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 19. February 2016

How a CAD/CAM Consultant Can Help

This article from Mastercam profiles the CAD/CAM "power user" as a resource person who can bridge the gap when a shop's CAD/CAM technology or programming capabilities can't keep up for some reason. It gives a good picture of why and when some shops turn to an independent software specialist for CAD/CAM services such as CNC programming of difficult or complex parts. A focus on one of these power users, Jayson Kramer of Precision Programming Services, portrays an expert contract CNC programmer in action. How he leverages advanced software features to solve problems or train other uses is revealing.

Posted by: Mark Albert 5. February 2016

Connecting Forklifts to the Industrial Internet of Things

A smart tablet, mounted in the front of the forklift, connects the truck to ITAMCO’s ERP system. The forklift also has a GPS.

ITAMCO, a manufacturer of precision-machined components and high-precision gears in Plymouth, Indiana, has a history of integrating its machinery and equipment with networked sensors and software. Many of these connections are powered by software applications for mobile devices—apps developed in-house by its own technology team. In 2012, the company implemented an MTConnect-enabled machine monitoring system. Soon after, key pieces of machinery were connected to the company's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Now ITAMCO has developed a communication system for its forklifts, citing this connection as a good example of how the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will benefit manufacturing. In this case, it has made forklifts, the workhorses of the plant floor, more valuable than ever at ITAMCO.

Here is how the company describes the way forklifts are running on the IIoT. As soon as a machine operator scans the barcode on a pallet, signifying the completion of the product cycle at his machine, a forklift operator and forklift are on their way to the machine. Each forklift is linked to ITAMCO’s ERP system through its GPS and an application on a smart tablet mounted in the forklift. Forklift operators are notified via their smart devices (employees use iPods, iPads and smartphones) when they’re needed. The communication system is so efficient it will summon the closest forklift to the machine. The forklift operator will also know how many pallets need to be moved and where they should be taken. If the product is being moved to another workstation, the workers in that area will be notified that the product is on its way. 

The technology team at ITAMCO created an application that links machine operators, forklift drivers and the company’s ERP system.

“We developed the application because both of our facilities are rather large and forklift operators where always looking for forklifts to move their material but could never find one. Also, material would sit for hours at a machine, delaying the next operation. This application solved the problem by notifying a material handler as soon as the materials were ready to go to the next work area,” says Joel Neidig, an engineer and lead technology developer at ITAMCO. According to Mr. Neidig, the system has been well received by ITAMCO employees. “It has definitely helped me schedule the movement of materials from one work center to another,” says Arthur Doody, material handler at ITAMCO. “We’ve seen a 10-percent reduction in the time it takes to get material ready for the next operation,” Mr. Neidig says.

To learn more about other innovations at ITAMCO, watch the video below.


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

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). 

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