Issues by Date

Dispensing insight

Press brakes, software and people working together: A real case study on Industry 4.0 from a coffee vending machine manufacturer

by Martino Barbon, marketing manager, Gasparini Industries





Vending machines have long been convenient and low-cost devices for offering a variety of food and drink choices for those on the go or in need of some quick fuel. As with most technologies, the vending machine industry has undergone significant changes over the past few years.


As with most industries, the Internet and digitization are transforming the vending machine market. Smart technology is used for innovations such as touch-enabled high-definition screens, various payment methods and remote device management – all going far beyond simply dispensing soft drinks and granola bars.


Smart technology is also changing how vending machines are manufactured on the shop floor. Evoca Group, the new name of N&W Global Vending, is implementing a corporate information system that is a perfect example of Industry 4.0. Management software, warehousing, logistics, machine tools and operators will all be part of a single large organism – a factory ecosystem that will collect a large amount of data to, in turn, increase production efficiency.


Evoca Group is a global manufacturer of vending machines for the food and beverage industry that focuses on the out-of-home coffee machine sector. The company was founded in 2000, drawing on the experience of Wittemborg, a Danish company founded in 1924, and Necta, an Italian company founded in 1968 and part of the Zanussi Group.


To ease the overall adoption of Industry 4.0, Evoca found an ideal partner in Gasparini Industries, a press brake manufacturer. Gasparini’s software and R&D department has developed the necessary utilities required for the integration of press brakes into the smart factory concept – a concept that Evoca is proud to be fostering.


Gasparini’s X-Press press brake, which features an innovative touch-screen interface, gives Evoca Group the perfect tool to align with its Industry 4.0 goals.



Main players


Creating a smart factory doesn’t happen overnight. It requires time, research and complete buy-in from the front office all the way to the shop floor. To find success, several key people and elements must be in place.


Operators: Unsurprisingly, equipment operators are at the heart of Industry 4.0 adoption. They are responsible for starting and stopping the machining cycle, bending the required parts and communicating any incorrect parts that need to be discarded.



As seen here, Evoca Group’s vending machines require an ample amount of fabricated sheet metal.



Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): At Evoca, the ERP system of choice is the JD Edwards management system, which serves as the hub of the overall operation. Its task is to link all of the functions of the company together, including accounting, logistics, personnel management, purchasing, sales and corporate infrastructure.


Material Requirements Planning (MRP): MRP, a function of the ERP system, focuses on the details of planning material requirements and generating internal work orders. In other words, it transforms the indications of the ERP into specific orders related to that particular job: who does what, where, how, when, and with what materials or tools. It also calculates the requirements of materials, planning purchases according to workloads, delivery times of suppliers and inventories.


Manufacturing Execution System (MES): The MES plans the work based on various optimization parameters, such as order of job importance and the availability of operators, materials and machines. The software of choice for the MES at Evoca is Nicim from Sedapta. Nicim is composed of two fundamental parts: a scheduler function and a shop floor control function.


The scheduler handles sequencing of finished products on assembly lines by planners and also handles the automatic programming of the common departments and metal fabrication department. Nicim’s shop floor control oversees digital order routing on all workstations as well as real-time production declarations to the ERP system.


Gasparini’s X-Press press brake is a key component within Evoca Group’s Industry 4.0 structure.



Warehouse Management System (WMS): Evoca uses the Stocksystem from ReplicaSystems for its WMS. Stocksystems’ tasks include accepting raw materials from suppliers, managing the warehouse, and picking up and supplying work centers according to schedule (assembly lines, common departments, fabrication, etc.).


Computer Numerical Control (CNC): As most already know, the CNC is the device that manages the movements, bending forces and compensations of the press brakes. Evoca uses two X-Press Next 80-ton 2000-mm press brakes. The CNC is a Delem DA-66T, which generates the bending sequence according to the profile to be machined and maintains the tool database. The CNC can, with appropriate options, correct the springback and deformations of the structure. In this implementation, the CNC dialogues with the MES for the management of jobs and timing.


Personal computer: To tie everything together, each workstation is equipped with a PC where an MES client resides.


Evoca Group’s vending machines are found in airports, hotels and other high foot-traffic locations in more than 140 countries around the globe. 



Data and material flow


At Evoca, the entire smart factory approach begins the moment an order is received. Each machining operation (bending, shearing, blanking, etc.) is associated with an order that originates in the ERP system. From there, the MES organizes the various priorities and assigns the job to the most suitable work center. This allows a pallet with the material to be processed to arrive at an operator's workstation accompanied by the job order with a barcode.


At the same time, the PC receives the order for a certain bending job. The operator reads the barcode of the order through a scanner connected to the PC and through the MES signals the start of the work. The MES generates a file with which it communicates to the press brake CNC the parent product to which that part belongs, the part code and the specific processing step.


The CNC reads the file and automatically loads the corresponding bending program, including information on the material and tools to be used. Bending programs are already loaded on the CNC hard drive, but can also reside in shared network folders. These programs can also be created in the technical office using special offline software. In the meantime, the CNC creates a log file in the network server to signal that the upload has been completed.


The order and the processing step are displayed on the CNC monitor. The operator equips the machine with the required tools, which can be indicated in the note field. Once setup is complete, the operator starts the processing, specifying at the end the number of correct and wrong parts.


At the end of the cycle, the Delem CNC creates a file for the MES where the processed order, the number of total pieces and those parts that must be discarded are reported. The file also includes the time required for setup and processing.


The operator has the possibility to make three different declarations through Delem: printing labels for the management of the finished product and notifying the end of a phase or simply part of the phase, if applicable. The MES records the data and reports all information to the ERP system.


For analytical purposes, the CNC is capable of providing a wide range of data on the use of the machine. The press brakes are equipped with special sensors that allow process drifts to be compensated for in an adaptive manner, as required by the Industry 4.0 guidelines.


Thanks to this information, it is possible to keep the strains to which the machine is subjected under control in order to avoid stress, damage and other faults. Another potential application is to monitor the quality of the material being processed, so that the necessary actions can be taken with the supply chain.


In addition to its press brake operations, Evoca has also integrated its MES and ERP systems into its laser cutting operations with similar procedures depending on the processing differences. Undoubtedly, these two operations are helping Evoca realize its goal of creating a complete Industry 4.0 factory.


Evoca Group

Gasparini Industries

Industry insight

Thanks to small startups and industry stalwarts alike, the concept of Industry 4.0 is taking hold 

by Jimmy Myers, senior editor




Industry 4.0 can’t really be called a trend anymore – it’s come to a point where manufacturers that don’t embrace it will simply be left behind. Staying ahead of the competition is about more than just latching onto the latest trends; it’s about making fundamental changes to the status quo. 


Take Caleb Chamberlain and his business partners for example. Chamberlain is an electrical engineer by trade, but one of his hobbies is coding. These skills come in quite handy with the various business ventures he’s launched. One of the Utah native’s recent undertakings is a company that makes virtual reality motion simulators.  


Those simulators were the catalyst for another company, OSH Cut (Open Source Hardware), a metal fabrication company based in Orem, Utah, that required the development of software and bringing a Trumpf fiber laser machine into the mix.


“What we’re doing is right in line with the objectives of Industry 4.0,” Chamberlain says.


Chamberlain has a passion for building things and the drive to take steps that others don’t. His brother, Jacom, has nearly completed his degree as a manufacturing engineer, and their brother-in-law, McKay Christensen, is a software engineer. Their different skill sets make them perfect partners in OSH Cut. 


Although the concept of Industry 4.0 wasn’t in the front of the mind when the team developed their collaborative business venture surrounding virtual reality, they still ended up moving the ball forward in its regard.


Yerawizard is Chamberlain’s company that builds robotic motion simulation chairs, which users of virtual reality headsets employ to enhance the experience. The machines require a lot of steel parts, which created a bit of a problem. But as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. 


