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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 16. January 2015

Digital Thread Boosts Data-Driven Manufacturing

Data embedded in a 3D model will serve as a “digital thread” that unifies and integrates all manufacturing steps to save time and cut costs.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is initiating a project to demonstrate how a standardized 3D model of a product can integrate and streamline production from initial design through final inspection in a continuous, coherent data-driven process. With this project, NIST researchers and their industrial partners intended to develop what they see as a new dimension to manufacturing capabilities.

The project will demonstrate the feasibility—and benchmark the advantages—of using standardized, 3D models for electronically exchanging and processing product and manufacturing information all the way from design through inspection of the final part. This tightly integrated, seamless string of activities is what manufacturers are calling a “digital thread.” The project is aptly named the Design to Manufacturing and Inspection Project.

This approach contrasts with the common practice of converting 2D computer-aided design (CAD) drawings into static documents. The 3D models will be embedded with data and instructions that computers can interpret and apply to key manufacturing functions. According to NIST, this development will open the way to significant operational and bottom-line benefits. These include reduced cycle time and cost, less duplication of effort, lower risk of errors, increased part yields and higher-quality products.

Collaborators in the NIST-led project include International TechneGroup Incorporated (ITI), Milford, Ohio, and Advanced Collaboration Consulting Resources, Summerville, South Carolina, who are interoperability-focused manufacturing-services providers. Also participating are Rockwell Collins, an Iowa-based manufacturer of avionics and communication equipment for defense and commercial uses; and Geater Machining and Manufacturing, an aerospace supplier located in Independence, Iowa. Other participants are CNC Software, a Tolland, Connecticut, maker of computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software; Mitutoyo America, a maker of measurement equipment and software; and software vendor CoreTechnologie, Rossford, Ohio.

The apparent catalyst for integrating this project is a new international standard for incorporating computer-readable product and manufacturing information (PMI) into 3D models. These models do not require human interpretation of graphical depictions followed by manual data reentry. Recently published by the international Organization for Standardization, ISO 10303-242 (also known as STEP AP 242) enables designers and process and systems engineers to embed 3D representations of parts with actionable specifications for materials, geometrical and dimensional tolerances, and surface texture, as well as process notes, finish requirements and other information

In the new project, Rockwell Collins will use its CAD system to generate a 3D design of a part, complete with all feature tolerances and other specifications. The design will be translated into STEP AP 242 so that Geater Machine and Manufacturing can repurpose the model into the language understood by the software it uses to generate machining instructions. Independently, Geater will reuse the STEP AP 242 model in software to generate code that will direct a coordinate measuring machine (CMM) to determine whether the part is manufactured as designed. The intent is to perform this step with no manual data entry. The project calls for researchers to verify and validate translations involved in the data exchanges at each stage in this thread.

The project will promote the implementation of data-driven manufacturing. “The various systems involved need to be autonomous, self-aware and self-correcting,” says NIST systems analyst Allison Barnard Feeney, leader of the project. “At the same time, they must be able to work harmoniously with human supervision and collaboration."

A full-scale demonstration of end-to-end interoperability is expected by summer 2015.

Posted by: Mark Albert 9. January 2015

Register Now to Become a PMTS VIP

The Precision Machining Technology Show (PMTS) returns to Columbus, Ohio, April 21-23, 2015. Be among the first 1,000 to register and gain VIP status. VIPs earn rewards such as a free PMTS T-shirt, complimentary happy hour drink tickets, free registration and express check-in. Register early and be a VIP.

PMTS 2015 has more than 270 exhibitors displaying the latest in precision machining technology and showcasing ideas on how to improve processes and increase profits. Networking opportunities and other intangible benefits also set this show apart.

PMTS is presented by the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) and co-presented by Production Machining and Modern Machine Shop. PMTS is the precision machining industry’s signature event, offering the largest on-site gathering of precision machining equipment.

To learn more about the technical conference, special events, and to see who’s exhibiting at PMTS, visit pmts.com.

Posted by: Mark Albert 2. January 2015

The ISO 13399 and MTConnect Connection

ISO 13399 is an international standard that enables cutting tool manufacturers to use the same “language” to describe their products in a computer-interpretable, digital format. This common format simplifies the exchange of this data between computer systems and software applications. Sharing this data more readily should lead to better decisions about shopfloor activities, thus improving productivity and significantly cutting costs. As a result, ISO 13399 is a major step toward data-driven manufacturing.

