class they had him take through Mastercam University. Excelsior has also supplied him with a self-study mathematics book, which he has been using to develop the math skills pertinent to his job.
  4. In the efficiency of his performance at the machine, he shows regular improvement.
  5. He is flexible about working overtime.
  6. He is also grateful for the opportunity. To Mr. Bussey, this means a lot. He values manufacturing and wants to share it with those who see the same value in it he does.

The biggest factor that led to Mr. Porter’s new job was Mr. Porter. But to read the article that contributed to his opportunity, go here.


Posted by: Steve Kline, Jr. 6. April 2015

March MBI Highest Since June 2014

With a reading of 52.6, the Gardner Business Index showed that the metalworking industry grew for the 15th consecutive month and the 17th time in 18 months. With the increase in the index in March, the metalworking industry has returned to the uptrend that started in September 2014. While the index has been climbing in recent months, compared with one year ago the index has contracted for three straight months. So, the metalworking industry is growing but not as fast as it was at the beginning of 2014.

New orders and production increased for the 18th month in a row. The index for both was substantially higher this month compared with last month and near its highest point in almost a year. Yet, backlogs contracted for the 12th straight month. The backlog index does seem to have stabilized in recent months though. Compared with one year ago, the backlog index has contracted for three consecutive months. And, the annual rate of change peaked almost eight months ago, which means growth in capacity utilization has probably seen its peak for a while. The rate of hiring picked up significantly in March as the index reached its highest level since November. Exports contracted at a similar rate compared with last month due to the relatively strong dollar. Supplier deliveries continued to lengthen, but they did so at nearly the slowest rate in a year.

While material prices continued to increase, the rate of increase continued to decline. In March, material prices increased at their slowest rate since October 2010. Prices received were flat in March, which was the first time they did not increase since April 2014. Future business expectations improved slightly month. The index is about 5 percent above its historical average.

Plants with 20-49, 100-249, and 250 or more employees recorded a significant improvement in business conditions in March. The largest facilities are still growing significantly faster than the rest of the industry though. Shops with 50-99 employees have seen consistently strong growth since the end of 2013. Shops with 19 or employees remained mired in contraction. They have recorded only two months of growth since March 2012.

Five of the six regions expanded in March. The West, North Central – East, North Central – west, and Northeast regions saw very similar growth rates this month. For the second month in a row expansion was minimal in the Southeast. The South Central has contracted for four months in a row. In the last three months, the index for the South Central has been below 40.

Future capital spending plans contracted 19.4 percent compared with March 2014. This was the sixth straight month of contraction compared with one year ago. The annual rate of change contracted for the fourth month in a row.

More economic news from Gardner Business Media can be found here.

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