“We always have projects going on where we need steel fabrication,” he says. “We were frustrated with the fact that it takes so long to get parts and so long to get a quote. That’s what motivated this whole [OSH Cut] project.”


Chamberlain says about four months ago, he texted Jacom and McKay about getting a laser cutter so they could begin producing their own parts and sidestep all the waiting. The conversation developed quickly into one about developing a business around their laser cutter. A business plan was drawn up and an investor was identified, eventually leading to OSH Cut being established. 




Quote fixes

Some of Chamberlain’s work involves designing and utilizing circuit boards, which he has a third party build. They’re “super complicated,” he says, yet he can upload a design to a board manufacturer and get a quote almost instantly. Furthermore, his circuit boards can be built and delivered to his doorstep in two or three days if he wants, “and there are 100 companies that do that.”


“In the steel fabrication industry,” he says by contrast, “if I want to get a quote for a laser cut metal part, I literally have to wait for two or three days, at least, for the company to get back to me. From there, lead times are usually two to three weeks, and places don’t want to do one-offs or prototypes or low-volume stuff.”


For so long, consumers have benefited from the tech-savvy retail industry that provides detailed and fast order processing while manufacturing customers have remained accustomed to long lead times. Industry 4.0 is helping address those disparities – as are McKay and Chamberlain. 


Given their expertise in software engineering, the two partners developed an online quote tool that knocks out the expensive overhead involved in providing an accurate quote, and this is what makes their business model unique. 


They created an algorithm that looks at the history of steel prices, giving customers a fair approximation as to what the material costs will be through an online quoting process. What also makes their business model unique is that instead of shooing away low-volume orders, they cater to those who want 10 to 100 parts produced at a time. 


It’s low volume, but their plan is to attract a high number of customers needing one-off parts, prototypes and other low-volume projects completed.


The software they developed takes into account the drawings customers upload and figures out how long it will take to make the cuts based on the material type and thickness. The customers get their quotes pretty much immediately through the website. 




Deciding on 1030

Chamberlain’s first thought was to look on eBay for a used CO2 machine, but he found that costs were exorbitant, even for machines with 100,000 hours of use on them. The trio quickly changed their focus to a more reliable machine when tens of thousands more dollars would be involved in getting the used machine shipped, installed and optimized.


The winning Trumpf TruLaser1030 came with a two-week training course for Jacom, and a Trumpf technician came to Orem to install and set up the machine.


Tumpf refers to the 1030 as an “entry-level solution with major advantages.” At interview time, OSH Cut had just launched and was in the process of receiving its first big order, but Chamberlain is confident the Trumpf laser and the demand for work will allow them to grow as planned. OSH Cut, being a company that established a system that connects customers, machines and quotes for parts, fits firmly in the definition of Industry 4.0.




“No. 1,” he begins, “every laser cutting shop in the country is busy right now unless they are doing something wrong. We’re not concerned about there being enough work to do. No. 2 – it’s an idea whose time has come. The sheet metal industry has not kept pace with modern software tools. There is a huge technological gap between what’s possible and what the fabrication industry does. If we’re not the ones to change it, someone else will.”


Fortunately, Chamberlain isn’t alone in his pursuit to streamline operations. In fact, machine builders, such as Trumpf and LVD Strippit, have been paving the Industry 4.0 path for some time now.



4.0 and beyond

For years, the focus at LVD, a company that manufactures laser cutting machines, punch presses and press brakes, has been on software and control developments, which drive the company’s product advancements and further the principles of Industry 4.0. 


“Our fundamental message is that Industry 4.0 is not itself a solution – it’s a path to reaching a solution,” says Kurt Debbaut, product manager, Cadman Software at LVD. 


Debbaut says that a manufacturer can come to a solution by applying the values and the data that the process provides. Making machinery faster, he says, can only shorten the process time by a minimal percentage; reducing hidden time can make a much more substantial and significant reduction to the overall process flow. 


LVD’s Cadman software suite is designed to facilitate Industry 4.0, looking at the big picture and helping to streamline the complete fabrication process through integrated, database-driven software that provides real-time insights from the shop floor. 


“Our perspective is based around the intelligent organization of the overall process flow of a part – from beginning to end of production – for a smarter way of working that keeps margins down,” Debbaut says. “Based on quick response manufacturing principles, with order status visible at all times, the software will need to be able to calculate optimum buffer times for reduced work in progress [order intake to invoice], shorter delivery lead times and efficient production, which all lead to a lower cost per part.”


The process also reduces waste, uses less material, and results in greater output levels and faster paperless production. 




More than machines

At Trumpf, Industry 4.0 is a necessary next step as a company, says Tobias Reuther, director of Trumpf’s Smart Factory. It’s a process that addresses not only the machines but the entire process chain for its customers. 


“We are setting up our own organization to support our customers and make sure they remain competitive using intelligent solutions allowing reduced cost per part,” Reuther explains. 


Trumpf has several solutions already in the market, such as the MES system called TruTops Fab, which connects the entire shop floor and processes. This allows full transparency, which leads to more efficient manufacturing. Another example is the company’s SmartGlasses, which allow customers to connect to Trumpf’s service experts via augmented reality. 


“Besides dialing into a machine remotely,” he says, “we now have ‘eyes, ears and hands’ on-site for troubleshooting situations. This is a significant improvement and helps resolve the majority of the problems remotely. A clear win-win situation, the machine is up and running faster and we do not have to send a technician, in most cases.”


The path to Industry 4.0 entails physical changes and changes in the infrastructure and software. The processes are changed slowly, not overnight. Manufacturers not pursuing the path will have difficulties remaining competitive, Reuther explains.


Among the advantages Industry 4.0 has provided, manufacturers have noticed a better sense of their product flow, but there are a number of aspects related to it. For example, the most important enabler is connectivity of all relevant machines, workplaces and systems, Reuther says.


“Having connectivity leads to transparency – so you know what is going on at any time,” he notes. “But if you stop here, the gain will be minimal. After these two enabling factors, the game really begins.” 


So, what measures do you take if you know instantaneously that a machine has stopped production due to an issue? Reuther says that manufacturers could set up the system so it sends a text message to the operator so they know to get to the machine quickly and make the fix. 


“You could set new incentive structures for your people – evaluated by output and how they manage their process,” he adds.


No matter the level in which Industry 4.0 is executed, it is the open-mindedness to its benefits that is important to remember. Overall, when machines and people are better connected through software and automation, manufacturers and their customers win – small startups and industry veterans agree.   


OSH – Cut


LVD Strippit

Trumpf Inc.



Tools in a jiffy

Think a sheet metal shop is no place for a 3-D printer? Think again

by Kip Hanson, senior editor




The additive manufacturing industry has had the proverbial pedal to the metal for the past three decades. Also known as 3-D printing, the first commercially available machines were good for little more than show-and-tell prototypes and patterns for investment castings. That all began to change as machine builders went beyond photocurable resins to engineering grade plastics and then metals.


Suddenly it became possible to produce end-use parts from a host of materials. Part sizes ranged from components small enough to fit inside a smart phone to those larger than a passenger car, often with accuracy sufficient to supplant traditional machining, casting and injection molding processes. Some suggested (incorrectly) that machinists had better start looking for new jobs, as 3-D printing was sure to eliminate their trade entirely.


But in the sheet metal fabrication world? Not so much. The complex organic shapes made possible with 3-D printing don’t lend themselves well to electronic enclosures and other boxy sheet metal parts, nor can the relatively slow build speeds common to 3-D printers compete with a laser cutter and well-tooled press brake. At Bob’s House of Sheet Metal or Joe’s Fabrication Services, additive manufacturing has long been a technology that’s interesting to read about, but offered little in the way of practical applications.


3-D printing comes to the rescue after a B&J Specialty customer was unable to find a replacement part for the hubcaps on his 1953 Corvette.



