MMS Blog

How AM Is Advancing into Cutting Tools: Photos from EMO

The biennial EMO exposition in Hannover, Germany, is the largest trade show in the world for machine tools and other industrial metalworking equipment. I recently posted this report from this year’s show. One of the developments I observed was an increasing role for additive manufacturing (AM). While I expected to see AM on exhibit in the area of the show dedicated to this category, what surprised me is how much of it I found in an entirely different part of the show: the area devoted to cutting tools.

Because of the design freedoms related to both fluid delivery and reducing the mass of the tool, the makers of metalworking tooling for “subtractive” machining processes are increasingly turning to AM. The photos below capture a few examples I saw of metalworking tools made additively.

Jim Goerges is in the eyeglasses business. He could see from a long way off what was coming.

His shop, Precision Tool Technologies of Brainerd, Minnesota, makes tooling that is used in manufacturing eyeglass lenses. Serving this specialty has enabled the shop to thrive and grow off the ongoing business of two major customers that account for much of its optical-industry business. But more than a decade ago, Mr. Goerges recognized the vulnerability in this. That is, the possibility that these two large customers might one day come together. He saw how logical it would be for them to merge, leaving his shop significantly beholden to just one customer. To prepare for this, he decided that Precision Tool had to diversify.

ERP Software Gives Shop Control Over Scheduling

For years, Watson Grinding and Manufacturing managed production with manual, paper-driven systems. “With our manual systems, we didn’t always know what was happening on the shop floor,” says Vice President Bob White. “As a result, labor costs, especially overtime, were out of control.” In order to sustain the company’s growth, management recognized the need for an integrated ERP system to manage its complex production processes. “We needed a system that provided better visibility of data, and Global Shop Solutions seemed like the best fit for us,” he says.

Headquartered in Houston, the family-owned business specializes in carbide and ceramic thermal spray coatings and plasma thermal spray applications that extend the service life of parts in highly corrosive or wear-intensive environments. Watson Grinding’s sister company, Watson Valve Services, specializes in the custom design, repair and modification of severe-service metal-seated ball valves.

It may seem counterintuitive to run a business focused on precision that depends on machine tools built more than 30 years ago, but that’s exactly what The Kinetic Co. of Greendale, Wisconsin, is successfully doing. Specifically, the company relies on Blanchard grinders made that long ago. Cash Masters, the company’s vice president, doesn’t see this as a risky move. He should know — he is the one overseeing much of the machine maintenance himself.

Disciplined maintenance is key to keeping these machines performing effectively and key to the company’s special niche. By setting a specific maintenance routine that is embedded into each employee’s daily production schedule, doing large overhauls himself, and using the latest grinding wheel technology, Mr. Masters continues to gain productive operation from his company’s oldest investments.

Is there a story to tell in your shop? Would you like us to consider telling that story?

The editors of Modern Machine Shop have started to develop ideas and plans for the stories we will pursue and the articles we will publish in 2020. In fact, publishing lead times are long enough that we are already well underway with this, but most articles for 2020 are still unknown and unwritten. They involve ideas, successes and stories we haven’t even heard about yet. So let me take this occasion to ask: What are you interested in reading? And more specifically, what shops should we visit and write about? Perhaps your shop is succeeding in an interesting way. Please tell us about it.