Derek Korn joined Modern Machine Shop in 2004, but has been writing about manufacturing since 1997. His mechanical engineering degree from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Applied Science provides a solid foundation for understanding and explaining how innovative shops apply advanced machining technologies. As you might gather from this photo, he’s the car guy of the MMS bunch. But his ’55 Chevy isn’t as nice as the hotrod he’s standing next to. In fact, his car needs a right-front fender spear if you know anybody willing to part with one.
Positioning in four or five axes can minimize the number of times a part is touched during production.
When you attend shows like IMTS (which runs September 12 to 17 this year), you typically see machine tool builders displaying five-axis equipment. Typically, the builders showcase their five-axis technology via simultaneous, choreographed movements of spindle (and/or rotary tables) and complex demo workpieces, such as turbine blisks, blades or impellers. These movements are not only impressive to watch, but are sometimes essential for a given application.
However, as you watch these demos at the show, call to mind some more prismatic, blocky parts you’re currently running across multiple machines. You might not have an application that requires full-five-axis contouring, but you might find value in 3+2, like the two shops mentioned in this article did.
Here’s my shop posse standing in front of Metalex Manufacturing’s huge Pietro Carnaghi turning and milling center (left to right): Katie Cattell, Hannah Coombs, Ryan Korn, Ryan’s old bald dad, Max Egan, Jack Kline and Madeline Kline.
On the first of this month, I got the chance to take a few young folks from Gardner Business Media (publisher of Modern Machine Shop) to Metalex Manufacturing, a contract machine shop in Blue Ash, Ohio, that has some huge, advanced machine tools. The shop hosted an open house to celebrate NASA’s Space Flight Awareness Award it received with the support of some of its big aerospace customers for the work it has done machining critical components for the Orion and Space Launch programs.
My group included my son Ryan, Madeline Kline (our company’s marketing special projects coordinator) as well as Jack Kline, Hannah Coombs, Katie Cattell and Max Egan (MMS summer interns). Most had never been to a machine shop, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity for them to see a good example of a shop that has millions of dollars’ worth of high-end equipment, but also knows it still needs to empower its people and establish the right corporate culture to be successful. Plus, we got to hear astronaut Brian Duffy tell some neat space stories, which I don’t get to experience on my normal shop visits.
After the visit, I asked each of them to write about things they found interesting or surprising about the event itself, the company, the technology, the people…whatever they liked. What follows is an overview of what they said.
Jack noticed the interplay between people and processes. He notes that one of the company’s mottos is “learn something new every day,” and also liked its concept of not having bosses, but rather having everyone working as partners. Jack also learned that each employee has his/her own personal “playbook” that they use and update every day to keep all of their responsibilities straight. At the end of every year, their performance is assessed and they are spurred to improve.
He also picked up on the value of spending a little bit of extra money to grind custom cutting tools, because the shop can create a more specific tool for a given job as opposed to buying one that doesn't perform quite as well from a bigger tool company.
Similarly, Madeline noticed there was so much knowledge to be absorbed within the shop that learning something new every day might not be so much of a challenge for employees. The fact that engineers and employees are familiar with a wide variety of machine tools was very interesting to her, too, because many of the shops she has toured primarily use only one machine brand. (Plus, it was the largest shop she had ever seen, and we didn’t even get the chance to see the shop’s grinding facility.)
Madeline appreciated how passionate the Metalex employees are about their jobs. “Hearing them talk about manufacturing with so much excitement and knowledge was inspiring.”
I asked my son, Ryan, to tag along because he starts college this fall at the University of Cincinnati studying aerospace engineering, and figured it would be helpful to see how parts engineers design are ultimately machined. He was amazed not only with the size of the machines, but also how precise and finely detailed that equipment could machine big parts.
