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Jedd Cole

Jedd Cole joined Modern Machine Shop as Assistant Editor after graduating with a B.A. in Rhetoric and Professional Writing from the University of Cincinnati in 2015, and after working as an intern with the magazine in 2014. He manages the blog of Techspex.com and also assists with the editing of Modern Machine Shop's sister publications, Modern Machine Shop MéxicoPlastics Technology México and Products Finishing México.

Posted by: Jedd Cole 28. July 2017

Catch Up on PMTS 2017’s Live Demonstrations with These 7 Videos

A version of this blog post originally appeared on MMS Online.

Along with reading print magazines like Modern Machine Shop and Production Machining, trade shows provide ample opportunities for job shops to learn about and appraise new developments in machining technology. Think about it: Sometimes, you have to see things yourself, hold them in your hands, and talk to the engineers and product experts who know the most about whatever workholding system, hybrid machining concept or rotary transfer platform is making waves at any given time.

So, it’s no surprise that Gardner Business Media’s 2017 Media Usage in Manufacturing survey confirms that the majority (65 percent) of equipment acquisition influencers and approvers see trade shows as the most useful way to learn about new technologies, with print magazines coming in second. While Google search or trade websites are useful for finding information about specific technologies you already know about, trade shows are one way to expose you to new things.

After all, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Whether you weren’t able to attend the 2017 Precision Machining Technology Show (PMTS) or you just want to revisit some of its content, Production Machining has created a YouTube playlist with videos of live show-floor demonstrations that were offered by machine tool builders in the exhibit hall. The videos span workholding, rotary transfer machines, five-axis part production, hybrid machining and more.

Each video is between about 10 and 20 minutes long. Here are some brief synopses of the demonstrations in the playlist above.

  • Hardinge: Rick Schonher first demonstrates a matched-set, quick-change chuck receiver system that enables a robot to switch between a collet, a three-jaw chuck and an ID expanding system, and then moves on to showcase the FlexC quick-change collet system.

  • Hanwha: Kevin Miller talks about Hanwha’s XD26II-NH, a 26-mm Swiss-type lathe for making drone parts. The machine’s stability enables it to perform rigid tapping.

  • Davenport: Standing next to a pre-production prototype, Sandro Belpanno discusses Davenport’s super-precision hybrid concept combining mechanical accuracy and the flexibility of a multi-spindle CNC system.

  • ZPS America: Representing ZPS America, Olaf Tessarzyk introduces what he says is the first FANUC-controlled five-spindle multi lathe with a Pietro Cucchi bar feeder.

  • Index Traub: Mark Saalmuller demonstrates the Index G200 turn-mill with Y axis, a five-axis machine capable of six-sided machining and the ability to simultaneously bring four tools to the workpiece to churn out complete parts.

  • Hydromat: As Rodger Boswell explains, Hydromat’s Epic II variation of the Epic R/T rotary transfer machine platform boasts enhancements related to machine monitoring, including production reporting, downtime analysis, troubleshooting and preventive maintenance interval scheduling.

  • Absolute Machine Tools: Discussing the potential of parallel processing, Greg Knight introduces the Lico LND 65D turn-mill, available from Absolute Machine Tools, which can use five tools simultaneously for processing multiple parts at the same time.

Posted by: Jedd Cole 1. June 2017

Hot Temperatures (and Technologies) at Eastec 2017

A version of this blog post first appeared at MMS Online.

It’s hard to forget that when they’re not used to display advanced manufacturing equipment from more than 500 exhibitors during the Eastec trade show, the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition or “Big E” in Springfield, Massachusetts, are used for, among other things, cattle shows.

But in lieu of livestock and despite the sweltering heat—it reached 93°F while I was there, and 97°F on the last day of the show—there were plenty of machining technologies to hold my attention at Eastec 2017 this past May 16-18. The slideshow above offers a view of the smallest slice of the advanced manufacturing equipment on display, a slice that certainly filled my time but barely scratches the surface of all that the show had to offer to its attendees.

