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The development of the computer numerical control (CNC) machining center in the late 1970s signaled the total eclipse of the manual machine tool in the following decade. Very few shops would still rely on standard, “conventional” machines for anything but toolroom work by the end of the 1980s. However, the rise of the computerized machine tool marked an even broader shift in machine shop operations. Computerization came to a wide range of other manufacturing functions (“applications” as we refer to them now) on the shop floor and in the front office. This shift represented two fundamental changes for almost all shops and plants reading this magazine.

One: For the first time, running the manufacturing business and running the production machines would be influenced by a single, powerful technological advance—the personal computer (PC), which was often called a microcomputer around that time. Two: Also for the first time, our industry would be dependent on advances coming from outside the metalworking or manufacturing world. General hardware and software developers such as IBM and Apple Inc. were in the lead, while applications for industrial design and manufacturing followed closely in response. The umbrella term for these applications was clearly “CAD/CAM,” but CAD/CAM was essentially a collection of specific uses for digital technology that was otherwise soaring on its own, independent trajectory of innovation and invention.

By: Timothy W. Simpson 20. June 2018

The Many Possibilities of Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM) provides design and material freedoms for making parts that are impossible or too expensive to fabricate with traditional manufacturing processes such as milling and casting. Although design for additive manufacturing (DFAM) has its limitations, it also enables new opportunities like lattice structures, conformal cooling channels and more.

We often think only at the part level for DFAM, but it can be applied at the assembly and system levels as well (see first figure above), and different benefits accrue at the different levels. The many possibilities of AM outweigh the limitations.

The June 1978 edition of Modern Machine Shop was significant in that it was the 50th anniversary issue. Its cover imagery as shown above portrayed both a bit of nostalgia (belt-driven machine tools) and a bit of foreshadowing (the advent of computer technology applied in manufacturing).

For that issue, the editors created a yearly-diary-like article citing world events, changes that had been made to the magazine, and topics, trends and technologies that were covered in each of the magazine’s 50 years. The section about the 1970s offers evidence that digital computer technology would start to be implemented in manufacturing operations in significant ways. For example, the 1974 blurb says it “looks like the CAD/CAM concept is becoming a ‘buzzword’ as an outgrowth of numerical control (NC). I can see the real beginning of high interest in the use of the computer for the entire plant manufacturing environment.” The 1976 blurb points to the “dominance of computer numerical control (CNC) at the International Machine Tool Show,” known today as the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS).

In an industry that runs on technological advancements, one aspect of machining has not advanced: the human body. While the machine tools have grown more efficient, the machinists who set up and run them have the same features they did 100 years ago. Chronic pain is—and perhaps has always been—a common problem among those who stand at machine tools and routinely move work in and out of them.

Indeed, chronic pain affects more than 75 million Americans, according to the National Institute of Health. It is the leading cause of long-term disability, and in a manufacturing world struggling to fill job vacancies, it can end the careers of irreplaceable machinists. It can lead to depression, chemical dependency and a loss of vigor—yet we rarely discuss it. Many are willing to see pain as simply part of the job, but one Michigan machinist would not accept it as unavoidable.

The image gallery above, based on Modern Machine Shop magazine’s Modern Equipment Review Spotlight, features several electrical discharge machines, or EDMs from GF Machining Solutions, Sodick and Makino.

Swipe through the gallery for details, and follow the caption links for more information about each item.

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