New Uses For Wearable Technology

Most of us have seen or used the “cloud” at some point but likely it’s been for storing pictures of the kids or backing up data from your office computer.  While certainly there’s value in having important documents stored safely and available anywhere, the future holds many more uses for cloud technology in manufacturing. As more and more equipment is becoming smart technology with integrated system monitoring, sensors and usage tracking, all of this information is being gathered in the cloud and if applied properly, could save business owners time and money in the future.  Seeing all of the data in one place would allow business owners to know instantly which machines in their shop are being used, which are down for maintenance, the percentage of utilization for each machine, what production is coming from various shifts, whether efficiency of a piece of machinery has declined with wear and of course hundreds of other useful pieces of information.

An interesting new facet of cloud computing is wearable technology which looks to be a promising wave of the future.  For example special glasses can be worn to provide training to new employees, provide real time data to shop workers, and increase workplace safety.  Imagine if the employee on the shop floor had immediate access via wearable technology to current inventory.  How much faster could they get a new job on a machine if they were told exactly where the material they needed was located and how much was on hand or if a remnant was available that would work for their next job.  Or think of the scenario where the forklift driver can’t see someone in their blind spot but the sensor in their glasses goes off to warn them that someone is there.  Many shops have been unable to adopt bar code scanners and readers because of the high cost of entry barrier, but wearable technology will likely make that problem a relic of the past. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg for the future of this type of technology.

If all of this data was then integrated with a cloud based ERP system the benefits increase further.  Being able to track purchase orders, sales orders, and inventory as well as track scheduling and capacity all in real time would greatly improve overall shop performance and reduce costs.  Every shop owner wants to know where their weak points are – which machines fail frequently or have high costs for replacement parts, or which machines are simply underutilized – because at the end of the day it’s all about finding ways to trim the fat to cut costs and increase revenue.  Finally if all of this carefully collected data were then viewed from a mobile device it becomes even more accessible.  Many companies are integrating tablets, phones, and other mobile devices into their shops.  The Aberdeen Group found that companies that have integrated some type of mobile software into their operations have seen a 44% increase in efficiency.  More and more it seems growth is going to be at a more nominal pace which means every dollar will count and every inefficiency will be magnified, making it critical for forward thinking business owners to find ways to take full advantage of every technology platform.

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Take 5 for 5-axis Webinar Summary

Recently Hurco offered an excellent webinar to educate machine shop owners and others about 5 axis operations.  As 5 axis work is becoming a bigger and bigger piece of the industry it’s critical for every business to give serious consideration to adding this capability.  This information is so valuable we thought it would be helpful to offer a summary of this hour long discussion for our customers.  The initial point of discussion was a basic introduction to machine configurations.  Most people are familiar with the x, y, and z axis but to make that 5 axis we add the A, B, and C axis.  The A axis rotates around the x axis, the B axis rotates around the y axis, and the C axis rotates around the z axis.  Generally in 5 axis equipment you’ll find these in combinations such as an A/B, B/C or a system that can offer both set-ups – A/C or B/C on one machine OR A/B or B/C on one machine.

Some benefits to consider with 5-Axis capabilities include:

The ability to machine multiple operations in a single set-up

The use of shorter cutting tools in deep cavity features by tilting the head

Ability to machine complex parts from solid billet instead of castings – especially useful for small runs

Time savings when machining features on compound angles – eliminates the need for special fixturing

There are two different configurations that people refer to when they discuss 5-Axis machining.  One is a simultaneous 5-axis machine which is tilting while machining the part.  The advantages to this are better surface finish, longer tool life and allowing the tool to reach difficult places more smoothly.  The down side to this method is that it’s slower than 5-sided machining.  5-sided machining is rotating the part in to position and then running as a standard 3-axis.  The advantage to this option is faster cut speeds, easy to program, fewer tool interference issues and excellent roughing strategy.  When comparing 5-sided machining to the old traditional 3-axis machining there are other clear advantages.  5-sided machining reduces setup times by eliminating the need for multiple setups for each side of the same part.  It also increases shop capability and improves part accuracy.  This is generally a very easy transition for most shops because it’s simply doing 3 axis work at an angle.

