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.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker recently toured Cardinal Manufacturing, the Eleva-Strum High School manufacturing program that operates as a commercial manufacturing business. Read about Cardinal Manufacturing here. Todd Schuett of Creative Technology captured photos of Governor Walker’s visit as well as video footage. In this video, the governor lays out some of the numbers that account for why he advises children to view manufacturing as not just a job but a potential career.
Renishaw has collaborated with the UK’s Empire Cycles to produce what the two companies say is the world’s first 3D printed metal bike frame. The titanium frame, manufactured using Renishaw’s additive manufacturing machine, is 33 percent lighter than the original frame that Empire started with.
Components were built simultaneously within a single additive build,
then assembled to create the frame.
However, the benefits from additive manufacturing go well beyond weight savings. In an article about its work with Empire, Renishaw offered a list of the many advantages the bike maker realizes by growing the bike frame through 3D printing. Those advantages include:
1. Rapid iterations, and the flexibility to make design improvements right up to production.
2. The ability to derive shapes from topological optimization, using software analysis to place material only where it is needed for the strength and performance of the part.
3. Customization, because one-offs can be made as easily as production batches.
4. The freedom to grow hollow structures for weight and material savings.
5. The option to produce complex shapes that include internal strengthening features.
6. The ability to build in special features, such as the rider's name.
I might have thought that NC simulation software was a mature market. CGTech’s Vericut software, which accurately models CNC machine tools in order simulate the postprocessed version of an NC program, has been available for years—long enough for shops able to benefit from this simulation to have found it. Yet when I recently spoke with a CGTech representative, he said that in fact new business is surging. Shops that have never considered simulation software before are opting for it now.
The company points to various reasons for this. They include:
1. Solid models. In past decades, it wasn’t necessarily true that shops were programming with solid models. Today, the use of solid models is commonplace. Broader availability of solid models for workpieces, cutting tools and machines makes program simulation easier to implement.
2. Higher value work. Particularly for U.S. manufacturers, some of the most lucrative machining opportunities involve parts that are geometrically challenging and/or made from a challenging material. Where the part value is higher, the value of avoiding an error or collision that could damage the part becomes that much higher as well.
3. Capacity constraints. Many shops today have enough work that they are challenged to schedule it all. Performing program prove-out on the machine, therefore, becomes a costly use of machine capacity. Better to prove out the program with software instead.
4. Five axis machining. This is the big one that CGTech sees. Many shops installing their first five-axis machine tool are justifiably cautious about the complexity of this machine’s movements. Simulating the five-axis job before it runs offers a way to safeguard this sophisticated machine.
This view inside the Hamuel Reichenbacher machine (seen in full below)
shows it performing a laser cladding operation on a turbine blade part.
I know of four companies supplying additive manufacturing machines that also incorporate CNC machining for “subtractive” operations. They are: DMG Mori, Fabrisonic, Matsuura and Hamuel Reichenbacher. The last of these is distinctive because it incorporates a system for add-on additive manufacturing capability that could also be added to an existing machine tool via retrofit.
Jason Jones, who helped to develop this technology—now marketed through Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies—says one of the promises of his system is that an existing, older machine in a shop could be made new by making it an additive manufacturing machine. Read more here.
An example of a Haas customer overseas: The Eric Company of Suzhou, China has 16 Haas CNC machine tools, including the VF-2SS machines seen in this image. The small manufacturer splits its production between making parts for aerospace, medical and precision equipment applications.
(Read more about this shop.)
Is Haas Automation’s strategy for serving the CNC machine tool market the right choice for America, or is it more of a global strategy that also provides the right framework for serving other countries’ markets? I recently had the chance to spend time with Haas Automation General Manager Robert Murray. He says this is an important question, and the company has given it serious thought.
Haas’s success is hard to dispute. If there is a ubiquitous machine tool brand in the United States, this is it. I visit a lot of shops. Routinely, I find at least one Haas machine in a facility, while many shops are essentially Haas-only sites that see no reason to switch to a different brand. While the company does not win every sale, the company does get serious consideration from many or most machine tool buyers. It makes the short list more often than not.
Mr. Murray says the company still has ample room to grow its market in North America, but the even better opportunities for Haas to grow its business are in Europe and Asia, where its current market share is much smaller. The question then becomes: Is the formula that has succeeded so far reproducible and exportable? Does it work in other cultures?
Mr. Murray says he is convinced the answer is yes, and here is why:
He says there could not be a more universal experience than that of making machined parts. In every case, in every country, the manufacturer wants to make the part to specification as consistently as possible, as quickly as possible and for the lowest cost possible. Culture is important, and culture colors the way customers are served and the way customer relationships are sought and developed. However, in manufacturing, the most important factors are physical and economic considerations that are independent of nationality.
Even the pain points are universal, he says. The difficulty with finding skilled labor is a problem that seems to beset every manufacturer in every country. The company’s efforts to engineer machine tools with this limitation in mind are relevant to every market.
To be sure, certain machine types are representative of the needs of particular markets, he says. Haas’s VF-2SS is a production-oriented vertical machining center with 30 inches of X-axis travel. This machine makes sense for a lot of the machining done in China. Meanwhile, the UMC-750 is a full five-axis vertical machining center with a price point that is low relative to other five-axis machines. The machine is popular in Western Europe, where five-face machining is common as a means of reducing setup time.
Still, across all of these markets, he says that what machine tool users want is reliability, speed, economy, ease of use, ease of service and responsiveness when there is a service need. The company’s products, along with its “Haas Factory Outlet” service model, have been developed and refined with these priorities in mind, he says, and when the company looks for further ways to improve its product or its organization, it focuses on these areas. As long as these priorities continue to be paramount, he says the result will be a company and a product line suited not just to the home market but to international markets as well.
Haas Factory Outlets look the same in any country. The company aims for them to operate the same in any country as well. Here are views inside the showrooms of HFOs in China and Germany.