Right on center

For fabricators wishing to think outside the box, however, 3-D printers are not only opening doors but they’re making new ones entirely. This was the case recently at Centerline Engineered Solutions Inc., a South Carolina job shop whose investment in a Markforged Mark Two printer turned out to be a wise decision.


“One of our customers asked us to quote on a four-piece rush order for some brackets made of 14-gauge steel,” says Phil Vickery, Centerline owner and president. “Most of it was easy enough to do on one of our press brakes, but there was a series of louvers on one side of the part, and of course we didn’t have the right tool. So we started brainstorming other potential solutions.”



The 3-D-printed Corvette hubcaps emerge from the powder bed, ready for finishing work.



The winning solution was to use Centerline’s shiny new Mark Two to 3-D-print a punch and die set from Onyx chopped carbon fiber material, one of several high-tech polymers available from Markforged. Yet Vickery and his team knew the material wasn’t strong enough to actually lance the louver shapes, so they stopped the printer midstream and placed a metal support piece inside a cavity they’d designed for that purpose.


The die set worked like a charm. Vickery estimates it shaved at least a week off the lead time and saved his company around $1,200 on tooling costs. He’s since used the Mark Two to print various welding jigs and fixtures for checking parts, most of which are admittedly used more for machined parts than they are for bending and forming purposes.


But why did Vickery buy the 3-D printer in the first place? After all, the special press brake tool wasn’t needed when he accepted delivery of the Mark Two, so what was the reason for spending more than $10,000 on a piece of equipment that had no discernible use?


“I saw it as a way to bring additional value to my customers,” he says. “Much of what we make here are parts that go into someone else’s machine, and with 3-D-printed plastics becoming much stronger and more rigid, I saw a lot of opportunities to replace some of those metal parts with ones made of plastic. I felt like my customers would be open to that idea, and there are also applications within our shop where we can get some value out of it. It was a little bit of a gamble, but I felt like the investment would pay off in the long run.”


Here’s the 3-D-printed punch sitting alongside before and after workpieces.



Validation found

Incodema Inc. is a short-run sheet metal prototype shop in Ithaca, N.Y. So important has additive manufacturing become to this company that it spun off a separate division in 2014, Incodema3D, to focus exclusively on 3-D printing. Today it has 11 direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) machines from EOS, two 3D Systems ProX DMP 320 (direct metal) printers, and a laser-based Renishaw powder bed fusion machine.


Director of business development James Hockey says 3-D printers offer distinct benefits in a sheet metal environment. “Just as a tooling house will print up a handful of parts before pulling the trigger on an injection mold, a sheet metal shop can eliminate a lot of risk by making some prototypes for form and fit testing before starting on a progressive die,” he says. “For validating product designs, tooling and fixtures, additive is a fantastic way to go.”


If you’ve heard horror stories about the internal stress and resultant warpage encountered with 3-D-printed metal, especially on the thin-gauge parts found in most sheet metal shops, Hockey says there’s little to worry about.


“It’s essentially a computer-controlled welding process,” he explains. “Whether you’re talking about Inconel, titanium or aluminum, we have no problems with warping or distortion.”

This makes 3-D printing increasingly popular for low-volume production of medical parts, injector nozzles for the aerospace industry and any number of stamped metal components for the automotive market.


It’s not a slam dunk, however. Hockey says it’s often necessary to collaborate with customers on their product designs, modifying them to fit within the constraints of 3-D printing as well as finding ways to take advantage of the technology. Where conventionally manufactured part geometries are limited to round holes and relatively orthogonal shapes, ones that are made additively can take on bold forms that are lightweight, strong and otherwise impossible to produce.


“We've worked with clients that were using traditional manufacturing technologies to build their parts, brazing and welding multiple components together because that’s the only way they could get it done,” he says. “Worse, those parts are prone to fail on the final assembly steps, whether it’s because of porosity, operator error, whatever. By redesigning these parts for additive, product manufacturers often realize significant cost savings and reduced time to market.”


Who would have guessed that carbon fiber material could be made strong enough for press brake tooling?



Keeping cool

Jarod Rauch offers additional examples. A CNC programmer, design engineer for additive manufacturing, and manager of Direct Metal Printing (DMP), Rauch is the go-to guy for 3-D printing at B&J Specialty Inc., a “Mold, Die and Build to Print” tooling” shop in Wawaka, Ind. The company uses a 3D Systems ProX300 DMP printer together with Geomagic Control X and Geomagic Design X software to perform a variety of additive tasks, including mold and die repair, miscellaneous fixtures and brackets, and conformal cooling channels in plastic injection molds.


“Quite often I’ll receive a part file from a customer asking me about 3-D-printing it, but there’s nothing really unique about the part that actually requires it to be printed,” Rauch says. “That’s when we'll go back to the customer and explain to them that, if they’re not interested in improving the design, reducing its weight or making it easier to assemble, then we might as well make it using conventional technology.”




One automotive customer, for instance, came to B&J complaining about a faulty check fixture they’d received from another supplier. Rauch quickly determined that the fiber optic lines feeding the sensors were exposed, allowing them to become damaged during use. He scrapped the design and 3-D-printed a replacement fixture that employed an internal “organic-like” lattice structure, a feature that would previously have been unmanufacturable.


Rauch is working on a method to use conformal cooling channels in hot form stamping dies, similar to the channels found in additive manufactured plastic injection molds and inserts. He noted that 3-D printing’s ability to generate not just round holes but teardrop and even helix shapes creates a far more effective “turbulent” cooling method.


“It’s also a great way to fix a crashed stamping die,” he says. “We can scan the tool with a white light system to determine the damage, mirror the undamaged portion of the die onto that surface and build it back up via 3-D printing. It’s a huge timesaver.”



Printing lean

None of this comes as a surprise to Wayne Benson, director of factory floor solutions at Minneapolis-based 3-D printing provider Stratasys Ltd. His customer list includes dozens of sheet metal shops using 3-D printers for CMM fixtures, forming and stretching dies, and even a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier where personnel used a Stratasys machine to print repair parts for a damaged aircraft while at sea.


Another common use for additive manufacturing is with lean manufacturing initiatives. “They might use it to print 5S shadow boards or ergonomic handles for equipment and so on,” he says. “Overwhelmingly, we find that once a shop has its own machine in house, employees find dozens of uses for it they would never have imagined.”




To anyone interested in going down this road, Benson offers some advice. The first tip is to pick up a copy of the software package Jigs and Fixtures for GrabCAD Print. It allows designers to test different material densities, optimize build times, and add or subtract material from part designs and understand the effects of those actions. He also suggests choosing a 3-D printing partner that can support you after the sale, preferably one with experience in your particular kind of manufacturing.


“It’s not difficult to learn how to operate a 3-D printer, but it definitely requires you to ‘think additively,’” he says. “One thing that we've seen work really well is to engage with a service bureau like Stratasys Direct Mfg. for your first few projects. They have people with years of experience who know design for additive manufacturing inside and out. As long as you can communicate your design intent, they have engineers who can then translate that and implement the design for additive. And after you see that process a few times, you can then start thinking that way yourself.”


A structural aircraft component that was hydroformed on an FDM-printed (fused deposition modeling) form block. The intensifier is in the rear.



3D Systems

B&J Specialty Inc.

Centerline Engineered Solutions Inc.


Incodema 3D

Markforged Inc.


Stratasys Ltd.

See the light

3-D scanning systems save time, increase throughput 

by Kip Hanson, senior editor




Whether it’s a cherry red convertible bought in the fit of midlife-crisis angst or a sensible commuter car that doubles as the family grocery getter, automobile buyers everywhere appreciate the smooth lines of their sedans, pickup trucks and sports cars.


Similar considerations are given to passenger planes, where fuel economy and flight characteristics depend on accurate, defect-free fuselages, and even garden tractors, which as everyone knows must be sexy as well as functional.


These are just a few of the products measured with 3-D scanning systems, which use little more than light, lenses and some darned-clever software to measure a component’s shape and determine whether it meets the required tolerances.



