Matt Danford

Matt joined the MMS team in 2006 after graduating from Ohio University (Bobcats, not Buckeyes!) with a B.S. degree in Journalism. Since then, MMS's associate editor has been traveling the country (and the world) to see manufacturing technology in action and to learn as much as possible from those who design and use it. With experience ranging from managing case study and industry news sections to feature writing and editing to event coverage, photography and engaging on social media, Matt is eager for any opportunity to spread wisdom that can help North American manufacturers succeed.

Posted by: Matt Danford 26. November 2018

Methods Machine Tools Commits to Medical Manufacturing with a New Tech Center

This news originally appeared on MMS Online.

Methods ribbon cutting

Jerry Rex, second from right, was appointed President and CEO of Methods Machine Tools earlier this year, the company’s 60th anniversary. The Memphis facility is the company’s eighth sales and technology center in North America. 


The opening of a new technology center in Memphis, Tennessee, is not only the latest milestone in a big year for Methods Machine Tools, but also a concrete indication of strong demand for CNC machined medical components.

The company has long serviced medical component manufacturers in the southern United States from another location in Charlottesville, North Carolina. Nonetheless, President and CEO Jerry Rex, who presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new Memphis facility November 14, says it is worth being even closer to a strong base of prospective medical industry customers not only in Memphis, but also in neighboring Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle.

As for the strength of the medical market and those who serve it, recent survey data from Gardner Intelligence (the research arm of Modern Machine Shop publisher Gardner Business Media) show that medical manufacturers have experienced strong growth in new orders, production and supplier deliveries. Overall, this data suggest that medical manufacturers are highly likely to close out 2018 in very good condition.   

Methods, of course, serves more than just medical manufacturers, and the company’s experience this year—its 60th anniversary—also evidences a strong manufacturing market in general. Headquartered in Sudbury, Massachusetts, the company has expanded its already expansive product line, which ranges from vertical and horizontal machining centers (VMCs and HMCs) to multi-axis turn-mills to EDMs. Thanks to new partnerships, the line now includes EDM drilling machines from Ocean Technologies; HMCs and boring mills from Niigata; and Swiss-type lathes from Tornos.



Attendees gather around this FANUC Robodrill fitted with a robotic arm for transferring parts from the integrated storage unit to the worktable. To accommodate varied, low- and mid-volume lots of parts, the system interfaces with the pallet rather than the workpiece, transferring it from the storage unit to a hydraulic clamping station on the Haeberle two-axis rotary table.


Perhaps just as importantly, and just as indicative of broader trends, the company particularly emphasizes the automation systems that surround and augment these machines. One notable example of integrated automation can be seen in the picture gallery above. This FANUC Robodrill VMC features not only a two-axis worktable from Haeberle, but also a workpiece storage magazine from the same manufacturer and a FANUC robotic arm to transition parts from magazine to machine. As such, the system is designed to drop into place as a compact, efficient means of automating five-axis machining of small to medium lot sizes. Representatives noted that Methods also stands ready to help with automation beyond machine tending, particularly tedious, time-consuming tasks like deburring.

Posted by: Matt Danford 24. March 2017

Smart Manufacturing Is Automated: Takeaways from TIMTOS

This article originally appeared as a blog post for Modern Machine Shop titled "TIMTOS Takeaway: Smart Manufacturing Is Automated."

TIMTOS front with statue

There wasn’t much time to examine the intricate lotus blossoms lining the halls of the show floor before a blaring speaker called the diverse pack of reporters to attention. Italy, Germany, Turkey, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico—all these countries and more were represented among the eager faces of the international trade press, waiting with notepads and cameras ready for the week’s first formal appointment. All had been invited to Taiwan’s largest metalworking trade show largely to see technology innovations like the one touted by the man with the microphone: a networked cell with machines automatically adjusting parameters based on real-time sensor feedback (pictured below).

cell from FEMCO

Displayed by Far East Machinery Company (FEMCO), this fully self-contained wheel-manufacturing cell demonstrates the real-world possibilities of data-driven manufacturing technology. The cell is designed to produce multiple wheels with different characteristics and volumes without requiring complicated change-over procedures. To that end, it leverages the company's patented Automated Virtual Metrology (AVM) technology. Individual wheels are tracked via QR codes, with real-time measurements of vibration, temperature and more indicating whether the process is on track compared to the production of an ideal part measured previously on a CMM. This technology eliminates the need to inspect single pieces for process conformance, a strategy that can lead to CMM bottlenecks and the production of bad parts continuing until the measurement is completed.