One of his favorite parts the shop machines is a four-port manifold that acts as an emergency ejection system for the crew of the Orion spacecraft to be safely ejected if something goes wrong during takeoff. “It is parts like these that I want to design in my aerospace engineering career—parts that could possibly save lives. The experience I had visiting Metalex was inspirational, because I know what I plan to do in my future will make a difference.”
Katie says what struck her the most about the visit to Metalex, beyond the absolutely massive equipment, was the equally massive impact that its products had on the lives of the people that used them. “For the average person, it’s easy to forget that many of the things we rely upon on a daily basis probably originated in a machine shop. Until about two weeks ago, I knew almost nothing about machine shops, so for me, this has all been one big learning process.”
She thinks Brian Duffy articulated it best when he talked about visiting various machine shops during his career as an astronaut. “He used to carry a picture of his family with him on all of those visits in order to humanize the work that the machine shops were doing. He would show that picture to the machine operators and tell them that he, and his family, were depending on them to get him home safely. In the same way that he humanized himself to the machine operators, I think it’s important that we humanize the work that these machines are doing.
“It’s easy to sit in the office reading product releases for different machines and not truly grasp the importance of what they are doing. However, being able to go into the shop and talk to the people who were behind the machine brought to light the things that, up until that point, I had only been reading about. Overall, the most significant lesson that I took away from my first shop visit was the integral role that machine shops play in our everyday lives, despite how easy it is to take them for granted.”
I've told my son about some of the neat manufacturers I have gotten to visit for my job. However, it has to be challenging for him to grasp what their capabilities are and what impact they have on everyone’s lives just by the conversations we have.
You really have to visit to understand, and I'm happy we got to do that the other day. I just wish more young people got this type of opportunity.
In addition to being introduced to machining technology, the group learned of the importance of inspection and measurement.
Haimer’s 25,000-square-foot facility includes a training and demo area for the company’s range of shrink-fit, balancing and tooling technology.
Recently, I got to visit Haimer’s newly expanded North American headquarters in Villa Park, Illinois. The company’s facility has grown from 9,000 to 25,000 square feet where it maintains $5.5 million in inventory for its range of tool holders, shrink fit machines, balancing machines, 3D-sensors and cutting tools.
This area I call a tool room for lean manufacturers.
The expansion includes new training area for customers and distributors as well as a showroom/demo area with high-speed VMC. The company also has a five-axis tool grinding machine and extends its German hospitality to visitors with a large reception area and 25-foot-long bar.
The tool holder lights above the 25-foot-long hospitality bar were a nice touch.
As I toured the facility, I called to mind a number of articles we’ve written about the company’s tooling technology. For example:
Demonstrations at the event showed applications for the FANUC Intelligent Edge Link and Drive (FIELD) system, an open IoT platform that connects CNC machine tools and robots as well as peripheral devices and sensors.
I recently got the chance to visit FANUC’s manufacturing campus (on 1.2 million square meters of land) located near Mount Fuji in Oshino-mura, Yamanashi, Japan. This was my third visit there, where the company offered new technology demonstrations and tours of its servo-motor, milling, repair and robot factories to me and various U.S. manufacturing representatives. It’s pretty cool to see production cells in which robots build robots. It also remains impressive to me that FANUC produces 5,000 robots per month and 125,000 servo motors per month, and repairs customer circuit boards, servo motors, etc. that are sometimes more than 30 years old.
As I walked through the company’s new-product demonstration area, the following three technologies stood out to me, and their descriptions will give you a sense as to what the company will be presenting at IMTS:
• FIELD IoT technology—A collaboration with FANUC, Cisco, Rockwell Automation and Preferred Networks (a provider of artificial intelligence solutions) has resulted in the development of the FANUC Intelligent Edge Link and Drive (FIELD) system, a platform that connects CNC machine tools and robots as well as peripheral devices and sensors to deliver analytics that can optimize manufacturing production. Because this is an open platform, application developers, sensor and peripheral device makers, system integrators and others can build and integrate custom solutions that improve equipment efficiency, manufacturing output and quality.