White light scanning systems can capture millions of data points within a fraction of a second, increasing throughput and reducing the cost of quality.



The next level

One such scanning system comes from ABB Robotics. In February of 2017, the robotics manufacturer announced its acquisition of 3-D white light scanning startup NUB3D. In a press release, Sami Atiya, ABB’s robotics and motion division president, said the move was one more step toward the factory of the future.


“As our customers’ automation processes become more advanced and production cycles shorten, the ability to efficiently automate quality inspections becomes a compelling competitive advantage,” he said. “Combining robotics and software is pivotal in implementing digitalization and expanding ABB Ability as a key driver of our Next Level strategy.”


Mark Oxlade, market development manager for welding and cutting at ABB Robotics, says the partnership with NUB3D has opened the door for faster, more accurate measurement of a variety of parts used by automotive and consumer product industries. By mounting one of NUB3D’s white light scanners to the business end of a 6-axis robot, ABB customers can quickly scan a part, compare the results to its CAD model and assess the quality of the part based on the data provided.


ABB’s robotic inspection systems are fast, accurate and easy to implement.



A million points of light

“The sensor technology rapidly records and compares highly detailed geometric and surface data with digital CAD models, enabling the automated inspection of manufactured parts and pieces,” Oxlade says. “This helps factories to reduce cycle times while raising quality and reducing the risk of quality control errors.”


Because up to 5 million points are captured in each quarter-second scan and because the NUB3D scanner is accurate to “within microns,” the ABB system is able to identify unfavorable quality trends at an earlier stage of production compared to existing methods, greatly reducing the chance of expensive scrap later on.


By combining robots and white light scanning systems, metrologists can achieve a best-of-both-worlds measurement solution.



How does it work? The measuring process begins by acquiring a 3-D model of the part. The operator imports the file into a virtual cell environment within ABB’s RobotStudio software, after which the robot’s measurement path is generated, the program is sent back to the robot and each position is digitized, thereby acquiring a point cloud.


This point cloud is converted into a template file for use in PolyWorks Inspector, a universal 3-D metrology software package from InnovMetric that compares the point cloud to the associated robot path. Using the part’s 3-D model as the baseline, variance from nominal can then be calculated.


“This system represents the future of flexible manufacturing, enabling a high level of automation with advanced data analysis that can be used to optimize production processes,” Oxlade notes. “This helps manufacturers improve quality and productivity while accommodating greater product variation and customization in smaller lots.”


Hexagon’s Blaze 600A offers rapid data acquisition through a combination of high-resolution digital imaging and advanced projection technologies.



Into the light

Metrology provider Hexagon Mfg. Intelligence is another company working in the white light arena. According to Amir Grinboim, technical program manager of Hexagon Integrated Solutions and a white light system (WLS) expert, because of their speed and accuracy, a WLS is suitable for a broad array of measurement needs, but especially so in less than optimal factory environments.


“Automotive customers at stamping facilities, for example, can rely on the WLS platform in both manual and automated configurations to measure parts near working press lines,” he says. “Not only do the environmental conditions have no effect on the measurement results, but our customers can increase throughput by measuring directly where the manufacturing takes place.”



Hexagon’s Blaze 600A offers rapid data acquisition through a combination of high-resolution digital imaging and advanced projection technologies.



One of Hexagon’s aerospace customers uses the company’s WLS systems to measure wing structures. Grinboim explains: Because the acquisition process is so fast, they can use the system on one side of the plane while mechanics and electricians are working on the other. There’s no need to stop production to achieve an accurate scan. This attribute is especially appealing to stamping houses and other manufacturers with heavy machinery where vibration can negatively impact the measuring process. In addition, dust and smoke have no effect on system accuracy – worst case, you might need to stop and clean the lens periodically.


The system Grinboim is referring to is the WLS400, a portable, non-contact 3-D scanning system that uses blue light LED illumination to capture millions of data points in as little as 10 milliseconds. The company also offers its qFlash, a compact, entry level scanning system used widely in the automotive industry, as well as the Blaze 600, a versatile sensor and optical measurement system first introduced in 2017 that combines multiple data acquisition modes to provide the ability to adapt the acquisition mode to the measurement task with a button click.


Depending on the application and equipment configuration, these systems can be hand-held, mounted to a movable arm or attached to a robot with Flexible Measurement Cell (FMC) platform that offers a modular and scalable off-the-shelf automated solution. Device calibration is achieved via a calibration artifact. Temperature changes greater than 3 degrees C are identified automatically, whereupon the system raises its virtual hand and tells the operator it’s time to recalibrate, a process that according to Grinboim “takes less than 2 min. to perform.”


“The fact that all of the sensor platforms can be used in both manual and automated modes enables our customers to use them as a single platform for multiple tasks in the development process,” he says. “They can start with a manual sensor for root cause analysis or process tuning and use the same sensor for process or production control further along in the manufacturing process.”




White or not?

If you’re wondering right now about white light versus blue, Grinboim can explain.


“Sometime around 2010, we along with most of the industry moved to blue light LED-based illumination,” he says. “We kept the name ‘white light’ because that’s how these systems are known, but yes, they’re actually blue. Besides being a stronger light source than white light, the shorter wavelength makes it much easier to filter out ambient light, providing more robust scanning capabilities.”




Automotive sheet metal parts and bodies-in-white automobile chassis are ideal applications for these systems, but there’s also tool and die, large castings and forgings, plastic parts and many other applications that can benefit. And reflective surfaces like chrome or shiny black paint that have traditionally caused problems for optical systems such as these are just another super-fast and accurate scan for Grinboim’s equipment.


“Machined or highly reflective parts have been challenging in the past, but the qFlash can reliably pick up 60 to 70 percent of all surfaces; the WLS-series and the new Blaze are even better,” Grinboim says. “Best of all, you can set the part in a simple holding fixture or even leave it where it is on the floor or assembly line to measure it – there’s no need for expensive, metrology-grade fixtures. It’s just a great solution for a lot of applications.”


ABB Robotics

Hexagon Mfg. Intelligence

Revving Up 3-D production

Additive manufacturing has had its drawbacks, but production, material integrity and speed is rapidly improving the technology

by Larry Adams, senior editor



Additive manufacturing, aka 3-D printing, has many advantages. It allows designers to create optimal designs without restrictions from conventional manufacturing processes. Parts can be made from scratch at lower cost. Products can be lighter. A part that previously required multiple components can now be designed as one unit, eliminating assemblies. Fixture and jigs, sales demos and working prototypes can be quickly made.


But, 3-D printing does have some disadvantages. Not all finished goods can be 100 percent completed with the materials – and technology – currently at hand. Another disadvantage, from a high-production standpoint, is that AM can be a slow process.


However, 3-D printing is evolving with new materials, including a range of metals, and better software, lasers, and other technologies critical to the AM process allowing a range of new finished-part possibilities, made at faster rates, and within tighter tolerances.



Total manufacturing solutions

One of the newest companies to help drive this evolution is Methods3D Inc., a subsidiary of Methods Machine Tools, Inc., established through a partnership between 3D Systems, a supplier of 3D printing products, and Methods Machine Tools Inc., a supplier of precision machine tools and automation. Benjamin Fisk, general manager for Methods3D, says that the new subsidiary is about more than just 3-D printers; it’s about developing production “ecosystems” that incorporate traditional subtractive technologies with 3-D technologies to produce better parts faster.


Fisk says the goal is to take additive technology and move away from the traditional non-scalable mode, which for the most part is where additive has been entrenched. Therefore, the overriding approach is to explore the best ways to manufacture products.


“How do I take all of the pieces that are required to go from the raw design and material through a finished part and not have to do a load and unload and all of these manual or semi-manual operations that have been at the heart of additive for the last 20 to 30 years?” he says. “That is the question.”