Highlighted by the Far East Machinery Company (FEMCO), this cell was just one of many displays focused on data-driven manufacturing among the 5,340 booths comprising TIMTOS 2017. It also ranked among the most ambitious. Tellingly, however, even the more modest “smart” manufacturing exhibits assumed a certain level of technological capability among the show’s 55,000 attendees, the purported users of this technology. In short, simpler, commodity machines seemed rare, and automation was everywhere. Although there's promise in data-driven manufacturing for virtually any manufacturer (if only on the level of basic machine monitoring), these exhibits suggested its full potential may well be reserved for highly automated, technologically sophisticated operations. 

Yet, TIMTOS also demonstrated the extent to which data-driven manufacturing is really all about supporting automation. After all, the end game is essentially the same as installing a robot or pallet changer: to trust tasks—in this case, data mining, analysis, and even decision-making—to technology rather than human beings. All in all, the Taiwanese suppliers provided an excellent showcase for the kinds of technology and processes increasingly required to not only become a true part of what has been touted as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but to compete in the modern era in the first place. 

Bursting at the Seams

Hosted March 7-12 in Taipei, the island nation’s biggest city and home to a third of its roughly 24 million people, the 26th edition of TIMTOS was bigger than ever despite a modest global machine tool sales slowdown in 2016. Exhibitor and attendee counts both set records for the biennial show, and traffic was robust by any measure, with throngs in seemingly every booth exchanging business cards (two-handed with a slight bow, as is customary in Asia) and filing carefully around the aforementioned floral arrangements (gifts to exhibitors from happy customers and other business relations).

FFG robotic cell

Configured with partners Siemens and Kuka Robotics to produce customized cellphone cases, this robotic cell was one of six data-driven manufacturing demonstrations at the massive booth of Fair Friend Group (FFG). A founding member of the German Industry 4.0 working group, FFG leverages a gateway to integrate various brands of controls, robots and other machinery through the OPC-UA open-architecture communication protocol. Booth representatives report that the company is developing its own CNC system that promises similar advantages and more, although that project is still in the early stages. Machines visible here include a model from Feeler, a brand available in North America via Methods Machine Tools, and a model from Leadwell, sold in North America through various dealers.​

Still, there was plenty of space to move around, largely because the show was so spaced out. Attending TIMTOS means taking (thankfully short) bus rides among three different locations in Taipei. Show organizers TAMI, the Tiawan Association of Machinery Industry, and TAITRA, the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, acknowledged in a press conference that this situation is unfortunate. However, representatives added that the problem will soon be remedied by the pending completion of an entirely new hall, adjacent to the main one, that will keep all exhibitors in the same area. The new hall will also help accommodate more booths for exhibitors that are reportedly eager but currently unable to participate in Asia’s second largest and the world’s fifth largest manufacturing technology trade show. 

Quaser machine tool interior

It was almost difficult to find a machine on display without some form of automation, and Quaser showcased what booth representatives said is a relatively rare species: a five-axis machining center with a pallet changer, shown here cutting one part while another waits just outside the workzone. Booth representatives explained that integrating pallet changers can be challenging on five-axis machines because the rotary axes make it more difficult to ensure rigidity as well as interference-free motion. That’s why the UX630APC is designed with what is said to be a particularly rigid casting structure. It's also why the machine’s trunnion table incorporates large bearings, and why the machine was initially conceived with pallet-changing capability in mind. Quaser, which sells through a dealer network, plans to announce the opening of an office in South Carolina this month.