Some items to consider before purchasing a 5-axis machine:

Look at the individual part size or part family, which machine best suits all of the parts without being too large or too small.

Review the part setup or fixture design to make sure the selected machine will accommodate not only the parts, but the desired fixture.

Consider the length of all necessary tooling as longer tool lengths can be a significant deciding factor that will drive the machine size and type selected.

Features of the 5-Axis machine such as tool center pint management, transform plane, tool vector input, 5-axis toolpath linearization, 3D cutter compensation, and automatic safe repositioning.

Easy of programming which can be made even simpler by selecting a machine with a user friendly conversational programming software.

The final segment of the webinar is a discussion about the ease of programming available with today’s 5-Axis systems.  Many customers are nervous about the programming that will be involved in starting to use a 5-axis machine but as described in the webinar there have been a lot of changes and improvements in recent years to make this a much less intimidating situation.  Most customers today have no trouble transitioning from 3-Axis to 5-Axis programming.  To hear the full webinar visit and listen to the Take 5 For 5-Axis webinar.  Additional information about 5-Axis machining in general can also be found at

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Handtmann: One week, two successful leading trade fairs: the AMB in Stuttgart and the IMTS in Chicago

One week, two successful leading trade fairs: the AMB in Stuttgart and the IMTS in
Chicago The IMTS in Chicago and the AMB in Stuttgart, which both took place in September this year, are viewed as the leading trade fairs in the fields of mechanical engineering and metal machining. At both trade fairs, the German machine manufacturer
Handtmann A-Punkt Automation GmbH was able to present its diverse range of 5-axis HSC/HPC machining centres comprising ofnumerous HBZ horizontal machining centres, PBZ profile machining centres, GANTRY high moving portal machining centres and UBZ universal machining centres.
Demanding profile machining at the IMTS in Chicago
ThePBZ HD 600 profile machining centrewas the central focus at theIMTS in Chicago. On the machine withaxis travels of 7,250/1,500/1,000 mm and travel speeds of 70/40/40m/min on the linear axes, aluminiumfloor beam sections for the aerospace industry were machined live at the trade fair. The high spindle powerof maximum
58 kW and the maximum speed of 30,000 rpm, together with the intrinsically rigid machine design and the aforementioned performance data, ensure precise and efficient aluminium machining with chip removal rates of up to 6.5 l/min when machining profiles and solid material. The PBZ HD can be configured up to a profile length of 30,000 mm and
is also providing significant advantages with respect to application-specific clamping technology.
High speed cutting at the AMB in Stuttgart
At theAMB in Stuttgart however, theHBZ Trunnion 160 horizontal machining centre
was the central feature of the stand. The HBZ Trunnion 160 is the largest machine of
the HBZ Trunnion series and, with its NC rotary-swivel table with a diameter of 1,600 mm, it is suitable for 5-axis complete machining of complex workpieces with a maximum diameter of 1,700 mm and 1,000 mm in height. The machine can be used for the machining of a wide variety of materials, such as aluminium, steel, titanium and other common light-and heavy-duty cutting materials. The topic of “high speed cutting in aluminium” was theprimary focal point at the AMB. Therefore the machine was fitted with a high-power spindle (max. 30,000 rpm and 81 kW). Precision and high-performance
have equally beendemonstratedby machining an aluminium car
live on theHBZ Trunnion 160. The presentation of a wide range ofsampleapplications for the other Handtmann machines gave visitors insight into the company’s extremely diverse product portfolio: from the smallest parts with a diameter of 200 mm to large structural parts, such as the wing panel, boasting 6,300 mm in length.
Successful trade fairs
Handtmann enjoyed a total of eleven successful days at the two trade fairs. At both fairs, good results were achieved in terms of the quantity of the visitors and–above all–the quality of the dialogues. The AMB in Stuttgart has developed into an established international trade fair which is becoming more and more evident from year to year.
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3D Printing as Common as Desktop Printing


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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