Matt Danford joined the MMS team in 2006 straight out of college as a true neophyte, with a B.S. degree in Journalism from Ohio University (Bobcats, not Buckeyes!) and limited knowledge of metalworking technology. He’s come a long way since then, with a number of bylined case studies and a few feature articles under his belt. Matt also uses his skills to copy edit other staffers’ work and prepare submitted articles and news releases for publication.
The thing Matt enjoys most about working at MMS is using his writing ability to boil down and communicate complicated technical information in an easily understandable way. He looks forward to learning more about machine tool technology and completing his transition from an editing-based role to generating more original content.
Split between the Nangang Exhibition Hall, shown here, and the Taiwan World Trade Center, TIMTOS 2013 was literally bursting at the seams—more than 3,000 potential exhibitors were turned away. Those that were there emphasized technology that is increasingly sophisticated and specialized.
Quality equipment and relatively low prices have traditionally made Taiwanese machine tools attractive in the U.S. market, but builders from the small island nation are increasingly touting the “quality” side of that equation. My visit this past March to the Taipei International Machine Tool Show (TIMTOS), the biennial machine tool exhibition in the capital city, confirmed that these suppliers do indeed offer many of the technologically sophisticated features and capabilities valued by shops here in the States. Additionally, the industry—and the show itself—have been growing at a rapid pace despite economic uncertainty. Click here for a full report.
The idea of an environmentally friendly car that is also affordable, practical and capable of being produced with real-world technology might seem far-fetched. However, if all goes according to plan, Jim Kor and his team at Kor Ecologic could do a great deal to lay that view to rest—and additive manufacturing technology is playing a critical role in their efforts.
In 2011, this small company in Winnipeg, Manitoba unveiled the Urbee (urban electric with ethanol as backup), a two-seater hybrid-electric vehicle. Just a few weeks ago, the firm announced that it and its partners—Red Eye on Demand, a rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing service, and Red Eye's parent company, additive manufacturing technology supplier Stratasys—had started development of the next-generation Urbee 2, which promises to take the concepts behind the original to a higher level.
What's special about the Urbee? For one, it's fuel-efficient. The plan is to set a new world record by driving from San Francisco to New York on only 10 gallons of biofuel. It will also be no slower than the average vehicle, with highway speeds of 70 mph. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it will have a relatively simple design. Whereas typical cars contain hundreds of parts, only 40 comprise the Urbee, and the entire car body will be produced via fused deposition modeling on Stratasys machines. "Product design is nearly unencumbered by considerations on how parts can be made with digital manufacturing," Mr. Kor says. "That liberation is incredibly powerful and holds a lot of potential for the future of manufacturing."
Employees at Studer’s factory in Steffisburg, Switzerland hand-scrape ways, an activity that is said to differentiate products from competitors. According to the company, providing Motion Meeting attendees with a first-hand look at the production process improves their ability to advocate for Studer in their respective markets.
“Motion Meeting” seemed a particularly apt title for this year’s gathering of Studer’s worldwide sales partners, as the 100-year-old manufacturer of cylindrical grinding machines is certainly on the move (especially in the United States). A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the annual event at the company’s headquarters facility in Steffisburg, Switzerland, a location where the company has invested significantly during the past half-decade despite uncertain economic conditions.
That willingness to keep improving whether times are good or bad has been touted as vitally important by a range of manufacturers that have appeared in MMS. Here are a few other aspects of Studer’s approach that struck me as similar to that of other successful companies:
Streamlining processes. Examples were numerous, but I was particularly struck by the company’s approach to inventory management. Smaller assembly tools and spare parts sourced by outside suppliers are stored in containers with force sensors that detect when an item is removed. Only then is a purchase order initiated— technically, the inventory is owned by the supplier until an employee retrieves it.
Prioritizing competing goals. The photo above shows employees scraping ways by hand. Although this could be done faster and with less labor on surface grinders, Studer bills itself as a premium brand and is more than willing to take extra care to ensure accuracy.
