Suppliers of workholding, robotics, machine tools and other key technologies demonstrated first-hand how manufacturers of all stripes stand to gain from implementing automation.
What comes to mind when you think about automation? For many, the answer is long lines of robot-fed, interconnected machinery, conveyor belts and more—the kind of thing you’d expect to see at a large, high-production operation with the resources to implement a factory that runs (and, increasingly, thinks) all on its own.
Although that’s certainly a valid answer, it’s also leaving a lot out. So says machine tool builder Okuma America Corp., which recently hosted an event with a specific focus on the notion that shops of all sizes stand to benefit from automation. What made this message so convincing, however, is that Okuma wasn’t the only one touting it. Hosted June 22 at the Partners in THINC facility down the street from the company’s headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, “Easy Shop Floor Automation” was the brainchild of not just Okuma, but also more than 15 members of its formal supplier partner network. Offering advice on maximizing the benefits of everything from bar feeders and parts catchers (yes, these are examples of automation) to robotics and flexible manufacturing systems, this diverse group of partners spoke with a single voice on how any size shop can benefit from technology that frees human beings from repetitive, time-consuming and low-value-added tasks.
Just in case that voice wasn’t loud or convincing enough, these suppliers were ready to prove the point on real-world equipment. Technology in action included:
A Multus B300W mill-turn with Gosiger automation cell using FANUC robot and Kitagawa quick-change workholding
Genos L250 with LNS bar feeder, Caron Engineering balancing and operational App
Genos L300M with Gosiger Automation Cell using Kuka robot, Renishaw Equator, Caron Auto-Comp, infeed/outfeed conveyor
ABB robotic drink-serving cell
FANUC robot/Schunk Workholding changing cell
Okuma 2SP-150H turning cell with integrated gantry system
Successful automation takes a village, and access to suppliers covering all key aspects of an integrated system makes relatively intimate, tightly focused events like this particularly valuable, says Jim Estes, director of Partners in THINC. “All in one building, attendees have access to metrology people, workholding people, people who can help improve tool life—all the knowledge and equipment that make automation effective,” he says. He adds that such events provide great opportunities to see how technology is evolving, citing work on technology that could provide fast, precise non-contact measurement as part of a seamless automated machining process. “This is coming, and it’s going to work in an environment with coolant and chips to complement the current touch-probe systems,” Mr. Estes says.
Partners in THINC is a network of more than 46 companies that collaborate to solve problems and explore the possibilities of manufacturing technology.
The Mazak SmartBox with cloud connectivity encompasses integrated services such as secure file transfer, remote access and machine history.
Later this month, Mazak Corp. will present the next phases of its Mazak SmartBox at Cisco System Inc.'s Cisco Live event in Las Vegas. This announcement is significant for several reasons:
Mazak is continuing to show leadership in the transition to data-driven manufacturing throughout the industry.
Cisco Systems is taking serious interest in the networking, security and connectivity needs of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)—the essential infrastructure that enables data-driven manufacturing.
In addition, notable organizational changes in the top management positions at Mazak will be apparent.
In announcing its participation at Cisco Live, Mazak states that, in its next phases, the Mazak SmartBox IIoT platform (developed in collaboration with Cisco) will offer Mazak iSmart Cloud connectivity, machine learning and predictive maintenance capabilities, in addition to process analytics. The Mazak SmartBox enables manufacturers to access and use real-time manufacturing data to improve productivity and react quickly to customer needs. Likewise, iSmart Cloud connectivity helps shops identify machine issues before they escalate into machine downtime.
Cisco Live, described as the one of the industry’s largest such events, will focus on process analytics as well as ideas and technologies to optimize factory floor performance and production. More than 1,000 technical sessions will take place and cover various topics involving the IIoT, analytics and manufacturing. This event signifies the merger of corporate and factory-floor information technology.
Mazak will be a special guest at the Cisco event. Mazak’s Daniel Janka will participate in panel discussions and present on Mazak’s use of the SmartBox technology within its own iSmart Factory in Florence, Kentucky. This will mark one of Mr. Janka’s first public appearances as company president, replacing Brian Papke, who has accepted a new position as chairman. As of July 1, Mr. Janka will assume the normal operating functions of Mazak’s North American operations, including the iSmart Factory and North American Headquarters in Kentucky, along with the company’s eight Technology Centers located throughout North America.
The company says it is positioning itself for continued growth and further advances in the manufacturing industry’s new digital frontier, as well as developing technology in multitasking, five-axis machining and additive manufacturing. The company says Mr. Papke personally selected Mr. Janka, who joined Mazak in early 2016, because his experience in the machine tool industry and his extensive involvement with machine tool utilization software and five-axis technology at past positions meshes well with Mazak’s iSmart Factory and the company’s commitment to MTConnect.
