MMS Blog

Lessons About Metal Additive Manufacturing from a Hands-on Class

Integrating metal additive manufacturing (AM) into an existing metalworking business requires new equipment, skill sets and workflows. But it also means taking a good hard look at the parts being produced to identify which are the best use cases for AM. Not every part that can be 3D printed should be, so one of the core challenges new users face is selecting the right ones. 

“Use metal AM as appropriate to bring value to the enterprise. It doesn’t need to be 80% uptime — when you need it, you need it,” says Ed Tackett, director of educational programs for additive manufacturing (AM) at the Additive Manufacturing Institute of Science and Technology (AMIST). Part of the AM capabilities located at the University of Louisville, the AMIST functions as R&D lab, 3D printing service provider and, most importantly, a training center for students and professionals.

A wealth of equipment can enable machine shop employees to do their jobs more effectively. For example, spindle touch probes can simplify setups, quick-change workholding devices can speed changeovers, automated processes can minimize burdensome tasks and so on. All of this technology is readily available to help shops maximize their overall return on employee investment while enabling employees to expand their shopfloor skillsets.

Marshfield, Wisconsin’s Hastreiter Industries, a family-owned shop and 2018 Top Shops winner, is home to a rather extreme example of this, one that has impacted a specific employee’s manufacturing career and her life in a significant way. What is it? It’s goggles with magnifying camera technology that gives Tia Bertz, a legally blind young woman who now works in the shop’s quality control department and supports the company’s IT and CAD needs, 20/20 vision.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC) searching for a reliable means of breaking chips might have broken something else as well: the physical limits on productivity in turning. “Modulated turning,” their chip breaking technique involving oscillations in the tool path, has shown promise as a means of enabling a higher metal removal rate in turning without introducing any other change to the process.

Professor Tony Schmitz leads this research at UNCC. Working with him is mechanical engineering graduate student Ryan Copenhaver. The intended beneficiary of the work is a special manufacturing facility affiliated with the U.S. government that is involved with making nuclear weapons. Because this facility machines radioactive material, chip breaking is a vital concern — perhaps the most vital concern in the machining process. Owing to the danger of exposure, an operator can’t interact with the process to clear chips or change a tool as easily as these steps could be performed for another machining process. For a turning operation aimed at machining radioactive workpieces into hemispherical forms, the facility was looking for a means of breaking chips that was even more consistent and reliable than the use of cutting tools’ chipbreaker forms. Enabling the tool to repeatedly leave the cut — literally breaking contact over and over — was seen as the key to this.

Does Your Machine Shop Need a Human Resources Professional?

David Cremin can remember when he was a boy and his father ran the shop. There were something like 12 employees. Today, Mr. Cremin runs that same business, Straton Industries of Stratford, Connecticut, with 78 employees and climbing.

His father knew each of the 12 people he employed and could talk to them every day. Mr. Cremin also had that kind of relationship with his staff when he took over operations in 1990 and during the years after when the headcount was still much lower. But business has been good for Straton, a recent Top Shops honoree and a thriving aerospace part supplier. The company has grown, headcount has grown, and somewhere along the way, a threshold was crossed. There came a point when the owner and even the managers of the company could no longer adequately address the concerns and perspectives of the many different employees as merely a secondary pursuit alongside their other duties.

There was a slight shift in our list of top 10 blog posts this year. Last year I reported that shops were wanting to find products and processes, but they were also paying attention to improving the front-office segment of their business. This year, it seems that front-office concerns have moved to the forefront. Don’t worry though: Learning more about new technology still plays a sizable role on this list.

Here are the top 10 blog posts from 2019: