Stephanie (Monsanty) Hendrixson served as a Modern Machine Shop summer intern in 2012 and joined the team as an assistant editor later that fall. She currently works on event news for MMS Online and on the production of the print magazine. She also blogs about additive technology and helps to manage Additive Manufacturing magazine as its associate editor. Stephanie holds an M.A. in professional writing from the University of Cincinnati and a B.A. in English literature and history from the University of Mount Union.
In the same way that a computed tomography (CT) scanner at a hospital enables healthcare providers to “see” inside a patient, industrial CT scanning technology makes it possible to nondestructively measure and inspect the inside of a workpiece. The method works by passing an object (patient or part) between an X-ray-emitting tube and a sensor, generating a point cloud that is then interpreted with software to create 2D images or 3D models. A medical CT scanner rotates the X-ray emitter around the patient, whereas in industrial applications it’s typically the workpiece that moves, rotating slowly on a manipulator table while the sensor records data at set intervals. (For a brief overview of how the technology works, see this video on how a moldmaking firm uses CT scans.)
But apart from the different configurations of the CT scanner itself, scanning a metal part and obtaining precise measurements requires different capabilities than scanning a human patient. Metal parts have a greater tendency to absorb the X-rays, a characteristic which can introduce artifacts and affect the resolution of the generated image, especially when scanning denser workpieces. To maintain resolution on dense parts, industrial CT scanning systems must operate at higher kV power than medical scanners. GE’s Phoenix VTomeX M scanner, for example, is equipped with a 300-kV microfocus X-ray tube and a temperature-stabilized detector array. (A medical CT scan is typically conducted in the neighborhood of 70 to 140 kV.) The company says that these features enable the system to scan faster and achieve scanning accuracy down to 2 microns on parts ranging to 500 mm in diameter, 600 mm in height and weighing as much as 50 kg (110 lbs).
This ability to scan dense parts more quickly was a key draw for Exact Metrology, which recently installed a Phoenix VTomeX M CT scanner at its main facility in Cincinnati, Ohio. Using the Phoenix scanner, the company says it is able to generate a first article inspection report—including internal dimensions—in less than an hour, faster than using a tactile or optical CMM. Exact, which provides 3D scanning services in addition to metrology equipment, plans to use the CT scanner to offer process control as well as customer R&D services. Possible applications may include light metal castings, electronic assemblies, thermoplastic molded and composite parts, in addition to various machined metals.
Industrial automation takes different forms for different shops. For some, “automating” might mean adding a pallet changer to a machining center to run longer unattended. For others, it might be installing a large cell of several machines with a tending robot so that parts can be machined complete within one area of the shop floor. Or it might mean automating a process in itself, as with welding robots, freeing up personnel for other tasks.
Click the photo above for a slideshow of these automation products and others featured in our January product spotlight. Also check out the Robots & Automation Zone for case studies, feature articles and more on this topic.
Shown here on display at IMTS 2014, Esab’s Hydrocut LX combines waterjet and plasma cutting for greater efficiency.
One advantage of cutting metal parts with a waterjet is the lack of heat distortion and mechanical stress, which translates into more accurate cuts. However, there’s usually a trade-off in speed for this precision. Depending on the type of material and its thickness, other processes like laser or plasma cutting may be able to cut more quickly and at lower cost than waterjet, though less accurately.
Machines that combine waterjet cutting with other processes can offer higher productivity and faster cycle times as a result. For example, the Hydrocut LX system from ESAB Cutting Systems combines the accuracy of waterjet cutting with a plasma system on the same gantry. The system enables precision without sacrificing speed on every cut, the company says. High-precision contours can be cut with the waterjet while non-critical contours can be cut with plasma for cost and time savings. The waterjet can also be configured with oxy-fuel cutting, plasma or ink jet marking, and drilling capabilities.
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Attendees at this year’s biggest metalworking shows—IMTS and JIMTOF, to name just two—were treated to a slew of machining center releases. The December product slideshow covers some of these new VMCs, HMCs and five-axis machines. Some common features of these machines include configurable options, automatic pallet changers and support for additional automation. Check out the photos and captions by clicking on the photo above, or visit the Machining Centers & Milling Machines Zone for more on machining centers.