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 15. May 2015

MTConnect Institute Announces Student Challenge

Doug Woods (left), president of AMT–The Association for Manufacturing Technology, announces the MTConnect Student Challenge at the recent [MC2] Conference. Assisting him on stage are Joel Neidig and Valerie Pezzullo Fadool, winners in a previous MTConnect Challenge competition.

Announced at the recent [MC]2 Conference in Chicago, the MTConnect Student Challenge is offering a total of $33,000 in cash prizes for winning submissions from college students. This competition is designed to encourage these students to think creatively about concepts and applications for improving manufacturing with the MTConnect standard. The aim is to generate awareness of advanced manufacturing technologies, as well as lead to innovations that help manufacturers, especially those serving the defense industry.

To participate in the challenge, students at the undergraduate and graduate level in community colleges and universities are invited to submit ideas in applications utilizing the MTConnect standard. The competition is expected to be of particular interest to those studying manufacturing-related fields; electrical, mechanical or industrial engineering; as well as software engineering and IT-related studies. MTConnect is an open-source, XML-based communications standard that fosters connectivity between manufacturing equipment and devices.

The MTConnect Student Challenge has two parts: Idea Creation and Application Development.

For the Idea Creation competition, students will be required to interview manufacturers to identify their challenges, describe potential solutions to those challenges and create conceptual mockups for solutions. The prizes for this competition are $5,000 for first place, $2,500 for second place and three $1,000 prizes for runners up. Submission opens June 11, 2015 and closes September 18, 2015. Winners will be announced October 15, 2015.

Full rules and submission details are available here.

For the Application competition, students will be required to develop an application that demonstrates innovation and the use of manufacturing intelligence breakthroughs. Submissions will be rated based on their potential to create achievable and measurable benefits to manufacturing operations. These benefits include improving efficiencies, minimizing waste, reducing costs, and the like. The prizes for this competition are $10,000 for first place, $7,500 for second place and $5,000 for third place. Submission opens June 11, 2015 and closes January 31, 2016. Winners will be announced April 20, 2016 at the [MC]2 Conference in Dallas, Texas.

Full rules and submission details are available at here.

“The MTConnect Student Challenge seeks to engage the higher education community to promote innovative thinking and ideas, and ultimately to enable manufacturing intelligence breakthroughs for the defense manufacturing industry,” says Douglas K. Woods, president of the MTConnect Institute and president of AMT–The Association For Manufacturing Technology. Mr. Woods says he hopes the competition will inspire a broader base of software and system architects; build a new, skilled workforce by increasing students’ awareness of advanced manufacturing technologies; and develop MTConnect applications that can be easily adopted by manufacturers of all sizes.

The MTConnect Student Challenge is sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Defense-wide Manufacturing Science and Technology (DMS&T) and executed by AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, the U.S. Army Benét Labs, the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), and the MTConnect Institute, in partnership with SME and the National Tooling and Machining Association.

Posted by: Mark Albert 8. May 2015

Investing in Technology Is a Strategy. Figuring ROI Is a Strategic Tool.

Why invest in new CNC technology that seems unfamiliar, even a little scary? Jeff Reinert says that a bold approach to justification can show shops that they need to jump in if they want to compete.

This short article by Jeff Reinert, president of Index Corp., outlines the multi-step process for justifying an investment in the latest CNC machining technology. Calculating the return on investment (ROI) is a useful tool, but only one of the factors a manufacturer must consider in the decision to buy a new machine.

Reinert identifies three main steps:

  • Understand your machining costs and evaluate impact of a faster, more capable process.
  • Understand potential benefits of the latest CNC technology (Reinert lists eight measurable ones as a start).
  • Understand the costs of older equipment (including operator skills that may vanish).

After taking these steps, calculating ROI can be a concise and useful analysis to back up a decision. However, as Reinert explains, ROI is not the same as profitability and competitiveness. His advice puts the ROI calculation in perspective.

Read the article here.

Posted by: Mark Albert 29. April 2015

MTConnect Conference Opens with Focus on the Industrial Internet of Things

Bryce Barnes, Cisco's Senior Manager of Machine and Robot Segment, gave the keynote address to kick off the [MC]2 Conference at Chicago's McCormick Place conference center. The [MC]2 Conference is an annual event dedicated to MTConnect, the open-source interoperability standard for manufacturing equipment. The theme of this year's conference  (April 28-30, 2015) is transforming a business with data-driven manufacturing and the industrial Internet of Things.

In his introduction, Barnes cited this definition of the Internet of Things: it is the intelligent connectivity of smart devices by which objects can sense one another and communicate, thus changing how, where and by whom decisions about our physical world are made. He noted that MTConnect is an enabling technology for the Internet of Things in manufacturing.

