Posted by: Steve Kline, Jr. 10. November 2014

October 2014 MBI Shows Rate of Expansion Picking Up

With a reading of 51.2, the Gardner Business Index showed that the metalworking industry grew for the 10th consecutive month and the 12th time in 13 months. October’s rate of expansion was slightly faster than last month. The month-over-month rate of growth was just 1.0 percent, which was the slowest rate of growth since August 2013. The annual rate of growth decelerated for the first time since it began growing in March.

Both new orders and production increased for the 13th month in a row. In both cases, the rate of expansion was significantly faster than the previous month. The accelerating contraction in backlogs took a pause in October as backlogs contracted at a slightly slower rate than they did in September. Compared to the same month one year ago, backlogs contracted for the first time since August 2013. While it was still growing quickly, the annual rate of growth has decelerated for two months in a row. This indicates that capacity utilization will likely see its peak rate of growth in the second quarter of 2015. Given the trend in backlogs, it is still likely that capacity utilization will average more than 80 percent in 2015. Employment continued to expand but the rate of hiring has slowed compared to the first half of the year. The rate of contraction in exports continued to accelerate as the dollar continues to appreciate against other world currencies. Supplier deliveries continued to lengthen but the rate of increase has slowed the last two months.

Material prices have increased at a slower rate since June. Material prices were increasing at a rate similar to the first four months of the year. Prices received have increased the last six months. This is the strongest period of sustained price increases by metalworking facilities since the summer of 2012. Future business expectations took their biggest hit since December 2012 and were at their lowest level since October 2013.

Plants with more than 100 employees continued to grow but they did so at their slowest rate of 2014. Facilities with 20-99 employees saw significantly better business conditions in October. Once again they were growing at a rate similar to that of the largest facilities. Shops with fewer than 20 employees contracted for the fifth month in a row and the eighth time in 2014.

For the fourth month in a row, the South Central region was the fastest growing region by a fairly wide margin. Its index has been above 60.0 two of the last three months. The North Central - East and Northeast regions also expanded. The North Central – West, West, and Southeast regions contracted after growing for a number of months.

Future capital spending plans contracted 13.5 percent compared to last October. This was the fastest month-over-month contraction since February 2014. The annual rate of growth decelerated to 4.2 percent, which was the first time it decelerated since it began growing in April.

For more manufacturing economic news, visit Gardner's Economics News Blog.

Posted by: Mark Albert 7. November 2014

The Decision Not to Automate Fully

Pointe Precision's move into long-running, high-volume production was a bold decision. Best known for low-volume, high-complexity aerospace and medical parts, this shop in Plover, Wisconsin, seized the opportunity to diversify its operations by becoming a major supplier of critical parts to a well-known manufacturer of recreational products. When the demand for these products soared, the manufacturer turned to Pointe Precision to duplicate its original, maxed-out production line to keep up with sales.

Buying and installing several Makino a51nx HMCs at a time, Pointe Precision eventually had 32 of these machines arranged in cells dedicated to this family of stainless steel parts. "Very early, we decided not to invest in automation, although a pallet delivery system with robots would have been feasible," says company owner Joe Kinsella.

His reasons not to automate were clear:

  • Automation would have added to the cost and complexity of the system.
  • It would have been difficult to grow the automation as more machines were added, especially since the final configuration of the cells hinged on an expansion to the existing shop building.
  • A customized, dedicated system of automation would restrict the flexibility of the line, a key factor if the machines needed to be repurposed if and when the current status of this job changed.

Mr. Kinsella’s reasons to develop a workforce of specially trained hires to staff this line were equally clear:

  • The size of the staff could be flexed as the production line grew.
  • Suitable candidates for these positions were available in the central Wisconsin area, although special training would be needed.
  • With proper training, people can be the most flexible and capable asset in a production setting.
  • Creating jobs in manufacturing is a good thing for the community.

