MMS Blog

Last month I discussed the concept of hybrid manufacturing—combining additive manufacturing (AM) and subtractive machining together within a single machine to make parts more efficiently. This month, I want to touch on another form of hybrid manufacturing that AM is enabling, namely, making the tooling to make the part (versus making the part itself).

Numerous companies have been using polymer 3D printing for years to make fixtures and jigs to aid production and fabrication with conventional manufacturing methods. Some have even been using polymer 3D printed parts to make soft tooling. However, with metal AM, companies can now make hard tooling for injection molding, for instance, and that can be game changing.

By: Mark Albert 30. April 2019

Inspiring Support

This story describes Rise Up, a CNC machine-operator training program that helps individuals prepare for sustainable employment as a vital element for successful reentry into society and departure from gang live.

Visitors from the industry are often inspired by what they see and hear at Rise Up, says Dustin Greeves, the program’s machine shop manager. A good example he cites is a recent visit by Greg Mercurio, president of Shop Floor Automations, a manufacturing integrator based in La Mesa, California. Mr. Mercurio heard about Rise Up while planning activities to mark his company’s 20th anniversary. “I was looking for a special way to mark this milestone by giving something back to the industry and the community,” he says. “I was intrigued by the concept behind Rise Up because it touches two key concerns of mine—the skills gap that is holding back U.S. machine shops and the false impression held by many people outside our industry that factories are dark, dirty dungeons.”

Is additive manufacturing (AM) ready for production scale? The question implies that 3D printing technologies are too costly, too unreliable, or too slow to achieve production volumes effectively. But for several manufacturers featured in the May issue of Additive Manufacturing, AM is not only ready for production but already winning here. Three examples: 

The cover story explores how a structural component of the Boeing 787 (pictured) came to be made additively. While conventional wisdom is that parts made additively should be designed or redesigned for additive, that wasn’t the case for this access door latch fitting. Rather, Spirit AeroSystems is printing the original, machinable design. Why? The buy-to-fly ratio for the existing design is actually lower when it is 3D printed to near-net shape before machining. In this case, production via AM is the more cost-effective solution even for a design intended for a machine tool. 

Within a manufacturing enterprise, who should own the decision to implement additive manufacturing (AM)?

If you think about additive manufacturing as purely a manufacturing tool, it makes sense that this task would fall to manufacturing engineers. But AM is not just a manufacturing tool. AM’s promise is not that it offers a different way of building the same part, but that it enables additional benefits such as changing the way that part is designed, limiting the amount of material it uses and reducing its lead time. These benefits to the part also have further implications for the supply chain, such as reduced assembly work and transportation needs.

Is there a connection between the “tech” culture we associate with Silicon Valley and the manufacturing culture at work in machining facilities throughout the rest of the country?

Seemingly yes, and that connection is growing stronger. Today, the manufacturing technology developments offering the most promise to dramatically transform manufacturing tend to be digital, including artificial intelligence (AI), collaborative automation, the Internet of Things (IoT) and even additive manufacturing (AM). To varying degrees, these technologies leverage tech community advances that are still advancing. Indeed, the latest tech innovations may find their greatest impact in the potential they offer to accelerate, streamline and reorder the ways that things are made.

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