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 22. August 2014

Prepare to Be Wowed

AMT’s Emerging Technology Center (ETC) at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) 2014 promises to “wow” visitors by giving them a glimpse of the most important “technologies of the future.”

“At IMTS 2004 we created the Emerging Technology Center to present manufacturing ‘technologies of the future’ from leading universities and government research labs,” Peter Eelman, Vice President – Exhibitions and Communications at AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology, recalls. “This feature returned IMTS to its roots as a forum where the latest technologies are first seen. This year is no exception, and we are confident that this will be the most exciting ETC effort yet.”

Eelman says the number one “wow” factor in the ETC will be the construction of a 3D-printed electric car by IMTS partner Local Motors. The car builders will start from scratch using direct digital manufacturing techniques and technology integration to make the parts and assemble the vehicle on site.

Also part of the ETC will be the Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation that make up the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. They will show how regional hubs leverage public-private partnerships to strengthen the position of U.S. manufacturers. Each hub has a special focus, as presented at IMTS:

  • America Makes (additive manufacturing technologies)
  • Power America (energy efficiency)
  • Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (reducing the time and cost of manufacturing)
  • American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute (new alloys that cut weight and promote automation)

To learn more about the ETC at IMTS and to register, visit  

Posted by: Mark Albert 15. August 2014

3DRV Road Tour Visits ITAMCO

This robotic deburring cell was one of the items that caught the attention of the 3DRV touring reporter.

Although we have written about ITAMCO in the past (read this article and this one), it’s good to see this precision machining company getting positive mention in a recent article posted online by Forbes. The author, TJ McCue, visited ITAMCO as part of his eight-month, cross country tour to investigate the impact of 3D digital technology and advanced manufacturing.

The article helps get an important message about advanced manufacturing and its challenges to a larger general audience that follows important developments in business. For example, one of the challenges reported by the author, who visited ITAMCO for a perspective on small to midsize manufacturers in America, is the difficulty of finding skilled employees locally to run advanced manufacturing equipment. Likewise, pointing to ITAMCO’s efforts to help structure and fund an innovative high school program is a good example of the radical solutions required. 

I spoke to Joel Neidig, the Technology Manager at ITAMCO about the visit by the 3DRV road tour. I’ve made several editorial visits to ITAMCO’s main plant in Plymouth, Indiana, so I was curious about how this visit was different from mine.

For one thing, TJ McCue arrived in his famous, distinctively decorated RV, which is serving as his home away from home during the tour. “He carries a 3D printer, 3D laser scanner and high-end camera and video gear with him,” Joel tells me. The RV tour is sponsored by Autodesk, Stratasys and other tech companies.

On the day-long tour, TJ asked the right questions about ITAMCO’s manufacturing operations and understood its significance, Joel says. “He was especially interested in the high school program and was eager to meet the students and instructor there.” Joel learned that, because TJ had taken shop classes himself as a student, he could easily see how different today’s programs have to be to meet today’s needs.

Now that the Forbes article has been posted, I asked Joel what kind of feedback he has received. All of it has been positive, he says, especially from the vendors working with ITAMCO. “Most of all, I'm glad to see manufacturing get this kind of positive attention. There’s definitely more interest from the public in manufacturing and how its image is changing,” he says.

Posted by: Mark Albert 8. August 2014

Advanced Technology Drives 40 Years of Manufacturing

Automated machining systems and cells exemplify the evolving role of advanced manufacturing at Mazak’s Florence, Kentucky machine tool factory.

Mazak has been manufacturing machine tools in Florence, Kentucky, for 40 years. The growth and development of the production technology deployed in this plant reflect the most important advances in manufacturing during this span.

One example of the evolving role of advanced manufacturing technology can be seen in how FMS technology has changed and improved, with a corresponding boost in overall factory output.

When the company opened this factory in 1974, its first official machining operations were performed by a flexible machining system (FMS) that incorporated four of its own machining centers and a wire guided vehicle. The launch of this FMS also marked the introduction of the company's production-on-demand concept. Output stood at 20 to 25 machines per month.

In 1990, the company replaced the original FMS with one that consisted of eight H800s, which were then its most advanced HMCs. This FMS incorporated 30 pallets within a Mazak-developed Palletech manufacturing system. Pallets moved on a rail-guided vehicle rather than on a wire-guided one. The capacity of the system was eventually expanded to handle 144 pallets. Capacity reached about 100 machines per month in the factory.

