Get Real

get real_Lincoln_virtual

I never wanted to learn welding. Then one day my boss Vern handed me a MIG gun. “Get ‘em all fixed, or don’t come back,” he said, slamming the office door behind him. It seemed I hadn’t been paying attention to the stamping press, and several hundred of the corners I’d just notched in some pulley guards were decidedly too large. I spent the next three weeks fitting and welding the bits of scrap steel collected from the bottom of the press back into place, grinding the pulley guards smooth and then notching the corners all over again.

Vern taught me several hard lessons that summer, one of which was to respect the welding department. Stick, MIG, TIG—it’s all tough work, a skill that requires a keen eye, steady hand and plenty of practice. Granted, most welders don’t have to learn their trade as I did, but the road to welding mastery is still a long one, littered with endless pounds of welding coupons, filler material and wasted shielding gas.

Vocational schools and manufacturing companies have long borne the brunt of this expensive learning process, patiently guiding students through kilometers of test beads until welding competence is at last achieved. One of these is Miller Comprehensive High School, Regina, SK. Welding instructor Blair Bachelu trains over 300 high -school students each year, kids even younger than I was the day Vern slammed the door on me.

According to Bachelu, traditional welding instruction isn’t very effective. “It’s basically a lot of demonstration and handholding. In a class of 20 students operating out of six6 welding booths, it might take several days to get around to each one. You have to get them setup with initial adjustments, and then circle back to help fine-tune their technique as they go. It simply takes time.”

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Balanced equations: Toolholder vibration makes for miserable machining, but balancing can help

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I recently installed a new ceiling fan in the living room—twice. The task had been on my honey-do list for weeks, and by this point it was install the fan or pull weeds. Of course, I ignored my wife’s suggestion to first read the instruction manual. “It’s just a few wires, dear,” I told her. “Nothing to worry about.”

The job done, the ladder stowed safely in the garage, I set the fan to high and flipped the switch. Boy, was I glad to have this one behind me. Then I heard a loud WONK-WONK-WONK … CRASH! The ceiling fan had ripped itself from its mount and cartwheeled into the coffee table. It was only then that I noticed the little packet of balancing weights in the bottom of the fan box.

With my wife’s helpful advice still ringing in my ears, I drove to the hardware store for another fan kit, reflecting all the while on the importance of balancing. Jet engines, wind turbines, automobile wheels and even ceiling fans—basically any rotating mechanical component—must be balanced. This is certainly true on machining centers.

As proof, load a large commodity toolholder—an unbalanced chunk of steel weighing several pounds or more—into a machine’s spindle and crank it up to 15,000 rpm, if possible. That low hum is the spindle’s cry for help. Michael Minton, national application engineering manager at Methods Machine Tools Inc., Sudbury, Mass., said unbalanced toolholders create excessive heat in the spindle bearings, which, along with the vibration, can cause premature spindle failure. An unbalanced holder’s high degree of runout also reduces cutting performance.

The performance problems can include movement of the toolholder within the spindle taper, leading to premature tool wear and breakage. Chatter and surface finish problems are common, as well as geometric tolerance errors caused by tool runout. The result, Minton said, is that operators, facing reduced cutting performance with unbalanced toolholders, throttle back on feed rates and spindle speeds in an attempt to alleviate a problem over which they have little control. Simply put, out-of-balance toolholders are not only bad for the machine, they also hurt the bottom line.

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A Passion for Steel


QUINTIN MIDDLETON grew up in the American South in the 1980s and ’90s. He remembers himself as a kid with a brick and a claw hammer, pounding whatever scrap metal he could find into crude blades and sharp instruments.

“I just wanted to make swords like I’d seen in the movies,” he recalls. “That’s when my passion for making knives began.”

Since then, and largely on his own, Middleton has learned the ancient art of bladesmithing. Jason Knight, a friend and fellow bladesmith, provided hints, as well as local chef Craig Diehl who explained what a professional chef looks for in a knife. Armed with this knowledge, through trial and error, as well as feedback from Diehl, he delivered a prototype of the high-quality product he’s known for.