Controlling core competencies. One of the most significant of the company’s recent investments is a massive Dixi DHP 80 II boring mill with a 29-pallet Fastems automation system. This machine will enable bringing spindle production fully in-house, despite the fact that there had been no dissatisfaction with the company that previously performed some of this work.
Investing in the workforce. Of Studer’s 800 total employees, 75 are apprentices—nearly 10 percent of the total. Granted, Europe’s culture of apprenticeship differs markedly from our workforce development, but Studer’s substantial training effort underscores a recognition that people are its most valuable and irreplaceable resources.
Communicating effectively. Studer CEO Fred Gaegauf commented that customers no longer order just machines, but application solutions. For that reason, a key theme of this years’ meeting was improving collaboration with international sales partners serving markets with different needs. On some level, even a small job shop could relate to that goal, whether in terms of working with a customer on a new product design or even streamlining communication between operators in different departments.
Mr. Sun’s Mori Seiki NHX4000 pre-bores a pilot hole on a vise body via helical interpolation.
This article from a recent MMS issue describes how low-profile clamps from Mitee-Bite facilitated the high-density fixturing necessary for one fledgling manufacturer to take full advantage of a twin-pallet HMC with tombstone fixturing. However, just as there's only so much space on a tombstone, there's only so much space in a given article. As such, the piece is by no means comprehensive in its treatment of the strategies that shop owner Eric Sun employs to make the most of his production resources.
One example is his use of tool load monitoring, which comes standard on his HMC's CNC. By writing a simple program that directs the machine to drill portions of the workpiece where material should already have been cut away, Mr. Sun can detect tool breakage without the use of a separate probe. "If we take a small drill and go into an existing hole where there shouldn't be any material, and tool load monitoring measures any load at all, I know the tool broke and the hole wasn't drilled properly," he explains. "This built-in CNC feature provides a lot more confidence for our longer unattended runs."
Of course, this approach is viable not just for drilled holes, but also milled features such as pockets, slots and so forth. Mr. Sun adds that it is also useful for checking setups. For example, he might use tool load monitoring determine whether a fixture that is supposed to be empty actually is so. Likewise, he can ensure that the correct workpiece is loaded in cases when different-size parts share the same fixture for their respective machining routines.
Sherry Baranek, senior editor at Moldmaking Technology, and I take in the sights at A. Finkl & Sons’ new plant in Chicago.
Where a layperson sees nothing more than a plastic consumer product on a store shelf, a machinist might muse about the processes and equipment used to produce the mold that birthed it. Even that machinist, however, might not give a second thought to the fact that the products' origins actually lie in superheated furnaces that transform scrap metal into blocks of steel with all the qualities necessary for machining. During a tour of A. Finkl & Sons' brand new facility in Chicago, I got a first-hand look at that process.
As interesting as that was, the company's move to a new plant has significant implications for buyers of its steel and forgings. Tim Nealt, vice president of sales, says the company's sprawling 44-acre plant on the South Side will offer significantly shorter lead times for higher-quality products compared to its previous 22-acre facility in upscale Lincoln Park. Here are a few reasons why:
More advanced equipment. The new plant is fully stocked with the latest in steel production technology, such as a new 90-ton electric arc furnace that reduces processing time from four hours to one. Likewise, a new ladle metallurgy furnace and an improved vacuum argon degassing cycle boost steel quality by providing finer control of the chemical mix.
Improved Logistics. At the former plant, buildings were separated by city streets, and space was tight. In contrast, the new space facilitates a smoother, more linear workflow, from the melt shop to the forge shop to the machine shop and everything in between. Additionally, the new site is already linked to major railways, so the flow of material both into and out of the plant is more efficient.
Sufficient power. During the tour, Mr. Nealt recalled one instance in which the steelmaker was asked to turn off its furnaces so there would be adequate electricity to allow the Cubs to play a night baseball game. Such problems should now be a thing of the past, given that the new South Side site has its own electrical substation with more powerful transformers than the previous location.
By the end of the year, the company expects operations at the old site will be fully phased out and the new South Side plant will be operating at 100 percent.