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.
The general mood at Fabtech 2012, hosted at the Las Vegas Convention Center November 12-14, struck me as one of cautious optimism. The show itself, as organizers report, was humming, with a busy floor, jam-packed education and conference sessions and both exhibitors and attendees expressing enthusiasm. Nonetheless, among other observations, references to the problem of finding skilled workers, the political environment in Washington and economic tumult abroad suggested that many are somewhat wary about their future prospects.
Whatever the future brings, the pace of technological development doesn’t appear to be slowing in the metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing sector. One of the more noticeable trends was the prevalence of fiber lasers, which are said to offer faster cutting of thinner and reflective materials than their CO2 cousins with less operating and maintenance costs. Automation was also clear theme and an oft-touted solution to the aforementioned talent shortage. To that same end, much of the displayed equipment was designed to be easy to learn and easy to use. Manufacturers also touted integrated solutions combining multiple processes to minimize downtime. Click here for a sampling of some of the technologies that caught my eye.
Bob Coster (right), third-generation owner of Nolte Precise Manufacturing, passed the reins to his son Doug (left) in 2009. When the father-son team began to diversify Nolte’s capabilities and customer base in 2002, expanding the company’s use of E2 shop management software was a critical part of the transition.
Flip through an issue of Modern Machine Shop, and you'll likely encounter instances of shops attributing their success to having some combination of the right people and the right equipment. Although the importance of each can’t be denied, even the most talented staff armed with the most sophisticated machinery available can falter if, for example, no one knows what the next job is, where to find materials needed for that job and whether material inventory levels are high or low. Suffice to say that equipment and expertise goes only so far with things like quoting, scheduling, purchasing, properly documenting processes and procedures, and myriad other activities that characterize the day-to-day existence of a modern contract shop.
Such activities can be especially complex for shops like Nolte Precise Manufacturing, which takes on such a diverse range of work that no single sector accounts for more than 10 to 15 percent of its business. To manage that complexity, the company relies on Shoptech Software's E2 shop management system, a software package that also played a key role in transitioning away from its roots as a manufacturer of production screw machine components. Learn more here.
The shop reports that the new lighting system’s color rendering index (CRI) LEDs sharpen colors, keep aisles and machinery well-lit and ensure light levels are higher around operating surfaces where machinists work.
Readers turn to Modern Machine Shop primarily for in-depth coverage of machining applications and equipment, but we recognize that not all technology on the shop floor is directly involved in cutting metal. That’s why, from time to time, we think it’s appropriate to offer material that might not directly involve chip-making, but speaks to the concerns of our readers nonetheless.
One example is a case study we recently posted on our website about Creed Monarch, a contract manufacturer in New Britain, Connecticut. With capabilities ranging from CNC milling and turning to multi-spindle machining, various forms of grinding, gear hobbing and more, the shop could likely be covered from a number of different technology angles. In this case, however, the story involves swapping high-pressure sodium (HPS) lighting for “intelligent” LEDs from Digital Lumens that can be controlled at the level of the individual fixture. The end result has been substantial energy cost savings, among other benefits. Click here to learn more.
Most of Heller’s business consists of flexible transfer lines for powertrain production in the automotive and heavy diesel industries. Notable users of this equipment include Caterpillar, Paccar, Volvo, Ford and John Deere, a new customer that will soon take delivery of this particular line once testing is completed.
One of the more telling things I saw at Heller Machine Tools’ recent “Technology Days” open house event was the open plot of land behind its 100,000-square-foot facility in Troy, Michigan. That might seem odd, but I wasn’t intrigued by the land itself so much as the potential it represents. Robert Pelachyk, president and CEO, commented that within the next few years, this area could house additional production and testing space for the company’s flexible transfer lines, horizontal machining centers and other offerings.
Although no formal plans for an expansion have been announced, the fact that the company is considering such a move evidences larger forces at work. First, Mr. Pelachyk said he expects continued expansion in the newly revitalized U.S. auto industry, a prime market for Heller. Second, he commented that the U.S. has essentially become a “low-cost” country when it comes to manufacturing. If the recent buzz about reshoring isn’t evidence enough for this, Heller’s own experience certainly is. He noted that since reorganizing six years ago, the U.S. operation has grown from between 5 and 10 percent of German parent company Heller Machinenfabrik’s overall business to about a third, and estimates for this year show sales doubling compared to last year. (Notably, this year also marks the company’s 30th anniversary in the United States).
However, outside forces alone can’t account for the company’s continued growth and ambitious projections for the future. Becoming less reliant on Germany by producing more products in Troy was a conscious decision made six years ago, as was a move to provide more robust service and support. And, of course, none of these factors would matter without the right technology offerings, which were the focus of the open house event. Click here for details on two of the most notable new developments.
The technology that enables HTT to produce parts like this bonescrew in a single setup has roots in decades of previous advancements.
Nestled among the array of Swiss-type lathes at High Tech Turning (HTT) are a couple of L-16s from Marubeni Citizen-Cincom. Purchased in the mid-'90s, these aging machines' glory days are long past (they’re now used mostly for simpler work and training). However, they hearken back to a significant turning point for this Boston-area job shop—an era when, armed for the first time with subspindles and live tools, the company began to implement single-setup production for parts that previously required multiple operations on multiple machines.
The potential of this capability wasn't lost on other manufacturers, many of which had already installed similar machines by the time the shop purchased its first L-16. By that point, however, HTT had been reaping the benefits of Swiss turning for nearly a decade. And the shop would continue to upgrade its capabilities throughout the next 20 years, just as increasing numbers of first-time adopters entered the fray with increasingly sophisticated Swiss-type equipment. This history has provided HTT with uncommon insight into how the Swiss-type platform has evolved from niche product to go-to solution for done-in-one production of small, precision parts. Click here to learn more.