MMS Blog

Robots Get Hand-Eye Coordination

Although Modern Machine Shop focuses on CNC machining, the application pictured here is worthy of attention. Consider for a moment the difficulties inherent in automating a task like inserting Ethernet cables. A host of variables, from differing socket positions to the unpredictable flex of the cord to the level of force required to “snap” the connector in place, might stymie even the most carefully programmed robot. This robot is different in that it eschews careful programming entirely in favor of essentially controlling itself. It is capable of adjusting its approach as needed to ensure a snug fit regardless of the orientation or position of the socket.

Cable insertion aside, the broader implications of giving robots what is essentially hand-eye coordination are not difficult to imagine. If our mechanized coworkers can do this, might they one day help CNC machine shops manipulate a mix of different parts around active deburring tools, or perhaps pick workpieces at random from boxes without grids or other fixtures? Inspection, surface finishing, machine tending and possibly even applications that have yet to be explored all might benefit from such a system.

Taking an Automated Aerospace Approach

For much of its 25-year history, CNC Industries functioned as a job shop serving various end markets, although it had some contracts with a few aerospace customers. In fact, the Ft. Wayne, Indiana, shop appreciated the aerospace work.

“We liked the complexity of those parts and felt taking on more of that would further help us differentiate our business from others,” says CFO Steven Deam, Jr. “So, in 2009, we mapped out a multi-year plan to make a bigger push into aerospace, which included achieving AS9100 certification, realizing that building relationships with new customers in that industry would take some time.”

By: Wayne Chaneski 2/29/2020

Continuous Improvement Must Be Continuous

Continuous Improvement Must Be Continuous

Companies that commit to continuous improvement may wonder at times whether they have reached a point in which they have done enough to meet both their needs and the needs of their customers. After having expended a great deal of time and effort reorganizing a plant, implementing a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, installing the most technologically sophisticated machine tools, or tearing down and rebuilding a key production process, the tendency may be to sit back and see how things go. The problem is that this is the first step to complacency, and once this sets in, it is very difficult to reenergize a continuous improvement effort. As the foundation of continuous improvement relies on “continuous” action, this is what is needed all the time.

While some companies have done a lot to improve their operations, they may not be as extensive as the examples above. Yet, they have made the need for improvement part of their culture in which they have improved their prior improvements. Such companies are on the right path to continuing success.

3D Printing’s Value-Add Keeps Adding Up

“Anything that goes ‘boom,’” says Alan Soucy when asked to describe his company’s work. With customers including Lockheed Martin, General Atomics, Raytheon, Northrup Grumman and other large defense contractors, Advanced Precision Engineering (APE) is a very different manufacturer than the one Modern Machine Shop first covered in 1997. In addition to defense applications, the company’s then-specialty in semiconductor components provided a good foundation for transitioning into medical diagnostics equipment, prosthetics and communications assemblies, which can be no less challenging to manufacture than missile housings and firing controls. As Mr. Soucy puts it, “We don’t make brackets here.”

To maintain an edge with its largely West Coast customer base, this East Coast supplier has been investing millions of dollars annually in new equipment. The shop tour resulting in this story was too early to cover some of the latest examples, such as a 40-pallet system serving three of APE’s five-axis machining centers. Evidence of growth was plain to see nonetheless, including new HMCs, part-marking equipment and four collaborative robots capable of tending VMCs, live-tool lathes or any other machine tool not already fitted with a pallet changer. 

Modern Machine Shop is the industry standard for how reporting on manufacturing can and should look, but there’s nothing standard about what we do. Our editors have access to job shops, cutting tool manufacturers, machine tool builders, OEMs, service providers and more. From G code to Industry 4.0, MMS leverages decades of experience to provide insight into what is new and what is important to the people who are moving manufacturing forward.

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