With a reading of 45.9, the Gardner Business Index showed that the metalworking industry contracted in April at a faster rate than the previous two months, ending a string of four months in which the index showed notable improvement.
New orders and production both fell back into contraction after one month of growth, with production taking the larger hit as it contracted at its fastest rate so far this year. The backlog index contracted at a faster rate than in March after improving sharply since November, and employment contracted at its fastest rate since August. The export index had been contracting at a slower rate since August, but that trend appeared to end in April. Supplier deliveries lengthened at a faster rate for the second month in a row.
Material prices increased at an accelerating rate for the second month in a row, although this rate of increase was still the slowest in nearly six years. Prices received have decreased since June, but their rate of decrease was the slowest since September. Future business expectations dropped, but were still among the highest since August.
The Southeast region continued to be quite strong, having grown three of the first four months of this year, and it was the strongest region in each of those months. March and April were the two best months for this region since the survey began in December 2011. Every other region contracted in April, however. The Northeast contracted after two months of growth, the North Central-West and North Central-East have contracted most of the last year, and the West has contracted eight of the last nine months. The South Central recorded its lowest index, as the oil and gas industry continued to struggle.
While they are still well below the historical average, future capital spending plans were higher than $700,000 per plant for the first time since February 2015. These spending plans increased 29.4 percent in April, the first increase over one year earlier since September 2014. This could be the beginning of increased in capital spending in the metalworking industry.
Renishaw describes FixtureBuilder as a 3D-modeling software package that enables offline creation and documentation of fixturing setups.
You can have the most powerful machine tool on the market, loaded with an array of advanced cutting tools, but if your workpiece isn’t held firmly in place, it’s all for nothing. New software not only allows for the creation of rock-solid fixturing configuration on your computer monitor, but also makes it easier to seek the quickest and most efficient setups as well.
The software by Renishaw is called FixtureBuilder, which is described as a 3D-modeling software package that allows for the offline creation and documentation of fixturing setups. Primary benefits include clear, well-organized component libraries; intelligent “drag and drop” functionality; quick manipulation of parts; and an easy-to-use constraint mechanism.
In addition to full CAD compatibility and the availability of custom libraries, the “build it” function automates the production of work instructions and a bill of materials for every fixture setup. This helps ensure compliance with quality standards and also assists with product ordering. Introduced at the Control 2016 show in Stuttgart, Germany, more information is available here.
PTooling opened its Ontario shop to Canadian and international manufacturing professionals interested in additive manufacturing. A mural depicting some of the company’s key employees greets visitors just inside the door.
Manufacturers from Canada and the United States gathered at PTooling’s Amherstburg, Ontario, facility for an Additive Manufacturing forum April 27-28. Jointly hosted by Canada Makes and the WindsorEssex Economic Development Corp., the event included presentations from Marv Fiebig, president of PTooling; Dr. Gregory Hyatt, senior vice president and CTO of advanced solutions development for DMG MORI USA; and Matthias Kuehnelt of Hoedtke GmbH & Co. KG.
Mr. Fiebig focused his talk on what was, in many ways, the centerpiece of the event: PTooling’s DMG MORI Lasertec 65 3D hybrid manufacturing system. The machine combines five-axis CNC milling capabilities with a powder-fed laser deposition head to enable both additive and subtractive operations in the same cycle. The hybrid machine makes it possible to build additive parts up from scratch, as well as add features onto machined parts or repair damaged components.
PTooling’s became the first Lasertec additive manufacturing machine to be installed in North America when the company took delivery of it in December 2015. Now, it is one of three on the continent, but it remains the only one producing parts for external customers (the other two are captive machines owned by SpaceX and Boeing).
Marv Fiebig, president of PTooling, spoke to visitors about the company’s decision to purchase a hybrid manufacturing machine and the results it has seen so far.
Mr. Fiebig’s presentation described PTooling’s experience with the Lasertec hybrid and how additive manufacturing has affected its business. The company primarily serves the oilfield industry, but Mr. Fiebig says the new machine is opening up other possibilities in industries such as aerospace and plastics molding. He is also finding that new customers are now seeking out PTooling because of this capacity. Hosting the forum and open house was another way to help educate colleagues and potential customers about the technology.
Dr. Hyatt looked to AM’s future, drawing comparisons between additive manufacturing today and the automotive industry in the early 20th century and arguing that additive is on its way to being democratized similar to the way that automobiles eventually were. “We’re 80 percent of the way there,” he said, citing AM’s current capabilities to build on existing structures, incorporate multiple materials and integrate subtractive machining.
What will it take to achieve the remaining 20 percent? Cost per part must continue to come down and work envelopes must increase. Software that is easy to use and supports both AM and subtractive machining must be available. Robust machines that can handle 24/7 production must be developed. Dr. Hyatt also spoke to how DMG MORI is working to address these remaining concerns to help bring AM into production.
The Lasertec 65 3D has a laser deposition head fed with metal powder to additively build parts and features. The machine was running during the open house producing souvenirs for visitors.
Matthias Kuehnelt of Hoedtke spoke about the company’s research into best practices for hybrid manufacturing. Hoedtke, based in Germany, also owns a Lasertec 65 3D and has performed extensive testing on this machine with regard to both its additive and subtractive capabilities. Mr. Kuehnelt presented results from various tests exploring how parameters such as table movement and the direction of deposition affect the strength and quality of additive parts.