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Virtually Trained: Welding Is Just The Beginning

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Imagine a world where auto mechanics learn to wrench on virtual cars. Carpet layers stretch virtual shag, gardeners trim virtual trees. These are just some of the training scenarios possible if Matthew Wallace has his way.

As CEO of VRSim, East Hartford, CT, Wallace spends his days developing tools for the virtual classroom. SimSpray helps students learn the basics of abrasive blasting and spray painting before ever entering a paint booth. SimBuild teaches practical construction knowledge without having to climb a ladder or wham your thumb with a hammer.

VRSim is also the developer of Lincoln Electric’s VRTEX, a product that reduces training costs while developing sound welding skills, in an environment free of sparks, heat and smoke.

“Today’s training needs to be done differently than it once was,” Wallace says. “You can’t rely on people to read a 50-year old textbook and then take a test. That’s why we do what we do.” What VRSim does is work with industry experts to develop software that simulates real life. Sight, sound and touch are accurately represented as the student operates a spray gun, abrasive blaster or welding gun.

In the case of Lincoln Electric’s VRTEX 360, VRSim used high -speed videos of the welding process to construct this virtual world. “This was a collaborative effort between us and Lincoln. The product has to look and feel right or you don’t get the necessary suspension of disbelief that is critical to VR. It’s a long, detailed and very complex process, but it’s fun to do.”

This isn’t just pretty graphics and some sound effects. Wallace explains that VRSim uses an electromagnetic motion system from Polhemus Corp, Colchester, VTt., to generate and track magnetic fields within the simulator, giving them the ability to measure head and hand positions within 0.5 mm. Gun angles, operator position, material parameters—all are monitored in real-time and the results relayed to a computer for immediate feedback to the student.

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See Me, Feel Me

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My granddaughter loves her Touch and Feel books. They’re filled with fuzzy animals and gaily-coloured creatures. My grandson enjoys jigsaw puzzles, patiently maneuvering the pieces into place by sight and touch. Imagine him doing so while wearing mittens, or that darling girl reading those children’s books with the bits of cloth and plastic shapes removed.

For the past thirty years or so, that’s how shops have been inspecting their parts—measure the hard features with a touch probe, and check everything else with non-contact optics and vision machines. Moving parts between two machines, however, wastes time and sacrifices accuracy.

Carl Zeiss Industrial Metrology LLC looks to change all that. The company claims to have integrated the functions of four machines—profile projector, coordinate measuring machine, contour measuring instrument and microscope—into a single shop floor measuring device.

Long Phan is the product sales manager at Zeiss’s Irvine, CA, office. He says the O-Inspect was designed for shops that need the best of all metrology worlds. “Multi-sensor machines are becoming increasingly popular. Medical, electronics, even oil and gas are calling for smaller and smaller parts, with features that can’t be measured with mechanical probes. As a result, shops are finding there’s a huge advantage in having a machine that offers tactile as well as visual measuring capabilities.”

In these situations, says Phan, shops can utilize the O-Inspect’s adaptive lighting and zoom lens for non-contact measurement, and then switch to Zeiss’s Vast XXT scanning sensor for taking individual points, multi-point form scanning and areas the camera can’t see. With some features—deep ribs, and bores with long length to diameter ratios—a more high-tech approach is needed. “White light provides a spot size of 12 microns, and can measure features impossible to reach with probes or cameras. It’s also an excellent choice for complex 3D structures, and glossy or transparent materials, which are sometimes difficult to measure.”

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Builders Support Machine Tool Communication

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Manufacturers and software providers aren’t the only ones on the MES dance floor. Machine tool builders are stepping in as well. One of these is Mazak Corp., Florence, KY. Application engineer and developer Neil Desrosiers says one of the ways builders support MES is by adopting open communication standards, making machine tool to front office integration a straightforward task. Mazak, for example, has made the majority of its machine models MTConnect ready.

