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Microfluidics industry R&D applications have called for milling channels with extremely smooth finishes into plastic or, as seen here, titanium plates. The channel here measures 0.006 inch and requires a 0.2 µm surface finish.
This July-issue feature article tells the story of how a single machine tool catalyzed a massive transformation at Integral Machining, a 6,000-square-foot contract manufacturer in the Toronto area. Thanks largely to the addition of Kern Microtechnik’s five-axis Evo, the shop is serving new customers that often demand tolerances measured in single-digit microns—far greater precision than anything it had handled before. What’s more, lessons learned in the process have helped improve operations on less demanding work as well.
However, the machine alone wasn’t enough. This shop had to learn new strategies in order push it beyond its advertised precision of ±2 µm on the part. Indeed, the more I talked to Andrew Sweeting, the machine’s chief operator, the more he reminded me of a smartphone “power user” (these are the people who really dive deep; they seem to have an app for everything, use mountains of data, and might even be willing to dive into the firmware to customize their device). Here are a few examples of thinking beyond standard features and functions:
Finding the kinematic point. Most five-axis machine tools are permanently configured that way—that is, the fourth and fifth axes are a permanent, integral part of the overall structure. That’s not the case with the Kern Evo. According to this machine tool builder, every machine has an “accuracy budget,” and each added component—an additional axis, a tool changer—detracts from that budget. To facilitate the kind of precision Integral Machining is achieving, the machine’s fourth/fifth axis table is installed only for the applications that require it.
For any job requiring tolerances tighter than about 5 µm, a crucial step in installing the table is finding the kinematic point, or the theoretical center about which the table pivots. Boiled down to its essence, this complex procedure involves moving the axes through their range of motion, stopping for periodic measurements against a standard with known dimensions (in this case, a System 3R chuck), and using the compensation tables in the Heidenhain iTNC530 CNC to adjust for error within four decimal places (0.0001 degrees).
Actively managing thermal compensation. With small, precise work, temperature is always a concern. That’s where the machine’s temperature management system comes into play, not to mention tight environmental controls in the segregated area of the shop where it’s housed. However, when surface finish presents just as much of a challenge as part geometry, simply letting the machine’s automatic thermal compensation system do its thing may well be a mistake.
For example, one job (pictured above) involved machining tiny channels into a titanium plate for a microfluidics R&D application. Trochoidal climb milling with a 0.004" end mill proved an efficient means of producing the slots to dimensional specifications. However, achieving 0.2 µm surface finish specification was another matter. Based on advice from Kern, the machine ran without cutting for about 15 min. (sufficient time for the tool assembly to “grow” to its fullest extent), then switched off Z-axis thermal compensation while the tool was in the cut. Reserved only for specific workpiece features with exceptionally stringent surface finish specifications, this strategy prevents the microscopic “hammering” motion resulting from the machine’s automatic response to temperature fluctuations.
Scoping out problems and sweet spots. To my knowledge, most manufacturers would never have reason to use the oscilloscope function of the machine’s CNC. Typically employed by machine tool builders and distributors for axis tuning, the oscilloscope measures electrical signals to determine the difference between the axes’ programmed positions and actual positions. Integral Machining, however, has learned to effectively employ this function for troubleshooting and for determining “sweet spot” cutting parameters that provide the smoothest machining for various cutting tools.
To learn more about how Integral Machining leverages the oscilloscope (and the Kern Evo generally), read the full article.
These inserts for expanded-beam fiber-optic cable connectors use the green lenses to focus and transmit light from one optical fiber to another. The bores holding the optical fibers were held to within +1.5/-0 µm of nominal diameter, positioning within ± 1.5 µm, and an N4-level (0.2- µm) surface finish.
“Your comment that the Japanese do not listen to music while working reminded me of a video that we show in our shop to new employees. Despite what people think about their ability to multitask, the human mind can really only focus on one task at a time. You can either listen to music or work with your hands. Take a few minutes to watch this YouTube video [embedded above].”
He went on to say: “I have been showing this video for a couple of years. The reason: our millennials. I have watched our youngest employees bouncing to the music in their headphones while either punching offsets into the controls of our very expensive CNC production equipment or ensuring the quality of our customers’ parts. We want them to enjoy their time at work, but they also need to understand their responsibility to our stakeholders to be productive in an extremely competitive global market.
“I banned the headphones. They are a distraction as well as a safety concern. While I have not banned cell phone use in the building, I have stressed that its use should be appropriate to work. Focus!
“That focus is important. We stress to the staff that anyone with several million dollars can buy every piece of equipment we own. There is nothing unique about the Tornos Deco, Tsugami, Index, Euroturn or Miyano equipment that we own. The only competitive advantage that we have is each team member’s brain working in conjunction with the brains of their co-workers.”