Betting Big on Big Data—and the Underlying Tech

In addition to worldwide market trends, the Taiwanese embrace of “smart” manufacturing is being driven by the government. Another priority for further innovation is national defense, and judging from the prevalence of aerospace-focused technology on the show floor, machine tool builders are responding to a government push for domestic production of military aircraft. Show organizers made clear that both areas are top priorities in the continued development of Taiwanese machining technology.

Government aside, organizers claimed that Taiwan’s strong information and communications technology (ICT) industry, responsible for much of the country’s rapid growth during the past four-odd decades, provides a natural edge in developing and implementing data-driven technology. They also noted that Taiwan is rich (and known for cost-competitiveness) not just in machine tools, but also in the components and secondary systems upon which those machine tools rely. (TIMTOS was also rich in these offerings, with one of the three show halls largely dominated by these exhibitors.) Close integration between the two industry segments was cited by show organizers as a competitive edge in effectively developing and implementing data-driven manufacturing technology.

Hiwin linear travel

Many of the robots seen in every corner of the show were sourced from Hiwin. However, robotics isn’t this Taiwanese company’s only forte, and its contribution to other displays wasn’t always visible. Hiwin is also a top Taiwanese manufacturer of linear guideways, roller bearings, servomotors and drives, torque motors and rotary tables, and more. In keeping with the show’s data-driven theme, this display showcases a “smart” ballscrew, which features an integrated sensor to provide real-time, actionable information on temperature, lubrication and vibration levels.

A tight-knit supply chain exchanging information and resources has long benefitted the domestic industry’s global competitiveness in a more general sense as well. And, the machines incorporating these components are becoming ever more advanced. Although many offer general-purpose machines, most exhibitors seemed more eager to tout technology developed for specific applications and industries. For example, multiple machines on display offer both high-torque and high-speed operation to satisfy aerospace demands. Linear motors were a relatively common option for motion, and many CNCs featured touchscreens with customized HMIs. Multi-axis and/or multitasking machinery was the highlight of most builders’ booths. Perhaps most notably, it was rare to find a machine not tethered to a robot, pallet changer or other form of part-handling automation. Suffice it to say, TIMTOS exhibitors aim to compete on more than just price. 

Advantech robotic cell

Advantech-LNC highlighted the IFC6900, visible attached to the control of this VMC. This system is an assisted intelligent control platform that provides direct connection and communication with FANUC CNCs via Ethernet. The system can also link rotary tables, robots, sensors, vision systems and other accessories; offers cloud connectivity; and features built-in apps for functions including RFID authority control, DNC and NC file transmission, spindle load monitoring, power consumption management, and more.

Following this path makes sense for Taiwan. After all, a “factory of the future”—one that relies on technology to obtain and perhaps even act independently on data—is automated by definition. It’s hard to imagine that automation being limited to only the data-driven side, and it’s equally hard to imagine such operations running competitively without the kinds of technology described above.

There may be a new Industrial Revolution underway, but plenty of manufacturers aren't quite ready to start setting up cloud-based networks of interconnected machinery. For them, shows like TIMTOS can demonstrate not only what's possible, but also the technology and processes that can help prepare an operation for getting there. Scroll through the picture gallery above for notable examples of both.


View the original article on MMS Online to see a slideshow of more pictures with insights from the exhibition. 

Posted by: Matt Danford 9. March 2017

How Hermle Configures This Five-Axis Milling Machine for Turning

Multi-process equipment is not always based on a turning platform. By locking the spindle in place and spinning the trunnion table, a properly configured five-axis machining center can consolidate setups by turning symmetrically round parts, particularly large aerospace and energy industry components. Some machines can even leverage two rotary axes at once, adding tilt to spin in order to get even closer to the workpiece surface. As is the case with moving from three- to five-axis milling, adding rotary motion can enable turning with shorter, more rigid cutters at more aggressive parameters to improve cycle times, surface finishes and tool life.

