Tooling and Workholding Trends to Look Out for at IMTS 2016

7. July 2016
IMTS 2016

Key to maximizing the efficiency and effectiveness of the myriad machines to be displayed at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) is how they’re tooled and fixtured. Fortunately, there will also be plenty of tooling and workholding products on display in the West Building of McCormick Place during the show. 

“For every machine innovation, you’ll find a corresponding tooling and workholding technology advance at IMTS 2016,” says Jack Burley, vice president of sales and engineering with Big Kaiser Precision Tooling Inc. “For example, this year you’ll see the introduction of smart tooling that uses Bluetooth technology. Everyone has a smart phone on their hip, so why not develop apps that enable supervisors to wirelessly check tooling status, and operators to download installation instructions and parameter settings?”

“IMTS 2016 showcases specialized providers with core competencies in unique areas,” says Peter R. Eelman, Vice President - Exhibitions & Business Development, AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology. “By focusing intensely on one thing and doing it exceedingly well, tool and workholding companies develop products and technologies that take machine performance and accuracy to new levels.”

To put this in perspective, the newest digital technology enables moving a boring tool in increments of 50 millionths of an inch (0.000050 inch). A human hair has an average diameter of 0.004 inch, which, according to Burley, is no problem for current machine technology: “Today, we can put a strand of hair in an adjustable tool holder and move it one fiftieth of its diameter, as well as digitally capture and communicate the history of adjusting that tool,” he says.

Burley likens the relationship between machining and tooling to the one between automobile manufacturers and tire companies: each has different core competencies, and the consumer wins by obtaining the best technology from each. “Companies can be good at everything, but they cannot be great at everything,” he says. “While shop owners might want a single-source solution, they get better results by tapping into the core competencies of many different providers. That’s why a visit to the West Building is mandatory if you want to stay on top of tooling technology.”

With these developments in mind, AMT describes some of the trends attendees can expect to observe at this year’s show.

1. Stronger Toolholding

With spindle speeds double what they were 10 years ago (now 20,000+ rpm), look for more tool holding technologies which are stronger, more rigid and capable of running at higher speeds without unwanted vibration. The real speed issue, however, relates to tooling and workholding that reduces setup and cycle time.

“Customers want products that are ready to use out of the box,” says Burley. “Further, they expect the same results whether a 20-year veteran or a recent graduate installs the tooling. That’s why you see tools with a digital display instead of an analog dial. It removes one source of potential error.”

2. Automated Tool Changing

Like it or not, mere human involvement can introduce more variables than it eliminates. As a result, tooling and workholding suppliers have more recently focused on automation. Whether at IMTS 2016 or soon thereafter, expect to see fully automated tool-change solutions that enable companies to shift human capital to where it adds more value.

3. Flexible Workholding Systems

In terms of workholding, Burley observes a focus on flexible systems that allow multiple part configuration setups, accommodate multiple platforms and – of course – set up quickly and with repeatable accuracy.

“Workholding shouldn’t be considered just for cutting,” Burley adds. “It should follow the part through the whole process, and that includes gaging and inspection. Keeping a common datum throughout the process makes checking and inspection much more efficient, as re-qualifying is a painstaking process that increases cycle time.”

“The trends you see in the other pavilions are mirrored in the Tooling & Workholding Pavilion,” notes Eelman. “Look for solutions with greater connectivity, that address the issues of an aging and changing workforce, and accommodate manufacturing facilities that want to run lights-out.”


Attending the show? Set up meetings with exhibitors in the EDM Pavilion and search for other exhibitors with EDM systems on display using the MyShowPlanner tool at

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