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Manufacturing is taking 3D Printing to the next level

3DPrinter Manaufacturing
3D printing has been around for a long time, but not until recently has this technology reached a level where traditional manufacturing facilities are taking it seriously.

The process called “Additive Manufacturing” builds layer by layer and has been seen only as a pure prototyping process until recently. With new materials, better accuracy, various sized platforms and reasonable pricing, it has come to a point where everyone can participate.
We are not talking about the hobbyist level, though we probably have to thank them for helping push the technology.  They are also, unfortunately, the ones who created a false impression that this is merely a fancy hot glue gun that makes toys.

Autodesk 3D PrintingOn the other end of the spectrum, you have Autodesk announcing that they are investing $100 million in 3D Printing companies over the next several years. They are also developing their own 3D Printer and 3D Printer software which is open source for everyone to tinker with. (More to come in another blog post about this.)





But what about manufacturing…
Yes: what about manufacturing? Is it just prototyping and a lot of hype? The answer is no, and actually, in a way, you might see “Good old American” manufacturing waking up to glory. This is just the beginning and it is super exciting because as consumers are being more demanding, designers and engineers are looking at manufacturing for help.
Here is an example:
A company is looking for a lot of 100 molded plastic parts. Traditionally you might decide that an aluminum mold would be preferred. The cost of material is not going to set you back too much, and it should hit your doorstep within a few days if you live in United States.
3D Print Mold
If you are productive, you might have spent those couple days gathering your tooling, and even started the process of programming the job in your favorite CAM program. You could, of course, also have chosen to use a 3D Printer, and have what you see in the picture above for less than $500, before the chunk of raw aluminum even gets delivered. This takes what traditional manufacturing might consider a 5 to 7 day turnaround down to 2 days, letting you keep your CNC machine cranking real parts, thus giving you an extra 3 to 5 days to work on a new project or, if you’re lucky, to work on your back-swing.

It is getting local…
This is really what excites me: you do not need to travel to some showroom or university to see this in action; local machine shops already have this technology.
One example is Staub Inc., located less than 20 minutes from me in the outskirts of “blue collar” Buffalo, New York. Mr. Tony Staub started as many manufacturing facilities around the country did: in a garage. And when he outgrew that, he moved into a Super Duper grocery store location. Over the last 20 years, Staub Inc. has built a high precision machine shop using the latest technology within traditional CNC machining. Adding an Additive Department is not about looking far into the future.  It is about offering the latest technology to existing and new customers, while finding use for, and exploring, this great resource.

Conclusion…
Manufacturing is taking 3D Printing inside the shop, and I guarantee you, my friend, THERE is where 3D Printing will reveal its true potential.  I love it!

Why CNC Operators are like Fighter Pilots!

Fighter pilot
So you might not get the regular CNC junkie to drop down and give you 20, but besides physical shape, I dare to say that a day in the shoes of a machinist can be just about as exciting.

First off it is noisy; some places you might even have to operate half in the dark, and night vision is not standard gear in most shops. Then there is the equipment: if you don’t think that the thrill of a F-15 compares*, you have never pressed the green cycle- start button on a multi-axis machining center that rapids at 1200 inches per minute and does Tool-to-Tool change in under 3 seconds. It can be scary, but awesome!

Tom Cruise made it look easy in Top Gun, but besides reflective sunglasses and leather jackets, there are rules and best practices in preparing for a dogfight.
Top Gun Logo

Have you ever seen a pilot take a walk around and inspect the outside of an airplane? or how about the notorious checklist performed between pilot and co-pilot? Flaps, check – fuel, check – landing gear, check. It must make them almost roll their eyes of boredom every time. But would you ever take off in a plane where you knew they hadn’t done that test?
Here is the lesson we can learn from fighter pilots: Just like we are expecting the best performance from pilots and their dedication to do the checklist prior to takeoff, we should do the same before hitting the green cycle-start button on our CNC machines.

CNC Operators Pre-flight check list.
Take the time to walk around the machine to assure that all safety equipment such as guards are intact and doors are closed. This might also be a good time to make sure there are no oil spills on the floor or objects blocking the path around the machine.
What about maintenance? Coolant and way-oil levels should be topped off if needed.

Just like pilots, follow the checklist in the same order every time, and you will most likely have a safe landing in the end.
With the machine powered up, we can prepare for operation.

  1. Always start with the tooling. Why? because if you always start at the same beginning, and follow the checklist, chances are you will not forget an item that will cause a crash. We do not have any parachute for this trip. Gather all the tooling needed for the job prior to installing in the machine, and take the time to inspect it carefully. A magnifying glass might be a handy tool to inspect cutting flutes on endmills.
  2. Insert tooling into clean tool holders, and input measurements into tool length and tool diameter offset pages in the machine control. Remember to stay focused; this is not the time to dance to the latest iTunes or eat a sandwich. It is many times at this early stage where people get distracted and insert a value in the wrong column.
  3. Work holding. Indicate and secure vise or fixture…”Check!”.
  4. Insert stock into vise or fixture. Make sure everything is wiped clean of dirt and chips, and then pay extra attention that everything is secured and located against stops. We do not want to see anything come flying out of here.
  5. Work offset is important. G54-G55 is standard, but if you did not write the g-code, or did not double check the code, this could be a mission-critical error. Now go ahead and pick up the part. Double check, and then check again before saying “Check!”.
  6. Now you can go ahead and load the program into the control. Here is an important step many people decide to skip. Most controls have a graphic simulation option, and though it is not as pretty as in your CAM system, it is not a waste of your time. At least make sure you have an updated setup sheet, and an idea about what this program is about to do. If in doubt, I order you do the next step.
  7. This step is up to the guy who is hitting the green button. If there is a crash, you can assure that the boss will ask if this step was done. You can a) dry-run the program safe above the part, or b) use single-block command and reduced rapids.

