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.
Makino’s control interface simplifies robot integration.
Makino is demonstrating what the company says is the broadest range of automation possibilities it has brought to any IMTS so far. Six distinctly different types of automation for unattended loading and unloading of machines can be seen fully integrated and operational in the company’s Booth S-8700. Mark Rentschler, Makino head of marketing for the Americas, says automation is becoming increasingly important for a growing segment of the company’s customers. There are at least three reasons for this.
First is the skills gap. Among high-value manufacturers across all industries, there is a widespread difficulty in finding qualified, skilled personnel. This is perhaps the most obvious reason automation is in demand, but it is not the sole or even the most significant reason why manufacturers are seeking more automated processes, Rentschler says.
A second factor is the ongoing move, also throughout various industries, toward higher-mix and shorter-leadtime production. The right automation system is an aid to rapidly shifting between part numbers.
A third factor is the increasing sophistication of North American manufacturers. Variables in a manufacturing process are sources of expense. Machine tool automation saves cost by eliminating variation in setup time (which otherwise would depend on the fluctuating pace of a human operator) and variation in machine utilization (which otherwise would be subject to the operator’s breaks and interruptions). The connection between variation and cost is something the largest manufacturers have long understood, but now a significant portion of smaller manufacturers appreciate this as well.
The six different automation solutions seen in the booth include three well-known options (numbers 1-3 below) and three others that will seem surprising or unusual to many shops (numbers 4-6). They are:
1. A pallet system for supplying various part numbers to an individual vertical machining center.
2. The Makino Machining Complex (MMC) pallet system for sharing and exchanging pallets among multiple HMCs.
3. A FANUC robot for machining center loading and unloading. Makino’s control interface includes features aimed at simplifying operation of an integrated robot, as well as recovery if the robot cycle is interrupted.
4. A die-mold cell devised in conjunction with Erowa. The cell includes machines for graphite milling, hard steel milling, wire EDM and sinker EDM, all fed by an Erowa robot. Because many assume that automation requires volume production, the point of this cell is to illustrate automated production of a type of work in which every workpiece is unique: die-mold machining. In this cell, steel blocks enter, and finished mold cores or cavities leave. Integrating multiple manufacturing disciplines into a carefully designed system provides both cost reductions and throughput improvements that stand-alone machines can’t provide, Makino says.
5. Five-axis automation. Because automated loading and unloading require automatic workholding able to repeatably clamp and position the work, five-axis machining is considered challenging to automate. The company’s a51nx-5XU machine is automated using a workholding device that is essentially an inverted 50-taper toolholder receiver. Workpieces mounted on this taper are loaded into the machine by a device resembling a toolholder. The result is secure and repeatable clamping of the part without obstructing the five-axis machining center’s access all around the part.
6. Aerospace automation. The company’s a61nx-5E HMC is automated with a multilayer pallet pool, applied here in a context where it might not be expected. High-power, high-speed machines cutting aluminum aerospace workpieces achieve short cycle times that require workpieces to be delivered to the machine quickly. Modern pallet-pool automation provides the speed to achieve this.
The company’s booth also includes an area dedicated to aerospace engine machining. Various machines focused on this work are featured here, including a five-axis HMC capable of precision grinding, a VMC also equipped for aerospace grinding, and machines engineered for productive machining of coolant holes and root holes.
Greg Morris of GE Aviation has been involved in the development of the LEAP engine fuel nozzle that will be produced through additive manufacturing in a GE plant in Auburn, Alabama. He will devote time to audience questions about additive manufacturing at the Tuesday workshop.
Additive manufacturing has added its name to one of the pavilions at IMTS. The North Hall now includes the Fabricating/Laser/Additive Pavilion. The expanded number of additive manufacturing exhibitors that has led to this development is just one sign of the growing interest in 3D-printing-style technologies as a part-making option. Another response to that growing interest is a new event at the show: The Additive Manufacturing Workshop to be held on Tuesday afternoon.
“This will be very different from other 3D printing conferences,” says Allison Kline Miller, Gardner Business Media director of events. “Our focus with this workshop is industrial applications—making functional components and end-use parts.” Attention to 3D printing often includes artistic applications, non-functional prototypes and “maker” or hobbyist interests. The Additive Manufacturing Workshop, by contrast, “addresses the interests of IMTS attendees with speakers who are involved with applying additive manufacturing in production,” Miller says.
● Craig Blue of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, speaking on the latest developments in additive at an Oak Ridge facility aimed at helping U.S. businesses succeed with this technology.
● Jon Baklund of Baklund R&D, speaking on additive manufacturing in the job shop.