For example, below is a video I took from Universal Robots’ booth that demonstrates Energid’s Actin robotics simulation and control software with a six-axis robotic arm from UR. Energid’s CEO, Niel Tardella, told me the software represents an attempt to usher in the “next generation” of collaborative robotics, having been used by such government agencies as NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) as well as commercial customers. Among the features that make this software different is its dynamic collision avoidance, which doesn't wait for the robot to hit an obstacle (such as a person) before arresting motion, thereby increasing safety. The software simplifies programming with interface design (for example, colorful blocks representing program steps) and enables monitoring of the robot arm as well as the fixture so that the robot can adapt to position changes in real time. In the video below, note how the robot dynamically both avoids the technician’s wand and tracks the part fixture:

The DV 1000 VMC from MC Machinery, which has recently been updated with more tool positions, uses a dual-winding motor for extra torque to enable job shops to perform hard milling, as seen here:

Alicona’s InfiniteFocusSL (pictured below) applies focus variation to measure form and roughness on this component. Focus variation is said to combine the small depth of focus of an optical system with vertical scanning to provide sharp imaging for topographical information. I was told that the process is precise enough that it can image and measure surface roughness.

alicona

Grob’s G550T horizontal machining center (pictured below) features a high-speed five-axis turning table, enabling turning on a milling machine. What makes the machine special is its fully retracting spindle. This is how the machine makes tool changes, which both erases the possibility for tool collisions with the workpiece during automatic tool changes and enables the use of longer tools for better reach.

Grob

A selection of GenSwiss’ new Multidec-Lube coolant-through wedges for Swiss-type lathes are pictured below. As you can see in the two on the far right, these wedges act similarly to through-spindle coolant systems on milling machines to direct coolant directly to the tool’s position during machining. 

GenSwiss

Distributed by YLM Group, the Hannsa YL610-B vertical machining center pictured below is designed for machining small aluminum components in the die/mold, electronics and automotive industries. It has two linear ways on the base and on each of the three axes. It also features an 8,000-rpm spindle with higher-rpm options ranging to 20,000 rpm.

Hannsa

If you attended Eastec this year, did you learn anything new? Were you impressed by any technology in particular? Let me know on Twitter @mms_jeddcole

Posted by: Jedd Cole 18. May 2017

Three Truths about Machine Tool Research

research stock photo

I was recently talking with an engineer working in the oil and energy sector. Back in the 1990s, he was working for a machine tool manufacturer as part of a small team in charge of purchasing capital goods. Their task? Decide whether to replace or rebuild a large CNC horizontal turret lathe (HTL). To offer a purchase proposal, the team needed to compare between the options, which entailed comparing between the specs of comparable machines from various manufacturers. As a matter of course for working at a machine-tool OEM, he had a database of machine specs from international machine builders already available.

“As a young engineer, it was an asset to me to be able to quickly see what other manufacturers made,” he says. (I am leaving him unidentified, since he spoke to me off the record.) After looking up comparable machine specs, the team ultimately decided they’d be better off rebuilding the lathe.

Once he moved on to work for different companies, such a comparative machine database was no longer ready at hand. Sometime in the 2000s, he found Techspex, which proved to be the closest thing to what he’d had working for an OEM. He’s been using it ever since to quickly identify builders of any particular machine he’s looking for.

The story of the HTL decision reveals a few important truths about research.

1. Access to thousands of machine specs for comparison doesn’t always lead to a decision to buy one of them. Nevertheless, a decision for or against acquisition (and of exactly which machine) will always profit from having as much data in hand as possible.

2. Data can be hard to get ahold of. Before he found Techspex, the engineer I was talking to had no other option than to browse individual OEM websites and trade journals—hardly a systematic process!

3. Time is a complicating factor of critical importance during the research process. This is why Techspex is so valuable to the engineer: “It allows me to quickly sort specs by work envelope, spindle speed, horsepower, rapid traverse rates, standard tool capacity, etc., in order to make a short list of potential machines to evaluate for my projects.” Besides the database’s automation of the data organization process, he appreciates that Techspex simplifies contacting suppliers and distributors for information and quotes. “Techspex provides a lot of information with minimal effort, allowing more time to focus on the process and finalizing the scope of the project.”