The event concluded with a Q&A session with the three speakers, and tours of PTooling’s facility. The organizers plan to make the additive manufacturing forum an annual event, and PTooling expects to host it again next year.
A Google Street View tour of Gilman's facility is available on its website and Google Maps.
How do you let potential customers see your machines and manufacturing capabilities when they can’t spend the time and money to leave work and fly across the country to visit your facility? Gilman Precision of Grafton, Wisconsin, is taking an unusual approach to showcasing its capabilities: providing a virtual tour using Google Street View. I wrote about this virtual tour last week, but I thought it was important to reach out to see if they would share their story and offer some tips for other shops considering a virtual tour.
Google Street View wasn’t Gilman’s first attempt at a virtual tour. YouTube videos ultimately fell short of expectations because visitors couldn’t stop and stare at things that piqued their interest. However, when the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce sent out information for using Google Street View to tour restaurants, bars, etc., Gilman reached out to Google to see if they would consider a street view of a manufacturing facility.
To start the process, Gilman got bids from some Google-certified photographers in the area. According to Douglas Biggs, vice president of sales and marketing, prices depend on the size of your facility, and how many photos would be necessary to cover it. Gilman paid about $2,000 for photos of its 70,000 square-foot-facility.
Once the company chose a photographer, the rest of the process took little involvement from Gilman, Mr. Biggs says. The photographer used a digital camera with a fish-eye lens on a tripod to capture images around the shop. Every 5 feet, he would stop and take four photos in each direction before moving on. The whole photoshoot took about 2 hours to complete. Afterwards, the photographer loaded the tour online to Google. From start to finish, creating the virtual tour took about two weeks.
After going through this process, Mr. Biggs has some tips for other shops considering a Google Street View photoshoot:
Consider the lighting. You want to make sure your shop is brightly lit. There is nothing worse than a dark shop.
Clean up. While he considers it a “home-field advantage” to always have a clean shop, Mr. Biggs suggests going through and making sure to clean out your junk drawers, so to speak. Like inviting guests over to your house, you want to put your best face forward.
Get as many sets of eyes on your shop as possible. Take several people through your shop beforehand looking for customer-sensitive parts and logos. Gilman used to be part of SFK until it set out on its own about five years ago. Still, there were some old calendars and displays that needed to be removed before the photoshoot.
According to Mr. Biggs, walking through the facility so slowly and deliberately was an eye-opening experience. “I’ve never walked my floor and examined it to that extent,” he says. “It’s a completely different way of looking at your shop. In fact, it sparked some ideas for the future. I now know that if we need a new machine down the road, we can do it by moving a certain machine to another location.”
After a little more than a week, Google Street View is already making a difference with Gilman's marketing efforts. The company promoted the virtual tour through an email blast, which saw significant growth in its open rate for that particular mailing. Moreover, the shop is already getting feedback from customers that didn’t realize it had certain capabilities. Business opportunities are already in the works.
The next step is to look at Google Analytics to see where people are clicking on the website next after taking the tour. Are they wanting more information on the company’s spindles, or perhaps they want to know about a different topic? Using this information, Gilman can better prepare its future marketing content.
The team that won the best overall video award, Killingly High School & Web Industries, received a trophy assembled from parts manufactured at each of the participating manufacturers. Next year, that travelling trophy will be up for grabs again.
There’s usually a clear line between teacher and student, but that wasn’t the case for one recent effort to spread the word about manufacturing industry career opportunities. On April 14, participants in the “Manufacturing a Path to Success” video competition gathered to celebrate the conclusion of a contest that had high schoolers partner with local manufacturers to produce their own educational videos about the industry.
The organization behind the contest is the Eastern Advanced Manufacturing Alliance (EAMA), a group of more than 40 manufacturers in Eastern Connecticut, South-Central Massachusetts and Northwest Rhode Island that aims to promote industry careers generally; strengthen the regional workforce; and enable members to advocate as a team for common interests. As we reported a few weeks ago while voting for the videos was still underway, each of 13 student teams made multiple visits to a local manufacturer to conceive and shoot their submissions. In the process, they learned about different job functions, the skills required to be successful in those jobs, and how various employees got into the profession. After editing and refining the message, the students were responsible for promoting the videos within their schools and local communities. Participating high schools included technical schools, middle colleges, regional and town-based schools.
The April 14 gathering culminated in a film festival, aptly dubbed the EAMY awards, at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson, Connecticut. Students arrived in formal attire, and some were even treated to a limousine ride to the event by their manufacturing partner. Videos were screened and evaluated by a panel of judges from the manufacturing improvement, education and video production industries, and winners received various cash prizes and trophies.
“Manufacturing a Path to Success” is the second annual video competition hosted by EAMA, and it was even more successful than the first iteration, the organization reports. As a result, the organization will host a similar event next year for its members.
Here’s a list of this year’s winners (all submissions are available for viewing on the EAMA’s website):
Best Overall Video: Killingly High School & Web Industries
Outstanding Videography: Putnam High School & Ensinger Precision Components
Best Narration: Killingly High School & Web Industries
Outstanding Educational Value: Plainfield High School & Westminster Tool
Most Creative: Plainfield High School & Westminster Tool
Viewer’s Choice Awards
1st Place: Three Rivers Middle College & MPS Plastics
2nd Place: Woodstock Academy & Whitcraft
3rd Place: New London Science & Technology Magnet High School & Sound Manufacturing