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Mark Albert

Mark Albert is editor-in-chief of Modern Machine Shop Magazine, a position he has held since July 2000. He was associate editor and then executive editor of the magazine in prior years. Mark has been writing about metalworking for more than 30 years. Currently, his favorite topics are lean manufacturing and global competitiveness. Mark’s editorial activities have taken him to numerous countries in Europe and Asia as well as across the United States many times. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Indiana University (Bloomington, Indiana).

Posted by: Mark Albert 21. November 2014

A Vision of the Data-Driven Factory

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

Posted by: Mark Albert 14. November 2014

The Genetic Code for Manufacturing Success

JIMTOF is a “big sight” at the Tokyo Big Sight exhibit and conference center. There is always a lot of great new technology to see at this show.

The theme for the Japan International Machine Tool Fair (JIMTOF) 2014 was “Monozukuri DNA.” Translated, this means that craftsmanship along with the latest technology are the best predictors that a manufacturing company will have the traits to succeed in a competitive environment. This slideshow presents a sample of the technology offered at Japan’s biggest and most important machine tool show. 

Posted by: Mark Albert 7. November 2014

The Decision Not to Automate Fully

Pointe Precision's move into long-running, high-volume production was a bold decision. Best known for low-volume, high-complexity aerospace and medical parts, this shop in Plover, Wisconsin, seized the opportunity to diversify its operations by becoming a major supplier of critical parts to a well-known manufacturer of recreational products. When the demand for these products soared, the manufacturer turned to Pointe Precision to duplicate its original, maxed-out production line to keep up with sales.

Buying and installing several Makino a51nx HMCs at a time, Pointe Precision eventually had 32 of these machines arranged in cells dedicated to this family of stainless steel parts. "Very early, we decided not to invest in automation, although a pallet delivery system with robots would have been feasible," says company owner Joe Kinsella.

His reasons not to automate were clear:

  • Automation would have added to the cost and complexity of the system.
  • It would have been difficult to grow the automation as more machines were added, especially since the final configuration of the cells hinged on an expansion to the existing shop building.
  • A customized, dedicated system of automation would restrict the flexibility of the line, a key factor if the machines needed to be repurposed if and when the current status of this job changed.

Mr. Kinsella’s reasons to develop a workforce of specially trained hires to staff this line were equally clear:

  • The size of the staff could be flexed as the production line grew.
  • Suitable candidates for these positions were available in the central Wisconsin area, although special training would be needed.
  • With proper training, people can be the most flexible and capable asset in a production setting.
  • Creating jobs in manufacturing is a good thing for the community.

However, careful planning, the right level of on-machine automation and numerous accommodations to ensure the productivity and reliability of the strategy where required for success. You can read the full story here.

Posted by: Mark Albert 24. October 2014

The Joy of CNC Machining

James A. Harvey's new book, “CNC Trade Secrets, A Guide to CNC Machine Shop Practices,” offers great advice and oodles of practical tips and checklists for shop personnel newly introduced to CNC machining. What makes the book readable and appealing is that the author clearly enjoys working with CNC technology.

This book bridges the gap between the skilled manual machinist and the CNC machining technologist. Both should read this book to understand one another better. Shop managers and manufacturing engineers ought to read it, too, to understand how they can work with CNC machinists more effectively.

However, the main purpose (and value) of this book is to ease the transition from conventional machining to CNC operations. Even if the reader made this transition years ago, revisiting this experience will provide refreshing and useful insights into the basics. This type of reader is also bound to find numerous tips or “tricks” that prove handy and beneficial. Of course, machining trainees and apprentices can learn much from this book as well.

It is well-written, well-illustrated and well-organized. In short, it’s a fun and useful book on entry-level CNC.

CNC Trade Secrets is available from Industrial Press Inc. or from Amazon.

Posted by: Mark Albert 20. October 2014

Centerline Issues for Turning Inserts

Photos of sample inserts such as this one illustrate wear patterns that help diagnose cutting tool misalignments in turning.

Tooling expert Mike Fagan suspects that many programmers and machinists could use a refresher on the importance and effects of insert alignment in turning operations. This short, amply-illustrated paper is his effort to clear up some of the misunderstanding. 

It covers signs of misalignment and suggests ways to fix problems, with additional tips and advice to improve turning operations. To find the paper, click here.

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