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.
There was a time when EDM machine maker Chmer (Taichung City, Taiwan) might have expected high speed milling to take the place of a significant amount of die sinker EDM work. The company developed a line of high speed milling machines to complement its sinker, wire and holemaking EDM machines in anticipation of this change. But things didn’t work out that way—illustrating, among other things, how difficult it is to predict technology adoption. On a recent trip to Taiwan, I had a chance to speak about this with Chmer Marketing Director Brad Wang.
While the ability to take fast, accurate cuts at high feed rates potentially makes milling a contender for certain complex die/mold forms that sinker EDM is used to produce, EDM is still more efficient for features such as deep cavities, fins and many thin walls. These features occur just often enough that high speed milling has not been able to unseat the established technology to any considerable extent. However, high speed milling has proven popular among Chmer’s customers nevertheless, not as a replacement for EDM but as a complement. The fast, accurate cutting is efficient for roughing complex mold forms before the sinker EDM is used to complete those features that EDM is still the best at finishing.
The technology needs and preferences of customers reveal themselves over time, Mr. Wang says. His hope is for Chmer to continue to adapt. Here are the EDM features and capabilities right now that he sees as becoming increasingly important:
1. Linear Motors. Among each of the company’s EDM types (and its milling machines) are models equipped with linear motors for axis motion. Linear motor machines cost more than machines driven by ballscrews, Mr. Wang says, but these motors save cost through reduced maintenance while improving the accuracy of the machine. Compared to conventional drives, a wire EDM machine with linear motors can generate sharper corners on precise components such as die punches. More, linear motors maintain their accuracy over time. This is not the case with ballscrews, which wear and become less precise over time due to the ongoing surface-to-surface contact.
2. Machine Monitoring. Applications of EDM often involve rows of machines all running largely unattended because the cycles are so long. The unattended nature of the process makes the machines ideal for monitoring systems permitting remote viewing of the current status of the machine as well its performance history over time. Chmer’s in-house control has enabled the company to develop its own remote monitoring system, among other special features. (Read on.)
3. Ease of Use. The in-house control has also enabled Chmer to develop a programming system enabling inexperienced users to employ EDM effectively. An operator can enter the workpiece material and diameter of the wire along with the desired roughness of the machined surface to let the control automatically set the cutting conditions and parameters required.
4. Hole Making. Among the three EDM types, holemaking looks to offer the most potential for future growth, says Mr. Wang, thanks to the long-term likely demand for cooling hole machining in turbine components by the aerospace sector. Key capabilities here include precise CNC interpolation to give small holes with a diffuser (open funnel) form at the mouth, as well as integration with B-axis indexing for the array of angles characteristic of the set of holes in a typical blade.
Chmer’s AD4L is a linear-motor equipped holemaking EDM.
What is the relationship between robotic automation and employment? The relationship would seem to be an inverse one. That is, as the use of robots increases, employment should go down—or so we might expect.
A new white paper from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) demonstrates that this expectation is false. Robots do not appear to replace employees, because the correlation between them is positive. When robot shipments have gone up, employment has gone up at the same time.
U.S. employment data compared to U.S. robot shipments show this. During periods when robot sales were increasing, employment has been generally increasing as well. The correlation was particularly apparent from 2010 to 2013, when both U.S. employment and U.S. robots sales grew steadily. (Employment then dropped a notch in 2014, while robot sales continued to grow.)
The paper also gives examples of companies that have increased both employment and the use of robots. Marlin Steel is one these. The company’s CEO, Drew Greenblatt, is quoted. “Not only has changing over to an automated production process saved our company from the threat of bankruptcy, saving the jobs of everyone here, it has allowed us to expand our work force,” he says. “Since going automated, Marlin Steel has nearly doubled the size of the work force, adding engineers and automated production specialists to our existing team.”
