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.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Dr. Lonnie Love at the recent AMUG 2015 conference. He will also speak at the Additive Manufacturing Conference in October, which includes a tour of ORNL’s additive manufacturing facility.
Additive manufacturing has been proven—it can make end-use production components, and even makes it possible to realize products that could not be manufactured in any other way. So why isn’t AM more pervasive? Why is this method of making parts not in more widespread use?
There are many reasons. Cost is one. Learning curve is another. The lack of validated acceptance among important customers for these parts is yet another. But according to Lonnie Love, Ph.D., group leader of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Systems Research Group, one of the main reasons AM has not progressed farther is a simple reticence about making the leap into something so dramatically new. Industry needs a push, he says, and in the absence of an outside push, industry ought to push itself.
That was his message in a keynote address at the recent Additive Manufacturing Users Group conference in Jacksonville, Florida. The 27-year-old annual conference this year drew over 850 people, its highest attendance ever.
To advance the adoption of additive manufacturing, Dr. Love says industry needs “forcing functions.” He used the analogy of the 1960s commitment to put a man on the moon. Scientists and engineers knew a moon landing was possible, but the commitment to actually do it was needed in order to overcome the obstacles to turn that theory into an accomplished fact. Dr. Love says the advance of additive manufacturing needs smaller-scale “moon shots” just like this.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently rose to meet such a moon shot. Car maker Local Motors determined in 2014 that it would 3D print a car at that year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show, and ORNL joined Local Motors in committing to this goal. One of the technologies to arise from pursuing this aim was Cincinnati Incorporated’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine—a system for quickly producing large 3D printed structures out of (in the case of the car) plastic resin filled with carbon. (Note: Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Local Motors will both be part the Additive Manufacturing Conference in October, which includes tours of both facilities. Learn more.)
The first car produced this way was far from perfect, says Dr. Love, but perfection wasn’t required. The aim instead was proof of concept, and the IMTS example delivered that—the major elements of creating a custom car this way were developed and successfully deployed. Once the first 3D printed car had been created, the questions were clear. For example, how can impact absorption be designed in? How can surface finish be improved? The answers to these secondary, more focused engineering challenges began to appear in the second version of the 3D printed car. The next challenge, he says, will be to use the BAAM technology to 3D print a modular house.
Thus, his question to companies that expect additive manufacturing to be part of their future is this: What moon shot can be announced—what bold commitment can be made—in order to move into that future today?
My colleague Stephanie Monsanty and I attended the AMUG conference. Here are some other highlights we saw:
A presentation by Linear Mold’s Robert Henderson on achieving production of metal parts through additive manufacturing was standing room only. Employees of the conference venue rushed to bring in more chairs, but so many people were standing that it took nearly the entire length of the presentation to get them all seats. The promise for making production parts is where the greatest interest in 3D printing technology seems to lie.
Jim LaHood, engineering specialist at Caterpillar, spoke about the company’s Nomad 3D printer program, which has placed six 3D printers at various company facilities on a temporary basis. The program allows employees to become familiar with additive technologies by using them to produce hand tools, gages and other shopfloor implements, with the eventual goal of using the same method to build legacy equipment parts and other production workpieces.
Heart surgeon William Cohn described a design for an artifical heart relying on additive-manufactured titanium components. Cows are living today with the replacement heart, which holds great promise to help humans. These future recipients of the replacement heart will not have a pulse (as the cows do not today), because the artificial heart is continuous flow.
A presentation delivered by PostProcess Technologies’ Patrick Gannon focused on batch finishing of additively manufactured metal parts. The service bureau has found success in using a multi-stage and multimedia approach to gradually improve surface finish on these parts.
Speaking during a panel discussion on the “state of the industry,” Tim Gormet of the University of Louisville cited design software as a key weakness of additive manufacturing currently. In order for part designs to take full advantage of the freedom additive provides, better simulation of factors such as stresses and cellular structures is needed.
During the same panel presentation, David Lee of Stratasys predicted that the biggest gains to be made in additive manufacturing will come with improved productivity of additive machines as well as reduced material and machine prices.
Ed Herderick, additive technologies leader with GE, described a challenge with advancing additive manufacturing that his company is now facing: the need to rapidly qualify suppliers. The search for companies able to apply additive technology for production often brings in sources that aren’t part of GE’s established manufacturing network.
Banners around the event thanking sponsor companies included some interesting brands. We attend a lot of industrial conferences—the sponsors are typically suppliers of industrial equipment or products. At this event, in addition to additive technology suppliers, GE was also a prominent sponsor. The OEM wants to see additive manufacturing continue to advance. Another sponsor was Target, the retailer, which is now working with Shapeways to provide 3D printed products.
Hoosier Pattern produced this video illustrating its use of 3D printing in sand to make cores and other mold components for casting.
Having this video is helpful to show customers, because—as we described in this article—the sand printing capability allows Hoosier to take a radical approach to casting. Instead of making the pattern and core box, the pattern shop can now skip this step altogether by printing the core and other mold components directly in sand. Design freedoms become easy to achieve that were never possible or practical before. Car maker Ford is making its own use of the same technology.
Can you remember a time when the only telephone in the production area was a landline shared by the shop employees? Today, practically any production employee is likely to have a sophisticated communication and media device in his or her pocket.
On Modern Machine Shop’s “Top Shops” network on LinkedIn, I began a conversation by asking shop owners and managers about their shops’ policies regarding employee cellphone use on the shop floor. Should employees be free to use their data devices, or should there be restrictions?
Here is some of what the participants in the LinkedIn discussion had to say….
