MMS Blog

“There’s gold in them thar hills!” This phrase dates to the gold rush of 1849. Today, more than 160 years later, these words are a stirring call to attention, usually to an opportunity that leads to higher profitability. This is exactly the vibe I got when visiting some of the leading companies in Silicon Valley—important companies that see a golden future for manufacturing, both figuratively and literally.

Recently, the board of directors of AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology sponsored a mission to Silicon Valley. I was a guest on this journey. The goal was to explore what many consider to be the “mother lode” of new technology developers, the source of many transformational technologies that focus on digitalizing the manufacturing industry. Here are some brief reports on the companies we visited. If you are going to “stake a claim” in this new territory, these are the transformational technologies and mindsets to watch.

Registering 58.1 for August, the Gardner Business Index (GBI): Metalworking recorded accelerating growth for the first time after reaching an all-time high in February. The Metalworking Index grew by 6 percent from the same month one year ago. Additionally, August’s reading brought the index above its 2017 average—the best average annual reading in recorded history—of 55.8. Supplier deliveries drove the index followed by production, new orders and employment. While the readings for backlog and exports lowered the index’s average, none of the components contracted (registered below 50.0) during the month.

The broad-based resumption of accelerating growth by index drivers tends to indicate that significant economic factors are driving the economy toward greater growth as opposed to a one-off event that may drive a single index component momentarily higher.

Mazak is further expanding its multitasking technology with the new VC-500A/5X AM HWD multitasking machine on display in the company’s second Additive Manufacturing booth 432000 in the West Building. The machine incorporates a “hot wire” additive manufacturing technology developed in collaboration with Lincoln Electric, the company that designs, develops and manufactures arc welding products, robotic arc welding systems as well as plasma and oxyfuel cutting equipment.

Here’s how the process works: As with conventional welding, an arc torch melts metal wire directly onto a base material and/or part. The two materials (wire and workpiece) can be dissimilar. This enables the machine to generate exceptionally precise sealing coatings or produce near-net shape part features while the workpiece has been mounted for machining, the company says. The method can also be used to repair costly, complex components such as impellers, turbine blades, or tool and die parts.

“The concept is to emulate jig grinding equipment,” says Robb Hudson, CEO of Mitsui Seiki USA, when describing a new family of Vertex five-axis hybrid vertical machining/grinding centers in booth 338519. Hudson explains that this concept is literally a “new spin” on milling/grinding hybrids, because the machines can apply a part spinning process that produces tangential planetary work spindle alignment, much like the U-axis motion of jig grinding equipment. Combine this with high speed 3+2 or full five-axis milling that is capable of 0.0003-inch (5.5 µm) precision, and the result is a machine that can carry out critical applications such as lights-out machining of die/mold, optical and tooling components, Hudson says.

The Vertex Hybrid G 55-5X machine on display has two larger siblings in the family, the 75-5X and the 100-5X. The show machine is demonstrating its capabilities with a combination of milling and grinding operations on a D2 steel plate, hardened and heat-treated to 60 to 62 HRC. A form milling tool is roughing and pre-finishing corner relief, followed by a form-grinding wheel for finishing. After a rounded triangular pocket is milled in the part’s center, a variety of grinding wheels form critical step features.

Liebherr, the manufacturer of gear and automation technology, is showing off a vision system that provides accurate part recognition at 0.5-millimeter accuracy. The vision system is designed to be used with an eight-axis robot arm to enable picking components from transport bins up to a meter deep. It uses a combination of blue laser and camera imaging to achieve this level of accuracy. The accurate vision system can enable robots to identify parts quickly while reducing the risk of collision, enabling the manufacturer to adapt the automation system to a variety of different jobs.

According to the company, more and more small manufacturers are investing in flexible automation systems that enable them to dedicate the talents of their workers towards more complicated tasks. This enables shop owners to benefit from their employees’ skills, while the workers can further develop their abilities. 

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