Take a step back. One deep breath. Circle back to the beginning and run through the checklist one more time in your head. Did you remember everything?


Now tighten that seat belt, put on those cool reflective sunglasses, and press that green cycle-start button for blast off!



I challenge you…
I challenge you to print this article (including the cool images) and hang it at the machine or leave it in the break room. If your CNC Superstar does not know how to stay focused and follow a checklist, he is not Top Gun.



*Honestly, I cannot compare, but if someone can arrange for me to get a trip in a F-15, I’m in.

What’s New from HSMWorks 2015

It’s that time again! SolidWorks released 2015, and HSMWorks is assuring that your best integrated CAM option fits right in with its 2015 release.

HSMWorks 2015

HSMWorks has always stood out as a company that did not follow every other CAM lead. The fact is that though HSMWorks does release a major version every year, they also stuff new features in the Service Packs as they become available. This means that HSMWorks users actually get goodies all year round. It is also worth noting that this is the 3rd major release since Autodesk acquired HSMWorks back in 2012.

So besides being able to run inside the latest SolidWorks 2015 release, here are my 3 favorite highlights for HSMWorks 2015.

High-end Roughing Strategy
If you have not had a chance to see Adaptive Roughing in action, you really owe yourself an opportunity to take it for a spin. The 2D Adaptive roughing strategy is available with the free downloadable HSMXpress version, and both the 2D and 3D versions have gotten some nice, new, shiny functions.
Roughing strategies have been becoming really popular, of course, because of cycle times, but also because they have significantly increased tool life with better toolpath algorithms.
In this version, the users have better control with a “Stay-down level” tab, taper helical ramps and a support function to avoid chatter and reduce tool wear.

More CPU Power
I love technology!
In this version, you get support for the latest Intel Xeon Processors, configurable up to 36 total processor cores in one system. (Everyone who wants one of those, raise their hand!)
There is a lot of software that can only use one core of your system. It’s like a bottleneck; all the data has to swim down this one core no matter how many you have on your system. HSMWorks is different: you can actually have the system processing toolpath on a roughing strategy while you are modifying or applying the finishing toolpath. The end result is less time wasted waiting on the computer.

Better visual performance for Simulation
I hope CAM developers never feel they are done with the simulation aspect of their software. This is the last step before code gets posted and if you have ever been the one who has to press the green button on a CNC machine, you know those machines move fast and do exactly what you tell them to do. Simulation is critical!
In this version, you get faster results in “Fast 3D Mode”, a favorite if you are doing those big toolpath calculations for molds and other complicated surface stuff. Also, the “Simulate” function that is available in HSMXpress has improved toolpath position and visualization.

Conclusion…
I think this is a great release with many more enhancements than mentioned here. The developing team is focused on making a great quality product that will strengthen users in manufacturing.
If you want to see more about this release check out cam.autodesk.com for links to download both the free HSMXpress 2015 and 30 day trial for HSMWorks 2015.

Check out this video from Autodesk CAM’s Youtube channel.

DFMXpress=Your FREE Design For Manufacturing Consulting inside SolidWorks

It will happen, one day you will receive a part that is nearly impossible to manufacture. Not because the part is on the “top secret out of space” difficult level, but because something as simple as an unexperienced engineer/designer did not realize that there is some physics rules that apply to make a design that actually can be manufactured in a very competitive industry.
DFMXpress…
SolidWorks has a nifty tool that pretty quickly can run an analysis on you part, and provide you with some feedback on some possible manufacturing street bumps, or should I say stop the design in its tracks before its manufacturability becomes too costly.
DFMXpress belongs to the Xpress family that you will find right at top of your Tools dropdown menu right inside SolidWorks.
Who should use this…
This tool is seamlessly integrated into SolidWorks, and will give you an opportunity to apply some basic sets of rules for drilling, milling, turning, sheetmetal and even give you a thickness analysis of a injected plastic parts. This tool was created, fed and raised for manufacturing!
So this tool should defiantly be on the list of CAM programers who gets designs handed to them, and/or if you are one of those young unexperienced engineer/designers…well, this can safe you from having one of those grumpy machinest yelling at you.
What is some of the things it does…
Figuring out how to use it could not be more simple. In SolidWorks go to your Tools dropdown-> Select DFMXpress and when it open in your left panel, Go to the settings tab, select your application, and set your parameters.
DFMXpress has parameters like…
  • Hole Depth to Diameter Ratio.
  • Mill Tool Depth to Diameter Ratio.
  • Minimum Corner Radius (Turn Part).
  • Minimum % Bore Relief (Turn Part).
  • Hole Diameter to Thickness Ratio (Sheet metal).
  • Recommended Bend Radius (Sheet metal).
Help…
What really rocks is that if your start looking in the DFMXpress help section you will find what for many has been hard earned advice.
Conclusion…
I think we sometimes forget some of these tools excist. Tools that could improve the bottom line should get a fair trial or the result can be loosing parts to the scrap bin.
This being the Xpress version there is a big brother with more options and strength. We will visit DFMPro later for review.