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Some companies with more complex parts should start thinking about purchasing a five-axis machine, which is often considered the natural progression from a horizontal machining center (HMC). Likewise, companies heavily into vertical machining in which a fourth-axis table or trunnion may have been added to a three-axis vertical, should also think about buying a five-axis machine.

You may be surprised to learn that only about 5 percent of all machined parts require processing by full five-axis machines. Five-axis machining is most prevalent in the aerospace industry, where parts tend to be non-prismatic (not box-like), with complex surfaces, such as aerospace turbines, impellers or airfoil blisks. These complex designs require all five axes of the machine moving at the same time to create the shape, thus enabling the cutting tool to take a multidirectional approach to the part surface. Five-axis machining is also extensively used in moldmaking, where the need to produce complex geometry and surfaces is ever-present. Later in this article, we will cover some of the benefits of using a five-axis machine even if your parts aren’t that complex.

If a customer asked which gage was used to inspect a particular feature of a particular part shipped weeks or even months ago, would you have an answer? What if the customer required that answer within an hour?  

The potential of a scenario like this prompted Arundel Machine Tool, a contract machine shop in southern Maine, to rethink how it tracks measurement tool usage and calibration data. Bill Plamondon, quality management system director, says moving from a paper-based to a digital system ensures the answer to both customer questions will always be “yes.” Called Gagetrace, this system also provides deeper insight into data and the capability to adjust calibration schedules with the click of a button.

A theme for Modern Machine Shop this month has been machining from solid, or machining hogouts. The cover story of this month’s issue focuses of machining hogouts as an alternative to casting. Yet these are not the only two choices. As DW Drums’ Vice President of Manufacturing Rich Sikra explains in this video, the drum maker formerly manufactured drum pedals using cast components, but shifted to machining from solid because of the engineering changes this move allowed. Then, to reduce the amount of machining required, the company went to what Mr. Sikra sees as an in-between option: starting with extrusions to realize aluminum workpieces that are initially somewhat close to the intended shape.

Here is even more detail about working with extrusions.

“Smart manufacturing” is one of many broad-brush terms describing the collection and use of production data to make better, more informed decisions to improve efficiencies on the plant floor. In our world, this relates to obtaining data from networked machine tools and ancillary shopfloor equipment to assist with tasks such as job scheduling, maintenance planning and overall shop communication and continuous improvement efforts.

During a recent visit to Taiwan, I learned that the Taiwanese government has deemed its machine tool industry to be of national strategic importance and, as a result, continues to support initiatives to place Taiwan at the forefront of connectivity and smart manufacturing technology. Much of the country’s machine tool builders’ efforts in this regard revolve around new machine tool control technology/human-machine interfaces (HMI), Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-based production management, and cloud-based remote monitoring and preventive maintenance. Here are a few examples of these efforts:

“First of all, aerospace material is very challenging to machine,” says Rob Caron, founder and president of Caron Engineering. He begins a rundown of the challenges a machinist confronts in hogging out an aerospace part. When it comes to, say, engine components, the material might by any number of hard, difficult-to-machine alloys: titanium, Monel, Hastelloy or Inconel.

There’s more. Aircraft standards being so high, many aerospace parts must be machined entirely from one solid block of material for maximum integrity when it’s helping to hold a plane aloft. This means that a milling machine might have to hog out loads of metal to get down to the net shape and ultimately to the final part.

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