MTConnect is an open source communication protocol designed for industrial equipment. In the past, most machine controls spoke only their native language. MTConnect was designed to eliminate this Babelesque situation, using a clearly defined set of XML (Extensible Markup Language) standards as a “flexible representation for exchanging semi-structured machine-readable data,” according to MTConnect.

Aside from using MTConnect at its Kentucky production facility, Mazak has also installed MERLIN, the MES solution from Memex Automation Inc., Burlington, ON. Despite this seeming endorsement, Desrosiers says it would be irresponsible for a machine tool builder to actively promote one MES solution over another. “You can’t just cookie cutter this and say, ‘hey, this is the product you should use with our equipment.’ The right MES solution depends on the size of the shop, its infrastructure, integration needs and so forth.”

For this reason, machine tool builders are largely software-agnostic in terms of whom your machines talk to—all they are concerned with is how that communication takes place, and how that information on the machine tool operation is shared. Another example of this is Charlotte, NC-based Okuma Corp.’s THINC-OSP control. Director of technology Brian Sides explains that Okuma wants to make it easy for partners to remotely access machine data. “We utilize a Windows-based open architecture control that supports MTConnect. This means software developers who offer MTConnect-compliant monitoring applications can easily apply their solution to Okuma machines.”

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Rotary tables tackle heavy loads with ease

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Tired of your wimpy 5C indexer or NC rotary table giving up its position faster than a politician after an election? Maybe it’s time to supersize that commodity indexer. Doing so will produce more parts in less time, with better part quality to boot.

Lee Flick, vice president at workholding supplier Pioneer N.A., Elk Grove Village, Ill., said successful machining on an indexer is all about clamping torque. “Many of our customers come to us after they’ve purchased an inexpensive indexer elsewhere. They mount it to their machine and start cutting as if the part was clamped directly to the machine table, then have to back off when the indexer starts moving on them.”

According to Flick, higher clamping torque allows shops to machine at a more efficient rate, often doubling or tripling output. Better yet, the 33 percent cost delta between a ho-hum 8 ” indexer at $15,000 and one for $20,000 that hits a home run each time at bat is not that great. “The extra investment will give you over 400 ft. lbs. of clamping torque, roughly four times that of a low-cost table,” he said.

Maybe that doesn’t matter if all the jobs involve light-duty machining close to the centerline of the table, where cutting forces have little leverage, but that’s rarely the case. “The majority of machining in the U.S. is done in job shops,” Flick said. “One day they’ll mount a 50-lb. workpiece on an indexer and hog with a 1 ” rougher, the next day load up a four-sided tombstone with 10 parts per side and let it run for hours unattended. You need an indexer that can handle whatever you throw at it.”

If a rotary table shifts during machining, it can result in broken cutters and scrapped parts. How that indexer gets into position, however, is just as important as holding it there once it arrives. Chris Salamone, sales manager for Ramsey, N.J.-based Indexing Technologies Inc., explained two drive mechanisms are available for most rotary tables and indexers.

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Keeping machines and operators cool and clean

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Floor Dry is piled around the base of the machines. Oil drips from the ceiling. Grinding dust collects in your coffee cup. A face full of mist greets you every time you open the machine door. This is the environment in which I learned machining 30 years ago. Back then, new machines were simply set on the floor, plugged in and given a quick leveling. Machine foundations were rare and temperature control was at the whim of whoever operated the loading dock door.

Shops today are more aware of environmental conditions. Mist collectors and electrostatic air cleaners are not uncommon and many manufacturers realize there’s little chance of attracting high-caliber work from customers when the shop is a pigsty. Many also recognize that proper environmental controls and a good machine foundation are important to accuracy—that holding a few tenths tolerance or imparting a mirror finish is all but impossible if the floor shakes like Elvis Presley every time the Union Pacific rumbles past.

But the sad truth remains that there are still too many shops ignoring air quality, temperature and machine isolation. This is bad for machines, their operators, part quality and, ultimately, the bottom line.

