The cover story of the November issue of Additive Manufacturing places AM into the context of an even larger idea. Lockheed Martin Space Systems is aiming to achieve what it calls the “digital tapestry,” a vision for manufacturing that avoids unnecessary effort and interpretation by keeping all manufacturing information in the digital realm. Additive manufacturing, because it can directly manifest a design conceived through digital collaboration, is valuable to realizing this ideal. Also in this issue, metal and plastic part maker Harbec Inc. describes how it uses AM alongside other manufacturing processes. The digital edition of this issue is available now. To subscribe to Additive Manufacturing, go here.
Mazak’s implementation of the iSmart Factory concept in Florence. Kentucky, includes an MTConnect-enabled machine monitoring system on this Palletech flexible machining system.
Yamazaki Mazak headquarters in Aichi, Japan, has announced an all-encompassing manufacturing vision called the Mazak iSmart Factory concept. According to the company, it will eventually designate all ten of its manufacturing operations as iSmart Factories, the first being the Oguchi factory at Mazak’s headquarters in Japan and now the North American factory in Florence, Kentucky.
The concept calls for advanced manufacturing cells and systems together with full digital integration to achieve free-flow data sharing for process control and operation monitoring. Also announced is that the MTConnect open communications protocol is being used with process support software to provide connectivity and the capability to monitor, then harvest, data from different production-floor machines, cells, devices and processes.
Through PCs and portable electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets, both management and manufacturing personnel will access the same real-time manufacturing data to improve overall productivity efficiency and responsiveness to customer/market changes, the company says.
Brian Papke, president of Mazak Corporation, explains that for Mazak, “iSmart Factory is a vision—the complete digital integration of the factory with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment, automation and advanced manufacturing practices. The name establishes a philosophy—a credo of sorts for Mazak that is unique to our operations but symbolizes our commitment toward the ultimate smart factory.” He says that while the name is new, “our U.S. factory has long demonstrated a commitment to growth and technological advancement, with a critical part of that strategy being such factors as plant-wide connectivity, automation and optimized production flow.” Mr. Papke also says that benefits include significant increases in machine utilization, shorter throughput times, elimination of non-value added operations, production-on-demand capability and more efficient part machining.
Simultaneous five-axis capability, multitasking machining and advanced automation that integrates different machines within the same cell are highlights of Mazak’s North American iSmart Factory operations. Also under the iSmart Factory umbrella in Kentucky is a fully automated paint line that will be digitally monitored through the same technology. The systems utilize the MTConnect standard for factory floor data, which will be incorporated into Mazak’s ERP system as the next step in 2015.
For an earlier summary of Mazak’s progress in data-driven manufacturing, click here.
Generation Growth Capital Fund is an investment group managed out of Milwaukee and Chicago that aims to develop the unrealized value of small- to mid-size manufacturing businesses. We first wrote about the fund here. The firm has sought to acquire contract manufacturing businesses featuring both attractive machining capabilities and strong customer relationships in important markets. As of the beginning of this year, it had integrated four such machine shops into a multi-site manufacturing organization called the M2M Group.
As a whole, these four formerly independent shops provide capabilities that range through large-part machining, micromachining, multitask and five-axis machining, and rapid prototyping of both machined parts and castings. Bringing these companies together into one group enables them not only to leverage one another’s resources, says Generation Growth Capital Fund managing director John Reinke, but also to realize efficiencies by adopting an organization-wide set of best practices and sharing certain quality, management and back office expenses. The aim, he says, is to build a contract manufacturing organization able to serve OEM customers throughout the entire manufacturing process from early prototyping to mature production. Until recently, though, there seemed to be a piece missing.
Mr. Reinke says, “The thing keeping me up at night was: What’s going on with additive manufacturing?”
Now, the M2M Group will discover the answer to that question. The fifth company to be acquired into the group is Atlantic Precision Inc. (API) of Port St. Lucie, Florida, a machining business that also additively manufactures metal parts through direct metal laser sintering, or DMLS.
That API became available for acquisition was a welcome development, Mr. Reinke says. The company was already known to his group. M2M company Tri Aerospace had active projects with API and a track record of working with this company for metal prototype parts and short-run production runs, particularly for the jet engine industry. Before API was a candidate to be bought, Mr. Reinke had been searching for the way to add additive manufacturing of metal parts to the M2M stable, and the findings of his search say something about the state of additive manufacturing as a production option today.