Those job types he mentions suggest another aspect of automation’s impact on employment that the A3 paper also addresses. Namely: The jobs added are often higher in responsibility and compensation than what was typical of the company’s workforce before it increased automation.
Robots, in fact, are helping with the need to attract talent to manufacturing. Vickers Engineering CEO Matt Tyler sees this. After his company’s shift to automation, he says, “We’re now able to attract people who aren’t just looking to draw a paycheck, they’re looking for a career.” Vickers senior automation engineer Jordan Klint adds, “In order to bring young people into the business, you have to have technology. The guys who report to me really enjoy the robotics side. They think robots are cool.”
Obtain the white paper at A3automate.org, and read further thoughts about the relationship between robots and employment here and here.
Steve Murray shows a sand mold component that would have required a complex pattern involving inserts to produce the various slots. 3D printing made this component much easier to produce.
Steve Murray, additive manufacturing consultant at Hoosier Pattern, will be one of the speakers at this month's Additive Manufacturing Conference. His company is advancing a means of making foundry molds through 3D printing that is bringing new design freedom to cast parts—read more here. The conference—October 20-21 in Knoxville, Tennessee—focuses on industrial applications of additive manufacturing. Learn more and register to attend at additiveconference.com.
And speaking of additive … have you seen the new Additive Manufacturing website? We have been posting new content here daily. The increased attention to AM extends to social media, too—join us as one of the earliest followers of Additive Manufacturing on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Also this month, AM subscribers will receive the first issue of the new, full-size Additive Manufacturing magazine. Begin a subscription here.
Trade shows and conferences can be challenging to attend because the distance imposes travel time and cost. But here is an event that is very accessible to a significant concentration of manufacturers: the Made in Elk Grove Manufacturing & Technology Expo, to be held October 12. The Chicagoland area’s Elk Grove Village, Illinois, is not just a major industrial suburb, but home to the largest consolidated industrial park in North America. The organizers of this unusual event (unusual in that it is hosted by a municipality) say it will showcase 100 manufacturing firms in the village and is expected to draw 1,000 attendees from the regional manufacturing sector.
Also at the event, the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center will facilitate a Manufacturing Matchmaking opportunity aimed at introducing smaller local manufacturers to larger OEMs with whom they could become supply chain partners.
The Expo will be held at Elk Grove High School, which will showcase its STEM coursework during the event with demonstrations by students in the school’s Advanced Manufacturing & Engineering Laboratory.
Luke Niels (left) is plant manager at Progressive Turnings, an example of a shop in which learning and knowledge sharing are valued. Learn more about this shop.
Ben Dollar, a principal with Deloitte Consulting’s Human Capital practice, recently wrote an article for the firm’s human resources blog about the various factors contributing to the shortage of talented employee prospects in manufacturing. He also described how manufacturing employers should respond to the serious challenge this shortage presents. Here is a summary of his advice to manufacturers:
1. Manage the talent pipeline like a supply chain, he says. Too many companies react to personnel needs by scrambling to fill holes as they appear. Take a predictive approach to identify coming workforce needs and take action to fill them far in advance.
2. Foster long-term career development and employee growth. Create a culture in which learning, improvement and knowledge sharing are highly valued.
3. Employers should challenge themselves, he says, to recruit employees from sources other than those from which employees have routinely come in the past. Seek a fresh perspective on the skills needed and the type of candidate who will ultimately be successful.
4. Think about recruiting and employment from a marketing perspective. Pay attention to the company’s “employment brand” as closely as the commercial brand. In fact, this might be the key role social media plays for manufacturing. While social media’s effectiveness is questionable at directly connecting buyers and sellers of manufacturing services, social media provides transparency into a company’s culture, significantly affecting the perception of the company’s employment brand.
5. Look closely at who does the shop’s recruitment and how this person carries out the work. Obviously, it all starts here. Manufacturers should “redesign and reskill the human resources function to address what is becoming one of the most significant challenges manufacturing companies have faced in decades,” Mr. Dollar says.