For him, Techspex has proven beneficial as a centralized research apparatus whose design saves time in preliminary machine tool research. Techspex users get free access to these tools and more by registering for a free account.

Posted by: Jedd Cole 20. October 2016

How to Connect to Younger Manufacturers on Social Media? Try Humor.

Hey, have you heard this G-code joke?

Well, y'know what they say?

%
O1234
(THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE)
G28 X0.0 Y0.0 Z0.0
M30
%

Get it?

That’s the opening tweet from @ShopFloorHumor, a Twitter account set up by Shop Floor Automations (SFA), a reseller and distributor of CNC hardware and software, particularly machine monitoring software. With an eye toward a younger manufacturing audience, the company has launched a Web comic series called “Shop Floor Man Presents” with the intention of carving out a space for manufacturing-related humor on social media, especially Twitter.

The comic appears in two-panel stories in which the main character, Shop Floor Man, shows life with SFA’s software solutions compared with exaggerated horrors he faces elsewhere, as in the tweet below.

Other comics will riff on familiar trials faced by machinists everywhere as well as other industry-related humor, like this one released for Manufacturing Day 2016 a couple weeks ago.

Obviously, the comic serves as a marketing and promotional tool for the company. But it’s also an intriguing entrance into a sphere not many other manufacturers have explored to date, one with the potential to tap into the lived experience of younger, millennial audiences.

“Having a footprint online aside from just a website is so crucial,” says Amanda Rosenblatt, SFA’s marketing coordinator and the comic strip artist. “You have middle school kids, high school teens and college-age young adults who we are trying to get into this industry, or people like the military veterans being trained at organizations like Workshops for Warriors. These people of these various age groups are attached to their devices and social media; we can reach them and show them this industry is a community.”

In the sometimes convoluted Venn diagram of manufacturers, millennials and social media, Web comics could be a particularly effective way to bridge culture gaps and to foster community through shared experience. A lot of web comics are shared on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, and many of the those popular among young adults cleverly comment on the existential questions that inform many of their (our) tweets (@SaraCAnderson and @poorlydrawn_lol come to mind as notable examples).

In a similar way, the scope of Shop Floor Man could be described as commenting humorously on the existential issues of life as a machinist. In fact, even the “poorly drawn” aesthetic is something that may be familiar to many younger Twitter users who read web comics. Concerning the art, Rosenblatt chuckles and says, “I think it is a bold statement because, really, [Shop Floor Man] is purposely drawn badly. That’s why we have the tagline ‘Our solutions are better than our comics.’ No one at the company, including myself, has the time to draw or commission someone to make an amazing comic, but we have the humor, stories and resources to make people laugh. There’s charm to him.”

She adds that the comic has even contributed to SFA’s own internal community-building: “We gather ideas and feedback on comics from the whole company, so it’s fun for them to get involved, and the final product is a group effort.”

Find more of the company’s antics by following @ShopFloorHumor on Twitter. For more on using humor to bridge gaps on social media, see our past blog post, “Could This Be the First Really Great Machine Shop Meme?”.

Posted by: Jedd Cole 6. October 2016

The Mobile Cobots Are Coming

Otto 1500 with lift configuration

This Otto 1500 has a payload of 1,500 kg. It has been programmed to pick up and drop off a payload with a rack of parts. If you step in front of the robot, it stops and eventually figures out a way around.

Collaborative robots, or “cobots,” may soon be not only known for their ease of programming and safety controls with part picking/placing and machine tending, but also for their ability to pick up and transport payloads around the shop floor, among human workers, completely autonomously.

That’s the idea behind such robots as Otto Motors’ Otto 100 and 1500 models, which are primarily designed for material handling, but are being developed for other applications as well.