In general, he says, the companies he found were just starting out. It was difficult to find an additive manufacturing provider of the right size to be acquired by his fund that was anything more than a recently launched or recently reinvented company. Through acquisition, he hoped for the M2M Group to avoid the learning curve of additive manufacturing, but what he consistently found were companies going through that same learning curve themselves. Therefore, he had all but resolved to launch additive manufacturing as a green-field project within one of the existing M2M businesses.
Then the group heard from API. The company is distinctive for the length of time it has offered additive manufacturing services to industrial customers, he says. To an extent, at least, it has been through the learning curve.
And it has been through this curve alongside customers. This is also key, he says. The trial-and-error requires customers who are willing to go through the process along with the supplier. API has the customers who had that willingness, and as the result of working closely together to make important strides forward in understanding additive manufacturing, API now has particularly strong customer relationships.
One anecdote illustrates how quickly events are moving related to this method of making parts, Mr. Reinke says. While the acquisition was under way, a customer asked API to purchase another DMLS machine so the shop would have additional capacity for upcoming work. As the potential purchaser, Mr. Reinke’s fund had to react along with API to this request. Thus, the terms of the still-unfinished acquisition were rewritten so that this machine purchase could go ahead.
Andrew Heath points to our location on a model of the SMTCL campus in Shenyang, China, before an equipment monitoring display that can also be accessed via handheld devices such as tablets. Click here for more photos from the tour.
My recent two-day tour of the Shenyang Machine Tool Co., Ltd. (or SMTCL, a part of SYMG) manufacturing facility in Shenyang, China, and its main foundry in nearby Liaozhong (another is located in Xifeng) revealed a company in control of every stage of production, from mold-making to casting, assembly and shipping. With its own sheet-metal works and paint shop, SMTCL is truly an A-Z operation.
With service/technical centers in the United States and Canada, and locations throughout Germany devoted primarily to engineering and R&D, the main manufacturing campus in Shenyang employs some 14,000 people (18,000 worldwide) and is said to produce approximately 80,000 machine tools each year. These machines include CNC boring machines, the TPX line of manual boring machines and vertical and horizontal CNC milling and turning centers, including five-axis models. In fact, there are more than 300 models in production.
The company acquired Schiess of Germany in 2004, adding huge gantry-type boring and milling centers to its portfolio. Also, the company recently launched the new i5 CNC control developed at SMTCL’s R&D facility in Shanghai after six years and an investment of some $150 million.
My invitation to tour the facilities (along with another trade editor from Japan) signaled a move toward greater transparency in preparation for expanding SMTCL’s footprint in the global market. I was encouraged to take photographs and ask questions through Import & Export General Manager Andrew Heath, our host and guide.
Beginning in the carpentry shop, where wooden forms are constructed by master woodworkers based on the finished castings so they can be reproduced in the future, the sense of craftsmanship extended through all stages of manufacturing. The foundry was an impressive operation, with the latest technologies producing uniform castings for shipment to SMTCL’s assembly works as well as customers located around the world. The ISO/TS16949:2009 quality management system has been fully implemented at the foundry.
Assembly lines are well-organized, with all necessary tools and materials close at hand. The machines proceed through each station in an orderly and synchronized fashion, with technicians attaching components, running electrical wiring, sealing enclosures and measuring dimensions with laser scanners. Whether smaller VMCs or hulking gantry mills are being assembled, work areas are clean, spacious and well-lit.
After touring the facilities, I asked about the company’s strategic plans for growth. A new manufacturing facility for tapping machines will soon go online in Guangdong, and the search for a manufacturing site in the United States is ongoing, says Jerry McCarty, COO of SMTCL-Americas. It will be interesting to watch this company continue to establish itself outside of Asia, and particularly in the North American marketplace.
Flip through the Modern Equipment Review Spotlight on laser and waterjet machining in November’s issue, and you might notice evidence of a current industry trend: Builders are creating machines that can perform multiple processes. Examples include:
Esab’s Hydrocut LX, a combination waterjet and plasma cutting system;
Trumpf’s TruLaser Cell 3000, a laser cutting and welding machine; and
Tsugami’s S206-II, a Swiss-type lathe that’s also equipped with a laser cutting system.