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 editorial staff of Modern Machine Shop just returned from a busy week at the biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show, the largest manufacturing trade show in North America. Here are some quick, initial impressions of what made this year’s IMTS distinctive:
1. Attendance. The big story at IMTS this year was the number of people who came. Registered attendees numbered 114,147, up 14 percent from the previous show.
2. Additive Manufacturing. Attendees were hungry for information about additive manufacturing, specifically how additive manufacturing could be applied to part production. Exhibits of hybrid machine tools (machines combining additive manufacturing and CNC machining) were frequently mobbed, as were the booths of established additive manufacturing companies who are relatively new exhibitors to this show. An additive manufacturing workshop that took place in one of the largest conference spaces at the show was filled to capacity, and the Q&A portion of the program (which I moderated) had to be cut off after it went long. It turns out that the choice on the part of the show organizers to spotlight a 3D printed car at the show this year was particularly fitting.
3. Automation. I wish I had a count of the number of robots at the show this year. Articulating arms were in motion everywhere. Machine tool builders throughout the show made a point of demonstrating their ability to integrate with robots. Meanwhile, robot makers promoted their ease of integrating with machine tools. Even exhibitors related to cutting tools and workholding demonstrated robots in roles such as tool management and machine setup. If there is one thing that IMTS exhibitors as a whole seem to perceive, it is that IMTS attendees are aiming to achieve more integrated and less labor-dependent processes.
4. Oil and Gas Industry. Historically, the industries targeted at IMTS include automotive, aerospace and medical. Now, another industry segment has risen to take its place alongside these: the oil and gas sector. The strength of U.S. energy production has affected the shape and capabilities of manufacturing equipment, with exhibitors throughout the show offering large-bore turning machines and large-table machining centers, as well as workholding appropriate to this equipment.
5. Youth. The Student Summit, the area of IMTS dedicated to children high school age and younger, was a resounding success. I have not yet seen numbers on how many young people attended the show, but when I visited the Student Summit, I found it swarming with busloads of enthusiastic kids. Various IMTS exhibitors invested to create additional, youth-oriented exhibits for this special area of the show. Given the number of exhibitors participating in this way—and given the care, color and interest they put into their exhibits—the Student Summit has now grown in scope and significance to become like an additional pavilion of the show.
6. Young Professionals. This was the first IMTS at which I perceived a clear changing of generations in manufacturing. I’ve often maintained that manufacturing has skipped the so-called Generation X—people currently in their 40s. This was the generation discouraged from so-called “factory work,” so there aren’t many of us (I am an X-er myself) to be found in this field. But at IMTS this year, I saw plenty of engaged manufacturing professionals one generation younger than this. Established manufacturing professionals in their 60s are now being joined by up-and-comers who are in their 20s.
7. Buying Activity. When I talked to exhibitors at the show about the high attendance this year, they often responded with statements along the lines of “Yeah, and they are buying.” Attendees to the show this year came ready or nearly ready to commit to significant purchases. That would be consistent with own forecasting model, which predicts a surge in machine tool purchases next year. As one exhibitor explained to me, there has now been well over a decade of under-investment in U.S. manufacturing capital equipment. Manufacturing activity has been high for long enough, and the forward-looking prospects remain sufficiently strong, that it is now time to undertake major investments.
Makino’s control interface simplifies robot integration.
Makino is demonstrating what the company says is the broadest range of automation possibilities it has brought to any IMTS so far. Six distinctly different types of automation for unattended loading and unloading of machines can be seen fully integrated and operational in the company’s Booth S-8700. Mark Rentschler, Makino head of marketing for the Americas, says automation is becoming increasingly important for a growing segment of the company’s customers. There are at least three reasons for this.
First is the skills gap. Among high-value manufacturers across all industries, there is a widespread difficulty in finding qualified, skilled personnel. This is perhaps the most obvious reason automation is in demand, but it is not the sole or even the most significant reason why manufacturers are seeking more automated processes, Rentschler says.
A second factor is the ongoing move, also throughout various industries, toward higher-mix and shorter-leadtime production. The right automation system is an aid to rapidly shifting between part numbers.
A third factor is the increasing sophistication of North American manufacturers. Variables in a manufacturing process are sources of expense. Machine tool automation saves cost by eliminating variation in setup time (which otherwise would depend on the fluctuating pace of a human operator) and variation in machine utilization (which otherwise would be subject to the operator’s breaks and interruptions). The connection between variation and cost is something the largest manufacturers have long understood, but now a significant portion of smaller manufacturers appreciate this as well.
The six different automation solutions seen in the booth include three well-known options (numbers 1-3 below) and three others that will seem surprising or unusual to many shops (numbers 4-6). They are:
1. A pallet system for supplying various part numbers to an individual vertical machining center.
2. The Makino Machining Complex (MMC) pallet system for sharing and exchanging pallets among multiple HMCs.
3. A FANUC robot for machining center loading and unloading. Makino’s control interface includes features aimed at simplifying operation of an integrated robot, as well as recovery if the robot cycle is interrupted.