Let’s start with air quality. Royal Products, Hauppauge, N.Y., has sold the Filtermist product for more than 30 years, yet Tom Sheridan, vice president of marketing, estimates fewer than 25 percent of machine tools have a mist containment system. “We’re still amazed at the number of people who approach us at trade shows who had no idea there are products available to take care of the mist and smoke generated by machine tools,” he said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is partly to blame. The same people who mandate steel-toed boots and ear protection apparently don’t get too excited about shop air quality. “OSHA offers a guideline of 5 mg of particulate matter per cubic meter of air, but there are no actual regulations,” Sheridan said.

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Important Conversations

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Listen. That’s the shop talking, and it has an important story to tell. Machine uptime. What jobs are running. Who’s here, and who’s not. This is just some of the information to be garnered from your production floor, if only you have the right ears.

Big companies have been listening for decades—Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) were being used to capture production data before Brian Mulroney first sat down in the House of Commons. These mainframe-based behemoths have since retired, however, and a new breed of faster, more flexible and less expensive shop floor monitoring systems have taken their place.

Automotive manufacturers and their Tier 2 suppliers are by far the biggest users of MES. Mohamed AbuAli, chief operating officer at global MES provider Forcam Inc., Cincinnati, OH, points to installations at automotive giants Mercedes-Benz, Daimler and Audi, with billions of dollars in metal stamping and machining equipment being monitored more closely than the final game of the World Cup.

Modern MES systems provide a variety of nifty tools for keeping an eye on the shop floor. Aside from tracking machine efficiency, MES can keep tabs on labour hours, dynamically schedule jobs, manage documentation and integrate to Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software. The outputs of all this vigilance comes in the form of email alerts, reports and real-time visualization of the plant’s activities, which can then be sent automatically to the production manager’s computer or the CEO’s smart phone, giving them a chance to get the train back on track before disaster strikes.

It sounds complex, and terrifically expensive, yet AbuAli explains the functionality described here is within reach of even the smallest manufacturing companies. “We recently worked with a low-volume, high-mix job shop, with a handful of disparate machines—some old Cincinnati Milacrons with Acramatic controls, as well as some newer Toshibas. They also have an outdated ERP system. We were able to integrate everything into a single system, and stay within their budget.”

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Horrendous Holes

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Nickel and cobalt-based superalloys may not be Kryptonite, but drilling holes in Hastelloy X, Inconel 625, Waspaloy and Haynes 25 is about as tough as it gets in the world of metal removal. With machinability ratings in the low teens, these nightmare materials test the patience of even the most cool-headed machinist.

Unfortunately, modern aircraft won’t fly without superalloys, and nuclear power plants wouldn’t run. Their high strength, fatigue and corrosion resistance, and excellent mechanical properties make these materials the perfect choice for gas turbine blades, rocket motor components, oil and gas applications, and a host of other demanding environments. It also makes them a real bugger to cut.

Drilling in particular can be a super-challenge—chip evacuation and heat buildup are a concern in any holemaking operation, and doubly so in superalloys. Fortunately, four holemaking experts are here to share their insights on drilling these toughest of all materials, the superalloys.

Allied Machine & Engineering Corp., Dover, OH, manufactures replaceable-tip drilling systems and custom holemaking solutions. Product manager Robert Brown says there are several key factors to successful drilling of superalloys. “These materials have poor heat transfer properties, and can be quite abrasive. Because of that, we generally recommend indexable products running at greatly reduced speeds and feeds.”

But not too low, warns Brown, as work hardening is also a concern—managing feed rates is a balancing act between drill breakage and premature failure. “You can expect lots of flank wear, with rounding of the drill corners. Tool life is normally about 25 per cent of a comparable alloy steel job.”

If you’re a newbie to super-drilling, Brown says you should double your expectations for tool usage. That’s why drills with replaceable tips are a good idea—swapping out a $30 insert is far more cost-effective than replacing a $300 drill body when a superalloy gets the upper hand during holemaking.

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