However, careful planning, the right level of on-machine automation and numerous accommodations to ensure the productivity and reliability of the strategy where required for success. You can read the full story here.

Posted by: Derek Korn 6. November 2014

Hybrid Lubricant Offers Advantages

At IMTS, I learned about an organic-urea-based (yes, urea) hybrid lubricant that takes advantage of oil’s liquid nature and grease’s adhesive characteristics. LHL (Lube Hybrid Lubrication) is available in the United States through Lube USA and is said to offer a number of advantages. It uses just a fraction of the lubricant quantity compared to conventional oil lubrications systems. The company says lower lubricant requirement can significantly reduce machine maintenance costs while minimizing the chance that lubricant will enter a machine’s coolant tank causing coolant deterioration and/or decomposition. Plus, the LHL hybrid grease doesn’t emulsify and is packaged in convenient cartridges that are simple to replace. Maintenance made easier.

Posted by: Emily Probst 5. November 2014

November Digital Edition Now Available

The digital edition of Modern Machine Shop's November issue is now available.

The digital November issue of Modern Machine Shop is now available. The cover story details how it might be better to hire an employee based on his or her strengths and aptitude rather than a hard set of skills. Another feature discusses how one shop went from making low-volume, high-complexity medical and aerospace parts to a high-volume production line. A third story delves into reducing setups with automated pallet systems while a fourth feature takes a look at “dengeling”—an alternative to grinding, polishing and shot peening.

Our Rapid Traverse section is completely devoted to recapping IMTS 2014. More than 20 photos with extended captions will help you get a sense of what we found notable at this year’s show.

This month’s Better Production section includes case studies about how CAD/CAM software helped an aerospace shop machine aluminum guitars, how HMCs helped bow manufacturer Mathews improve its technology and productivity, and how G-code simulation ensures precise machining of large parts.

The Modern Equipment Review section highlights turning equipment.

Posted by: Peter Zelinski 4. November 2014

Two Heads Better Than One in New Hybrid Additive/Subtractive Machine

The two laser cladding heads reside with the machine’s cutting tools in the tool magazine.

In “subtractive” manufacturing (that is, machining), we take it for granted that an efficient process might consist of both a high-speed roughing step and a high-precision finishing step. Why shouldn’t additive manufacturing have these same two options?

At the JIMTOF show concluding this week in Japan, Mazak introduced a new hybrid additive/subtractive multitasking machine, the Integrex i-400AM, which features heads for both high speed and high precision laser cladding for direct metal deposition.

The new machine extends the definition of multitasking, including turning, milling, drilling, additive manufacturing and laser marking in the same machine.

Collaboratively developed with Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies (a company we reported on here), the dual laser cladding heads (or additive manufacturing nozzles) provide options for either rapid  and coarse metal deposition or slower deposition with fine precision. The two heads complement one another—and provide for efficient processing—in much the same way that roughing and finishing tools work together in machining.

The cladding heads reside in the machine’s tool magazine and can be called up as needed. Mazak says it views metal deposition as a natural extension of multitasking—that is, an opportunity to perform more steps and add still more value within a single CNC cycle.

The laser cladding can be used to build near-net-shape 3D forms. Thus, the machine is a potentially attractive choice for small-lot production of parts made from difficult-to-machine metals, because it provides the option for some part features to be grown instead of being generated entirely through machining.

The laser cladding can also be used to coat chosen sections of the part with metal, allowing the machine to repair worn or damaged components such as turbine blades. This cladding could even be used to join different metals in the same cycle.

The full five-axis milling and turning machine tool features machining capabilities comparable to other models in its family. The milling spindle feeds through a B-axis range of –30/+210 degrees, while the spindle that holds the part for turning also permits full C-axis contouring. The tailstock too is fully programmable. Learn more about the Integrex i-400AM here.

Combining laser cladding and machining in the same cycle means that surfaces can be added to parts or features can be grown onto parts within the same cycle that also performs turning or five-axis milling.

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