The FIELD system extends the capabilities of the existing FANUC Zero Downtime (ZDT) connected-robots project that uses Cisco’s cloud-data-collection software. ZDT is said to proactively detect and then inform users of potential equipment or process problems before unexpected downtime occurs, enabling the maintenance issue to be addressed in a planned outage timeframe. FIELD takes this further by combining both artificial intelligence and edge-computing technologies to provide distributed learning. Data generated by robots and machines are processed in real time at the edge of the network so those devices can intelligently coordinate and collaborate in a flexible manner for applications such as bin-picking robots, anomaly detection, and failure prediction (the company refers to this as “deep learning”).
FANUC’s first collaborative robot offered 35-kg payload capacity. It has introduced more compact models with 4- and 7-kg capacity.
• Expanded collaborative robot line—FANUC took an interesting approach when it entered the collaborative robot market a few years ago (collaborative robots use sensing technology to enable them to safely work together with humans in a shared space). While some manufacturers started with light-payload models and are developing units with increased payloads, FANUC’s first model, the CR-35iA, was designed to be a high-payload model offering 35-kg capacity. It also has hand-guided, direct-teaching capability available. The company has since introduced three additional, more compact models. One offers 4-kg payload and 550-mm reach, and two others offer 7-kg capacity and 717- and 911-mm reach, respectively. All of these feature the company’s now-signature “collaborative green” soft finish to further reduce impact force.
Mike Cicco, who recently became President and COO of FANUC America (with Rick Schneider remaining as Chairman and CEO), notes that FANUC was also involved in collaborating to create the recently published ISO/TS 15066 technical specification, which serves as a supplemental document to the existing ISO 10218 industrial robot standards to facilitate collaborative robot integration. What’s key is that it offers guidance for robot integrators and manufacturing personnel to conduct more sophisticated preliminary risk assessments of both the collaborative robot system and the environment it will share with humans. Although Mr. Cicco admits ISO/TS 15066 is a bit complicated to follow, and that refinement of the risk-assessment guidance it provides is expected, it is a good first step to facilitate the integration of this automation technology.
He also says the company’s robotic automation business has seen growth in automotive and electronics industries. However, Mr. Cicco notes that there remains significant opportunity for robotic automation in machine shops, despite the fact that this is perhaps one of oldest applications for robotic technology. (Similarly, during my visit to FANUC in 2014, Mr. Schneider noted these reasons why robots will become more commonplace in U.S. manufacturing facilities.)
This model of the new iHMI series has a 19-inch touchscreen display and looks different than other FANUC controls you’ve likely encountered.
• New CNC look/interface—FANUC’s iHMI series of CNCs with flat panel design (including the Series 30i Model B shown above offering a 19-inch touchscreen display) represents a departure from the FANUC control you’re used to using. It’s also likely to offer a comfort level to the next generation of shopfloor employees who have grown accustomed to working with tablets and smart phones. This new series also complements FANUC’s FIELD technology, offering new maintenance and data logger functions required for IoT and smart-factory applications.
Paul Harbath, director of quality and continuous improvement for LeanWerks, has been key to helping develop the lessons for the shop’s Technical Excellence Training (TExT) program and administrating it.
LeanWerks calls it “TeXT.” TeXT stands for Technical Excellence Training program, an in-house apprenticeship program the shop developed to cultivate its own talent and provide new hires with a clear pathway leading to a machining career.
To manage it, the shop used WordPress to create a TExT “training website,” and then purchased a plug-in called LearnDash, which effectively turns WordPress into an online learning management system. The one-time cost for the LearnDash license was a mere $130.
As described in this article, many training lessons in the TeXT program include instructional video taken of actual LeanWerks shopfloor processes and practices to clearly outline the steps required to complete a given task safely and effectively. To date, the shop has produced more than 130 such videos for its TExT program. The article mentioned above includes an example of a training video LeanWerks produced explaining how to properly fill out first- and final-article inspection reports for a given job.