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.
In what Thane Russell of Absolute Completion Technologies describes as “the most advanced manufacturing cell in Alberta,” a level of automation not typically associated with oilfield manufacturing is being applied to downhole parts. Absolute makes well completion tools for the oil and gas industry. Mr. Russell says the company’s new robot-loaded cell applies production techniques from automotive manufacturers elsewhere in Canada. He spoke in this video report about the new cell from the Edmonton Journal.
Another place robot loading is being used for manufacturing downhole components is Louisiana.
Hear “automation,” and we usually think of something external to the machine, such as a robot or gantry loader. Okuma produced this video in which the company’s Jeff Estes points out that time-saving automation can also be achieved using components that locate entirely inside the machine tool. The options he cites here include a Koma Precision rotary table, Schunk quick-change vise, and probing for part measurement and tool break detection.
The Ingersoll Cutting Tools event was held at the historic Cleveland Public Auditorium.
An improved cutting tool could deliver its improvement in any of three different ways. That tool could be cheaper, it could provide longer tool life or it could deliver greater productivity. IMC Group President and CEO Jacob Harpaz says go for the productivity. Now is the time for this.
That was his message at an Ingersoll Cutting Tools 125-year anniversary event last week. The event was held in Cleveland, birthplace of the cutting tool company. Now based in Rockford, Illinois, Ingersoll is today part of the IMC Group, which also includes cutting tool makers such as Iscar, Taegutec and Tungaloy. In presentations throughout the day-long event, Mr. Harpaz described various offerings in Ingersoll’s milling, turning and holemaking lines to an audience of about 850.
Business is good. After Ingersoll’s sales dropped in ’09, following the crash, the company had sales in ’10 that surpassed ’08. Then, after a flattening from ’11 to ’12, business has been increasing through the past two years. All of this is relevant to his message because many machining facilities have seen something like this same pattern of activity. Business is now strong enough in machining, particularly in North America, that any open time on a plant’s machine tools often can be filled. That means far and away the most lucrative return to get from a cutting tool is an improvement in productivity.
Shops do not necessarily see this, Mr. Harpaz says. Because a cutting tool is a consumable that is purchased again and again, its price is seen frequently, and therefore seems more significant than it might be. In most manufacturing processes, the impact of fixed costs and labor costs are actually much higher.
Specifically, for a representative machined part, he says the cost of machinery represents 26 percent of the cost of machining a part. Overhead represents 21 percent of the unit cost of machining. Labor and raw material account for 28 and 22 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the cost of cutting tools accounts for just 3 percent.
That such a low share of the total cost comes from cutting tools has significant implications. Dropping the price of the tool by 20 percent, as big a change as this might seem, would deliver only a 0.6-percent unit cost reduction. The seemingly even greater change of increasing the life of the tool by a factor of 2 would save only 1.5 percent. But increasing productivity would increase the number of pieces the shop can produce in the same period of time, meaning the labor cost, overhead cost, and machinery cost per piece all go down. Increasing productivity by 20 percent thus produces a savings of 15 percent overall. Productivity increase delivers far and away the greatest savings, he says, because it is the only type of cutting tool improvement that can affect all the other cost factors.
The Ingersoll event showcased various new or improved cutting tool offerings aimed at this productivity increase. For example, the company’s TC430 whisker-reinforced ceramic insert for turning superalloys is more expensive than carbide tools used to turn these metals, but it is so much more productive that the cost increase is easily justified. (See video of the tool turning Inconel.) A couple of the company’s unusual offerings for productivity include:
The Chip Surfer milling tool line, which consists of tools with changeable tips. The time savings here comes from quickly being able to replace a worn tool or switch to a different tool type just by changing the tip.
Coolant-driven spindles able to deliver 40,000 rpm on a lower-speed machine for small tools requiring this rotational speed.
The most prominent product line at the event was the company’s “Gold Rush” line, which consists of tools benefiting from a post-coating treatment that enhances performance. Tools in this line can deliver long tool life compared to tools without the surface treatment. However, the more profitable use of the tooling is to let tool life remain steady, he says, and instead use the performance enhancement to increase speed and feed rate. Now is the time to go for productivity.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Dr. Lonnie Love at the recent AMUG 2015 conference. He will also speak at the Additive Manufacturing Conference in October, which includes a tour of ORNL’s additive manufacturing facility.
Additive manufacturing has been proven—it can make end-use production components, and even makes it possible to realize products that could not be manufactured in any other way. So why isn’t AM more pervasive? Why is this method of making parts not in more widespread use?