Specifically, Barnes outlined the main principles that give the emerging industrial Internet of Things the power to "connect the unconnected" in the factory environment. He explained that this universal industrial network will be open, secure and extensible.

It will be built around open software architecture, open protocols and open data models. Proprietary elements will not be allowed to create barriers for users or developers of applications operating in the Internet of Things.

It will be layered, context-driven and identity-based. This structure will minimize risks to data that is transmitted, stored and analyzed, largely by cloud-based applications.

It will provide pathways by which systems, hardware, data, software and protocols can grow and be renewed.

Barnes predicted that sensors will continue to proliferate on and in factory machines so that operators can take actions to keep production equipment running.

For more information about the conference go to

Posted by: Mark Albert 17. April 2015

CNC and Additive are a Winning Combination

An innovative kit that enables a standard CNC machining center to integrate a metal cladding process via the automatic toolchanger makes great sense—especially when one of the leading developers states his case.

At last month’s MFG Meeting in Orlando, Florida, the inaugural International Additive Manufacturing Award (IAMA) was awarded to Hybrid Technologies Ltd. limited of the United Kingdom and Plano, Texas. The winning entry for the prize is described as a hybrid kit innovation that can be integrated into any CNC machine to allow for metal deposition (via laser cladding), finishing and inspection of parts on a single machine. The hybrid methodology integrates directed energy deposition into a multi-axis CNC machine, using a toolchanger to change between processes.

“Hybrid technology is exciting because it offers a new way to adopt additive manufacturing—as an upgrade to a CNC machine tool. Adding tool-changeable deposition heads to an existing CNC machine enables 3D printing of metal, without the need to buy a separate machine,” said Dr. Jason Jones, Co-Founder and CEO of Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies. “This significantly reduces costs and provides an intuitive adoption path for CNC operators. The combination of additive with machining offers new capabilities, including in-process finishing, that cannot be delivered by either technology independently.”

Speaking at the reception during which the award was presented, Dr. Jones explained the process and describe the long journey he and his co-developers trod to make this innovation practical and effective. His remarks are clear and compelling—you can find a video of the presentation ceremony and listen to what Dr. Jones shared that evening here. Of particular value to any company interested in the experience of innovation is the advice he gives starting at 28 minutes in the video. He concludes that creativity and imagination are more important than amassed technical knowledge when forging innovation. You can also read a report about this technology here.

The IAMA is the result of a partnership between AMT—The Association For Manufacturing Technology and VDW—Verein Deutscher Werkzeugmaschinenfabriken (German Machine Tool Builders’ Association). AMT and VDW, with media support from Gardner Business Media and VDI Nachrichten and sponsored by the European Machine Tool Association CECIMO, announced the annual IAMA at IMTS 2014.

Posted by: Mark Albert 10. April 2015

2014 Autodesk Inventor of the Year is Gear Manufacturer in Indiana

Proficient use of 3D design software from Autodesk distinguishes ITAMCO as a gear manufacturer.

Once a year, members from the Autodesk Manufacturing Community choose among the past year's monthly “Inventing the Future” honorees to select an Autodesk Inventor of the Year. The 2014 winner was recently announced and it is ITAMCO, a custom gear manufacturer based in Plymouth, Indiana.

ITAMCO delivers precision-machined components to original equipment manufacturers in a wide range of industries, including oil and gas and renewable energy; mining and construction; aerospace; and defense. Autodesk Inventor 3D design software, as part of Autodesk Product Design Suite and Autodesk Factory Design Suite, are among the tools ITAMCO leverages to serve its customers more effectively.

It's great to see a precision machining company receive this honor because it highlights the strength of this industry and the importance of the advanced metalworking technology in place there. Although precision gear manufacturing may not have much glamour among the general public, ITAMCO’s products have been used in a number of high-profile applications. NASA has chosen the company’s gears for the mechanical arm that built the international space station. The Department of Defense has used ITAMCO’s gears on its land-based satellite systems. 

More recently, the company designed, manufactured and assembled a new gearbox for construction vehicles in record time by using Inventor and Autodesk Inventor HSM Pro. The software enabled ITAMCO to verify the assembly virtually for any interference issues prior to manufacturing and to utilize the advanced computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) capabilities within Inventor HSM Pro for machining the components.

It is also worth noting that ITAMCO’s operations have been enhanced by Factory Design Suite, which enables users to optimize a factory layout in a digital environment before it is completed. The company uses this software to lay out new machining cells and determine the placement of equipment to make sure the plant meets industry standards of organization and efficiency across the factory floor.

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