Michael Sheridan, owner, Industrial Machine: “We allow the limited use of cell phones during work hours, meaning calls of a minute or two a couple of times per day. We do not permit texting or game playing, and no earphones are permitted. Because the employees are adults who consider these rules common sense, no one takes advantage of them.”
Amy Petersen, owner (now retired), Belding Tool and Machine: “At our plant, cell phones are kept in the employee lockers. Employees are free to check for calls, emails and texts during breaks and lunch period. In case of emergencies, they instruct family members to call the main office so they can be paged. Works great for us!”
John Baklund, owner, Baklund R&D: “We allow employees’ phones to be on, but we have a policy of only calling, texting or emailing members of our BRD team. This allows for quick and efficient workflow. Everyone appreciates this—they can still see texts from friends or family. We discuss the distraction factor often, so as to teach people how to structure their response to this new technology appropriately. We have young people who only have a cell phone, no land line. Some have thanked us for talking about this; it has helped them in life outside of work.”
A manufacturing engineer (I was unable to get his permission for a direct quote) commented that there had certainly been cell phone problems at his plant, but noted also that cell phones are handy. Shopfloor personnel can text him when they need him, saving them from time-wasting trips to the office area.
A job shop owner (ditto) said he had a flat rule about no cell phones in the shop. Employees leave them in their lockers and can use them on break. The lead carries a wireless handset for the main line in case of emergency.
Adam Govoni, machine shop supervisor, Vander-Bend Manufacturing: “It is clear that there are many policies regarding cell phones. Shop cultures will vary. The key is a balance between safety and productivity with a view toward employee satisfaction. I think we have the most productive crew in our region in part because of an attitude of mutual respect throughout the team.”
Mark Kenworthy, owner, Kenworthy Machine: “If you have an employee who will abuse having a cell phone at work, to the extent that the employee isn't working productively, then the issue isn't the cell phone policy. The issue is that employee's attitude. Either the attitude needs to change or that employee needs to be encouraged to find employment elsewhere. Otherwise, that person’s behavior will negatively affect the attitude and productivity of the rest of your team.”
One of the shop owners who got me interested in this question in the first place was Matt Guse of MRS Machining. He ultimately decided to implement a shop-wide cell phone ban. Read about how that went.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory produced this video of the world’s second 3D-printed car. The first 3D-printed car was made at IMTS. The second, in the words of Oak Ridge’s Dr. Lonnie Love in this video, does not “look like a printed vehicle,” but instead, “looks like a real car.”
Specifically, it is a working 3D-printed Shelby Cobra, made for the recent Detroit Auto Show. (This video was filmed prior to that show.)
One of the missions of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge (the facility seen in this video) is to help American manufacturers adopt additive manufacturing. In October, this facility will be one of the locations for a two-day, in-depth Additive Manufacturing Conference organized by Additive Manufacturing and Modern Machine Shop. To learn more about the conference—and register to attend—visit additiveconference.com.
Since I don’t have cable TV, I have been missing out on a show that practically everyone reading this is liable to be interested in checking out. Titan: American Built is a reality show on MAVTV about a northern California CNC machining job shop founded and led by Titan Gilroy. Recently, another shop owner connected me with Mr. Gilroy, who shared an episode with me that I enjoyed watching.
Here are some of my thoughts about the show:
Mr. Gilroy (I’ll call him Titan hereafter) is more than what a quick sample of the show’s promotional materials might portray him to be. His trademark expression is the hard, stern game face. But part of the fun of the show is watching for the times when his humor, sensitivity or gentleness come through. He has the strong personality needed to be the central figure in the show, but in some of the impassioned speeches he gives about American manufacturing, he is also seen to be an able communicator who knows what he wants to say.
The producers of the show often choose to show manufacturing technology without any explanation. This is an interesting choice. I am so familiar with the work and technology of CNC machining that I can follow everything that happens on the show. But when I watch a scene such as the one in which Titan is explaining G-code programming to his son (also Titan), I wonder what the uninitiated viewer is seeing in this, and how much the viewer is getting. (Maybe a great deal.)
Titan is also speaking to other shop owners with his show. He knows they’re watching. In his comments about five-axis machining, software, and the use of capable cutting tools, he has a message for other owners: You’ve got to invest in technology.
The machining footage in this show is beautiful. One of my favorite moments is where Titan explains why it is beautiful. That is, he explains to the viewer that he is not using coolant in the milling of an aluminum part specifically for the sake of the footage, which is a choice he could not get away with if he was milling a different metal such as titanium. Every TV reality show is unreal to a certain extent, but in this case Titan took care to note the unreality, and to describe how authentic machining might look different.
Though there was added dramatic flourish, the episode I saw portrayed a realistic job shop situation that really is dramatic. That is, a customer called with a sudden order, needing a complex, critical, tight-tolerance part in a short period of time. When the part was machined, Titan got in his truck to hand-deliver it. Cinematically, this was done to shift the scene to where the customer would use and install the part. However, how many job shop owners haven’t also gotten in their trucks to make precisely this kind of hand delivery to a waiting customer?
The part in question was a prototype. I’d like to see an episode about production in the U.S. Can this challenge be realistically dramatized? I bet it can! When the challenge is to machine, say, 2,000 pieces of the same part, or 300 per month over the course of a year, then how does a manufacturer do this in the most efficient way, with the least cost for labor, material, cycle time and tooling? Manufacturing professionals do not just wield skill and technology, they also fight against cost. By applying the same respect for the audience that shows G-code programming without explanation, could the show portray the kind of thinking that goes into successfully winning and keeping a production job?