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.
This robot cell used by an oil-industry manufacturer produces various parts in batch sizes of less than 100. Read more.
“This is an extremely exciting time to be involved in the robotics industry,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA). His group reports that 2014 was the strongest year yet for robot demand in North America, with 27,685 robots valued at $1.6 billion ordered from North American companies. That was an increase of 28 percent in units and 19 percent in dollars over 2013.
The most significant industry driving this demand is automotive manufacturing, which increased its orders for robots by 45 percent over 2013. The most important application is arc welding or spot welding, each of which increased its demand for robots by around 57 percent over the previous year.
My own observations suggest that machine tending for unattended CNC machining—in many industries, not just automotive—must also be feeding the robot demand. And perhaps in 2015 this application will feed it to an even greater extent. Most shops I’ve spoken with lately are at least seriously considering an investment in robotic automation. One shop owner recently told me that his lender is more inclined to provide financing if the capital investment aims at lights-out machining. He is liable to buy a robot with his next new VMC for this reason.
Read more detail about robot demand in the RIA report. And for more on robots, robot-related products and successful applications of robotic automation in machining, visit our Robots & Automation Zone.
At CIMP-3D, visiting engineers from various companies look at a layer slice of an additive-manufactured part. Penn State research assistant Kenneth Meinert discusses additive build orientation and parameter settings as they relate to this part.
Timothy W. Simpson, Ph.D., professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at Pennsylvania State University, is co-director of the university’s additive-manufacturing-focused Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition, or CIMP-3D. He has toured more than 1,200 visitors through this additive manufacturing demonstration facility, he says, and he believes he is now seeing attention to AM enter a second phase. The knowledge level of potential users has advanced.
The previous phase reached its high point 18 to 24 months earlier, he says. At that time, visitors to his facility asked basic questions. A common one was, “You can 3D print in metal?” Amazement at seeing functional metal parts produced additively was common. But now—strikingly—almost every visitor to the lab has moved well beyond that level of knowledge.
The new wave of interest that he is seeing takes the form of engineers working with the lab to produce one-offs or trial batches of additive manufactured parts. In almost every case, the engineer’s purpose is to take these sample parts to his or her company management as part of an argument for adopting additive production. As a result, Dr. Simpson expects to see a third phase in another 18 to 24 months, as some of the bosses of those engineers agree to start implementing additive processes for the production of initial parts.
Projecting these anticipated phases into the future, Dr. Simpson estimates that 3 to 5 years from today will be enough time for additive manufacturing for full-scale production of metal parts to move to a point of acceptance beyond the leading edge at which it’s practiced today. By that point in the future, he says, the production of end-use parts through additive manufacturing will be an established, day-to-day practice in facilities serving a variety of industries and end uses.
Once you make the move to producing parts through additive manufacturing, what does your world look like? AM is not as easy as hitting a “print” button—it has process considerations all its own (just like any other manufacturing process). The cover story of the February issue of Additive Manufacturing looks at this. Researchers who are involved in helping industrial users adopt additive manufacturing talk about the realities of making metal parts with this process. Also in this issue, we profile Normal, a unique New York manufacturer and retailer that uses 3D printing to manufacture custom-fit earbuds from photographs of customers’ ears. Read these stories in the digital edition of the issue. To subscribe to Additive Manufacturing, go here.
What is topology optimization? It is the use of mathematical analysis to achieve a part form that is suited purely to the load and function of the part, omitting all superfluous material. “You could think of it as being like a game of Jenga,” says David Ewing, technical marketing engineer for Renishaw’s Additive Manufacturing Products Division. That is, the objective is to remove blocks from low-stress areas that aren’t contributing to the strength of the part, leaving the part’s essential structure intact.
Topology optimization produces organic forms that generally can’t be produced through conventional manufacturing. However, realizing optimal part forms is one of the promises of additive manufacturing, which excels at producing complex shapes.
Mr. Ewing wrote this article on how topology optimization enabled Empire Cycles to produce a bike frame bracket 44 percent lighter than the bracket’s original design—even though the new, lightweight bracket is titanium when the heavy bracket had been aluminum.
Read more about topology optimization in this article about additive manufacturing at Penn State University.