The top image shows a portion of the control panel from the user’s side, where the micro-holes are invisible to the human eye. The bottom is a cross-section showing the micro-hole pattern.
How do you drill a hole smaller than the diameter of a human hair? Baltimore, Maryland-based Potomac Laser turns to UV laser micromachining for such applications. This process directs a laser beam onto the surface of a material and the energy of the laser is converted to heat which vaporizes or melts the material. With this technology, the shop can rapidly drill very small holes spaced 50 microns or less apart in metals less than 0.003-inch thick.
In one recent application, Potomac Laser machined conical micro-holes in control panels that would enable “invisible” backlighting. Because the limit of resolution for the adult eye is about 0.1 mm at 1 meter from the eye, the hole diameters on the user-facing side had to be smaller than 50 microns so that the hole patterns would be invisible to the viewer when the backlighting is turned off. When the light source is on, however, the display can show clear, sharp patterns using these micro-holes. The result is an unobtrusive control panel that displays needed information when relevant, but does not distract the viewer when it is not in use.
This diagram from Potomac Laser shows the conical micro-holes drilled through the display.
“Dengeln” is a German word meaning sharpening or honing. It’s typically a manual process whereby a hammer and anvil are used to smooth and sharpen the blades of scythes or sickles. Machine tool builder Starrag has developed what it calls its “dengeling” process, which is a more advanced version of this concept. The process enables a five-axis machine to mill and then finish turbine blades in one setup, eliminating secondary polishing, grinding or shot peening operations. Learn more in this article.
One idea that’s commonly emphasized by efforts to attract fresh talent to our industry is that the most modern manufacturing facilities are not as dangerous as the factories of yesteryear. That may be true on the whole. However, the fact remains that the equipment MMS readers interact with day-in and day-out tends to be powerful, to say the least. And as we all learned from Spider Man, great power comes with great responsibility. Specifically, the responsibility to ensure people respect that power and stay safe, using standardized, enforceable procedures to that end wherever possible.
Consider how people interact with the many robots on the floor at Vickers Engineering, an automotive manufacturer in Southwest Michigan (the company’s transition from HMC to VMC cells was the subject of this feature article). As you can see above, these robots are surrounded by cages, and for good reason: When every cent of per-part cost means the difference between success and failure, speed is paramount, and these bots brake for no one, following programmed routines to the letter regardless of who or what may be in the way.
When employees do enter the cage, it’s not a simple matter of opening the door. There’s a lockout/tagout procedure involved. The first step is retrieving a lock and a hasp from a group box located on the exterior of the cage surrounding each cell. The hasp attaches to the interlock mechanism of the door, and the employee’s badge attaches to the hasp via “lockout” holes on the badges. With the lock, badge and hasp in place, the employee removes the key and pockets it, where it remains until the lock is ready to be removed. Under no circumstances is the employee permitted to give the key to someone else or to lose possession of it. Any additional employees that enter the cage must also place their badges and locks on the group hasp and secure the key. Once finished, employees remove their locks and badges and return the locks (locked, with the key inserted) to the group box. The last person to exit removes the group hasp, shuts the cage door and returns the hasp to the box.
A robot transfers a part from machine to dedicated etching station in one of Vickers Engineering’s new cells, which employ VMCs instead of the HMCs that made up the majority of previous cells. This article details strategies for making this transition work.
Although the industry has come a long way when it comes to safety, there’s reason for such involved procedures: Shopfloor work always has been, and likely always will be, inherently dangerous to some extent. One false move can change lives, and although today’s manufacturing equipment is safer and more autonomous than ever before, built-in systems aren’t always enough to prevent that from happening. Safety takes thought and effort, and formal procedures and checklists are arguably even more important these days as companies continue attempts to attract young people to the field—young people who often have zero experience in a manufacturing environment.
For more on this topic, check out this article from MMS sister publication Production Machining. Whether you have robots or not, author Miles Free, a regular PM contributor and director of technology services at the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA), offers a useful checklist of things to watch out for in your own operation.
