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Posted by: Stephanie Monsanty 31. October 2014

Get Focused

Microscopes offer the magnification necessary to inspect small parts, but the in-focus viewing field can be limited. A digital microscope with autofocusing capabilities can simplify inspection by creating composite images that show the entire selected field in focus at once. 

Operating an inspection microscope can be similar to taking a photo with manual focus. Like a photographer, the inspector must position the subject, check lighting, manage variables such as exposure and shutter speed, and adjust the zoom and focus of the lens to bring the feature of interest into view. However, while a photographer may purposefully create an image with blurred edges, shallow depth of field or other effects, industrial measurement and inspection tasks require clear, focused images. Inspecting all pieces of a part can mean repeatedly moving the part and readjusting the microscope to view all the detail necessary.

It is possible to automate steps in this process, however. For example the VHX-5000 digital inspection microscope from Keyence features auto-focusing capabilities to help take some of the time and difficulty out of capturing clear images for inspection purposes. Once a user moves the microscope to the desired viewing area on a given part, the VHX automatically scans through its focal range and quickly compiles a high-resolution composite image that shows all of the specified area in focus on the system’s screen. According to the company, the microscope’s high-frame-rate camera (offering 50 frames per second) can generate fully focused images in as little as one second.

In addition to saving time, the microscope also reduces the learning curve for operators. An Easy mode walks users through each function of the microscope to ensure its capacity is fully utilized, and, according to Keyence, improve the overall results obtained. Additionally, the microscope’s large depth of field, tilting arm and stage, and 0.1× to 5,000× magnification enable both 2D and 3D inspection. 


Posted by: Emily Probst 30. October 2014

So What Do You Do Exactly?

When explaining your manufacturing job to others, sometimes it would be more helpful if they could just see what you do on a daily basis.

Have you ever been in a situation in which you are trying to explain your day-to-day job to someone, and you get a glazed-over stare? When talking manufacturing, anything past the concept of an assembly line tends to lose your audience.

These people need to see all the cool technology you are using and the difficult machining operations you perform every day to fully understand what you do for a living. The good thing is that there are many resources available to do that.

For instance, 5th Axis machine vises are going to be featured on the Science Channel USA’s show “How It’s Made” November 21 at 9 p.m. EST (For local listings, check here.)

Another resource is the show “Titan-American Built,” which began airing last week on MAVTV. This new reality series centers on Titan Gilroy and his team of shop members who will be tasked to create parts for major American companies. Read more here.


Posted by: Peter Zelinski 29. October 2014

Ensuring Accuracy by Containing Coolant

The word “coolant” is deceptive. Coolant in machining is a heat-transfer device. While the fluid cools the cut by transporting heat away from the work zone, it carries that heat to wherever the coolant then lands.

Toyoda says it engineered its new GE4-i cylindrical grinder in part with attention to the thermal effects that might come from heat transfer via coolant. The machine is seen here at this year’s IMTS, where it debuted. The company says the machine’s redesigned casting contributes to thermal stability by capturing and channeling the coolant that falls from the workzone in order to isolate it from the structure of the machine.

Another feature of the GE4-i is an icon-driven and user-friendly control interface, which is valuable in part as manufacturers adapt to the difficulty of finding skilled labor in grinding. More on that here.


Posted by: Derek Korn 28. October 2014

The Value of a Photo

In my humble opinion, I think the cover photo shown above that I was able to take for our October issue was pretty cool. It punctuates the notion that significant tooling capacity is one necessary part of an effective 24/7 machining process (and this article explains R&G Precision’s efforts in that regard).  

But there was another photo I took, the one below, that also captures a lot in one shot.

It shows the tool crib area located behind R&G’s HMC cell that has an efficient layout enabling operators to quickly prep tools and material for upcoming jobs. This area includes a Zoller Smile 400 presetter, a Rego-Fix benchtop hydraulic press used to insert or remove collets from Rego-Fix Powrgrip toolholders, a saw to machine blanks, and carts to contain all the tools and material needed to load a job into the cell or one of the shop’s stand-alone machining centers. Plus, one of the shop’s machine operators is also a programmer, and his programming station is just outside this shot. This enables him to set up new jobs as well as create CAM programs on the shop floor.

Putting together words and sentences and paragraphs to tell stories like R&G’s is one thing I enjoy, but the challenge of capturing supportive, telling photos during a shop visit is just as fun.


Posted by: Peter Zelinski 27. October 2014

Where Do 3D-Printed Molds Make Sense?

Is it possible to mold a plastic part using mold tooling that is also made of plastic? 3D printing technology provider Stratasys says this is not only possible, but preferable in some cases. These photos show examples of 3D-printed “digital ABS” tooling, which is used for both injection molding and blow molding.

The mold tooling material is produced on a Stratasys Connex 3D printer. This printer digitally creates combination materials by rapidly laying down tiny dots of different materials as it builds the part. To create mold tooling, it combines a heat-resistant plastic with a matrix engineered for high strength. The result is a material that can withstand both the high pressure and high temperature of a molding cycle. The mold tooling material is in fact one of the very strongest materials created on the Connex 3D printer, which is more frequently used to make multi-material prototype parts.

Stratasys sales manager Nadav Sella has been involved in the development of this machine’s application to mold tooling ever since an end user of the machine first hit on the idea of making molds this way nearly 5 years ago. He says the life of one of these digital ABS tools is heavily influenced by both the material being molded and the geometry of the part. On a six-cavity injection mold making ice cream spoons in polypropylene, he says the digital ABS mold delivered 600 spoons. By contrast, for more complex geometries using reinforced nylon, the tool might deliver 20 injected parts. In general, where tooling is needed for low quantities or for an initial run of parts, quickly 3D printing a mold can both save cost and speed the time to market, he says.

There are limitations. He and others within Stratasys have worked through a number of applications of digital ABS molds, and this has allowed them to develop a set of best practices that they share with users. That set of best practices keeps improving as digital ABS tooling is applied to more geometries and materials, he says, but the key is to respect the mechanical and physical properties of the tool. Heat conductivity is not like that of aluminum or tool steel, leading to tool design considerations aimed at avoiding heat concentration. One example concerns gate size and type; point gates, cashew gates and banana gates should be avoided.

Precision is also a consideration. The 3D printer is precise, but not as precise as a CNC machine tool. Thus, it can’t produce molds with the finest features, such as the tight-tolerance details of some electronics-industry molds. Also, to ensure the accuracy needed for precise seating of ejector pins, these holes should be 3D printed undersize, then reamed to achieve an accurate diameter.

“This is a different material,” he says. Established moldmaking professionals are accustomed to molds being made from metal. Compared to this, 3D printed tooling requires slight design and process changes. His advice to potential users is to expect to take some time getting used to what this option can do. However, “for the shop that does 100 molds per year—some in steel and some in aluminum—what if 10 or 20 of those molds could be 3D printed instead?” That portion is realistic, and could amount to considerable savings in cost and time.


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