Mr. Papke has been with Mazak since 1987, and company president since 1989. Under his leadership, the Kentucky plant grew from one building to its current five-building, 800,000-square-foot campus where the company now designs and builds advanced manufacturing systems, including five-axis and multitasking machines. Mr. Papke promoted the iSmart Factory Concept and the Mazak SmartBox to facilitate further integration of digital solutions in manufacturing.
Here are a few examples of custom-engineered cutters from Seco Tools.
Both cutting tool suppliers and the manufacturers they serve have plenty to gain from deeper collaboration. That was an overriding message of the recent Custom Products media event hosted by Seco Tools, which focused on custom-engineered tooling as well as consulting services provided by the Troy, Michigan, cutting tool manufacturer. Takeaways from the event include:
As a relatively small portion of production costs, tool cost should never be considered outside the context of potential productivity gains;
Manufacturers stand to benefit more than ever from outside expertise;
Cutting tool suppliers have particular incentive to provide that expertise;
Seco has made significant strides in improving value-added services; and
Value-added services go beyond custom tooling and direct consultations with customers.
Attendees line up at the opening of the Amerimold Show. A minor glitch—a power outage that slightly delayed the opening—didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits.
Walking out of the Amerimold show at closing time on the first day, I was struck by the fact that plenty of conversations were still happening at booths in all corners of the hall. As a veteran of plenty of trade shows, I’d have expected traffic to drop far more markedly and far more quickly in the waning hours of the event, even on the first day.
Perhaps everyone was simply waiting around for the subsequent MoldMaking Technology “Leadtime Leader” awards presentation and overview of the always-humorous “Top 10 Reasons to be a Moldmaker,” not to mention the Casino-themed after-party. Regardless, the mood was overwhelmingly positive among the attendees and exhibitors that I had a chance to engage at the Amerimold 2016, hosted June 15-16 at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi, Michigan. And, there were more of both compared to last year’s edition of the show, with 3,000 registrants versus 2,700 and a record 197 exhibitors.
Somewhat unusually for the manufacturing trade show landscape, those exhibitors include not just technology suppliers, but also a large number of end-user shops (28, to be exact). Many of these mold manufacturers indicated that tool programs they’ve been waiting for, particularly in the automotive industry, have already or will soon be released, and that they expect at least steady business through 2017.
Highlighting just how competitive this sector is, capability to build quality tooling doesn’t seem to be enough for some of these shops. Across the sector, recent years have seen many add to design/engineering services on the front end of build, and, particularly, tool sampling on the back end. The Amerimold show has transitioned right along with them. This year, the technical conference program added an injection molding-focused track to the typical engineer, build and maintain topics. The show was also co-located with the Thermoplastic Composites Conference for Automotive (TCC Auto), which focuses on automotive light-weighting.
Still, this expanded focus did nothing to diminish Amerimold’s role as a showcase of technology that moldmakers rely on to cut cores and cavities from hardened steel—technology with potential applications that go far beyond moldmaking. This slideshow features a number of examples, including modular, quick-change workholding, cutting tools for long reaches and other difficult conditions, non-contact metrology and more.
Relatively few shops perform frequency response measurements (like the one shown in the photo) to determine the optimal, chatter-free spindle speeds and depths of cut for their machines.
However, a much larger share of shops do run at something like these optimal parameters, because they eventually arrive at these parameters through the trial-and-error process of adjusting a machine’s speed until the chatter stops, and then cutting as deep as they can at that speed. The difference is: Measuring to find these parameters can get the shop to the optimal process faster, without so many parts being cut inefficiently along the way.
Jerry Halley of Tech Manufacturing experienced this. He was looking for a machining center that would perform well in heavy cutting of aluminum using a ¾-inch or 1-inch tool. For each of the machine models he considered, he went to where that machine was in use so he could measure to find the machine’s chatter-free milling speeds with these tools. (That measurement is often called a “tap test.”) A machine from SNK gave him the best performance he measured with the tools he wanted to use.
He shared this information with the machine’s user, the shop he was visiting to measure the machine. That is, he told team members at this shop the exact spindle speed at which they could run the machine to get the best efficiency with a 1-inch tool.
They said, essentially, “That sounds right.” The staff here had already figured out that this particular speed was best.
Mr. Halley nevertheless says there is an important point here that illustrates the value of the frequency response evaluation. In questioning the staff members further, he learned that they had fine-tuned the machine’s cutting parameters over the course of several months before coming to the correct findings that they did. By contrast, he came to the same correct conclusion with a measurement that took 15 minutes. Measurement and experience arrived at the same place, but measurement made it there much more quickly.
Learn more about measuring machine tools to find chatter-free cutting conditions here and here.