The biennial International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) finished last week with 115,612 total registrants—up slightly from two years ago. But that number doesn’t tell the most significant story. Far from making an incremental step forward, the show this year seemed to me to cross an important threshold, beginning to assume the form it will take next as it continues to respond to changes in industrial manufacturing. Part of what I am referring to is cultural and demographic—Baby Boomers are leaving the industry and Millennials are coming in, producing a particularly large generational step-change. But an equally important part is technological. IMTS this year embraced and provided a serious forum for technologies that were present more as intriguing novelties at previous shows. I don’t know what the sum of all the changes in these different areas will ultimately bring about, but IMTS 2016 was the show at which we began to sketch the outline.
Here is some of what struck me about this year’s show:
1. Additive manufacturing. The addition of additive manufacturing to the show this year lived up to expectations, even though expectations for the prominence of AM at the show were high. Going into the show, we knew there would now be a new, dedicated Additive Manufacturing Pavilion at the front of the North Building, along with various machine tool companies in other pavilions showcasing their own additive manufacturing technology. Ultimately, the impression that all of this made was the sense of additive manufacturing having now arrived. Additive simply makes sense at IMTS. The technology belongs at this show, and the show has now expanded to take it in because the options for making production parts have now expanded to include this possibility.
2. Industry 4.0. While the high profile for AM was something I expected going into the show, the comparably high profile for digital manufacturing was something I discovered soon after I got there. Exhibitors across all product categories had invested effort within their exhibits to emphasize how the integration and data-reporting possibilities of their various technologies fit within the framework of Industry 4.0.
It’s possible to be too quickly dismissive of this. Industry 4.0 is a broad idea embracing many uses of digital connectivity, so arguably it is relatively easy to claim association with the term. But I think that dismissiveness is the wrong way to look at what is happening. The vision of a manufacturing facility or network that can be adapted, diagnosed and optimized in both subtle and crucial ways because of the effectiveness of automated information-sharing is a big idea, and it is also a valuable idea for organizing the efforts of all of the technology developers that might contribute to this picture. Part of scaling a mountain together is agreeing on where the peak is located. IMTS this year showed we have that agreement.
3. Cobots. Collaborative robots—those robots that are safe for unguarded use near people because of speed and force limitations combined with force-sensing technology—were all over this year’s show. Exhibitors wishing to demonstrate automation frequently used a cobot in the demonstration, for obvious reasons. A cobot allows for an exhibit in which the attendee can come right up to the demo and watch it in action very closely with no safety concern. The cumulative result of this pervasive use of cobots was an IMTS that promoted the accessibility of robotic automation to a far greater extent than previous shows. Robots in general have been fairly easy to employ for some time, but the entire idea of adding a robot to one’s shop came off as a far friendlier prospect at the show this year.
4. Purposefulness of attendees. I heard various exhibitors comment about this. To an extent that has noticeably increased, attendees to IMTS no longer show up to window-shop competing machines in particular categories so they can compare specs and features. Instead, it has become much more common for attendees to arrive with a mission, and a difficult mission at that. The shop owner or manager brings a certain vexing process inefficiency or bottleneck to IMTS exhibitors in order to ask, How can you help me solve this? Or the attendee comes to exhibitors with a part print saying, What solution can you give me for making this part cost-effectively? In fact, the arrival of additive manufacturing as a mainstream part of the show means that both the difficulty and the meaningfulness of the second question have now increased. For a given part that is still early in its conceptual stage, an additive approach and a very different subtractive approach to making that same part might both be worth considering.
5. Automation as a given. Displays of automation at past editions of IMTS frequently conveyed the message, essentially, “You can get this machine with a robot!” This year, the message advanced. Displays of automation this time frequently began with the expectation that many IMTS attendees will expect to automate, so the exhibitor’s thrust was to show how it could apply automation more effectively or capably than others. One prominent machine-tool exhibitor had a display in which it showed four different automated processes for machining the same part, so it could illustrate the strengths and the tradeoffs of each choice.