4. A die-mold cell devised in conjunction with Erowa. The cell includes machines for graphite milling, hard steel milling, wire EDM and sinker EDM, all fed by an Erowa robot. Because many assume that automation requires volume production, the point of this cell is to illustrate automated production of a type of work in which every workpiece is unique: die-mold machining. In this cell, steel blocks enter, and finished mold cores or cavities leave. Integrating multiple manufacturing disciplines into a carefully designed system provides both cost reductions and throughput improvements that stand-alone machines can’t provide, Makino says.
5. Five-axis automation. Because automated loading and unloading require automatic workholding able to repeatably clamp and position the work, five-axis machining is considered challenging to automate. The company’s a51nx-5XU machine is automated using a workholding device that is essentially an inverted 50-taper toolholder receiver. Workpieces mounted on this taper are loaded into the machine by a device resembling a toolholder. The result is secure and repeatable clamping of the part without obstructing the five-axis machining center’s access all around the part.
6. Aerospace automation. The company’s a61nx-5E HMC is automated with a multilayer pallet pool, applied here in a context where it might not be expected. High-power, high-speed machines cutting aluminum aerospace workpieces achieve short cycle times that require workpieces to be delivered to the machine quickly. Modern pallet-pool automation provides the speed to achieve this.
The company’s booth also includes an area dedicated to aerospace engine machining. Various machines focused on this work are featured here, including a five-axis HMC capable of precision grinding, a VMC also equipped for aerospace grinding, and machines engineered for productive machining of coolant holes and root holes.
Greg Morris of GE Aviation has been involved in the development of the LEAP engine fuel nozzle that will be produced through additive manufacturing in a GE plant in Auburn, Alabama. He will devote time to audience questions about additive manufacturing at the Tuesday workshop.
Additive manufacturing has added its name to one of the pavilions at IMTS. The North Hall now includes the Fabricating/Laser/Additive Pavilion. The expanded number of additive manufacturing exhibitors that has led to this development is just one sign of the growing interest in 3D-printing-style technologies as a part-making option. Another response to that growing interest is a new event at the show: The Additive Manufacturing Workshop to be held on Tuesday afternoon.
“This will be very different from other 3D printing conferences,” says Allison Kline Miller, Gardner Business Media director of events. “Our focus with this workshop is industrial applications—making functional components and end-use parts.” Attention to 3D printing often includes artistic applications, non-functional prototypes and “maker” or hobbyist interests. The Additive Manufacturing Workshop, by contrast, “addresses the interests of IMTS attendees with speakers who are involved with applying additive manufacturing in production,” Miller says.
● Craig Blue of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, speaking on the latest developments in additive at an Oak Ridge facility aimed at helping U.S. businesses succeed with this technology.
● Jon Baklund of Baklund R&D, speaking on additive manufacturing in the job shop.
● Lou Young of Linear Mold, speaking on additive manufacturing for mold making.
● Michael Hayes of Boeing, speaking on polymeric additive manufacturing in aerospace.
● Greg Morris, Additive Technologies Leader with GE, speaking on the promise and practicality of additive manufacturing.
The presentations are preceded by a lunch at 12 p.m. that features panel discussion sponsored by the Additive Working Group of AMT—the Association for Manufacturing Technology.
At the end of the workshop, after presentations conclude at 5 p.m., attendees are invited to a networking event with workshop speakers in the Advanced Manufacturing Center, Booth W-10. (Speakers for the TRAM aerospace manufacturing conference to be held on Wednesday and Thursday will be at this reception as well.)
Makino’s free Lunch & Learn returns to IMTS, this year with twice the available space.
Makino has expanded its IMTS “Lunch & Learn” program, the company says. It has doubled the space available for this successful program.
Monday through Friday in the South Hall’s room S104B, at 12 p.m. each day, the company offers a free lunch combined with a presentation from a manufacturer that applied machine-tool technology to overcome manufacturing challenges. As part of the one-hour program each day, the presenters will answer questions from the audience.
● The Build-a-Mold division of A.P. Plasman (Monday), on how this group rethought its manufacturing approach to ensure future business success.
● Micro-Mechanics (Wednesday), on how the company meets evolving global production needs through what it calls “the science of machining.”
● CS Tool Engineering (Thursday), a company applying technology to advance its effectiveness in mold building.
Find the complete list of presentations for the week and register to attend any lunch here.
For the cover story of the September issue of Additive Manufacturing, we return to Baklund R&D to describe how 3D printing fits into the distinctive philosophy and day-to-day activity of this noteworthy Minnesota machining business. Baklund R&D president Jon Baklund will be one of the speakers at the upcoming Additive Manufacturing Workshop at IMTS. Also in this issue, we look at the possibilities of additive manufacturing for repairing worn mold inserts. The digital edition of this issue is available now. To subscribe to Additive Manufacturing, go here.