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.
Generation Growth Capital Fund is an investment group managed out of Milwaukee and Chicago that aims to develop the unrealized value of small- to mid-size manufacturing businesses. We first wrote about the fund here. The firm has sought to acquire contract manufacturing businesses featuring both attractive machining capabilities and strong customer relationships in important markets. As of the beginning of this year, it had integrated four such machine shops into a multi-site manufacturing organization called the M2M Group.
As a whole, these four formerly independent shops provide capabilities that range through large-part machining, micromachining, multitask and five-axis machining, and rapid prototyping of both machined parts and castings. Bringing these companies together into one group enables them not only to leverage one another’s resources, says Generation Growth Capital Fund managing director John Reinke, but also to realize efficiencies by adopting an organization-wide set of best practices and sharing certain quality, management and back office expenses. The aim, he says, is to build a contract manufacturing organization able to serve OEM customers throughout the entire manufacturing process from early prototyping to mature production. Until recently, though, there seemed to be a piece missing.
Mr. Reinke says, “The thing keeping me up at night was: What’s going on with additive manufacturing?”
Now, the M2M Group will discover the answer to that question. The fifth company to be acquired into the group is Atlantic Precision Inc. (API) of Port St. Lucie, Florida, a machining business that also additively manufactures metal parts through direct metal laser sintering, or DMLS.
That API became available for acquisition was a welcome development, Mr. Reinke says. The company was already known to his group. M2M company Tri Aerospace had active projects with API and a track record of working with this company for metal prototype parts and short-run production runs, particularly for the jet engine industry. Before API was a candidate to be bought, Mr. Reinke had been searching for the way to add additive manufacturing of metal parts to the M2M stable, and the findings of his search say something about the state of additive manufacturing as a production option today.
In general, he says, the companies he found were just starting out. It was difficult to find an additive manufacturing provider of the right size to be acquired by his fund that was anything more than a recently launched or recently reinvented company. Through acquisition, he hoped for the M2M Group to avoid the learning curve of additive manufacturing, but what he consistently found were companies going through that same learning curve themselves. Therefore, he had all but resolved to launch additive manufacturing as a green-field project within one of the existing M2M businesses.
Then the group heard from API. The company is distinctive for the length of time it has offered additive manufacturing services to industrial customers, he says. To an extent, at least, it has been through the learning curve.
And it has been through this curve alongside customers. This is also key, he says. The trial-and-error requires customers who are willing to go through the process along with the supplier. API has the customers who had that willingness, and as the result of working closely together to make important strides forward in understanding additive manufacturing, API now has particularly strong customer relationships.
One anecdote illustrates how quickly events are moving related to this method of making parts, Mr. Reinke says. While the acquisition was under way, a customer asked API to purchase another DMLS machine so the shop would have additional capacity for upcoming work. As the potential purchaser, Mr. Reinke’s fund had to react along with API to this request. Thus, the terms of the still-unfinished acquisition were rewritten so that this machine purchase could go ahead.
The award recognizes innovations in additive manufacturing for industrial applications. Equipment providers, users, component suppliers, data modelers and members of academia all qualify to enter. The winner will receive a $20,000 cash prize and a marketing and promotional package worth $80,000. Modern Machine Shop publisher Gardner Business Media is one of the media partners for this award, which will be presented at the MFG Meeting in March in Orlando, Florida.
Applications are being accepted through December 31. Visit additive-award.com for more information.
The two laser cladding heads reside with the machine’s cutting tools in the tool magazine.
In “subtractive” manufacturing (that is, machining), we take it for granted that an efficient process might consist of both a high-speed roughing step and a high-precision finishing step. Why shouldn’t additive manufacturing have these same two options?
At the JIMTOF show concluding this week in Japan, Mazak introduced a new hybrid additive/subtractive multitasking machine, the Integrex i-400AM, which features heads for both high speed and high precision laser cladding for direct metal deposition.
The new machine extends the definition of multitasking, including turning, milling, drilling, additive manufacturing and laser marking in the same machine.
Collaboratively developed with Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies (a company we reported on here), the dual laser cladding heads (or additive manufacturing nozzles) provide options for either rapid and coarse metal deposition or slower deposition with fine precision. The two heads complement one another—and provide for efficient processing—in much the same way that roughing and finishing tools work together in machining.