Mazak once again revamped its FMS technology in 2000 by replacing the eight HMCs with four FH-8800 HMCs. The increased power and speed of these machines enabled this FMS to significantly boost output with fewer machines. Total production moved up to 130 machines per month.

In 2006, an Integrex e-1060V Multi-Tasking Machine was added to this FMS. The enlarged system now incorporated the work formally performed on a VTL. The same 144 pallets were now handling large-diameter parts and bringing them to the additional advanced machine for turning operations as well as five-axis milling.

As this FMS was evolving and growing, the company was adding other FMSs and cells elsewhere in the expanding factory areas. For example, its most recent cell processes the company’s machine tool headstocks. Built around a Palletech system, this cell consists of two Horizontal Center Nexus (HNC) 8800 HMCs, an Orbitech 20 large-part machining center and an Integrex e1060V Multi-Tasking Machine.

Today, Mazak’s manufacturing operations occupy an 800,000 square-foot, five-building complex with the capacity to produce 200 machines per month, including many models for export. In addition, it has the resources to design new machines from the ground up.

Read this story for a detailed history of how Mazak has enlarged and improved its Florence, Kentucky, manufacturing operations with advanced technology.

Posted by: Mark Albert 1. August 2014

Still Thinking about a Summer Vacation?

In a column that I wrote some years ago, I described my idea for a very different sort of "vacation spot" that appeals to me strongly.  I don't know if such a place exists, but I like to imagine that it does and that I might retreat there once a year to be made new and whole again.

The place is run by a very strict order of monks, but they welcome guests who come to experience their lifestyle for a week or two. The monastery/retreat house is located in hilly country somewhere, far from the city.

This is a place of contemplation, prayer—and work. The institution is self-sufficient, to keep the world at a distance. Excess earnings help support several charitable missions.

The monks and their guests arise at 6 a.m., with chapel at 6:15 a.m. (There's hardly time to dress or shave—no wonder the good brothers wear simple robes and beards!) Thirty minutes of chanting and meditation wake not only the body but also the mind and spirit.

Breakfast is plain but hearty like all of the meals here. Lots of cheese, eggs, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. We eat quietly, each morning one of us taking turns reading scripture to the rest.

Work, which starts a little after seven, is "animal, mineral or vegetable," as they say. Guests are assigned in rotation to the dairy barn, the machine shed or the bakery. I would always want to be in the machine shed, of course, but duty in the other buildings teaches lessons about the blessings of a bountiful earth.

The machine "shed," it turns out, is actually a well-equipped little shop, with a mixture of manual and older CNC equipment. Brother Ted, a journeyman machinist who had his own job shop for 10 years, runs the place efficiently and calmly. The seven monks who work here full time are busy with several long-running contracts for a bank of automatic lathes, but they also manufacture a line of mostly hand-crafted antique reproductions for the gift shop and catalog sales. Guests help out in housekeeping, packing and shipping, or at the deburring bench or hand assembling some pieces.

Lunch is ample, but quick, followed by another chapel service. We return to the shop and work until 6 p.m., when the bells call us back to chapel for hymns and a silent period of scripture study. Dinner is light. I take the hiking trail during my hour of free time as the sun goes down. We sleep on cots in small rooms, hardly more than cubicles, with the windows open and the whippoorwills calling from the woods nearby.

At the end of the stay, I vow to return next summer, but in the meantime, I will often think of those who have vowed never to leave.

Posted by: Mark Albert 25. July 2014

Useful Advice for CAM Software Users

In a new whitepaper, Mastercam calls useful advice for CAM software users “CAM Initiatives.” These initiatives are practical projects and procedural policies designed to help a machining company make more effective use of its CAD/CAM resources. Although primarily targeted to Mastercam users, many of these initiatives contain useful advice that benefits users of any CAM software system. 

Here are a few samples:

  • Say “no” to drawings. Don’t redraw parts until you are sure the customer does not have a usable CAD file to share. (They usually do.)
  • Fix what isn't broken. Empower everyone in the shop to be an improvement specialist.
  • Manage tool libraries. Find the cutting tools that work best in high-speed tool paths and use these tools exclusively where applicable.
  • Embrace five-axis machining. Follow this launch plan to ensure a successful transition.

Other initiatives have advice on 3+2 machining, programming templates, spindle probes, simulation and integrating safety habits.

For the complete whitepaper with all 15 CAM Initiatives, click here.

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