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.
One of the challenges of additive manufacturing is its freedom. Shapes can be printed that could never be produced in any practical way before. As a result, engineers are free to optimize the design of any part precisely for the needs of the application. But when the constraints are taken away, what does the very best design for a given application look like?
GE has taken an open approach to finding that answer for at least one component. We first showed the jet engine bracket seen here in this article about GE Aviation’s use of additive manufacturing. The comparison above shows the bracket as produced through machining alongside one possibility for how the bracket might be produced additively.
However, is there an additive redesign of the bracket that could perform its function with even less weight and less material cost than what is seen here?
The company recently turned that question into a contest, its Jet Engine Bracket Challenge. GE says nearly 700 design entries came from 56 countries. Ten finalists were recently announced. See the many ways that entrants proposed redesigning this bracket to try to take full advantage of what additive manufacturing might do for this part.
Mazak’s Discover 2013 event includes machine demonstrations and technical seminars in the company’s technology center (where this photo was taken), as well tours of the company’s Kentucky production operations.
Next year, Mazak will celebrate 40 years of manufacturing in Kentucky. In time for that anniversary, the company will complete the latest expansion of its Kentucky manufacturing facilities—an expansion that is currently underway, and that aims at increasing the production capacity at this site from 140 machines per month to as many as 200.
Those capacity figures are approximate, because they are affected by the mix of machine orders. More than 100 of the company’s machine models are produced at this plant. If the order mix shifts toward smaller machines, then more units per month can be produced. But that is not what’s happening right now, the company says. In part because of the aircraft industry, and in even larger part because of the oil and gas industry, Mazak has been seeing strong demand for many of its largest-size machines.
In expanding those operations, the company faces a familiar challenge—familiar to both the machine tool maker and its customers. Namely, there is a relative scarcity of skilled manufacturing employees in the local labor pool.
In a speech yesterday at the company’s event, Mazak USA president Brian Papke said that manufacturers themselves ought to take a leading role in addressing this challenge. Together, they should provide for enough training opportunities that the pool of prospective manufacturing employees will grow.
The event this week was preceded by an outreach event in which the company opened its doors to more than 200 students from area high schools, as well as from Gateway Community & Technical College. Mazak partners with this institution, providing manufacturing students at the school with work-study opportunities aimed at skilled job positions with the company.
Mr. Papke, along with Ben Schawe, Mazak’s VP of manufacturing, described the effort and commitment necessary to provide for ongoing development of new manufacturing talent. Training has to be an expected part of the culture, they said. At Mazak, Gateway students are given assignments in various parts of the plant to help them find the work that suits them, and the students are assigned mentors who guide them in this exploration. The mentors take this role seriously, and the organization accepts that allowing some time to be spent in a seemingly unproductive way on young trainees is an important investment that will contribute in the long term not only to the company’s success, but also to the success of the manufacturing community overall.
To those who have toured the Kentucky plant before, a notable recent change is the increased use of robots for machine tending. On these machines making spindle components, a process formerly employing gantry loaders was replaced with a robot-fed process delivering greater throughput. The company routinely implements process improvements such as this not only for the sake of its own efficiencies, but also to develop an improved understanding of technologies offered to customers.
The plant is integrating machine tools into a plant-wide machine monitoring system taking advantage of MTConnect. Dashboards in the production area communicate machine utilization.
The company is seeing strong demand for large-scale offerings like this Integrex multitasking machine. Mazak displayed the machine alongside an aircraft landing gear.
Read through Marshfield High School’s list of college scholarships, and one of the listings you’ll see is the “Marshfield Pirate Shop Scholarship.” The Pirate Shop is this Oregon school’s manufacturing instruction program. Students in this program practice their machining and welding skills by making furniture (see a particularly nice example in the photos with this article) that is sold to fund a scholarship available for any type of education. On the scholarship list, you’ll see that the Pirate Shop’s scholarship is not included among those that are “voc/tech-specific”—it gives scholarship grants to Marshfield graduates pursuing various degrees.
In the video seen here, Pirate Shop students and their instructor, Tom Hull, talk about the manufacturing program. The video also gives us a brief glimpse of one of the program’s instructional volunteers, Bob Schalck. Read his perspective on this volunteering.
Eighty percent of the fastest-growing careers are in STEM fields (that is, science, technology, engineering and math), while 50 percent of those jobs do not require a four-year degree. AMT—the Association for Manufacturing Technology—produced this video to introduce its “MT Ambassadors,” young manufacturing professionals making the case to other young people about the rewards of manufacturing careers. Visit AMT’s Smartforce page.