6. User experience. The most fundamental way in which manufacturing technology providers are responding to the generational change in manufacturing is in the area of user experience. At the show, this could be easily seen in (for example) control interfaces that provided for intuitive and graphic interaction far removed from traditional CNC screens. But this is just the surface evidence of a much bigger shift that is occurring and needs to occur. Manufacturing professionals of the past accepted that their trade’s technology required specialized and even obscure knowledge to put the technology to use, but young people entering the field have no context for this expectation. They’ve grown up in a world in which technology has reached out to them and provided a seamless route to engaging with it. Some of the most important engineering related to manufacturing devices and systems in the near future will be experiential engineering.
7. Category breaking. Additive was not just in the Additive Manufacturing Pavilion, because various machine tool companies also showed how additive could complement their offerings. Ditto, Industry 4.0 was not just in the Controls & CAD/CAM Pavilion, because most or all categories of exhibitors were showing digital advances, including the major cutting tool exhibitor that made Industry 4.0 its primary theme. Increasingly, technology advance in manufacturing is taking the form of greater integration with other categories of manufacturing technology. At a show like IMTS, this means the categories are increasingly being transcended, and innovations significant to a given technology category might be found in any part of the show. It is time to become aware that this is happening, as this evolution at least subtly affects how we think about the show and how attendees can best make use of it.
Certainly we at Modern Machine Shop need to be thinking about this. Should we be doing an even better job at showcasing these “transcendent” technology advances, in which the crossing of technology categories affects multiple facets of the process at once? Yes.
And I think the attendee also has to be aware of this in the moment when he or she is next planning how to spend time at this show. The takeaway from 2016 as it relates to IMTS 2018 might be this: The next time the show is held, the attendee should make an even more deliberate point of leaving time available to roam through aisles and pavilions that he or she would not have thought to consider. Increasingly, the solution to any particular challenge might come out of an area of the show that is different from the one in which we would expect to look.
In the market for new CNC machine tools, there is a wide variety and selection of machines, offered by scores of machine builders from around the world. Vertical machines, horizontals, lathes, gantries, routers, boring mills, screw machines, grinders—the choices are almost limitless. So where does one start, how does one decide, and what tools are available to assist a buyer through the process of purchasing a new machine?
There are many factors to be considered, and a lot of questions have to be asked and answered prior to selecting the right CNC machine. Answering these questions will help ensure a successful installation once a machine is purchased. There is nothing worse than buying a new machine tool and having it sit in the corner, under-utilized, because it is the wrong machine for the job. Yet, this does happen.
Start with Why
The first, seemingly simple questions that must be asked are:
Why buy the machine in the first place?
What is the buyer trying to accomplish in making this purchase?
Before selecting a machine type or specific model, it is necessary to first identify the specific job function or department for which the machine is being purchased. This will give a clear indication as to daily machine usage; lot sizes to be run; and requirements for fixtures and tooling, types of coolant, and tank capacity.
If the machine will be utilized in a job shop environment, the types of parts being machined will be numerous and varied in scope, with lot sizes ranging from one to 50 pieces. Similarly, toolroom or maintenance departments may see a wide variety of machine work but far more limited lot sizes, typically one to five pieces. Machines being purchased for a production environment, however, may be dedicated to machining one specific part or a family of parts. Production lot sizes may range from 100 to 1 million or more parts. Production runs generally have more stringent, dedicated workholding and fixture requirements.
Part-loading considerations are also driven by lot size. Hand loading, pallet shuttles or robot loading are some of the options. Tooling becomes more specific to a production run, whereas a standardized tool assortment works for the job shop. Coolant-tank capacity may need to be increased to handle longer run times for multiple work shifts. Toolrooms and job shops should think about a general-purpose coolant and a flexible delivery system.
Do Your Research
Inevitably, all machine buyers get to the point in the process of comparing machine types and machine models. Techspex.com, a free research center and analysis tool, can help anyone find the right machine for the job. This handy website database contains more than 500 machine tool brands with more than 8,600 models of every machine type imaginable—all in one place. Techspex maintains the deepest, most up-to-date machine tool information, whether the equipment is a milling, turning, grinding, EDM or coordinate measuring machine (CMM)—it’s all there. Simply enter the basic attributes and specifications that are required, and the system will provide a side-by-side comparison by machine type, model and builder.
This blog post was adapted from an article by Barry Rogers published in the Machine/Shop supplement to Modern Machine Shop magazine.