High-performance computing empowers designers and cuts costs

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It’s not all that hard to imagine a world without supercomputers—just look back several decades. Without high-performance-computing (HPC) systems and the software, networks and the supersmart people who service them, our world would be stuck with technology that resembles that of the Cold War era. Teletypes would be all the rage, cell phones would weigh 2 pounds and refrigerators would run constantly. In short, the world would be far less efficient without HPC.

But what is HPC, and how does it differ from the desktop computers we use to check e-mail and compose to-do lists? The answer is a bit fuzzy. Matt Dunbar, director of software architecture for the Simulia realistic simulation software from Dassault Systèmes, Waltham, Mass., defines HPC as the “execution of tightly coupled [lines of code] on multiple cores.”

Suppose you have a difficult math problem, like figuring out what the price of gas will be 2 years from now, or calculating the odds of the Cubs winning the World Series. You might sit down with a stack of legal pads and box of #2 pencils and start crunching numbers. Several weeks later, you’d determine the Cubs winning the pennant is as mathematically likely as goats grazing the foul line at Wrigley Field.

Coming to this understanding will be much faster if you call for pizza delivery and invite all your friends over to help with the statistical modeling. Bob can work on one part of the calculation and Carol will work on another, while Ted and Alice divvy up the rest. Collectively, you’ll determine the answer before the pizza kid knocks on the door. If computers were people, this would be the essence of HPC.

The brains of any computer are composed of one or more processors, each with multiple cores and sharing a common bank of memory, or RAM. My Mac Airbook has a dual-core Intel i7 processor with 8GB RAM. It cost a smidge over $2,000. By comparison, a business-class cluster node with 64GB RAM and a pair of 6-core processors might cost 5 times that. Purchase several of these machines, equip them with load balancing tools and a fast interconnect, and you have a 3-node cluster. You’re on the way to HPC.

Provided you have the right software, the Cubs calculation can now be split up into bite-size pieces, or parallelized, and distributed across the system’s various processors, cores and memory. You’d understand the fate of the Cubbies within seconds. Dassault Systèmes offers several such software programs, specializing in the Finite Element Analysis (FEA), multiphysics simulation and complex modeling systems that often require the computing power of cluster servers and HPC.

Read the rest: http://www.micromanufacturing.com/content/high-performance-computing-empowers-designers-and-cuts-costs

EDMing with wire 0.0008” and smaller

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In his 2011 MICROmanufacturing article, “Life on the Small Wire,” Dave Kari, director of wire electrical discharge machining at Top Tool Co., discussed the challenges of learning to machine parts with extremely thin wire. Three years later, Kari’s learning curve with micro wire-EDMing is far from over. While a typical EDM shop uses wire 0.008″ and above, Kari works with wire one tenth that size—0.0008″ in diameter.

“It’s nearly invisible to the naked eye,” he said. “For every new job that comes through the door, you take everything you know and throw half of it out the window. What’s left is the basis for a whole new page in the EDM playbook.”

Minneapolis-based Top Tool makes ultraprecise microcomponents, explained Kari. And the company’s experience with 0.0008″ wire has allowed it to produce previously impossible parts and part features. For instance, Kari recently cut a set of offset holes in an electronics component. “There’s a little flat spot where the holes intersect,” he said. “That’s where the leg of a computer chip might sit, or a connector might rest to make contact with a wire. In the past, a feature like that might have been 0.010″ to 0.020″ wide. Now it’s only 0.001″ wide. Making a part like this is a daunting task.”

One of the biggest challenges is wire management. Top Tool operates an AgieCharmilles Vertex1F EDM from GF Machining Solutions LLC, Lincolnshire, Ill., which, like most wire EDMs, incorporates a series of pulleys to carry the wire to a guide directly above the workpiece. There, a high-pressure water jet pulls the wire tip through a threading tube, then directs the wire into a predrilled hole in the workpiece and down into the opposing guide. At this point, another set of pulleys grabs the wire and ejects it into a waste receptacle. After the wire has been threaded through this convoluted path, current is applied and EDMing begins.