The cladding heads reside in the machine’s tool magazine and can be called up as needed. Mazak says it views metal deposition as a natural extension of multitasking—that is, an opportunity to perform more steps and add still more value within a single CNC cycle.
The laser cladding can be used to build near-net-shape 3D forms. Thus, the machine is a potentially attractive choice for small-lot production of parts made from difficult-to-machine metals, because it provides the option for some part features to be grown instead of being generated entirely through machining.
The laser cladding can also be used to coat chosen sections of the part with metal, allowing the machine to repair worn or damaged components such as turbine blades. This cladding could even be used to join different metals in the same cycle.
The full five-axis milling and turning machine tool features machining capabilities comparable to other models in its family. The milling spindle feeds through a B-axis range of –30/+210 degrees, while the spindle that holds the part for turning also permits full C-axis contouring. The tailstock too is fully programmable. Learn more about the Integrex i-400AM here.
Combining laser cladding and machining in the same cycle means that surfaces can be added to parts or features can be grown onto parts within the same cycle that also performs turning or five-axis milling.
The word “coolant” is deceptive. Coolant in machining is a heat-transfer device. While the fluid cools the cut by transporting heat away from the work zone, it carries that heat to wherever the coolant then lands.
Toyoda says it engineered its new GE4-i cylindrical grinder in part with attention to the thermal effects that might come from heat transfer via coolant. The machine is seen here at this year’s IMTS, where it debuted. The company says the machine’s redesigned casting contributes to thermal stability by capturing and channeling the coolant that falls from the workzone in order to isolate it from the structure of the machine.
Another feature of the GE4-i is an icon-driven and user-friendly control interface, which is valuable in part as manufacturers adapt to the difficulty of finding skilled labor in grinding. More on that here.
Is it possible to mold a plastic part using mold tooling that is also made of plastic? 3D printing technology provider Stratasys says this is not only possible, but preferable in some cases. These photos show examples of 3D-printed “digital ABS” tooling, which is used for both injection molding and blow molding.
The mold tooling material is produced on a Stratasys Connex 3D printer. This printer digitally creates combination materials by rapidly laying down tiny dots of different materials as it builds the part. To create mold tooling, it combines a heat-resistant plastic with a matrix engineered for high strength. The result is a material that can withstand both the high pressure and high temperature of a molding cycle. The mold tooling material is in fact one of the very strongest materials created on the Connex 3D printer, which is more frequently used to make multi-material prototype parts.
Stratasys sales manager Nadav Sella has been involved in the development of this machine’s application to mold tooling ever since an end user of the machine first hit on the idea of making molds this way nearly 5 years ago. He says the life of one of these digital ABS tools is heavily influenced by both the material being molded and the geometry of the part. On a six-cavity injection mold making ice cream spoons in polypropylene, he says the digital ABS mold delivered 600 spoons. By contrast, for more complex geometries using reinforced nylon, the tool might deliver 20 injected parts. In general, where tooling is needed for low quantities or for an initial run of parts, quickly 3D printing a mold can both save cost and speed the time to market, he says.
There are limitations. He and others within Stratasys have worked through a number of applications of digital ABS molds, and this has allowed them to develop a set of best practices that they share with users. That set of best practices keeps improving as digital ABS tooling is applied to more geometries and materials, he says, but the key is to respect the mechanical and physical properties of the tool. Heat conductivity is not like that of aluminum or tool steel, leading to tool design considerations aimed at avoiding heat concentration. One example concerns gate size and type; point gates, cashew gates and banana gates should be avoided.
Precision is also a consideration. The 3D printer is precise, but not as precise as a CNC machine tool. Thus, it can’t produce molds with the finest features, such as the tight-tolerance details of some electronics-industry molds. Also, to ensure the accuracy needed for precise seating of ejector pins, these holes should be 3D printed undersize, then reamed to achieve an accurate diameter.
“This is a different material,” he says. Established moldmaking professionals are accustomed to molds being made from metal. Compared to this, 3D printed tooling requires slight design and process changes. His advice to potential users is to expect to take some time getting used to what this option can do. However, “for the shop that does 100 molds per year—some in steel and some in aluminum—what if 10 or 20 of those molds could be 3D printed instead?” That portion is realistic, and could amount to considerable savings in cost and time.