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.
Additive manufacturing supplier RedEye has produced what the company believes will be the first 3D printed functional component to be directly exposed to the environment (or lack thereof) of space. The company is working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to manufacture 30 antenna array supports for the FORMOSAT-7 Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere and Climate (COSMIC-2) mission, which is scheduled to begin launching satellites into orbit in late 2016.
RedEye will make 30 of the antenna array supports. Each support includes 12 cone-like structures that are all produced in a single additive build covering an area of approximately 22 by 16 inches, as shown in the photo. The parts will be produced through fused deposition modeling (FDM), and made from ULTEM 9085, a thermoplastic with strength similar to aluminum at less weight than this metal, combined with radio frequency and temperature-resistance properties suited to the satellite application.
According to RedEye, manufacturing these arrays would be far more difficult if a process other than additive manufacturing had been used. The array’s components include precise internal features. This internal complexity can be grown into the part within the 3D printing build, rather than pieced together through the assembly of a much larger number of components. Read RedEye’s report on this project.
Implementing ERP is “probably the biggest change you’ll make in your business in your lifetime,” said Kevin Prouty of the Aberdeen Group in a recent webinar that made the case for ERP, and also detailed how to think about selecting such a system. Research by Aberdeen has identified top pressures facing manufacturers (illustration), as well as capabilities of manufacturers that are best-in-class. Modern ERP systems help companies address those pressures and realize those capabilities, Mr. Prouty says.
The webinar, which was sponsored by Epicor, discusses ERP in general without advocating a specific product. To view the webinar’s recorded version, go to this registration page.
Okuma wants to help its customers succeed. Part of that is helping them fail.
According to Wade Anderson, the company’s manager of technology centers, providing customers with “a place to fail” is a large part of the reason why the machine tool builder this year opened a new technology center devoted to aerospace machining. The company’s initial development partners in this new aerospace-focused facility include Sandvik Coromant and 5ME.
The 10,000-square-foot space at Okuma’s Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. headquarters includes a range of machine tool types the makers of critical aircraft components are likely to employ, including large-travel five-axis machining centers and Y-axis live-tool lathes. For a manufacturer to commit its own in-house resources to developing and proving out a new machining process is often impractical, Mr. Anderson says, because no one can say how long the trial-and-error will take. This is particularly true in aerospace machining, which often involves materials that are difficult to cut and geometries that are difficult to achieve.
In fact, Mr. Anderson says it’s increasingly likely that the expertise for process innovation might not be available within a manufacturer’s own facility, either. The very nature of expertise has changed, he says. We see this at the level of our individual work and interests, where we no longer master information to the extent that someone might have done a generation ago, but instead we rely on online searches for the information we need as the need arises. Something similar is true at the level of manufacturing process innovation, he says. Technologies are advancing rapidly enough and interrelating to such an extent that, for a production manufacturer, trying to develop and maintain up-to-date manufacturing expertise might be a hopeless struggle. Better to rely on resources able to provide current knowledge as needed.
One of the center’s partners exemplifies this. 5ME is a manufacturing technology firm offering various tooling and shopfloor management technologies, as well as (perhaps most significantly) cryogenic machining. This is a technology still unknown or little known to many manufacturers, though it has the potential to benefit various processes involving machining aerospace alloys.
Meanwhile, Mr. Anderson observes that tooling technology has advanced to the point that previously accepted expectations about productive machining parameters are now in some cases far off-base. And machine tool capabilities have advanced to the point that even basic decisions such as whether a machining center or a turning machine is the right choice for a part might deserve to be reevaluated. Getting outside of the organization to encounter people thinking about these topics is valuable, particularly experts from different technology suppliers knowledgeable about different facets of these questions.
He says the aerospace center is a logical step forward for Okuma’s “Partners in THINC,” the affiliation of companies all offering technology complementary with Okuma’s THINC control. With 50 companies now part of Partners in THINC, the range of potential technology solutions is vast but potentially daunting. In the aerospace center, by contrast, engaging partners on a project-by-project basis is part of maintaining the sole-industry focus of the center. If this works well, he believes it is likely that other industry-focused centers will follow.
Photos of the new aerospace tech center were taken at a recent open house, where Wade Anderson (seen here) was one of the presenters.
Satellites and spacecraft components are excellent candidates for additive manufacturing. One reason is that weight is critical—every ounce saved is an ounce that does not have to be launched into space. Another reason is that these parts are typically made of materials that are hard to machine. Still another reason is that the parts are made in low quantities. Additive manufacturing is unfazed by any of these challenges—part complexity, the machinability of the metal and the smallness of the batch size all do not affect its cost or difficulty.
We recently wrote about how additive manufactured components are on their way to Jupiter in the Juno spacecraft. Another spacefaring success now comes from Airbus, which recently shifted the brackets that hold reflectors and other hardware on satellites to additive manufacturing. Redesigning the brackets for this additive production allowed Airbus to use less material, ultimately cutting nearly 1 kilogram per satellite.
Learn more about the application in this report from EOS.
Jon Baklund of Baklund R&D has a distinctive approach to marketing that I described in this article. The Minnesota shop owner does not score his business development reps’ efforts on how much business they bring in, but instead on how many live contacts they make with prospects. That’s it. His theory is that spreading awareness and continuing to establish and build positive relationships—without being pushy about getting business—is ultimately going to translate to more business in the long term.
He even tracks these positive contacts with prospects as a real-time business performance metric for all of the shop to see. In the various bar graphs on the right side of this shopfloor display, the green bar tracks business shipped relative to the shop’s costs across various time horizons. All employees know that 80 percent is the break-even on this bar. The business is making a profit above that. Meanwhile, the blue bar in each of these graphs displays a score based on a system Mr. Baklund devised to show the number and quality of direct contacts the business development reps have made. In other words, both the manufacturing personnel and the marketing personnel are generating real-time metrics for all of the company to see.