3D Printing as Common as Desktop Printing

3d-printed-parts

3D Printed Parts

Generally when small business owners think of the term “3D Printing” they think of the higher-end machines, many of which are outside the budget of the average job shop.  However experts in the field are seeing the future of 3D printing being a move towards low-cost devices that will be in every part-making shop.  The 3D printer will become the tool of choice to prevent wasted time on more valuable machines.  A desktop 3D printer will be seen as a necessary complement to its CNC machine tools and will be used as routinely as a desktop printer is today.

When small business owners are asked about their experience owning a 3D printer the most common feedback is that they were surprised by how useful the device turned out to be.  It has proven to be the perfect partner for the machine tool.  Often machine tools have to be pulled off of production jobs to run one off parts – most of which are not even billable as they are used for internal needs, proof of concepts for customers, etc.  This is an incredibly inefficient use of the machine tool but is the ideal use for the 3D printer but today most shops have no other choice.  Ultimately a 3D printer can save time from the most valuable resources, people and machine tools.

Most shops take a loss on prototypes and tooling.  Customers bring in rough sketches that require a prototype be made, often more than one.  This takes man power as well as machine time both of which could be spent on better uses.  In this instance a 3D printer could run through the night and result in a completed prototype part in the morning with very minimal cost investment.  Custom tooling is another area that the 3D printer will become standard use.  Many jobs require unique fixtures or inspection tools so most shops make the investment before starting into production.  However they often have to go outside to purchase this tooling and wait on substantial lead times.  In the future these custom tools will be made immediately in the very shop that intends to run the production job.

One final area of incredible value for the 3D printer is the unique, let’s be honest pain in the tail, projects.  No one is interested in devoting CNC machine time to these jobs and often they get passed on but if the 3D printer could make it possible to come up with an inventive solution with minimal time and money invested these jobs would be worth the effort.  There’s certainly money to be made on this type of work but not if the only option is the use of high-end expensive CNC machinery.  Shops face seemingly small, annoying problems every day and many business owners say they use their 3D printer as the quick fix for these.

Certainly no one would advocate just buying any cheap 3D printer out there. Some research should be done to find a low cost option that is still adequate to meet the needs described above.  One such machine that should be considered is the Markforged 3D printer.  Its low price point makes it accessible which its ability to produce incredible strong, rigid parts makes it more than capable of solving these regular shop problems.

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Inventory Debate

Throughout recent years there’s been an on-going debate around the topic of inventory.  How much is too much? When does going “lean” prevent you from being ready to fill customer orders promptly? What about implementing the Six Sigma method?  The questions regarding best practices for inventory management are endless.  Here are some factors to consider when determining whether your inventory levels are appropriate or could use some adjusting.

First, how is inventory being defined?  In this case, inventory is defined as any good, regardless of the stage of production it’s in.  This would include raw materials all the way up to products ready to send to a customer.  This is the main reason that inventory tracking and management is so difficult within manufacturing compared with other industries. Tracking this many items can be an extremely daunting task.  In general though this would include three categories: raw materials, work in process, and finished goods.

Working with this definition of inventory there are four areas to examine in determining whether your levels are in balance:

Forecasting Accuracy – the ability of your company’s team to accurately forecast upcoming orders as well as sales for new products is directly related to your inventory levels.  If you’re consistently overstocked or under prepared on inventory take a hard look at your forecasting.  Of course this can be more of an art than a science to predict future orders but generally with monitoring, trends will appear.  Many companies find that certain times of the year or a specific quarter is always busier or slower and can adjust inventory levels to accommodate.

Lead Time – many manufacturing companies find that certain components have extremely long lead times which forces them to stock more than they would like in order to be prepared.  One option can be to discuss with suppliers reducing the lead time by increasing the lot size.  Many suppliers will be willing to provide larger volumes of parts in shorter lead times because of the increased immediate revenue.

Product Quality – some suppliers find that they have to keep a higher than normal inventory to be able to provide replacement parts fast enough in warranty situations or other product returns.  If this is the case an investment in the quality department, either personnel or measurement tools, could be worth the initial cost.  Certainly the fewer failed parts coming back the less inventory required.

Product Changes – an area that can really hurt with inventory is products becoming obsolete.  If new designs or technological changes are coming out too frequently it will require either that old products be kept to maintain those already in operation or will result in lots of unusable inventory with products that can no longer be sold.  Either scenario is costly.

Many experts agree that regardless of what inventory system you use reviewing the items above can be extremely helpful in being prepared without being at financial risk with too much inventory.

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What to do with used abrasive?

Probably the most frequently asked question from new waterjet owners, or those considering a purchase is, “What do I do with the used abrasive/garnet?”  Considering that some machine set-ups can go through as much as 2 lbs/min of abrasive (the standard OMAX direct drive pump uses only 0.75 lbs/min) this can be a major consideration in terms of the use of this technology.