One example of this concept was the company's Figure 4 workcell showcased at the International Manufacturing Technology Show 2016 in Chicago. The workcell module featured six print engines that simultaneously printed different parts on different plates, using different materials. Aided by Fanuc robots, the parts were loaded and offloaded as parts were built.


After production, components were moved to post-processing stations including two different cleaning stations, an air blast and a wash module, a final cure station, and then inspected with imaging technology.  While the parts were undergoing these subsequent steps, other parts were in the machine being built.


Essentially, this autonomous assembly line took bottled resin and transformed it into a finished part with little human involvement other than during programming.


While Figure 4 was a plastic-based production process, Fisk says that similar production cells using metal materials can be modularly designed. At the heart of these metal-based processes is the company's ProX line of direct metal printers (DMP).


“We are using the same type of thought process and applying that to the metals,” he says. “We are taking the concept of full automation that we do here [at Methods Machine Tools] on the machine tool side, applying that same type of concept to the additive side, and using those systems to load, unload, and transfer or convey products over to the other processes.


“Now, we're improving what some people might say is the inefficiency of the printing process itself,” Fisk adds. “If I can keep moving products through the printer at a regular pace where I don't have hours of downtime when the laser is not firing, while I'm unloading and cleaning and doing all those steps, , then all of my systems are working in concert, and I'm starting to break down the barriers of speed.”


The company's DMP machines use a high-precision laser that is directed to metal powder particles in order to selectively build up thin, horizontal metal layers. Materials that can be printed include titanium, nickel super alloys, stainless steel, tool (maraging) steel, non-ferrous alloys, precious metals and alumina. The metal powder particles pinpointed by the laser fully melt so that the new material properly attaches to the previous layer, without glue or binder liquid, and ensures a dense and homogeneous material structure. CAD file programs drive the machine without requiring any clamping or tooling. In this way, the most complex part shapes can be produced, including recesses, ribs, cavities and internal features.


The ability to create these complex, internal features using maraging steel has been a key to one of the most promising applications for metal 3-D printing.


“Right now, there's been a significant amount of activity across the industry in creating advanced thermal cooling for injection molding,” Fisk says. “If I can put conformal cooling lines into a mould, then I get a much better thermal behavior of the die. With this improvement, cycle times are significantly reduced driving up throughput and productivity. Since product costs are directly tied to throughput, customers are reaping the benefits with lower operating costs and more competitive product pricing.”



The process

To keep production going, and, equally important, to make sure that parts are built to within tolerances, the ProX DMP 320 machine utilizes software to track the entire process from beginning to end. Software will take the CAD file and “slice” the entire build into discreet layers each typically 30 to 60 microns in depth and then analyze each layer to ensure accuracy and precision.


“It'll look at that layer and say, 'Does it look right? Does it see issues?” says Fisk. “The software will determine whether there might be a potential problem in producing the required geometry. It will determine if there are any metallurgy concerns or if there are thin sections or walls next to a bulk section. Has the program created an overhang that I wasn't aware of that might have less of an optimal surface finish or other characteristic? Once you get through all that, then the software will actually send the file to the 3-D printer.”


During production, the ProX DMP system will continually monitor the process checking the support structure, how subsequent layers are laid down and will track the orientation of the part relative to the powder bed as it builds the part layer-by-layer. According to Fisk, the system is not only looking at the layer just built, but also at previous and subsequent layers, and it adjusts the laser power, scan speed and other parameters in real-time to achieve “the most homogeneous material structure, the best surface finish, and the best tolerance or dimensional goal.


“That may mean dropping the laser power way down in certain areas to build very fine features or going slower to make sure you get the proper melt,” he explains. “In big bulk sections, it can increase the laser power and move the laser faster to melt more powder quicker. When it finishes that layer, it simply repeats this process. You have a recoater [that lays down the metal powder] that comes across again, the laser fires up and, eventually, you have built thousands of layers of a part.”


At the end of the build, the part is raised and the unmelted powder is collected for recycling. At this point, the part will then go through any required post-processing steps, such as a thermal processing, machining, and finishing. Most metals, such as tool steels or Inconels, need a stress relief due to the significant amount of residual stress contained within the part. Failure to perform this step will result in dimensional distortion when removed from the build plate.


To do this, the printed part may go into a heat treat module situated within the production cell. After that, the part is moved to the EDM step where it is cut off the build plate and moved to other post processing steps such as surface finishing, turning or milling.




Delivering density

The part built from Methods3D's DMP process will have a dense and homogeneous material structure. Density achieved using the DMP process is between 99.5 to 99.9 percent, which Fisk says is in the same density range as other forms of metal forming such as casting and forging.


The best you're ever going to achieve is 99.9 percent. There's no such thing as a 100 percent truly dense product. There's always some level of porosity,” he says.


According to Fisk, the additive industry has worked incredibly hard to get to this level. In the past, when metals typically started out, you were lucky if you hit 50 percent. Then it was 75 percent.



“It slowly matured,” he says. “In the past five plus years, it has really ramped up. Today, for all intents and purposes, we have achieved a theoretically fully dense material.”


This improvement, he says, was accomplished through improved software that controls how and when to fire the laser and other parameters such as the optimal laser, what are the power settings, as well as the improved material that are being used and the system's ability to uniformly spread control-consistent layer thicknesses.


“If you look at the material properties, you look at the work that's been done on the metals additive processes, especially our powder bed, and you’ll see we have come a remarkably long way,” Fisk says, “and now, we are producing material that rivals more traditional methods.”



Curing a Critical Problem Plaguing 3D Printing

Understanding the physics of additive manufacturing of metal parts has helped unearth the causes of a minute problem that can lead to huge problems.

by Larry Adams, Senior Editor




The laser head passes over the powder-bed, pass after pass, building a part from the micron-sized particles below it, a Phoenix of a part rising from the powder, creating the metallic parts that will one day go into engines, hard tooling, structural components … utilitarian, structurally strong metal widgets … but hidden in that part, there is a problem lurking, a problem so small that it can't be seen by the naked eye.


The problem is porosity of the metal. Small pores and gaps that can lead to defects and failure of parts that were made by the laser powder-bed fusion process, one of the most common additive manufacturing processes used to create metal products.


Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) may have discovered the causal effect of laser melting metal powders that leads to porosity. LLNL researcher Manyalibo Matthews and his team discovered that gas flow, due to evaporation when the laser irradiates the metal powder, is the driving force that clears away powder near the laser’s path during a build. This “denudation” phenomenon reduces the amount of powder available when the laser makes its next pass, potentially causing tiny defects in the finished part.


This is a problem peculiar to the laser melting process. Unlike laser sintering in which heat levels only need to fuse powder particles, the driving force behind this denudation effect, this powder displacement, is evaporation associated with the melting process. “We tend to get the melt so hot that we're vaporizing the metal, leading to a vapor stream directed away from the surface at such a speed that it creates a low-pressure zone at the melt pool. That low-pressure zone then pulls in surrounding argon gas and that argon entrains the cold powder around the melt pool and casts the powder along the direction of the vapor stream due to the Bernoulli effect (in which pressure falls as fluid velocity increases).


As the powders are “cast about” the area from which the powder has been displaced will have less powder to melt, which can lead to these porosity problems.


Schematic depicting the action of evaporated metal flux on the flow pattern of the surrounding Ar gas and displacement of particles in the powder bed. As shown in the left diagram,  particles are either drawn into the melt pool, adding to melt pool material consolidation, or are ejected upward (and rearward).



There are a couple different scales of pores: there are pores on a “micron-ish” scale, due to vapor being trapped. They're less of a concern than the larger pores, over 50 micron-size pores, that are created either through what's called keyholing, where you have a hot spot in the build, and the vapor pressure from the evaporating pushes a little pocket down, and that pocket can get trapped, or from incomplete melting, he said.


According to Matthews, incomplete melting can be caused by an irregularly shaped or large particle cast off by the welding process, or surface non-uniformities from missing powder. That's what this research was about, studying how powder can go missing, through this process called denudation effect. Those are in the tens of microns size range, and can cause part failure.