● Lou Young of Linear Mold, speaking on additive manufacturing for mold making.
● Michael Hayes of Boeing, speaking on polymeric additive manufacturing in aerospace.
● Greg Morris, Additive Technologies Leader with GE, speaking on the promise and practicality of additive manufacturing.
The presentations are preceded by a lunch at 12 p.m. that features panel discussion sponsored by the Additive Working Group of AMT—the Association for Manufacturing Technology.
At the end of the workshop, after presentations conclude at 5 p.m., attendees are invited to a networking event with workshop speakers in the Advanced Manufacturing Center, Booth W-10. (Speakers for the TRAM aerospace manufacturing conference to be held on Wednesday and Thursday will be at this reception as well.)
Makino’s free Lunch & Learn returns to IMTS, this year with twice the available space.
Makino has expanded its IMTS “Lunch & Learn” program, the company says. It has doubled the space available for this successful program.
Monday through Friday in the South Hall’s room S104B, at 12 p.m. each day, the company offers a free lunch combined with a presentation from a manufacturer that applied machine-tool technology to overcome manufacturing challenges. As part of the one-hour program each day, the presenters will answer questions from the audience.
● The Build-a-Mold division of A.P. Plasman (Monday), on how this group rethought its manufacturing approach to ensure future business success.
● Micro-Mechanics (Wednesday), on how the company meets evolving global production needs through what it calls “the science of machining.”
● CS Tool Engineering (Thursday), a company applying technology to advance its effectiveness in mold building.
Find the complete list of presentations for the week and register to attend any lunch here.
For the cover story of the September issue of Additive Manufacturing, we return to Baklund R&D to describe how 3D printing fits into the distinctive philosophy and day-to-day activity of this noteworthy Minnesota machining business. Baklund R&D president Jon Baklund will be one of the speakers at the upcoming Additive Manufacturing Workshop at IMTS. Also in this issue, we look at the possibilities of additive manufacturing for repairing worn mold inserts. The digital edition of this issue is available now. To subscribe to Additive Manufacturing, go here.
The parent company to RPM Innovations has been additively manufacturing metal parts this size for years on machines built in-house. The machines will now be manufactured and sold to others.
One of the constraints on additive manufacturing machines that make metal parts from powder has been the relatively small build envelope of these machines. Rapid City, South Dakota-based RPM Innovations is now prepared to challenge that constraint with laser deposition additive manufacturing machines that have a build envelope of 5 ×5 ×7 feet. An 83-inch-tall rocket-like part made from Inconel 625 that was grown in one of this company’s machines will be on display in the Advanced Manufacturing Center at IMTS.
Robert Mudge is president of RPM Innovations, which was spun off last year from contract manufacturing firm RPM & Associates, a company he also co-founded. The parent company has been applying laser-deposition additive manufacturing technology for 10 years. Growing interest in the technology combined with customer pressure for bigger parts led the company to build machines with part-making envelope of 5 × 5 × 7 feet. The success of these machines, and the application track record so far, gave RPM & Associates the confidence to now launch a separate company both to provide contract additive manufacturing services and to manufacture various models of this machine for other users.
The RPM machines use a blown-powder approach to applying the metal. Deposition rates reach 2 to 3 pounds per hour, which is fast for a powder-based additive machine. Small additive metal machines, such as powder bed machines, can achieve finer detail that what RPM can do, says Mr. Mudge, though thin walls and precise features are possible on RPM’s machines as well. By contrast, he says some of the strengths that make the blown-powder machine distinctive include the abilities to perform cladding on existing parts and to repair worn parts back to their new profile.
One other strength is the ease of recovery if there is a problem in the build, he says. A flaw in the build cycle with some metal additive manufacturing machines requires the entire part to be scrapped. With RPM’s machine, the part can be pulled out, machined down to where it is still good, then returned to the additive machine to resume the cycle.
Most of the additive manufacturing work previously done on RPM’s machines is covered by non-disclosure agreements, so Mr. Mudge can’t elaborate on these parts, but he says many would probably be surprised by the application history this technology has already seen. Nearly 80 percent of its applications have been related to aerospace or defense, including aircraft engine components and aircraft structural components for “companies whose names you’d recognize,” he says. Inconel 625, Inconel 718 and titanium 6-4 are among the alloys that the machines apply routinely.
The rocket-like part took around 340 hours to build is approximately 7,000 layers, he says. And to the RPM staff, that is not all that long. “We have had big parts—not as tall as this, but broader and a lot more complex—that took us 1,800 hours to build,” Mr. Mudge says.