Large, Made to Order and Ready to Connect

The 30th edition of the Bi-Mu trade show in Milan, Italy, highlighted not only modular machine tools for work like machining aerospace structures, but also technology related to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and more.

By the time the doors closed on the 30th edition of Bi-Mu/SFORTEC, the biennial Italian machine tool exhibition, 62,576 attendees had passed through the halls of the 90,000-square-meter Fieromilano Rho exhibition center in Milan. Although 41 percent of the 1,076 exhibitors hailed from abroad, Italian machine tool builders were naturally prevalent at the October 3-8 exhibition. And North America remains a prime target for their equipment, which trends large and is characterized by a high degree of sophistication and customization. 

According to figures highlighted by show promoter and Italian machine tool association UCIMU-Sistemi per Produrre, North America remains the third most popular destination for machine tools and related products from Italy, which is the world’s fourth largest producer and third largest exporter of such equipment. Of the total 4.1 percent increase in Italian machinery exports, North America saw its share rise from 10.7 to 15.8 percent compared to last year. 

In most cases, these builders are after a certain type of customer. Italian machines generally aren’t mass produced, and “standard” product lines tend to be anything but. Italian equipment is largely modular and tailored to the user’s specific application, with options ranging from spindle type to automation options for cellular and flexible manufacturing system (FMS) configurations. Three-axis machines were a rare sight on the show floor, while interchangeable, swiveling spindle heads, high-capacity toolchangers, and pallet systems were commonplace. The machines trend large, too, with many builders citing manufacturers of large aerospace structures as a particularly important market in North America. Large machines require large rotary tables and other components, which were also well-represented at the show.

Italian builders are also pushing technology related to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Mostly, this takes the form of software that collects and analyzes data on machine utilization and uptime, alarm conditions, maintenance schedules, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and more, paired with CNC front-end interfaces that operate like smartphones. Some are said to offer capability to network multiple types and brands of machinery. However, the mood surrounding IIoT was relatively reserved—not negative or unenthusiastic, but cautious and wary of overhype. 

For more on the IIoT at Bi-Mu, read this brief commentary. For more on specific  machine tools, additive manufacturing, workholding and other innovations spotted on the show floor, view this slideshow

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