Lawrence Livermore's facility for metal-based additive manufacturing houses five powder-bed, laser-based machines. Fine powders (5-50µm) are used to build parts layer by layer. A powder spreader spreads a thin layer of powder on the build platform. The laser melts the powder in locations where the part is to be. When the layer is complete, the build platform is moved downward by the thickness of one layer, and a new layer is spread on the previous layer. The melting and spreading process is repeated as the part is built up.


Graphic (a): Wide field image of denuded zones around melt tracks created by LPBF as a function of laser power and at a scan rate of 2 m/s. The melted track appears as a shiny semi-continuous line. The denuded zone surrounds each track and appears dark in contrast above the track and light in contrast below the track. Graphic (b): Measured denudation zone (DZ) and resolidified track widths as a function of laser power, scan rate and ambient Ar pressure.



Matthews said that as the laser melting process begins, the temperatures approach near to, or at, the boiling point of the metal, so there is a strong vapor flux emitted from the melt pool. Utilizing a microscope setup custom-built for the laboratory, a vacuum chamber, and an ultra high-speed camera from LLNL's High Explosives Applications Facility, researchers were able to observe the ejection of metal powder away from the laser. Employing computer simulation and the principles of fluid dynamics, they were able to build models explaining exactly how the particles were moving and affecting the printing process. 


The scan strategy used, which is a combination of laser power, beam size, scan speed, and hatch spacing, effects porosity and void generation. While beam size and other factors were important, hatch spacing is the more critical aspect of the process.


Montage of 1.2   0.25 mm optical micrographs (top) and height maps (bottom) of the solidified melt track within a powder layer following scanning laser exposure at 225W and 1.4 m/s as a function of ambient Ar pressure. Three distinct regions can be identified near the laser path center, namely track accumulation zone, the denuded zone (DZ), and the background powder zone.



“What is referred to as scan strategy involves exactly how you're taking the laser and you're scanning it over the powder,” said Matthews. “You can scan in a serpentine pattern, where you go back and forth, or you may scan just in one direction. However you do it, you're necessarily scanning next to a track that you just created. Then, you use that scanning [pattern] over and over until you fill up a region.


“Hatch spacing is the spacing between the tracks. 'Are you going to space them 10um apart? 100µm apart? What's the right spacing?' If you don't choose that wisely, you end up with these little channels, where there's no powder in between two tracks. Along with the spacing, you also want to rotate your pattern so that you're not compounding surface morphologies associate with each layer. If you do that, you end up with very tall single tracks next to little valleys. You end up with troughs in between your scan tracks. By rotating it, you reduce the effect of powder being displaced.”


Answering these questions will help the LLNL researchers build statistical models from which to compare and better understand future part manufacture.


To develop a broader range of statistical models, the researchers used a variety of powders with different characteristics, such as boiling points. “We were using Titanium 6-4, and stainless steel through 316L, and also aluminum 4032. Aluminum has a low melt point, but Titanium has a high melt point.”


According to Matthews, all three types of material had their differences. One unique finding, not modeled in previous research, dealt with powders being pulled into a melt pool. “The powder for steel gets drawn in and melts,” he said, “but in the case of Titanium, the powders are drawn in and can stick to the top of the track and do not melt under conditions which tend to lead to good weld tracks.”


An in situ, high speed video recording of the powder bed fusion process for a single layer of metal powder. The videos were recorded at 500k frames per second and show the displacement of powder particles due to metal vapor flux and induced Ar gas flow.



Another unique finding dealt with aluminum. Because of its high reflectivity and high thermal conductivity, the researchers had to increase power to create continuous weld tracks. “The power was such that we would melt the track, but as the powder is displaced, the powder would actually melt as it traveled towards the melt pool, in mid-flight for aluminum. We didn't see that so much in titanium and steel.”


While there were differences, and each material behaved a little differently, the main effect that was observed was a vapor plume, and displaced powder.


And, that data is being built into these statistical models that may make for better parts, and eventually be used to develop closed-loop systems that can adjust the scanning strategies on fly. “What we were going after was the detailed physics to understand the process and validate models,” Matthews said. “By understanding the physics, we can improve the models and not just improve the process directly, through empirical and phenomenological methods, but we want to be able to take our high-performance computing codes and predict behavior, predict processes, and optimize our builds.”


This might include a closed-loop system, said Matthews, but that would be a long-term goal. “We need to know what we're correcting, what to correct, how it scales,” he said. “The best way to do that ... because you don't want to run a thousand experiments for every material and every geometry you're going to come across, is a model. Once you train it, you know that you validated it with good data, to be able to get you there. To predict—based on the material, and the geometry, and the laser parameters—what the optimal build process is. After you have a process going, and it goes off-normal, it goes off the ideal, you want to know how to correct it.”


Yes, modeling is very important for closed-loop systems, but researchers are not quite there yet, he says. At some point, utilizing thermal sensors, a control system might automatically detect the brightness of the thermal emission coming off the melt table, and determine if a pore was created, or might be created, and then stop the build to fix it. Until then, researchers continue to look at how these small voids are created to help determine best practices for fixing them.


Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Connecting the Shop Floor

Interconnectivity was a dominating theme at Fabtech, and it is evolving into a new concept with a new buzzword, ‘Industry 4.0.’ Its meaning is broad and it will take some time to tame it into something useful, but it’s coming fast and it will affect us all.

By Larry Adams, Senior Editor



The Internet of Things (IOT). The Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT). Big data, the Cloud, Industry 4.0. These and other buzzwords have been flying around the last few years, but the buzz for the most part seemed to only briefly and intermittently touch the fabricating industry. You likely know that if you’ve been reading the pages of Fab Shop this year.


That flight plan altered perceptively as this interconnectivity concept landed at Fabtech; not with a thud or with a tentative toe, but with a resounding splash as equipment manufacturers of all sorts, from welding companies to waterjet manufacturers, laser suppliers to robotics developers, all made it clear that their machines could communicate with each other—as well as upstream and downstream vendors and end users—and that a shop floor could now be connected in this way whether via Industry 4.0, IIOT or some other nomenclature.


Just what is Industry 4.0, or its other related names, mean? That is the question that Editor Ed Huntress posed in his Editor’s Letter (see page xx), and while individual distinctions could probably be seen, the concept involves smart machines utilizing dedicated sensors and other information gathering devices, with some networking functionality that allows machines and planning systems within and outside of the workplace to better coordinate and optimize productivity.


According to Tobias Reuther, automation manager at Trumpf Inc., today’s interconnectivity technology allows manufacturers to “look at more than just a single machine, and look to the entire shop and the entire network of manufacturing.” One important goal, he added, is to use this data to add value to a job and remove as much of the non-value added activities as possible.


(These systems are also, in a sense, an homage to tomorrow’s workforce, that Matthew Fowles, global marketing manager for LVD Strippit, said is “far more IT knowledgeable than they are about cutting and welding. So, we are building that intelligence into the software.”)


ESAB WeldCloud



LVD Strippit showcased its interconnective capabilities both in the real world with a laser system and a panel bender operating using in situ data to create parts, and a virtual factory that they used for showing interested attendees how this concept can work in a fast paced, oft-changing factory floor in which customers are ordering smaller batches of parts that are often more complex than ever before.


“The company’s (LVD) philosophy over the years has always been what we call ‘integrated sheet metalworking’,” said Fowles. “Fifteen years ago, what that meant was being able to take an electronic part, take it through the CAM process and be able to make an accurate part, the first time. Now it is a lot more.”


But, LVD’s concept is a lot more than just 4.0, Fowles said showing a process map drawn on a wall of the booth depicting how a typical fab shop layout works.


At the show, they ran a live network of machines working with LVD’s centralized CADMAN database, said Fowles. “All of our machines are now social machines. All of our controllers are telling the central databases what they are doing at any given time.”