That is according to Gunther Schnitzer, vice president of sales and engineering at German machine tool builder Hermle’s North American arm, which is located in Franklin, Wisconsin. He emphasizes that the key phrase here is “properly configured.” Not just any five-axis machine can turn, let alone tilt and swing what is most likely to be a large, heavy part spinning at speeds as fast as 800 rpm. For Hermle, the groundwork for achieving the latter capability was laid long ago, he says, back when the company first standardized on a modified-gantry-design scheme for all its machine tools. Although developed with milling in mind, this machine configuration is considered essential to ensuring the high levels of rigidity needed to turn the trunnion table into what is essentially an adjustable lathe spindle, one that is capable of presenting work to tool at a wide range of precisely programmable angles.

Hermle machine

The C 62 U MT Dynamic, shown here, is the largest of Hermle's mill-turn (MT) line of machines, which also includes the C 42 U MT Dynamic and C 52 U MT Dynamic. Altogether, the line covers parts ranging from 800 mm in diameter and 560 mm in height to 1,200 mm in diameter and 900 mm in height. 

At first glance, the only differentiating feature from other gantry designs is that the gantry structure rides on top of the sidewalls of the machine. However, the two sidewall-mounted guideways are not the only support for the Y-axis gantry and the X-axis slide mounted on top of it. Locating the guide system above and outside the workzone enables adding another guideway (or two in the case of larger machines) underneath the center of the gantry structure without interfering with the machine’s operation.

Located farther toward the back of the machine than the sidewall-mounted guideways, this third point of support completes a rigid, triangular foundation for the gantry structure, one that remains intact regardless of X-Y location. This configuration helps combat what Schnitzer calls the “horsehead” effect: that is, the tendency for the front of the gantry structure to sag as it moves farther along the Y axis and out over the workzone. Rather, rigidity is maintained even at the fullest extent of Y-axis travel. Meanwhile, centrally locating the drive unit in essentially the same area—at the apex of the support triangle—ensures even application of drive force across all guideways. “No matter where you are within the work area, you are always dealing with the same, rigid support structure,” he says.

The machines’ double-sided trunnion tables also offer benefits to rigidity and flexibility that are particularly important for turning, Schnitzer says. Twin points of connection with the machine, one on each side, provide a stable platform for heavy workpieces. Similarly to the linear axes, the motors and drives are located outside the workzone. An open workzone translates to a wide range of motion for the table: in this case, +100 to -130 degrees. The wider the range of table motion, the easier it is to manipulate the work in a way that enables more efficient turning (or milling, for that matter) of complex, contoured geometries, he says. 

Although these elements are common to Hermle’s entire line, certain design features are reserved only for machines capable of turning, which feature the designation “MT” (for “mill-turn”) in the product name. For instance, rather than the standard worm gears, MT machine trunnion tables employ 4,000-Nm torque drives that can handle high turning forces without stalling. MT machines also ship with a system of weights for precisely balancing the trunnion table. During setup, the CNC (a choice of Heidenhain or Siemens models) instructs the user in precisely how to shift the positions of these weights based on the weight of the workpiece, the C-axis rotational speed, and other part attributes and parameter settings. These adjustments take only a few minutes at most, Schnitzer says, noting that the basic concept is similar to balancing tires on a car.

turbine housing in a machine interior

Turbine housings and other large, symmetrically round aerospace components are prime candidates for tilted-trunnion-table turning.

This routine is just one example of CNC functionality originating not with Siemens or Heidenhain, but with Hermle, Schnitzer says. He adds that whatever the make and model of the machine, and regardless of whether it is capable of leveraging both rotary axes, the right CNC configuration is essential for any trunnion-table turning. For its part, Hermle paid particular attention to functions that help track the locations of critical datums, he says, citing tool center-point control (TCP) as one example. CNCs also have particular, turning-oriented settings for acceleration, deceleration and other essential parameters. Users can fine-tune these settings to emphasize speed or metal removal. 

MT models also feature the HSK-T spindle interface, which is designed specifically for stationary cutting tools. Although fully compatible with the HSK-A63 and larger HSK-A100 designs that are standard with Hermle machines, HSK-T provides a tighter fit between spindle key and toolholder keyway. This ensures that insert approaches work at the proper angle. Locking tool assemblies securely in place for turning is accomplished via a Hirth coupling for larger machines or a hydraulic sleeve for smaller machines.

