Stephanie Monsanty worked as a summer intern in 2012 and joined the Modern Machine Shop team as assistant editor later that fall. She edits product and industry news for the print magazine as well as MMS Online. Stephanie completed her M.A. in professional writing at the University of Cincinnati in 2013, and also holds a B.A. in English literature and history from the University of Mount Union.
It makes sense to cut, mill, drill or tap a workpiece on the machine best-suited to the task, but sometimes it makes even more sense to assemble the machine tool specifically for the workpiece. Suhner Automation offers a range of machining units that can be combined into complete machining systems for large runs of specialized parts, especially those that are bulky or awkwardly shaped such as automotive and aerospace components.
The machining units, which can perform sawing, milling, drilling and tapping processes, can be arranged to operate simultaneously or in sequence. A display at the company’s IMTS booth, for example, showed how multiple drilling units could be arranged to drill multiple holes on the interior of a Corvette door in one pass (pictured above). Meanwhile, a separate demonstration featured a machining center consisting of four different types of machining units to demonstrate how workpieces could be machined complete in a single setup. Each time the machine indexed, it produced a finished part.
Each machining unit consists of a pneumatic spindle and toolholder with a durable cast iron body. The units are available in a range of different sizes with through-coolant variations and can be equipped with servomotors and ballscrews for greater accuracy. Suhner also provides the enclosures and systems necessary to form complete machining centers with the modular units.
Flip through the Modern Equipment Review Spotlight on laser and waterjet machining in November’s issue, and you might notice evidence of a current industry trend: Builders are creating machines that can perform multiple processes. Examples include:
Esab’s Hydrocut LX, a combination waterjet and plasma cutting system;
Trumpf’s TruLaser Cell 3000, a laser cutting and welding machine; and
Tsugami’s S206-II, a Swiss-type lathe that’s also equipped with a laser cutting system.
Microscopes offer the magnification necessary to inspect small parts, but the in-focus viewing field can be limited. A digital microscope with autofocusing capabilities can simplify inspection by creating composite images that show the entire selected field in focus at once.
Operating an inspection microscope can be similar to taking a photo with manual focus. Like a photographer, the inspector must position the subject, check lighting, manage variables such as exposure and shutter speed, and adjust the zoom and focus of the lens to bring the feature of interest into view. However, while a photographer may purposefully create an image with blurred edges, shallow depth of field or other effects, industrial measurement and inspection tasks require clear, focused images. Inspecting all pieces of a part can mean repeatedly moving the part and readjusting the microscope to view all the detail necessary.
It is possible to automate steps in this process, however. For example the VHX-5000 digital inspection microscope from Keyence features auto-focusing capabilities to help take some of the time and difficulty out of capturing clear images for inspection purposes. Once a user moves the microscope to the desired viewing area on a given part, the VHX automatically scans through its focal range and quickly compiles a high-resolution composite image that shows all of the specified area in focus on the system’s screen. According to the company, the microscope’s high-frame-rate camera (offering 50 frames per second) can generate fully focused images in as little as one second.
In addition to saving time, the microscope also reduces the learning curve for operators. An Easy mode walks users through each function of the microscope to ensure its capacity is fully utilized, and, according to Keyence, improve the overall results obtained. Additionally, the microscope’s large depth of field, tilting arm and stage, and 0.1× to 5,000× magnification enable both 2D and 3D inspection.
This interior shot of AutoCrib’s TX750 tool vending system shows its vertical columns of adjustable shelves. To the left, you can see the inside of the system’s rolling dual-tambour door, capable of opening 2" to 60" to correspond with the selected bin.
Many industrial vending systems on the market today are based on pie-like trays divided into wedges. An operator calls up a tool or other expendable, and round carousels rotate until the appropriate wedge faces out. The operator can then open the door and remove the drill, insert or whatever it may be.
The system has its advantages, but according to Stephen Pixley, founder of AutoCrib, the wedge-shaped spaces also pose a dilemma. “Things come in rectangular boxes,” he points out, which means that in stocking the wedges, companies must waste either time (unpacking the boxes) or space (storing a square or rectangular box in a wedge-shaped hole).
Rather than pie-shaped trays system, AutoCrib’s TX750 vending system uses a carousel with slots more accommodating to box-shaped contents. The vending system features columns with adjustable shelving to accommodate boxes—as well as other objects of varying shapes and sizes. The slots can be adjusted to hold everything from a tiny insert to a 2-foot-plus fluorescent light bulb. The customizability of the slots reduces vertical bin height waste and increases the capacity that can be stored within a compact footprint. As many as 900 bins can be packed into the unit, which occupies 9.8 square feet of floor space.
The TX750 has another advantage that enables it to provide just the right product at the right time: rolling dual-tambour doors. When an operator calls for a product in a particular slot, the two doors rotate to the appropriate shelf and open only that slot. The doors can open to anywhere from 2" to 60" in half-inch increments.
The vending system is controlled by AutoCrib’s user interface with 19" touchscreen, and a native bin assignment process simplifies stocking the unit on the fly. Operators can identify themselves with an ID card or a fingerprint and search the system to retrieve items.
Waterjet technology is well-suited to cutting large 2D workpieces out of sheets of material, but Jet Edge’s Edge X-5 demonstrates how a waterjet can effectively cut three-dimensional parts as well. The waterjet’s five-axis Permalign Edge cutting head enables it to produce features such as weld bevels and countersink holes, as well as reduce tapering in the jet stream. The waterjet offers a Z-axis travel of 12" and is available with a work envelope ranging from 5 × 5 feet to 24 × 8 feet.
In the video above, the Edge X-5 is cutting Jet Edge-branded bottle openers out of 1/4"-thick aluminum using 80 mesh garnet abrasive. The piece showcases the waterjet’s five-axis capability with features such as the angled “Jet Edge” lettering and the chamfering around the outer edges.