Innovations Bring Process Control Solutions

Renishaw opened its doors for guests to explore its new North American headquarters in West Dundee, Illinois, revealing an array of innovative solutions for attaining true process control in manufacturing.

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When you think about Renishaw Inc., you think industrial metrology. That’s what they are best known for in moldmaking. When I attended Innovation Fest and toured the company’s new North American headquarters in West Dundee, Illinois, I was not surprised to find a wealth of metrology equipment on display throughout its 133,000-square-foot facility, but it was clear that Renishaw wants to be known for much more. Granted, not all of what was displayed was suited to mold manufacturing, but there were a few new and innovative products featured that are worth our attention, especially as moldmakers strive to advance and better control their processes by incorporating the latest additive, inspection and measurement technologies.

The Additive Advantage

Renishaw’s U.S. Additive Manufacturing Solutions Center, which is housed in the West Dundee facility, is notable. I’m not talking just about finding a machine to purchase, though you can do that. I’m talking about actual development and testing of additive processes to help improve the utility of additive technologies in manufacturing. Stephen Anderson, our tour guide, walked us through the AM lab where several machines were creating 3D metal printed parts. The parts were not for sale. Rather, they were being created, measured and studied. “We know because we do,” he said. “The purpose of this lab is to provide solutions to AM challenges customers may be experiencing, but it’s also meant to help make the AM process more accessible to more manufacturing companies.” Renishaw’s latest offering is the RenAM 500M additive manufacturing system, which they say is intended more for serialized production and builds complex metallic components directly from CAD programs using laser powder bed fusion technology. The machine features a small footprint and manufactures parts within the 250mm x 250mm x 350mm build volume (9.84 x 9.84 x 13.77 inches). It can also be set up to run overnight, an advantage to lead-time conscious moldmakers, plus it is economical because it is designed to automatically recycle un-melted material using an ultrasonic sieve, saving time and material costs. The RenAM 500M utilizes a high-powered ytterbium fiber laser to fuse fine metallic powders together creating functional 3-dimensional parts, and it features a high-capacity dual filter system.

Workholding Surprise

When I learned from Renishaw that it has its own fixturing product line, I was surprised and wanted to be sure to mention it. It turns out the company acquired Grandhaven, Michigan-based R&R Fixtures LLC. R&R engineers and manufactures custom and modular fixturing for CMM and vision inspection machines, optical comparators and Renishaw’s Equator gaging system, which MMT’s sister publication, Modern Machine Shop, recently blogged about. “R&R has been making fixtures for a very long time and we partnered with them for several years before deciding to purchase them in 2012, after our gaging systems came out,” Jeff Seliga, marketing manager, said. The overall line includes CMM and vision plates with English or metric threads, shuttle systems for heavy or difficult-to-load workpieces, extension fixtures for large and/or tall parts, fixturing components like magnets and clamps, and fixture kits. FixtureBuilder software supports the most common CAD formats in moldmaking (IGES, STEP, PRO/E, CATIA and SAT are some), and users can import a part’s CAD file into FixtureBuilder to ensure the right setup is created.

Simplified Probing Solutions

An updated version of Renishaw’s Inspection Plus software for machine tool probes was demonstrated during Innovation Fest. The software’s SupaTouch optimization technology is designed to automatically adjust component inspection cycles on the CNC machine, in-process, to ensure the fastest possible measuring and positioning feed rates while also optimizing machine productivity. For example, if the user sets it to maintain five-micron repeatability, the software figures out how fast the CNC machine can move and still maintain the repeatability required, and automatically adjusts the process as needed.

Part of the Inspection Plus software’s advantage for moldmaking is GoProbe. GoProbe makes it possible for less-experienced or inexperienced machinists to operate the Renishaw machine tool probe with accuracy and efficiency. For example, it uses simple, single-line commands instead of G-codes, which help the operator get up and running faster, and includes predefined part setting, tool setting and probe set-up cycles that correspond to machine-tool probing features or functions. Given the skills gap in moldmaking and the aging workforce, GoProbe can be a blessing for part inspection on the machine. For technology-minded users, there is now an intuitive GoProbe smartphone app.

Speaking of apps, Set and Inspect is the on-machine probing app from Renishaw that metrology-minded moldmakers might want download to their CNC machine tool controls. Like the GoProbe, Set and Inspect makes the probing process easy and more intuitive, especially for beginners. No G-code knowledge required. Set and Inspect is installed on a Windows-based CNC control or a tablet that is networked to the control via Ethernet, and provides operators with an array of visually-displayed probing options via a touch screen. Once the desired probing option is selected, and user input fields are completed, the app automatically generates the corresponding G-code and loads it to the control. Probing is completed quickly and efficiently with results displayed on-screen.

Is any of this bringing to mind the Industry 4.0 movement? It should. Industry 4.0 is based on controlling the manufacturing process through connectivity, monitoring of machines and processes, data collection and automation. It is the quality control and measurement components of the Industry 4.0 movement that have served as guideposts for Renishaw, and the company says it will continue its quest to provide customers with custom solutions for today’s precision manufacturing applications.

I’ll conclude with Renishaw’s summary of the many innovations showcased at Innovation Fest, particularly additive manufacturing and its impact on the industry: Intelligent machining processes are a critical element in advanced manufacturing technology. Automation, measurement and feedback can deliver process control throughout the stages of manufacturing. Combining the information gleaned through machine monitoring and measurement with the capabilities of additive and subtractive manufacturing is a path to a new type of manufacturing. Shops can produce higher quality, custom designed parts, cheaper and faster than before, with less waste.

 

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