MMS Blog

Additive manufacturing has become an increasingly popular application for several reasons. For one, it’s changing the way machinists look at some of the most complex part challenges, opening up new and lucrative business opportunities. But more concretely, it can offer serious cost advantages.

Since the world’s first additively manufactured vehicle, the Strati, was built at IMTS 2014, additive innovations have headlined IMTS. This trend continues this year with AMT’s Emerging Technology Center dedicated to Additive Manufacturing, located in the West Building, Level 3; Booth #431609.

Is an additive manufacturing machine a machine tool? Arguably not, and the organizers of IMTS decades ago seemed to anticipate that a technology such as this might one day be part of the show.

Back in 1990, the bienniel manufacturing event changed its name, choosing a new name that its initials could take in stride. What had been the International Machine Tool Show became the International Manufacturing Technology Show.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s a win-win.

The machine shops that participate in our Top Shops benchmarking survey come away with a free, custom report ranking their responses to quantitative questions against those of other participants. This gives shops a sense as to where they are succeeding in specific areas of their business and where they may want to target improvement efforts. Conversely, the survey enables the Modern Machine Shop staff to better identify the technologies and strategies—applied both on the shop floor and in the front office—that leading U.S. machine shops are adopting.

Imagine if the control interface for a CNC machine tool was not a panel full of buttons, but instead a headset addressing a digital assistant able to understand a machinist’s verbal commands. Imagine if that assistant could operate all the different CNC machine tools in the shop, with various controls, in precisely this same way. And imagine if that digital assistant had ready access not only to status data at the machine, but all the information around the machine related to using it effectively, including operation and maintenance instructions as well as setup instructions for the current job, making any of this information available at the user’s verbal request. Those are the promises of a new human-machine interface (HMI) system—called Athena—being introduced by a startup company, iT SpeeX, that brings speech-recognition technology to machine tools.

The product will be publicly debuted at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS). I got to see an early demonstration and to experiment with the system myself. What I discovered is that, much like the smartphone in my pocket, the potential transformational power of the device is hard to appreciate except by direct experience. My phone does nothing I couldn’t already do in some other way. Yet it changed my life because of all the tasks it has made much easier. Athena offers much the same promise. We do not fully appreciate how much of the information a machine tool operator might need is located in different places, and therefore how difficult or time consuming it is to access and employ that information. Commanding the machine verbally, along with obtaining accurate information about the machine, tool or job as needed, essentially just by asking into the air, promises to allow skilled operators to work far more accurately and effectively than is practical for them to do today.

One of the things I will carry with me to IMTS this year that I have never had before is a Medicare card. Of course, I’m not planning to use it, but it will be in my wallet just in case. My application was filed a few months ago and will be effective the beginning of this month.

This is not a trivial milestone. Turning 65 signals that there are big decisions to make about retirement, lifestyle changes, spending habits, new relationships with family and friends, and an evolving outlook on one’s personal existence.

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