MMS Blog

Synthetic Cutting Fluid Keeps Shop Cleaner without Sacrificing Performance

While preparing to physically relocate 14 milling and turning machines to his new building in Houston, Texas, owner James Wells decided it was the right time to examine every process at Wells Manufacturing for potential optimization.

He had just invested in a new, larger facility with bright lights and shiny new epoxy floors intended to represent the culture of quality at Wells Manufacturing. But it wasn’t until he had to clean out his machines for the move that he thought about the metalworking fluids going into them. After a decade of filling the sumps with the same product, he recognized an opportunity to try something new in hopes of further improving the new shop environment.

Becoming a Second Source for Ventilator Parts

About 90% of the parts Aztalan Engineering makes are for the medical industry. Some of this work is for GE Healthcare, including parts for ventilators and anesthetic delivery systems that can be retrofitted to serve as ventilators. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the shop has had to drastically increase production of these parts. “For these parts, we're doing about six years’ worth in about six months,” says Kirk Kussman, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.

Aztalan has been producing the anesthesia delivery parts for 30 years, and the ventilator flow control valves for three. Before the pandemic, another shop had been producing the ventilator parts for Aztalan. “When we brought it in three years ago, we inherited a supply chain. And that supply chain has been great, but there's only so much stress you can put on a company,” Mr. Kussman explains. “We're lucky that we had capacity to be able to be our own second source for parts.”

Lean Manufacturing Means Taking Nothing for Granted

Of all the technology we overlook in our daily lives, the silicon chip still reigns supreme. If we bother to think about them at all, we consider silicon chips to be an ingredient, like wheat in bread, for electronics technology that is completely native to our environment.

Which is partly why a visit to the Valtech Corp. earlier this year — just before the world shut down — was so eye-opening. Valtech, which began in 1989 as a specialty chemical manufacturer of adhesives, molded polymers and aqueous detergents for the electronics industry, today is one of the country’s leading manufacturers of the ingot slicing beam — a single-use fixturing tool for various semiconductor materials in preparation for the slicing, or wafering, process.

After Machine Monitoring, Is Machining Learning the Next Step? Getting Ready for AI in Manufacturing

Machine monitoring happened fast. Once the enabling technology was in place to allow real-time gathering and aggregating of performance data from CNCs (MT Connect, for example, is an important enabler), machine shops quickly embraced the capability. Now, the digital dashboard showing pie charts or green/yellow/red displays of machine tool status information has become a commonplace sight in shops, though it was practically nonexistent not many years ago. The change happened so fast that we can reasonably expect the next step after machine monitoring to happen quickly as well. I believe that step is liable to be machine learning.

After all, there is far more data for the machine tools and processes to disclose than just what pie charts show. As machine monitoring systems get better at capturing that data, and as the information available from ERP systems is drawn in as well, the amount of data will soon grow beyond what machine shop personnel can reasonably make sense of day-to-day. However, large data sets are both the resource and requirement for machine learning. Once a few enabling technologies are in place, it seems reasonable to expect that this form of artificial intelligence will help manufacturers comb their performance data automatically to find opportunities to optimize processes or costing through improvements that otherwise might be too subtle or counterintuitive to see.

Additive Manufacturing Versus COVID-19: The Race for PPE

It’s hard to believe that it has been about two months since our lives were turned upside down by the coronavirus. As I wrote in my last column, the move to online classes at Penn State combined with seeing and sharing stories about 3D printed personal protective equipment (PPE) with my network of colleagues, companies and healthcare workers at Penn State’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center (PSHMC) landed me right smack in the middle of the fight against COVID-19.

Before I knew it, our informal “grass roots” efforts to help 3D print PPE connected with the university’s senior leadership push to ready the team at PSHMC for the impending surge in COVID-19 cases. I was asked to lead the effort. We named it the Manufacturing and Sterilization for COVID-19 (MASC) Initiative. This limited our work to meeting the manufacturing and sterilization needs required to protect healthcare workers against COVID-19. Patient screening, vaccine development, antibody testing, and so on were thus out of scope for us.