UL, a global safety science organization, has announced what it calls a Cybersecurity Assurance Program (UL CAP) for industrial control systems. Using the new UL 2900-2-2 standard, UL CAP for industrial control systems is designed to provide testable cybersecurity criteria to help assess software vulnerabilities and weaknesses, minimize exploitation, address known malware, review security controls and increase security awareness. UL CAP is intended for control system manufacturers who need support in assessing security risks while they continue to focus on product innovation to help build safer, more secure products. These steps will help protect the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The program should benefit OEMs, machine tool builders, system integrators, and retrofitters who want to mitigate risks by sourcing products assessed by an expert third party.
Network-connected products and systems offer capabilities that promise significant boosts in productivity to manufacturing companies. Industrial control systems, for example, are becoming more interconnected, connectable and networkable, thus making data-driven manufacturing a practical reality on the factory floor. However, there are growing risks that threaten the security, performance and financial return on these control systems and the equipment they run.
“We’re aiming to support and underpin the innovative, rapidly iterating technologies that make up the Industrial Internet of Things with a security program,” says Rachna Stegall, director of connected technologies at UL. “The more industrial control systems become interconnected with other devices, the greater the potential security risks. The Cybersecurity Assurance Program’s purpose is to help manufacturers, purchasers and end-users mitigate those risks via methodical risk assessments and evaluations.”
Developers of UL CAP solicited input from major stakeholders representing the Federal government, academia and industry to elevate the security measures deployed by companies, and agencies who may have equipment and devices connected to digital networks. For example, automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, along with the many job shops and manufacturing subcontractors that support them, make up a critical supply chain that must have cybersecurity measures as a priority. UL CAP is being presented as a means for evaluating the security provisions of control systems with these supply chains.
UL’s evaluation of industrial control system security uses UL 2900-2-2, which is within the UL 2900 series of standards. This series outlines technical criteria for testing and evaluating the security of products and systems that are network-connectable. These standards form a basic set of requirements to measure, and then improve, the fitness of products and systems from a network security standpoint. UL 2900 is designed to incorporate additional technical criteria as the security needs in the marketplace evolve.
UL CAP can help vendors identify security risks in their products and systems, and it suggests methods for mitigating those risks. The UL 2900-2-2 standard can be applied to industrial control system components such as:
Programmable logic controllers (PLCs)
Remote network terminals
Human-machine Interfaces (HMIs)
Input/output (I/O) servers
Machine tool control units
Intelligent devices such as sensors
Industrial control systems that meet the requirements outlined in the standard enables them
to be certified by UL as “UL 2900-2-2 compliant.” Additionally, since security is an ever-
changing challenge, UL 2900-2-2 can be used to evaluate a vendor’s processes for design, development and maintenance of secure products and systems.
Click here for more information on UL CAP, or visit Booth E-4135 at IMTS, To register for a free webinar about this program on October 11 at 10:00am CST, click here.
A little while back, I visited 3D Platform (3DP) to learn more about the company and its affordable Workbench line of open, large-format 3D printers. Born from PBC Linear, manufacturer of linear motion components actuators and motors, 3DP offer its Workbench 3D printer with a build volume of 1 meter x 1 meter x 0.5 meter. The machine’s SurePrint servo technology enables print layer resolution a low as 70 microns for a range of materials including ABS, Nylon and others. Plus, a folding gantry enables the machine to fit through a standard door.
This machine can be used for a variety of applications for printing prototypes, production parts, artwork and sculptures, and personalized items commonly derived from 3D scans often used in the medical, fashion, education and entertainment industries. That said, machine shops can also use it to print jigs, fixtures and other components. In fact, 3DP has done that for its own in-house production needs.
This Workbench 3D printing machine offers a large, open platform with a build volume of 1 meter × 1 meter × 0.5 meter.
For example, the company printed a profile rail wiper for one of its machine tools. Although that machine has a built-in rail surface wiper that pushes big steel chips off the rail surfaces, the wiper failed to catch smaller pieces that can be caught in between the rail and the ball bearing system, causing the ball bearing system to fail prematurely. The printed rail wiper added to the machine keeps small chips off the rail while helping retain oil and lubrication in the rail bearings.
This printed wiper prevents small, machined chips from entering a machine tool’s ball bearing system. (Photo courtesy 3D Platform.)
In addition, 3DP printed a thread rolling machine die holder that stores the entire set of thread rolling instruments conveniently in one place, supporting the company’s 5S workplace organization efforts.
This printed holder provides thread rolling machine operators with easy access to all die components required for a given job. (Photo courtesy 3D Platform.)
In fact, our sister publication, Additive Manufacturing (a magazine about additive manufacturing of functional parts), has a collection of articles describing similar ideas for 3D printing of tooling, fixtures, jigs and related items for use in a machine shop. Learn more.