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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 29. January 2016

A New Take on Machine Tool History

Albert B. Albrecht has a new book out and it is a good one. It is an enlarged, updated and revised edition of his book “The American Machine Tool Industry,” first published in 2009.  The original title has been retained, but the subtitle has been changed from “Its History, Growth and Decline” to “Its History, Growth, and Restructuring & Recovery.” Mr. Albrecht’s discussion and analysis of the industry’s current resurgence are chiefly what makes this new edition different and worth buying to replace the earlier editions. You’ll find the bulk of this enhanced content in the last 60 pages or so.

Here, Mr. Albrecht focuses on the positive changes and developments in the industry that have occurred in the first part of the 21st century. The main message is that machine tool building in the United States is alive, well and gaining strength (although serious challenges and obstacles persist). The author is apparently reconciled to the fact that many of the machine tool factories that are growing and prospering in this country belong to builders based overseas. It is also apparent that he is quite gratified that the machine tool factories belonging to U.S.-based builders, such as Haas Automation, are as advanced and productive as any in the world.

Of the seven chapters in the new section, the two most interesting are 20: Machine Tool Builders of the 21st Century and 21: Machine Tools of Today & Tomorrow. The former includes short profiles of builders whose outlook and capability exemplify the state of U.S. machine tool building. Mr. Albrecht pinpoints what he says are the keys to their success: a clear-cut corporate purpose, a strong sense of identity and values beyond just making a profit. The following chapter presents a sample of advanced machine tools that characterizes the current level of metalworking and metalcutting technology.

The next two chapters reiterate the commonly held notions that the biggest hindrances to the American machine tool industry, and to manufacturing in general, are unenlightened public policy (mainly misguided tax laws) and the shortage of skilled workers. The fixes that he endorses for this shortage are projecting a “cooler” image for manufacturing and reviving traditional apprenticeships.

My positive comments in the review of the first edition of Mr. Albrecht’s book still apply to the preceding sections of the latest version. His history of the industry comes to life in his personal accounts of what he observed and learned as an engineer, then a manager, during the “Golden Years” of U.S. machine tool building when it was the dominant force in the global industry. This period, he says, lasted from 1948 to 1998. The color illustrations added throughout the book are especially complementary to the vivid descriptions in these historical chapters.

I found this latest edition to be better organized and easier to follow than prior editions, yet it retains the intensity and earnestness of the original work. As in the prior editions, however, you will have to overlook some pesky lapses in proofreading and copyediting.

Anyone interested in machine tools and the history of manufacturing technology as told from an insider’s perspective should own this book. I wish a copy could be given to every young person entering an educational program related to machining, manufacturing or engineering. I would tell these recipients that reading it cover to cover right away may not be the best way to absorb the value of this book. Instead, I would recommend that they page through it every once and a while as they learn more about technology and develop their manufacturing skills. Each time they did this, they would be reminded of the tradition and promise that still inspire careers in manufacturing. And each time, they would find facts, comments and lively stories that impart a greater significance than they were able to perceive the time before.

In my 2010 review, I said Mr. Albrecht’s original book represented a fitting “closing act” in his long career. I’m glad I was wrong about that. I hope further encores in perceptive writing by Mr. Albrecht still lie ahead.

To obtain a copy, write to Albert B. Albrecht, 3290 Toddsbury Lane, Richmond, Indiana 47374. Thanks to support from AMT-The Association For Manufacturing Technology, the cover price of this new edition has been reduced to $32. Shipping by priority mail is $7.50. You can also reach the author at albertalbrecht@frontier.com.

Posted by: Mark Albert 15. January 2016

Winter Blahs Setting in? Watch this Video!

Andrew McAfee's presentation at the Opening General Session of Autodesk University in December made me feel pretty darn good. His message was simple: Technology, especially computer software, has done much to improve the human condition. The recording of his presentation is likely to lift your mood, too, if a dreary, post-holiday winter day is dragging you down.

McAfee, a research scientist at MIT and co-author of The Second Machine Age (Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time Of Brilliant Technologies), discusses how technological innovation is reducing resource consumption, returning land to nature and relieving poverty all over the world. His presentation is lively yet thoughtful, hopeful yet realistic. He clearly expects positive trends to continue, but he identifies two urgent challenges: finding ways to neutralize climate change and reinventing jobs so working people remain productive and engaged.