LVD CADMAN Job Part Manufacturing



The company’s CADMAN suite is LVD's answer to full process integration between software and bending, laser cutting, and punching machines. It comprises a core database and works on different levels: interacting with ERP, efficiently classifying jobs with its CADMAN-JOB module and performs offline work preparation with its touch controls for bending and laser cutting, and interacts with the machines and the company’s Touch-i4 tablet to quickly view and analyze data.


Jamie Forsyth, LVD’s product specialist for offline software, said that CADMAN job can be set up on any PC for any user and gives an overview of what is going on in the entire workplace. In terms of a company ERP system, she said that orders that are sent into ERP are automatically flowed into the CADMAN software and everything that goes into that job is known. The system automatically determines such necessities as the required tooling and finds programming solutions to machining that part.


This could mean taking orders from multiple customers and nesting the parts to better optimize production or getting a rush job to replace bad parts.


LVD Cadman-L Machining 



While terminology is different, Trumpf also showcased multiple ways to better optimize production. Its TruTops Boost software integrates all design and programming capabilities, and eliminates the need to have different programs for different technologies.


In addition, Trumpf announced it had created a spin-off company called AXOOM that Reuther says supports the entire production value chain using Industry 4.0. Like LVD, the goal is to capture data—“anything, anywhere at anytime in real time,” Reuther said. This is true for better organizing jobs and how to run them, but it is also true for predictive maintenance and other quality related requirements.

“It used to be the industry would run a machine for a week and then we would go back and see how it went and then try to optimize the process. Now, with this method, it can tell you where to improve the process in real-time.”



LVD Strippit Cadman Chart



For instance, Reuther, pointing at a laser system, said that if that nozzle were starting to go bad, sensors on the machine would alert the operator, and perhaps even automatically order the required part. In all, he said that approximately 20 parameters on a laser cutter can be tracked and information on the machine or machine activity can be tracked.


The AXOOM system features an order management module, resource management module, and a logistics module. The foundation for the production planning module and the shop floor is a dynamic planning algorithm that responds instantly to rush orders or malfunctions and recommends solutions. After the production manager has signed off on the incoming order, suggestions for optimal production scheduling are automatically generated. The complex tasks of material provisioning and scheduling of machines and personnel – along with determining the sequence of processing steps – are optimized independently by the AXOOM platform, acting as a manufacturing advisor. On the shop floor, the operator can decline the advice.


LVD's Jamie Forsyth operates tablet 



Another company promoting its interconnectivity capabilities was Mazak Optronics, but in a slightly different way. In addition to its fabricating machines, Mazak has a substantial presence in the traditional chip making side of the metal working industry and as such has a lot of experience using MTConnect, an open protocol developed the AMT- The Association For Manufacturing Technology, that has been successfully tested by NIST and other groups to show how even very dissimilar machines and machine types can communicate with each other, said Dave Edstrom, chief technology officer for MEMEX Inc., the company that has partnered with Mazak to help analyze data collected by Mazak machines.


MEMEX’s “shop-floor-to-top-floor communications platform” is called Merlin and will work with Mazak’s new iSMART Factory concept that it says will harnesses the power of connectivity to optimize manufacturing operations at every level.


According to David Widlund, regional sales manager for Mazak, all the Mazak fabricating and metalworking machines come standard with MTConnect. “Now, we can take all the data out of the machine and go to the company that we have partnered with, Memex, and get a full dashboard on each machine, just like you would on the chip side.”


Another company utilizing Industry 4.0 is ESAB Welding & Cutting Products. In its huge, compound of a “booth” ESAB showcased a variety of welding technologies, and set among the mammoth space was an area dedicated to its new WeldCloud online data management platform. Weld Cloud integrates with other customer systems such as ERP, MRP, and QA to generate and analyze data.


Using any device with a web browser, users access applications and dashboards with functionality tailored for the job needs of different personnel: operations managers, quality managers, engineers, welders, maintenance staff, training supervisors, and others.


With WeldCloud, customers can facilitate traceability from single welds to the complete product utilizing a database that contains key information of every weld seam. It can develop weld schedules on a single machine, move them into the Cloud, and then push them out to other welding systems and remotely manage welding parameters, set limits, and set alarms for deviations.


It can also ensure complete documentation of filler metals, consumables, operator qualifications, and parameters, which is critical for companies that are required to keep this information for their customers or for standards certification agencies.


“While faster welding speeds and increased deposition rates reduce cycle time, automating activities that surround the welding processes enables users to make quantum leaps in productivity, quality and machine efficiency possible,” says Roul Kierkels, acting product manager for WeldCloud.


AMT-The Association of Manufacturing Technology

ESAB Welding & Cutting Products

LVD Strippit

Mazak Optronics


Trumpf Inc.

A Pitch for Plastic

When a major truck manufacturer starts using ABS plastic to make jigs and fixtures, it’s time for an attitude adjustment about using plastics in additive manufacturing for fabricating tasks.

By Ed Huntress, Editor

FAB Shop recognizes the many applications for additive manufacturing (“AM,” or “3D printing”) in industry, but we’ve taken a cautious approach when it comes to fabricating. We’ve paid little attention to plastics, but AM with plastics is vastly cheaper and faster than AM with metals, and it is sweeping the table in making prototypes, test models, casting patterns, and many other industrial functions. So we sat up and took notice when we learned that Volvo Trucks, and others, are using AM and ABS plastics for production tooling. Now they’re hitting close to home. Volvo Trucks has reduced turnaround times of assembly-line manufacturing tools by more than 94% since incorporating AM technology at its engine production plant in Lyon, France. Pierre Jenny, manufacturing director at Volvo Trucks, says that the company has reduced the time taken to design and manufacture certain tools, traditionally produced in metal, from 36 days to just two days in thermoplastic ABS plus using its Stratasys Fortus 3D Production System.

Strength and stiffness aren’t just about materials

But how do plastics stand up to the rigors of production metalworking? A lot better than you might think. It’s a matter of applying some basic engineering principles to get the stiffness and strength one needs for the task.

We dragged out our dusty Engineering Statics textbook to run some numbers. You can do this with stiffness or strength, but the results are similar either way.
Steel’s bending stiffness is around 30 million pounds – we won’t bother with units here, because we’re just doing a comparison. ABS plastic is on the order of 300,000 pounds. At first glance, steel appears to be 100 times stiffer.

But the stiffness of a beam – or a metalworking finger clamp – varies with the cube of its depth. So, to get the stiffness of a 1-in. square steel clamp, an ABS clamp only has to be around 4.6 in. deep, for the same 1-in. width. The ratio is a lot better for ABS versus aluminum.
That sounds like a bulky clamp, and it is. As you can see from the photos, for unspecified tools, they have a massive appearance. But so what? And the AM plastic can be made into much better structural shapes than a plain rectangle. In terms of material usage, the ABS clamp can be much more efficient, because you don’t have to machine or weld the structural shapes. You just draw the shape you want in CAD and push a button. Often, you can make a tool in one piece that used to require several.

Volvo’s Jenny has worked out the cost on a per­cubic-inch basis. That may sound like an odd way to compare tool costs, but not so much when you think about how easy it is to make that plastic into any shape you want with AM. The all-in cost ratio is roughly 100:1. Metal tools at Volvo Truck cost 100 times more per cubic inch than plastic ones.

No doubt, more readers are now sitting up and taking notice. So you have a process that saves 94% of the time to make tools, and their finished cost, on a cubic-inch basis, is 1/100th as much.

Jenny says “Stratasys 3D printing has made an incredible impact to the way we work. The capability to produce a virtually unlimited range of functional tools in such a short timeframe is unprecedented and enables us to be more experimental and inventive to improve production workflow.”

Improvements in Three Months

Within three months of buying their AM machine, Volvo Trucks had already 3D printed more than 30 different production tools. These include durable but lightweight clamps, jigs, supports, and even ergonomically designed tool holders that produce a more organized working environment.

