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.
A little while back, I visited 3D Platform (3DP) to learn more about the company and its affordable Workbench line of open, large-format 3D printers. Born from PBC Linear, manufacturer of linear motion components actuators and motors, 3DP offer its Workbench 3D printer with a build volume of 1 meter x 1 meter x 0.5 meter. The machine’s SurePrint servo technology enables print layer resolution a low as 70 microns for a range of materials including ABS, Nylon and others. Plus, a folding gantry enables the machine to fit through a standard door.
This machine can be used for a variety of applications for printing prototypes, production parts, artwork and sculptures, and personalized items commonly derived from 3D scans often used in the medical, fashion, education and entertainment industries. That said, machine shops can also use it to print jigs, fixtures and other components. In fact, 3DP has done that for its own in-house production needs.
This Workbench 3D printing machine offers a large, open platform with a build volume of 1 meter × 1 meter × 0.5 meter.
For example, the company printed a profile rail wiper for one of its machine tools. Although that machine has a built-in rail surface wiper that pushes big steel chips off the rail surfaces, the wiper failed to catch smaller pieces that can be caught in between the rail and the ball bearing system, causing the ball bearing system to fail prematurely. The printed rail wiper added to the machine keeps small chips off the rail while helping retain oil and lubrication in the rail bearings.
This printed wiper prevents small, machined chips from entering a machine tool’s ball bearing system. (Photo courtesy 3D Platform.)
In addition, 3DP printed a thread rolling machine die holder that stores the entire set of thread rolling instruments conveniently in one place, supporting the company’s 5S workplace organization efforts.
This printed holder provides thread rolling machine operators with easy access to all die components required for a given job. (Photo courtesy 3D Platform.)
In fact, our sister publication, Additive Manufacturing (a magazine about additive manufacturing of functional parts), has a collection of articles describing similar ideas for 3D printing of tooling, fixtures, jigs and related items for use in a machine shop. Learn more.
How do you capture the shopfloor intel in your experienced machinists’ heads before they retire?
I call it the “other big data.” Not the stuff that forms the foundation for concepts such as Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things, but rather the vast knowledge of machining processes and best practices stored in the minds of your best, most experienced employees.
Unfortunately, many of those people are baby boomers who will soon retire from shops like yours, potentially taking all that knowledge out the door. (I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.) So my questions to you are: Have you established a mechanism for culling your experienced machinists’ shopfloor knowledge before they move on? And, would you share with me ways you are dealing with this issue?
If so, I’d like to learn more. Email your thoughts to me so that I might share them with others who find themselves in the same “big-data dilemma.”
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: