Peter Zelinski has been a writer and editor for Modern Machine Shop for more than a decade. One of the aspects of this work that he enjoys the most is visiting machining facilities to learn about the manufacturing technology, systems and strategies they have adopted, and the successes they’ve realized as a result. Pete earned his degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Cincinnati, and he first learned about machining by running and programming machine tools in a metalworking laboratory within GE Aircraft Engines. Follow Pete on Twitter at Z_Axis_MMS.
The TV program “Titans of CNC”—formerly “Titan: American Built”—posted the promo above of its upcoming third season. Titan Gilroy, the show’s star and creator, has obtained permission to establish a modern CNC machining program within San Quentin State Prison and film there. This video shows the new San Quentin machine shop taking shape, as Mr. Gilroy (himself a former prison inmate) works alongside inmates to renovate and equip the space, and prepare the new CNC shop for the instruction of students.
In a Facebook post, Mr. Gilroy says he designed the curriculum for the prison machining program himself and will personally teach the inmate students to “machine aggressively so they can really secure jobs and solve employer and customer problems.” His instruction of inmates will be a recurring part of the show, and he intends for his show to be more directly focused on machining instruction going forward. The show’s name change reflects this change in direction. Machining professionals, students and maker enthusiasts will all be able to benefit from the teaching he gives as part of the show, he says, and this will be supplemented by complementary videos related to machining practice on the show’s website.
The biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) finished last week with 115,612 total registrants—up slightly from two years ago. But that number doesn’t tell the most significant story. Far from making an incremental step forward, the show this year seemed to me to cross an important threshold, beginning to assume the form it will take next as it continues to respond to changes in industrial manufacturing. Part of what I am referring to is cultural and demographic—Baby Boomers are leaving the industry and Millennials are coming in, producing a particularly large generational step-change. But an equally important part is technological. IMTS this year embraced and provided a serious forum for technologies that were present more as intriguing novelties at previous shows. I don’t know what the sum of all the changes in these different areas will ultimately bring about, but IMTS 2016 was the show at which we began to sketch the outline.
Here is some of what struck me about this year’s show:
1. Additive manufacturing. The addition of additive manufacturing to the show this year lived up to expectations, even though expectations for the prominence of AM at the show were high. Going into the show, we knew there would now be a new, dedicated Additive Manufacturing Pavilion at the front of the North Building, along with various machine tool companies in other pavilions showcasing their own additive manufacturing technology. Ultimately, the impression that all of this made was the sense of additive manufacturing having now arrived. Additive simply makes sense at IMTS. The technology belongs at this show, and the show has now expanded to take it in because the options for making production parts have now expanded to include this possibility.
2. Industry 4.0. While the high profile for AM was something I expected going into the show, the comparably high profile for digital manufacturing was something I discovered soon after I got there. Exhibitors across all product categories had invested effort within their exhibits to emphasize how the integration and data-reporting possibilities of their various technologies fit within the framework of Industry 4.0.
It’s possible to be too quickly dismissive of this. Industry 4.0 is a broad idea embracing many uses of digital connectivity, so arguably it is relatively easy to claim association with the term. But I think that dismissiveness is the wrong way to look at what is happening. The vision of a manufacturing facility or network that can be adapted, diagnosed and optimized in both subtle and crucial ways because of the effectiveness of automated information-sharing is a big idea, and it is also a valuable idea for organizing the efforts of all of the technology developers that might contribute to this picture. Part of scaling a mountain together is agreeing on where the peak is located. IMTS this year showed we have that agreement.
3. Cobots. Collaborative robots—those robots that are safe for unguarded use near people because of speed and force limitations combined with force-sensing technology—were all over this year’s show. Exhibitors wishing to demonstrate automation frequently used a cobot in the demonstration, for obvious reasons. A cobot allows for an exhibit in which the attendee can come right up to the demo and watch it in action very closely with no safety concern. The cumulative result of this pervasive use of cobots was an IMTS that promoted the accessibility of robotic automation to a far greater extent than previous shows. Robots in general have been fairly easy to employ for some time, but the entire idea of adding a robot to one’s shop came off as a far friendlier prospect at the show this year.
4. Purposefulness of attendees. I heard various exhibitors comment about this. To an extent that has noticeably increased, attendees to IMTS no longer show up to window-shop competing machines in particular categories so they can compare specs and features. Instead, it has become much more common for attendees to arrive with a mission, and a difficult mission at that. The shop owner or manager brings a certain vexing process inefficiency or bottleneck to IMTS exhibitors in order to ask, How can you help me solve this? Or the attendee comes to exhibitors with a part print saying, What solution can you give me for making this part cost-effectively? In fact, the arrival of additive manufacturing as a mainstream part of the show means that both the difficulty and the meaningfulness of the second question have now increased. For a given part that is still early in its conceptual stage, an additive approach and a very different subtractive approach to making that same part might both be worth considering.
5. Automation as a given. Displays of automation at past editions of IMTS frequently conveyed the message, essentially, “You can get this machine with a robot!” This year, the message advanced. Displays of automation this time frequently began with the expectation that many IMTS attendees will expect to automate, so the exhibitor’s thrust was to show how it could apply automation more effectively or capably than others. One prominent machine-tool exhibitor had a display in which it showed four different automated processes for machining the same part, so it could illustrate the strengths and the tradeoffs of each choice.
6. User experience. The most fundamental way in which manufacturing technology providers are responding to the generational change in manufacturing is in the area of user experience. At the show, this could be easily seen in (for example) control interfaces that provided for intuitive and graphic interaction far removed from traditional CNC screens. But this is just the surface evidence of a much bigger shift that is occurring and needs to occur. Manufacturing professionals of the past accepted that their trade’s technology required specialized and even obscure knowledge to put the technology to use, but young people entering the field have no context for this expectation. They’ve grown up in a world in which technology has reached out to them and provided a seamless route to engaging with it. Some of the most important engineering related to manufacturing devices and systems in the near future will be experiential engineering.
7. Category breaking. Additive was not just in the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion, because various machine tool companies also showed how additive could complement their offerings. Ditto, Industry 4.0 was not just in the Controls & CAD/CAM Pavilion, because most or all categories of exhibitors were showing digital advances, including the major cutting tool exhibitor that made Industry 4.0 its primary theme. Increasingly, technology advance in manufacturing is taking the form of greater integration with other categories of manufacturing technology. At a show like IMTS, this means the categories are increasingly being transcended, and innovations significant to a given technology category might be found in any part of the show. It is time to become aware that this is happening, as this evolution at least subtly affects how we think about the show and how attendees can best make use of it.
Certainly we at Modern Machine Shop need to be thinking about this. Should we be doing an even better job at showcasing these “transcendent” technology advances, in which the crossing of technology categories affects multiple facets of the process at once? Yes.
And I think the attendee also has to be aware of this in the moment when he or she is next planning how to spend time at this show. The takeaway from 2016 as it relates to IMTS 2018 might be this: The next time the show is held, the attendee should make an even more deliberate point of leaving time available to roam through aisles and pavilions that he or she would not have thought to consider. Increasingly, the solution to any particular challenge might come out of an area of the show that is different from the one in which we would expect to look.
Traditionally used with abrasive cutting tools, ultrasonic machining is now an option for defined-cutting-edge milling and drilling tools as well. With these tools, ultrasonic’s advantages extend to its aid to chip breaking.
As the show this year makes clear, machine tool, cutting tool, automation and software technology are all advancing. However, one other area of progress affecting manufacturers in ever-greater numbers is the advance of material technology. Machine shops are increasingly being challenged by advanced materials, including composites and hard metals, many of which are difficult to machine.
DMG MORI has a proven solution for machining sophisticated workpiece materials that the company is reintroducing this year in an upgraded version. The second-generation Ultrasonic 20 Linear machine, a five-axis machining center capable of both conventional machining and ultrasonic machining, can be seen in the company’s Booth S-8900.
AMT President Doug Woods and VP Peter Eelman spoke ahead of the show's opening. Mr. Woods described attractions unique to the show this year, including a 3D printed energy-efficient house in the Emerging Technology Center and the IMTS Ride Experience featuring Olli, a self-driving vehicle by Local Motors in the North Building's C Hall.
This year's IMTS is the largest ever in terms of exhibitors, and it is one of the largest in terms of exhibit space.
Peter Eelman, vice president of exhibitions and business development with AMT—The Association For Manufacturing Technology, announced this during a pre-opening press event at which he and AMT President Doug Woods spoke.
Total exhibit space is 1,370,256 square feet. The new C Hall in the North Building accounts for much of the increase over 2014's show. This year's total exhibit space is the third-largest for the show, Mr. Eelman says, only to be topped by the years 1998 and 2000. However, he points out that those were dot-com years in which significant exhibit space went to online companies. Count the amount of exhibit space devoted to manufacturing technology, and he believes this show would be the largest.
Metrology technology and data connectedness illustrate consistent, controlled production and point-of-manufacturing quality assurance.
After-the-fact inspection often comes too late to keep an automated production process in control. In Booth E-5509, metrology and precision technology company Renishaw Inc. (Hoffman Estates, Illinois) demonstrates the role of measurement data connectivity in realizing efficient low-labor machining.
A machining cell in the booth produces an enclosure housing. The cell shows the effects of machine tool performance on the quality of parts produced, and also how manufacturers can monitor and control machines to ensure precise, consistent production. To integrate off-machine gauging, the cell employs robot handling and data connectivity. The system provides for automatic tool offset control and point-of-manufacture quality assurance, keeping the machining process centered and giving confidence in the quality of parts before they progress to the next process. When all machining and finishing processes are complete, CMM inspection is used to verify the final parts meet specifications.
Also demonstrated are rapid automated setting of tools and workpiece location using standard user-programmable cycles.
The ability to monitor key process inputs and analyze and respond to data is key to increased productivity and higher accuracy, the company says. Its predictive “Process Control Pyramid” establishes checks and measurements before, during and immediately after machining, to control both common-cause and special-cause variation. The company’s booth provides what it sees as a one-stop opportunity to explore technologies for measuring many of the key process variables in CNC machining and other forms of manufacturing.
Indeed, it even offers a possibility for expanding those forms of manufacturing, because in addition to its range of metrology equipment, Renishaw is exhibiting its additive manufacturing technology as well.