There are many reasons. Cost is one. Learning curve is another. The lack of validated acceptance among important customers for these parts is yet another. But according to Lonnie Love, Ph.D., group leader of Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Systems Research Group, one of the main reasons AM has not progressed farther is a simple reticence about making the leap into something so dramatically new. Industry needs a push, he says, and in the absence of an outside push, industry ought to push itself.
That was his message in a keynote address at the recent Additive Manufacturing Users Group conference in Jacksonville, Florida. The 27-year-old annual conference this year drew over 850 people, its highest attendance ever.
To advance the adoption of additive manufacturing, Dr. Love says industry needs “forcing functions.” He used the analogy of the 1960s commitment to put a man on the moon. Scientists and engineers knew a moon landing was possible, but the commitment to actually do it was needed in order to overcome the obstacles to turn that theory into an accomplished fact. Dr. Love says the advance of additive manufacturing needs smaller-scale “moon shots” just like this.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently rose to meet such a moon shot. Car maker Local Motors determined in 2014 that it would 3D print a car at that year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show, and ORNL joined Local Motors in committing to this goal. One of the technologies to arise from pursuing this aim was Cincinnati Incorporated’s Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine—a system for quickly producing large 3D printed structures out of (in the case of the car) plastic resin filled with carbon. (Note: Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Local Motors will both be part the Additive Manufacturing Conference in October, which includes tours of both facilities. Learn more.)
The first car produced this way was far from perfect, says Dr. Love, but perfection wasn’t required. The aim instead was proof of concept, and the IMTS example delivered that—the major elements of creating a custom car this way were developed and successfully deployed. Once the first 3D printed car had been created, the questions were clear. For example, how can impact absorption be designed in? How can surface finish be improved? The answers to these secondary, more focused engineering challenges began to appear in the second version of the 3D printed car. The next challenge, he says, will be to use the BAAM technology to 3D print a modular house.
Thus, his question to companies that expect additive manufacturing to be part of their future is this: What moon shot can be announced—what bold commitment can be made—in order to move into that future today?
My colleague Stephanie Monsanty and I attended the AMUG conference. Here are some other highlights we saw:
A presentation by Linear Mold’s Robert Henderson on achieving production of metal parts through additive manufacturing was standing room only. Employees of the conference venue rushed to bring in more chairs, but so many people were standing that it took nearly the entire length of the presentation to get them all seats. The promise for making production parts is where the greatest interest in 3D printing technology seems to lie.
Jim LaHood, engineering specialist at Caterpillar, spoke about the company’s Nomad 3D printer program, which has placed six 3D printers at various company facilities on a temporary basis. The program allows employees to become familiar with additive technologies by using them to produce hand tools, gages and other shopfloor implements, with the eventual goal of using the same method to build legacy equipment parts and other production workpieces.
Heart surgeon William Cohn described a design for an artifical heart relying on additive-manufactured titanium components. Cows are living today with the replacement heart, which holds great promise to help humans. These future recipients of the replacement heart will not have a pulse (as the cows do not today), because the artificial heart is continuous flow.
A presentation delivered by PostProcess Technologies’ Patrick Gannon focused on batch finishing of additively manufactured metal parts. The service bureau has found success in using a multi-stage and multimedia approach to gradually improve surface finish on these parts.
Speaking during a panel discussion on the “state of the industry,” Tim Gormet of the University of Louisville cited design software as a key weakness of additive manufacturing currently. In order for part designs to take full advantage of the freedom additive provides, better simulation of factors such as stresses and cellular structures is needed.
During the same panel presentation, David Lee of Stratasys predicted that the biggest gains to be made in additive manufacturing will come with improved productivity of additive machines as well as reduced material and machine prices.
Ed Herderick, additive technologies leader with GE, described a challenge with advancing additive manufacturing that his company is now facing: the need to rapidly qualify suppliers. The search for companies able to apply additive technology for production often brings in sources that aren’t part of GE’s established manufacturing network.
Banners around the event thanking sponsor companies included some interesting brands. We attend a lot of industrial conferences—the sponsors are typically suppliers of industrial equipment or products. At this event, in addition to additive technology suppliers, GE was also a prominent sponsor. The OEM wants to see additive manufacturing continue to advance. Another sponsor was Target, the retailer, which is now working with Shapeways to provide 3D printed products.
Hoosier Pattern produced this video illustrating its use of 3D printing in sand to make cores and other mold components for casting.
Having this video is helpful to show customers, because—as we described in this article—the sand printing capability allows Hoosier to take a radical approach to casting. Instead of making the pattern and core box, the pattern shop can now skip this step altogether by printing the core and other mold components directly in sand. Design freedoms become easy to achieve that were never possible or practical before. Car maker Ford is making its own use of the same technology.