Most people first want to know is it hazardous?  The short answer is no.  Garnet comes from the ground and is a naturally occurring substance which is not hazardous and is considered standard solid waste.  Of course if the materials that the waterjet has been cutting are hazardous, such as lead, they will end up mixed in with the spent abrasive and will need to be handled appropriately.

Generally the next question people have is how to get it out of the waterjet tank.  There are a few different options here.  Of course the lowest cost option is to jump in with a shovel and dig it out but this can be a back breaking job especially with a large table.  The second option is to hire a septic company to come in and suck it out.  The advantage to this is that it takes care of the removal from your facility in addition to getting it out of the tank.  The downside to this option though is the cost.  Often this can become extremely expensive and can be required every couple of months depending on the usage of the machine.  The final, and most popular, option is a garnet removal system.  These are often sold by the waterjet OEM and are easiest to install at the initial set-up of the waterjet.  OMAX offers a variable speed garnet removal system that alternates between sucking spent abrasive and then purging the lines to keep drops of cut material from covering the nozzles. Many third party suppliers also sell add-on garnet removal options, some of which work extremely well.

Now that the abrasive is out of the tank the final question is what to do with it.  Here again there are a few options.  Some waterjet owners have found their own uses for it such as filling holes in the parking lot or selling it to companies that make pavers.  The more common solution is to put it in the dumpster for removal by the trash company.  The key to this is to let it sit outside for a while first to drain off all the water and reduce the weight of it before putting it in the dumpster.  A final option that has become increasingly more popular recently is reselling it to garnet suppliers for them to recycle it and reuse it.  GMA has been steadily increasing the geographic areas that they will come to for used abrasive pick-up and would be a good place to start if you’re looking for this service.

Abrasive is the single largest cost of owning and operating a waterjet and having a plan for disposal is a key piece of managing that cost.

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Enjoying this mild winter…so is your bottom line!

Everyone knows that the weather can affect your mood but it can also have a serious impact on business.  The 2015-2016 winter season has been one of the warmest and mildest on record for the Northeast Region, and it’s expected to have a positive impact on local businesses.  Getting blasted with snow last winter forced many businesses to close, often for several days at a time.  This obviously resulted in a loss of revenue as businesses could not invoice for work that had not been completed.  However most companies resumed business when the weather cleared and were caught up fairly quickly.  For shops that were busy, and had a regular backlog of work, they were forced to pay employees overtime pay to get caught up on back jobs. In particular with a winter like last year that included multiple storms hitting and shutting down New England businesses again and again it can be impossible to get caught up without paying the high cost of overtime.  For most manufacturing companies the work is considered “fixed bid” meaning the customer is paying you for the work completed regardless of whether it takes a week or three weeks to get it turned around which leaves no room for added employee costs.  According to an NBC report the winter storms last year resulted in roughly $15 billion dollars in recoverable losses throughout the economy.

The effects of closing a business can be far-reaching.  Large companies with offices in multiple locations struggled to complete projects.  Progress would often get hung up waiting for someone who was out of the office in the northeast or other location.  Other companies who used job shops in the northeast grew frustrated with the delays in getting completed components and chose to move the work to shops in warmer weather climates to ensure an on time delivery.  All of this can significantly depress a local economy such as New England’s.  Studies have also shown that layoffs are more common in cold weather months, thus further increasing the benefits of this year’s more temperate winter season.

Shipping and rigging for new equipment can also become an issue.  When the weather prevents trucking companies from delivering new equipment, or limits the ability for it to be offloaded, it slows both production and new equipment manufacturing.  Many OEMs of large manufacturing equipment saw a slow down through last winter as new machines were not being purchased when customers were unsure when they could get them delivered or were too busy getting caught up on their backlog of work.  Certainly as these large OEMs slow down many of the smaller businesses that supply them with parts also feel the pain of the slow down.

There are some business sectors that don’t see the benefits of improved weather such as seasonal work as well as disaster recovery businesses.  For example construction companies were kept especially busy dealing with roofing repairs after many that collapsed last year and HVAC companies had an increase in work for heating needs.  However the majority of businesses have benefited from this more mild winter and should expect to see that in their quarterly numbers.

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Manufacturing Predictions for 2016

It’s critical for every business big or small to have a sense of where the market is going for the coming year.  Many different private and government organizations pull data from various sources to make these predictions.  From nearly every account money will be spent and growth is predicted in 2016.

According to the Manufacturing Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI Foundation) the predictions for 2016 include 3.4% growth in general manufacturing, 6.1% growth in computer and electronic products, and 3.3% growth in non-high-tech manufacturing.  This information was gathered from an assessment of 27 different industries in domestic manufacturing.

What’s fueling the growth?

The MAPI Foundation’s study found that there are several areas expected to drive this growth trend.  New housing for single family homes is expected to make a dramatic increase from the very low levels it’s been at recently which will result in growth for every part of that supply chain such as appliances, HVAC, construction equipment and many other areas.  Further the continued decline in gas prices is expected to further boost the domestic automotive industry as customers are more willing to purchase larger more expensive vehicles.  This will increase growth in suppliers for the big automotive companies as well as all of the parts suppliers.

