Collaboration, Flexibility, Speed and More at IMTS 2018

Attendees walked the miles of aisles to find that IMTS 2018 delivered it all and so much more.

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I have attended IMTS several times over the years and I knew before the show ended that it would be hailed as the busiest IMTS ever. The crowds were thick in every hall and passageway, and exhibitors I talked to said they were having a very successful show. It is a sign of progress and prosperity in manufacturing and more specifically, in moldmaking. Boy, did it feel good to be witnessing it firsthand. 

While covering IMTS, I picked up on a few trends—not unlike those we saw at the National Plastics Exposition (NPE) earlier this year. Among them were the number of exhibitors who collaborated with other, complimentary exhibitors to help leverage their exposure to attendees in more than one location. For example, FANUC America’s signature yellow robots could be seen in numerous booths demonstrating the advantages of using automation—a growing trend in moldmaking.

Flexibility and speed were common messages delivered by machine tool and auxiliary equipment suppliers for moldmaking. Machines offer more options for added functionality, including multitasking (combined additive and subtractive machining) and hard-milling capabilities, plus added features to make work flow more efficient and cost-effective, not to mention easier. These solutions help mold shops bridge the skills gap. A great example is the continued expansion of intuitive controls that operate like oversized tablets or iPads so there is little to no learning curve for less-experienced employees. These controls could be seen in any number of machine tool companies’ booths, including DMG MORI, Makino, Mazak, ChevalierDoosan, Grob, Toyoda, Mitsui Seiki and others.

Exhibitors wowed attendees by using advanced digital technologies, like augmented reality, to introduce new products in a “tour-like” way. I tried on a headset at the Seco Tools booth and enjoyed the high-tech option for learning about new cutting tools, their advantages and applications. Along with many others who stopped by the Makino booth in the South Hall at McCormick Place, I met Athena. Who knew companies would have the option to run CNC machines using voice actuation technology? Makino collaborated with iT Speex, a technology startup company that developed Athena. From the demonstration, one felt that almost anyone could run a CNC machine with Athena there to assist because she responds using voice recognition software and is activated by saying her name—like Siri on Apple smart devices or Amazon.com’s Alexa. I happened to meet up with a friend and longtime journeyman moldmaker and designer Wayne Hertlein at the Makino booth, so I asked him what he thought about Athena and the potential for using a digital assistant for machining. He told me, “I thought that Athena was very promising and I am looking forward to the further development of this technology. I was impressed that I was able to control the machine with voice commands with minimal instructions. As the vocabulary increases on this technology, there will be a shorter learning curve to train new employees.” 

Speaking of software, suppliers of CAD and CAM software for manufacturing exhibited at IMTS in abundance. Mastercam by CNC Software Inc. introduced its Mastercam 2019, which features enhanced CAD functionality and 3D model import support, improved part preparation and fixture setup tools, additional PowerSurface capabilities, and expanded support for Model-Based Definition (MBD). The company is working with cutting tool companies like Sandvik Coromant, Iscar Metals and Emuge Corp. to develop cutting tools that will optimize machining performance.

CGS North America Inc. launched an all-new website that is customer-support and training focused. The company serves the mold and die industry by selling and providing support for Cam-Tool and CG Camtool for SolidWorks. Meanwhile, Verisurf Software Inc. has released Verisurf 2019 with a focus on automated inspection and compatibility across the manufacturing enterprise, whether in the quality lab or on the shop floor. The company says the unifying platform is a software-only solution that creates a single inspection plan that can be implemented across all devices, regardless of type or age.

Needless to say, Industry 4.0, Smart Factory technologies could be seen on multiple levels of the manufacturing spectrum. More and more machines are being built to communicate with each other and with the operators for more seamless production processes. It really is fascinating. But with increased connectivity comes the risk of compromised security. Cyber security is a topic all manufacturers, large or small, should become acquainted with. UL LLC. introduced its ABC’s of Cyber Security, centered on benchmarking standards to help guide innovators. This is a topic for which readers can expect more coverage from MMT in the coming months.