Intended to carry palletized loads, these robotic vehicles can autonomously map their surroundings for safe, intelligent pathfinding through a facility. Basically, these robots adapt technology similar to the kind seen in Google’s self-driving cars, but for indoor, industrial applications. In fact, Director of Industrial Solutions Simon Drexler says that Otto Motors “is on trend to have more autonomous miles driven than the Google driverless car.” Early adoption of the Otto concept by customers like GE and John Deere is expected to put more self-driving vehicles (SDVs) in manufacturing and distribution facilities by the end of 2016 than Google will have on outdoor roads.

In the video below, the Otto 100 (with 100-kg payload) carries a light shelving unit, while the Otto 1500 (with 1,500-kg payload) uses its lift configuration to dock with a pallet for transport.

 

Forming a "Mental Map" for Safe, Autonomous Navigation

Just as human beings receive data about their environment and form a “mental map” to find their way, these self-driving vehicles take in data using their laser scanners and form a map for autonomous navigation. According to the company, it’s as easy as taking the robot for an initial walk around a facility (which means manually controlling the robot). The Otto 1500 uses two LiDAR sensors (one on the front and one on the rear) to scan the environment as it goes. “Once it has that reference map, it can freely navigate from any origin to any destination inside of the mapped parameters,” says Drexler. This initial reference map is uploaded to the Clearpath App, enabling users to update, edit and track it. Additional Otto robots use the same map, meaning the initial scanning process need only be performed once. 

The Clearpath OS is said to enable the robots to move about using only their onboard sensors, eliminating the need for any magnetic tape, beacons or additional infrastructure (though some applications might require high-precision targets for docking, like in the video above). The same scanners that build the reference map can also identify objects and people, enabling the robot to safely stop before obstacles and dynamically figure out alternate paths to reach its destination. The Dispatch App, which enables path editing for repeated tasks as well as on-the-fly task dispatch, can be set up on a PC or tablet. The interface centrally manages a shop’s entire Otto fleet, providing a point-and-click, drag-and-drop platform for robot orders.

The Otto robots carry a NTB 56 safety certification and are designed with the idea that these will serve as a form of mobile collaborative robot, not just a point-A-to-point-B currier. Drexler says that one of its automotive customers has certified its robots for navigation on the same paths as its human workers: “Rather than treating [the robot] like a vehicle or a fork truck, they’re treating it like a member of the workforce so it can navigate and move around its human partners.”

Adding a Robot Arm and End Effector

While the robots are currently targeted at the material handling industry, there are already efforts being made to bring them into a wider set of applications. Otto Motors recently entered into a research effort with Yaskawa to develop a mobile manipulator solution, the prototype of which has been shown at trade shows already.

The prototype uses the Otto 1500 with Yaskawa’s Motoman MH12 robot arm and a Robotiq 2-Finger 85 gripping end effector along with a wrist camera for machine vision. This produces an autonomously mobile robot arm with a 1.4-meter reach and 12-kg payload that can communicate with other machines via a wireless direct connection to a PLC.

Yaskawa robot on Otto 1500

This in-development solution uses an Otto 1500, a Yaskawa Motoman MH12 robot arm and a Robotiq 2-Finger 85 adaptive end effector.

As explained in a blog post by Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette of Robotiq, the research project is still in development, but it seems to have potential for bin packing, process-specific manipulation and mobile machine tending.

Automating the Undefinable

Otto Motors isn’t the only developer of self-driving, autonomously navigating robots for indoor, industrial use. Mobile Industrial Robots has also developed a small mobile robot, the MiR100, which, similar to the Otto 100, has a 100-kg payload. It can also tow loads weighing as much as 300 kg. Like the Otto 100 and 1500, it appears that the MiR100 is also capable of safe, autonomous navigation, with software compatible with PCs, tablets and smartphones.

Collaborative robots are clearly diversifying and proliferating as a more and more common way to streamline manufacturing, as was quite evident at IMTS. Drexler, referring to his previous experience with an automation supplier, recalls: “One of the things we used to say is, if you can define it, you can automate it.” What technology like Otto Motors’ and Mobile Industrial Robots’ SDVs is showing is that the limits of what can be automated is now stretching beyond what can be well defined to include what has heretofore been considered undefinable.

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