“We’re working in the heavy-industry sector, so reliability is naturally critical. So far, every piece that we have 3D printed has proved to be 100% fit­for-purpose,” adds Jean-Marc Robin, technical manager, Volvo Trucks. “This is crucial from a practical aspect, but also instils trust among operators and quashes any traditional notion that everything has to be made from metal in order to function properly.”

According to Robin, developing production tools using AM also enables the equipment design team to be far more responsive, including coping with last-minute design changes.
“The fast and cost-effective nature of additive manufacturing means that we are far less restricted than we were even six months ago, allowing us to constantly improve our processes,” he says. “We now have operators approaching our 3D print team with individual requests to develop a custom clamp or support tool to assist with a specific production-line issue they might be having. From a time and cost perspective, this is unimaginable with traditional techniques.”

We used a finger clamp as an example for our stiffness comparison because it’s close to a worst-case. The majority of tools for gauging, aligning, and other fabricating and assembly jobs don’t have to bear such heavy stress loads. Having the ability to make a jig or fixture in hours, rather than weeks, suggests that a lot more time-saving tooling can be made in plastics – tools that might not even be considered if they were made with traditional methods.
Stratasys is a multinational company, one among many builders of AM machines, but they have put some real thought and development into

The Volvo Trucks example is just one of many. It’s worth a visit to their website to see what other possibilities are emerging. It just might spark an idea for a tool you’ve wanted to have, but just couldn’t justify the cost or the time to make it.


Printing Features You Can't Machine

Linear Mold & Engineering (Livonia, MI) builds sophisticated injection molds and other tools
using additive manufacturing (AM). They’re using direct laser melting with nine different metals, but their big one for high-performance tools is maraging steel.

“It's a good steel for making tools,” says Lou Young, “It can be hardened similarly to H13 or S7, up to 54 to 56 Rockwell C. It has better corrosion properties than P20 tool steel, and it welds pretty well. We like it especially for injection tools.”

Having a steel that’s practical for making molds, and that can be direct-laser-melted, has allowed Linear Mold to exploit AM’s ability to produce otherwise impossible shapes. In particular, they design internal cooling passages that result in a mold with superior performance.
“In some cases the cooling allows us to cut cycle times down 50% from conventionally built tools,” says Young. “Improving cycle time anywhere from 20 to 50 percent is huge.” The upshot is that AM-produced molds can be up to 50% more productive, justifying a premium price.

The screen shots tell the story. These are thermal-analysis models of tools with conventional cooling (left) and with the AM-produced curved, internal cooling channels (right). The colors show the difference in cooling capability of each design.

“I’m told that our 14 AM machines represent the largest such capability in the U.S. – maybe in the world,” says Young. “Some of the largest manufacturers in the country are looking at replacing their conventional molds with these high-performance molds. Things are looking very bright.”

Linear Mold & Engineering

Metals You Can and Can’t 3D Print

There’s a growing list of metals that can be melted and “3D printed.” But where are the tool steels? There is a pattern here, and it has consequences.

By Ed Huntress, Editor


This mold insert is representative of the tooling that can be produced with AM. Despite elaborate internal cooling passages, the insert looks like it could have been conventionally milled or EDMed.

Additive manufacturing (AM) is getting interesting for fabricators. Depending on your specific processes, it may be more than interesting; if you’re using any kind of form tooling, or if you make or buy more than a few tools and fixtures, it’s on the verge of being compelling. We say that despite our cautious approach to AM.

Both the processes and the materials are developing so quickly that you need a program to keep up. Some of it is a little chaotic and confusing, so let’s first clear up a few terms. It gets a little wonkish, so hang on.

We’re talking here about AM with metals, for which you’ve probably seen the terms “direct metal sintering,” or something similar that includes the word “sintering.” Sintering, or “dry sintering,” is a process of heating metal powders to just below their melting point, allowing them to coalesce by means of diffusion bonding.


About drilling those cooling passages in this mold insert…you can’t. This is a place where laser-melting AM really shines. Curved internal holes are a snap, even in maraging steel.


Carbide cutting tools and some tool steels are made that way. So are some highly-stressed parts, like automobile connecting rods. But they use extra processes to compress and close up the resulting pores, to make the mass nearly 100% dense.

Some of the AM processes produce a similar result, except that there usually is no practical way to compress the sintered workpiece (we’ll treat hot isostatic pressing another day). So their density is lower and they have reduced tensile or impact strength, and very low ductility. To make up for this, processors can infiltrate the pores of the sintered part with liquid copper or bronze. The result is quite good, but not perfect.

Lasers are used for sintering, but also, more recently, for actual melting of the powders. This process is sometimes called “direct laser melting.” However, at least one large maker of the equipment for this process – EOS – still calls it “sintering.”What they do is stronger than dry sintering. Melting, as you would expect, produces a virtually 100% dense part.

It’s this latter process that we’re following, because of its ability to make high-quality tools of many types. The companies involved with it have compiled quite an impressive list of metals, generally in the form of powders, that can be made into solid objects by 3D laser melting. They can laser-melt some types of steel, precipitation-hardening stainless, aluminum and titanium – it looks like they’ve covered the field of structural metals. But the list is conspicuous by what it doesn’t include: high-carbon and tool steels, heat-treatable aluminum grades, and ordinary martensitic (400-series) stainless steels. It appears that the process isn’t compatible with high carbon or certain heat-treating behaviors. This, so far, is mostly true, and it’s inherent in the characteristics of the process and the behavior of metals that can be heat-treated. It involves rapid melting and an immediate quench, which causes stress and cracking in many of those materials. Some confusion results from the fact that sintering can handle those materials, including H13, D2, and A2 tool steels. But, again, if they’re sintered, they’re not homogeneous and fully dense tool steel.

Back to the laser melting: Big, multinational powder suppliers, such as Nanosteel and Oerlikon, are working on the limitation. Meantime, there are solutions that make laser melting a practical way to make very strong and hard tools, right now. One is to use an expensive, unusual grade of steel that’s been around for decades but which has mostly specialized uses: maraging steel. It’s used for exotic applications such as components of uranium centrifuges. In the short run, this is our high-performance tool material for laser AM. It can take melting and rapid quenching without cracking. It still has to be stress-relieved and heat-treated to develop its strength, but it can handle the drama. Why that’s true is a little too wonkish, but the short story is that it produces iron-nickel martensite, rather than the common iron-carbon martensite, and, unlike iron-carbon, iron-nickel martensite doesn’t expand when it’s quenched. Wonkishness is now turned off.
Maraging steel has some great properties. It’s extremely strong, quite hard (Rc in the high 50s), and especially ductile. One limitation is that it can’t hold an edge, so it’s not a choice for shears or blanking dies. Otherwise, it can give many tool steels a run for their money. See the sidebar for an excellent example of how this steel and AM can produce superior injection molds.
This pattern of metals that do and don’t work with direct-melting AM is similar to the pattern for weldability, for almost the same reason. Grade 2024 aluminum is very difficult to weld – it cracks -- and you won’t see it in the melting AM list, either. We haven’t seen 440C stainless on the lists, but 15-5PH and 14-7PH stainless seem to be okay. Their metallurgical properties, like that of maraging steel, are a little bit odd.

Note that powdered metals can produce alloys that are impossible to make by conventional melting. One long­standing example is the high-end, high-speed steels, sometimes called “transition” materials because their properties exceed those of any ordinary high-speed steel and approach those of sintered tungsten carbide cutting tools. One such is Crucible Steel’s CPM Rex-121. It’s only possible to make with powder metallurgy.

Expect the Nanosteels and Oerlikons, and other powder suppliers, to work similar magic with powders for direct laser-melting AM. It’s only going to get better. And, adding to the complexity, there are intermediate processes, called “liquid-phase sintering” and “partial melting,” which produce some different properties and which may be a solution to some of the thermal problem behavior. Following it is like juggling in a moving bandwagon. Don’t miss your chance to jump on.






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