MMS Blog

Material Extrusion: Now with Metal

Additive manufacturing (AM) is impacting a lot of industries, but one of the biggest complaints that I hear, particularly from aerospace companies where lightweighting is key, is the inability to use traditional 6000- and 7000-series aluminum alloys when additively manufacturing parts, particularly via powder-bed fusion (PBF). These alloys are difficult to weld, and not surprisingly, they are just as susceptible to cracking when melting and fusing aluminum powder particles with a laser during powder-bed fusion (or when using directed energy deposition (DED)). This is why AlSi10Mg is used on most powder-bed fusion systems. It is a grade of aluminum that is not as susceptible to cracking; however, it does not have the same strength as 6000- and 7000-series aluminum, which is the “go-to” material for many companies trying to lightweight components.

When a company is considering switching from subtractive to additive manufacturing, its first inclination is to use the same material and just process it differently. Here’s the dilemma: If AM can’t process the same material, then you can’t justify the change for that component. As a result, when companies review parts to find candidates for fabrication with AM, none of the 6000- or 7000-series aluminum parts pass the filter. But what if a part didn’t have to be aluminum?

By: Wayne Chaneski 9/3/2019

Reduce Handoffs to Increase Throughput

We see handoffs taking place everywhere. In some cases, it’s due to a skill deficiency in which someone does not know how to perform a certain task. In other cases, technology or equipment limitations may necessitate a handoff. Sometimes handoffs are a result of a perceived need for a “check” to assure quality. Handoffs may even be based on a need to maintain process control through multi-level approvals. Whether the process is in manufacturing, administration, warehousing or service, handoffs should be targeted as a means of increasing throughput and process improvement.

One of the more common processes in which we see handoffs is job quoting. Often, a request for quote (RFQ) is received by a sales/customer service group. After entering the quote into some type of “system,” the quote is handed off to a manufacturing or service group for pricing and delivery. If the product or service is truly a one-off, meaning the company has never done similar work in the past, input from others may be needed. However, if a company has consistently provided the same or similar products and services, there should be no need for a handoff. Sales/customer service employees should have the necessary tools to develop price and delivery quotes. If these tools are lacking, the company should make it a key initiative to develop such tools. In some cases, it’s just a matter of collecting data and making it visible to those receiving RFQs. In this age of instant information, customers are expecting instant feedback on pricing and delivery of products and services. One of my clients even claims that if his company cannot provide price and delivery information for everything before the end of a workday, the company has almost no chance of landing an order.

Replacing Manual Labor with CAD/CAM-Powered Laser Cutting

A combination of Mazak Optonics laser cutting technology and Radan CAD/CAM software slashed the time taken by Watson Gym Equipment to manufacture vital components of gym equipment from two days to half a day. 

The U.K. company supplies strength training equipment to high-end personal training gyms catering to professional and even Olympic athletes. Operating with 40 employees in a 40,000-square-foot facility, Watson ships most of its product overseas, with about 30% of it ending up in the United States. Its product range of around 200 machines are designed for anaerobic, strengthening exercises, and each machine is fabricated with sheet metal and box-section steel. 

The automation technology surrounding a twin-spindle CNC turning center at Superior Metal Products is impressive. However, applying effective cutting tool and workholding strategies inside that machine’s workzone was just as important to this unattended cell’s reliability and productivity.

Superior brought this robotic cell on board to replace what is perhaps the most unpopular task at its Omaha, Nebraska facility: manually loading a four-spindle, carriage-type, horizontal turning center that performs facing operations on a family of cast, ductile-iron pump components. Machining is performed dry on two of the front-facing spindles within the turning center’s enclosure while an operator loads and unloads workpieces from the other two atop the enclosure.

The role and usefulness of the internet wasn’t fully realized until smartphones arrived. Mobile devices carry that usefulness farther. Ditto, cellphones were not complete until they became smartphones leveraging the internet. Both inventions—mobile devices and the global network—were predicted, but more difficult to predict was the way they would work together. Yet part of the very nature of advancing technologies and ideas is the way they meld and find different possibilities by becoming one with other advances. 

In my view, one of the most significant developments reshaping machine shops today is easy to underappreciate because it is not a single new advance. Instead, it is a new possibility resulting from other advances melding together.