Autodesk University 2015 was all about digital collaboration and data-driven manufacturing. McAfee helped put these developments in the broader sweep of human history, which seems to him to have taken a dramatic turn for the better, thanks to computerization.

Posted by: Mark Albert 8. January 2016

A New Generation of Sensors Is Here

Schaeffler’s Machine 4.0 concept features a variety of sensors embedded in the bearing supports of a machining center. (Photo courtesy of Schaeffler group.)

A new generation of sensors is here and it is ushering in the next industrial revolution. In the interconnected world of the Industrial Internet Things, some of the most important data about connected machines and equipment will come from sensors the likes of which we have not seen before. Here are some representative examples.

Sensors in critical machine bearings. Because bearings and bearing supports are present in all of the moving parts of a machine tool that are critical to the machine’s functionality and machining accuracy, the condition of these components greatly influences the most vital performance characteristics of the machine tool. Detecting and measuring variables related to the condition of these bearings is a real boost to machine monitoring capability. Read how Schaeffler, a leading German supplier of industrial bearings, has embedded digital sensors in a machine tool to support Industry 4.0 concepts

A sensory toolholder measures machining forces in real-time. The Spike toolholder from Pro-Micron USA detects and measures the forces in torque occurring while a machining operation is underway. Strain gages embedded in the holder are connected to a transmitter that broadcasts the data wirelessly to a receiver and attached computer for analysis. We first saw this innovation at Westec 2015

Detecting chips in a milling spindle. Grob’s chip-in-spindle detection system consists of a rotor and stator assembly that is integrated within the face of the spindle. Sensors in these components detect stresses that may indicate chip interference that occurs during an automatic tool change.  Automatic monitoring of tool clamping to detect chip interference between the toolholder and the spindle has multiple benefits. It increases process stability; protects cutting tools and the machine; helps optimize machining processes; makes automatic tool changes more reliable; and prevents runout discrepancies that might result in machining errors or defective parts. 

A low cost way of monitoring the temperature of machine tool components. As a summer project at the Advanced Manufacturing Resource Center in the UK, a chemical engineering student from the University of Sheffield developed the software and hardware for a wireless sensor network that can provide a drop-in solution for monitoring the temperature of multiple machine tools. His system uses the popular Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms alongside inexpensive ZigBee radios which together provide a compact and low-cost solution for wireless data acquisition. Read about the project in AMRC's Quarterly Journal here. (Here is a PDF of the article if you are having trouble opening it in Chrome.)

Also, here's more about the importance of emerging sensor technology in the Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 (the fourth Industrial Revolution). 

Posted by: Mark Albert 25. December 2015

Christmas, Steam Trains and Machine Tools

This Niles quartering machine is one of the vintage pieces of manufacturing equipment that is operational in the Age of Steam Roundhouse. Photo by Tim Sposato, Age of Steam Roundhouse.

We all know that Christmas and steam trains go together (think Polar Express, for example). Historic steam trains, as you can imagine, require precise machining operations for restoration and maintenance. Here is a link to a newsletter about a place where Christmas, steam trains and machine tools all come together.

It’s the Age of Steam Roundhouse Report, Winter 2015-2016. The Age of Steam Roundhouse preserves and occasionally operates historic steam and diesel locomotives. A full-scale, realistic brick-and-timber roundhouse is the centerpiece of this endeavor. This latest report highlights current activities, and includes news of recent loco-restoration efforts, Christmas displays and reconditioning of certain vintage machine tools. These machines are essential to repairing, rebuilding and restoring railroad equipment. The list includes a Niles quartering machine, a Lucas horizontal boring mill and a Putnam 80-inch wheel lathe. These machine tools look like they are brand-new and will be fully functional for their intended purpose. 

Posted by: Mark Albert 24. November 2015

Data-Driven Manufacturing Enabled with Tool Lifecycle Management

This video presents a lively and easy-to-follow scenario of how information about cutting tool availability links design, planning and production. Although TDM's tool lifecycle management software is brought into focus at relevant spots in this video, the larger message that "tool data management will be the control room of digitally controlled production" is sound and compelling.

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