Tool measurement is also a concern because turning cutters cannot be checked for wear or breakage by being spun inside a laser beam. That is why the Blum laser tool probes that come standard with MT machines are fitted with a static touch-off probe, Schnitzer says. He adds that this unit can double as a presetter for tools with unknown lengths and radii.

As for the tools themselves, Schnitzer recommends cutters with multiple insert positions to consolidate inventory and maximize toolchanger capacity. Rather than using a new tool, he explains, the same tool can be adjusted to present a new insert to the work.

Although a five-axis machining center must be configured differently for turning, there’s a common thread to Hermle’s design adaptations. Most ensure rigidity and operator safety in some way, building on the advantages already provided by the company’s standard design platform. The fact that this platform was originally developed for milling demonstrates the importance of rigidity for all machining operations, not to mention the extent to which conventional thinking about milling versus turning has broken down.

Browse and compare models in Hermle's MT series on the company's Techspex showroom


This article originally appeared on as "Adding Tilt to Trunnion-Table Turning." 

Posted by: Matt Danford 5. November 2015

EDM Features Longer Travels, Improved Wire Threading

The new VL600Q offers more than just longer travels.

If you’re using EDM technology, chances are your competitors are, too.

That's one reason behind demand for larger machines like Sodick's new VL600Q wire machine, formally introduced in North America at the company's recent "Smart Technology" open house event. So says Alan Losch, applications engineer, who explained that the technology is more accessible than ever, and the days when simply having an EDM could differentiate a shop are long gone. Instead, many try to set themselves apart with larger standard models like the VL600Q, which offers longer travels in all three linear axes than the comparable VZ300L and VZ500L machines (the latter offers travels of 500 x 350 x 250 mm, compared to the VL600Q's 600 x 400 x 270).

Yet, the machine offers advantages beyond longer travels, and many extend throughout the company's entire line. Every machine on the floor at the October 21-22 event—both mills and EDMs alike—was driven by linear motors. According to the company, developing and manufacturing its own motors and accompanying motion control systems is one reason why they can achieve repeatable accuracy within 1 micron. "You can't do that with a ballscrew," Mr. Losch notes, adding that 2016 will be the 10th anniversary of the company's commitment to fully guarantee motion system accuracy for a decade after machine installation. Another feature common to all Sodick machines is a base construction incorporating a custom ceramic material that offers abrasion resistance and a low thermal expansion coefficient (less than one-third that of cast iron).

Displays certainly weren't limited to EDM. This demonstration involved machining highly contoured, gear-like geometry on a linear-motor-driven HS650 VMC. 

The VL600Q also serves as a platform for technological advances that are far more recent than the company's longstanding use of linear motors and custom ceramics. For instance, the entire VL line features an updated version of the company’s SuperJet automatic wire threader (AWT). One new capability is the Pop-Up Search function. Previously available only on FixedJet AWTs, this feature uses a stream of air to push the guide—and the wire along with it—upward and away from the hole when threading fails. The process can then be repeated until the wire successfully threads the gap. According to the company, the feature is particularly useful for threading on curved or inclined surfaces and through multiple, in-line holes on stepped/hollow workpieces.

The SuperJet also employs a longer annealing cycle than previous versions, as well as an extra wire contact, to ensure straightness. For the user, this translates to less time spent spent returning to a zero/reference point to rethread, then working the wire back through the cut to pick up where it left off. 

This demo of an older version of the wire-threader showcased automatically guiding 0.01-inch wire through holes measuring 0.06 inch in diameter. With an additional wire contact and longer annealing cycle, the new SuperJet is even more capable.  

The new wire machine certainly wasn't the only highlight of the "Smart Technology" event, which also featured plenty of sinker and milling displays and presentations from participating partners, including Erowa and OSG USA. Nonetheless, as the company's latest model, it provides an informative look at the technology that's long characterized Sodick machines as well as newer developments. 

This blog was originally published by Modern Machine Shop.

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