Not all areas are expected to see growth though.  The drilling, mining, medical and public works sectors could see business decline or go flat for the coming year.  An assessment of the previous trends in government spending during an election year would set an expectation that military spending and other government areas will hold steady but not experience any significant growth.

According to manufacturing.net two areas of dramatic growth over the coming year will be 3D printing and automation.  The 3D printing industry is expected to climb to being over a $7 billion dollar industry in 2016.  More and more companies are seeing the value that the time savings and operational efficiencies of 3D printing can add.  As the capabilities of the 3D printer have continued to improve and the price point decline it’s becoming much more feasible for companies of all sizes to enter this space.  Many people assume the use of manufacturing robots and automation has hit its peak however that has proven to be completely untrue as this industry has grown over 50% in the past 5 years and is now expected to be more than a $5 billion dollar industry for 2016.  Even companies that have embraced the use of robots for years are continuing to spend money in this area with new developments in robotics technology allowing them to become even more efficient.  The “Internet of Things” concept of better integrating machinery and robotics with a corporation’s IT infrastructure is fueling this growth.  Being able to collect real time data from every machine about it’s up time, through put, maintenance cycles, material waste, backlog, and more is becoming a requirement for many OEM’s looking to manufacture as efficiently as possible.  All of this requires the purchase of new machinery and robotics systems.

A look towards the future shows a positive outlook with many areas of growth potentials in 2016 and several years to come.

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Benefits of Rotary Transfer Machines

A rotary transfer machine has multi-station functionality which leads to its main advantage, productivity. Each of the workstations is dedicated to a specific operation. They are capable of milling, drilling, and contouring a part. With this, by the time the part has moved around the entire table, it comes off completed.

This differs from traditional machining because it can simultaneously use 20 or more tools in the cut, making it an amazing multitasking machine tool. They are great for making parts with multiple features while also reducing cycle time and producing consistent quality in the finished part. Other obvious benefits include smaller carbon footprint, energy efficiency, reduced floor space, and ease of maintenance.

When it comes to these machines, BTB Transfer is the leader in the design and manufacture. Their multi-spindle rotary transfer machines provide users with high productivity and profitability. They handle simple to difficult parts in all materials.

Their wide range of CNC transfer machines are focused on high productivity amongst which:

  • CNC horizontal axis transfer up to 10 work stations and 25 work units
  • CNC vertical axis transfer up to 18 work stations and 48 work units
  • Bar turning transfer with built-in cutting unit
  • Multi-center transfer that uses up to 19 work centers and 52 tools with built-in tool change
  • Modular transfers 5 axis in various configurations with 90 tool changes and work area 450x450x600 mm for heavy machining

BTB Transfer machines include:

  • 2-way
  • 3-way
  • Multiple-way
  • Modular transfer
  • Transfer with bar load
  • Transfer with orbital units

Brooks Associates proudly offer their customers BTB Transfer machines as a Gosiger import. These machines are great for increasing productivity, quality, and energy efficiency while reducing a shop’s carbon footprint. Shops interested in investing in one of these machines can learn more about them by visiting the Brooks Associates website.

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Additive Manufacturing Predictions for 2016

When new technology arrives on the scene, people often marvel at the expanded capabilities. Beyond the initial amazement however, the actual application of the new technologies are often slower to take off. That’s what has happened with additive manufacturing. As additive manufacturing technology continues to advance and become more mainstream, here’s how it is expected to change the industry in 2016:

Standardization:

Traditional manufacturing processes are here to stay, but that isn’t to say additive manufacturing won’t be seen in more shops. Additive manufacturing could bring about standardization of the industry, so that it is only used for creating products that aren’t attainable using existing methods. Standardization, which some organizations are looking at, could help streamline processes for manufacturers using additive manufacturing.

Skills Shortage:

With more new technology coming into play, the skills gap and demand for workers will only increase. This means there needs to be even more focus on training and recruiting workers for the field, not only in traditional machining methods, but additive processes as well.

Publicity:

When additive manufacturing appears in the news, often it’s talking about 3D cars, houses and other large, luxury items. However, these are far-reaching possibilities that give the public a twisted perception of this process.

Innovation:

Technology drives innovation, so there’s sure to be new and improved projects being made with additive manufacturing. This could help to transform the industry in ways previously thought impossible.

When looking at primarily metal printing, here’s what is expected to happen:

Metal Additive Manufacturing Focus:

There’s a lot of growth in this area, which is anticipated to become a huge focus of 3D printing in 2016. It’s expected to continue rapidly growing in 2016, with many businesses not previously involved now jumping in.

Automotive Industry:

It’s believed that in 2016, major carmakers will invest in direct metal printing. While indirect metal printing could grow within the automotive industry, large amounts of metal automobile components aren’t likely to be printed this year.

Small Footprint 3D Printing Systems:

For the last two years there was increased revenue growth from large-format metal systems sales. However, in 2016, smaller footprint systems could be shifted into the spotlight. Not only being used for research application but also for small-scale manufacturing opportunities.

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