By complying with this standard, information about cutting tool products from one manufacturer “looks” the same as the information from another manufacturer that also complies with this standard. Computer software that can use this information does not have to have a translator or customized interface for the data from each manufacturer in order to make that data usable in an application. For this reason, ISO 13399 is a valuable resource and model for the other standards developed to exchange manufacturing data.

An important example of this is MTConnect. MTConnect is a computer protocol for exchanging data between shopfloor equipment such as machine tools and software applications for monitoring and analyzing machine performance. Like ISO 13399, MTConnect creates a vocabulary of defined terms related to manufacturing equipment. From the start, MTConnect was designed to be extensible, that is, sets of vocabulary terms could be added to the standard for other categories of manufacturing data.

After the original versions of MTConnect were released in 2008, one of the categories of new vocabulary terms targeted for inclusion in the MTConnect standard were those related to “mobile assets.” For MTConnect purposes, mobile assets include cutting tools, cutter body assemblies, fixturing components and other elements that tend to circulate among machine tools, storage units, inspection devices, automatic toolchangers and so on.

Developers found that ISO 13399 could provide a ready-made set of vocabulary terms and codes usable for an extension to MTConnect that would cover mobile assets. By adopting these terms and codes, the mobile assets extension could be compiled and released more quickly. This extension was formally added to the MTConnect standard in July 2012. The compatibility between ISO 13399 and MTConnect is significant because it enables data about cutting tools and their performance to be added to the data that an application chooses to include in its monitoring and analysis.

Any hindrance to the exchange of digital data between computerized equipment and across information systems is a barrier to data-driven manufacturing. ISO 13399 and MTConnect help break down these barriers. Data exchangeability is also a key enabler in concepts such as the Internet of Things and initiatives such as Industry 4.0. Neither of these can be realized fully without the smooth, secure and comprehensive flow of data. Likewise, access to the data cloud hinges on data exchangeability.

In this context, ISO 13399, MTConnect and other data exchange standards for manufacturing show their true significance. To learn more about ISO 13399, click here.

Posted by: Mark Albert 26. December 2014

Autodesk Creates 3D Printing Investment Program

The Ember 3D printer is intended to spark innovation in 3D printing among the startup/researcher community. 

The Spark Investment Fund, operated within Autodesk, will make as much as $100 million available to companies and individuals developing innovations in hardware, software, materials and other activities related to the promotion of 3D printing and additive manufacturing technology. The idea is to bring better ideas and approaches to the surface from the user/inventor/developer community rather than wait for a closed, top-down release of technology from corporations.

In making the announcement that it intends to invest substantially in 3D printing companies and users over the next several years, the company also made this unusual concept of technology development apparent. By funding entrepreneurs, startups and researchers, the company believes it can help them push the boundaries of 3D printing/additive manufacturing technology more effectively than other ways to encourage this development. This is based on the belief that the boldest and most brilliant innovations are likely to come from these often overlooked, unexpected or underfunded sources.

"The days of taking a closed, top-down approach to innovating for additive manufacturing are behind us. Numerous industries recognize the value of tapping into entrepreneurs or startups with better ideas and approaches, and 3D printing is no exception,” says Samir Hanna, vice president and general manager, Consumer Products and 3D Printing, at Autodesk. “The Spark Investment Fund will empower innovators to improve 3D printing, and to help us unlock the tremendous promise of this technology.”

The announcement of this fund is accompanied by two other significant Autodesk initiatives. One is the company introduction of Spark, an open and free software platform for 3D printing that will connect digital information to 3D printers in a new way. The company says that Spark will connect to any hardware and be materials agnostic to help the entire 3D printing community to collaborate, build and improve the platform.

The other is Autodesk's newly introduced Ember 3D printer. This 3D printer is designed to get additive manufacturing capability into the hands of designers, inventors and developers quickly and affordably to encourage experimentation, exploration of new applications and integration into the creative process. To this end, the company is making a limited number of "Explorer Edition" Ember 3D printers available to approved users early in 2015. To apply, click here.

Posted by: Mark Albert 19. December 2014

Get Smart about Manufacturing Intelligence

This white paper from Sandvik Coromant is a succinct, readable overview of the so-called fourth industrial revolution. The big message is: Get ready for it now because it is both a huge challenge and a fantastic opportunity.

The paper includes a timeline of the successive industrial revolutions and a discussion of the emerging Internet of Things. Finally, it recaps Sandvik Coromant’s substantial efforts to have products ready for its customers as they implement the manufacturing intelligence that participation in this new revolution demands.

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