The problem is that 0.0008″ wire is delicate and prone to breakage, far more so than its relatively mammoth peers. “Feeding the wire is a critical part of the process,” Kari said. “Without smooth and consistent tension, the wire can break. Any irregularities in how the spool was wound will cause the wire to break.” Even engaging the pulleys, Kari explained, must be done gradually—any sudden jolt can break the wire. Machine builders approach these challenges by placing sensors at various points in the wire path. This closed-loop system provides feedback to the pulleys, constantly monitoring wire tension and adjusting motor power when necessary.

Read the rest: http://www.micromanufacturing.com/content/edming-wire-00008-and-smaller

Lightly Touched: Choosing the best marking method for delicate workpieces

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Back in my shop days, most workpieces were marked by using hardened steel stamps and a 2-lb. hammer. WHAM!

That heavy-handed approach didn’t cut it when the shop began supplying thin-walled aluminum brake sleeves to Boeing. We ordered a bunch of rubber stamps and gently rolled the part number in permanent ink around the sleeve’s circumference. Quite often the ink would smear and we’d have to clean it with alcohol before trying again.

Later, we got an order from Sundstrand for tight-tolerance 4140 steel bearing housings. The print called for electrochemical etching of the contract and part number. We invested $500 in a benchtop machine, a supply of electrodes and some weird-smelling chemicals. Using a typewriter to generate the characters on a sheet of transfer paper, we’d then cut out the stencil with scissors, fit it to the electrode and apply DC current, one workpiece at a time. What a hassle.

Manual electrochemical etching and rubber and steel stamps are still in use. These tried and true part-marking methods are simple and affordable, and, except for steel stamps, gentle enough for even flimsy workpieces. The problem is those manual processes are slow. The good news is there are better ways to mark parts, especially ones with thin walls or other delicate features.

Perhaps the most flexible is laser marking, used to mark everything from saw blades to circuit boards, and pacemaker housings to bearing races. Best of all, laser marking, contrary to what some might think, is simple to perform: Set up the workpiece in the machine, load the program and press cycle start. A few seconds or minutes later, the part’s been marked with the required number, phrase, bar code or graphic design. Laser marking is noncontact, so clamps are typically unnecessary, although in some cases a multipart fixture might be used if production volumes warrant.

Read the rest: www.ctemag.com/aa_pages/2014/141207-PartMarking.html

Ons Size Fits All

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Fifteen years ago I wrote an article for CTE called “Lowering your grades.” It argued that shops could save money by reducing insert inventory. The premise was that the productivity gains realized through use of the “perfect” insert for any given material would be eaten up by the setup time needed to change that insert and make the necessary feed and speed adjustments, program tweaks, tool registration and test cuts.

That argument still carries weight with some metalworking professionals. Shops that turn a range of materials can find themselves adrift in a sea of cutting tool choices. Many struggle with bloated tooling inventories, insert obsolescence and cutting tools that get used for a single job, then spend eternity collecting dust in a forgotten corner of the toolcrib.

The good news is that insert costs haven’t changed much since then. Due to improved manufacturing techniques, an 80° diamond that sold for $10 in the Reagan era is just a few dollars more today. And because cutting tools have improved, that insert will run longer than its predecessor from the 1980s, making it more likely you’ll hang on to it once that 10-piece Inconel job is done.

My previous article used the example of a popular toolmaker with 54 grades of carbide. Today, that company offers twice as many grades and an even larger variety of shapes, edge preparations, nose radii, chipbreakers and through-coolant options. Of course, choice is a wonderful thing, but some might say: “Stop the madness.”

Read the rest: http://www.ctemag.com/aa_pages/2014/141209-Turning.html

Fast Track – Alberta structural steel fabricator aims high with automation

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The Problem: Small shop, lack of skilled workers

The Solution: Build an automated beam processing facility

Fourteen years ago, Glenmore Fabricators Ltd. was a small job shop in southeast Calgary making handrails for buildings. Sales were around one million a year. By 2012, revenue was thirty times that amount, and the company was now a full-fledged fabricator with a reputation for structural steel. There was one problem: Glenmore had outgrown its facility. Faced with exponential growth, management decided to build the most technologically advanced shop the company could afford. “We were turning work away, so it was easy to justify the new facility,” says general manager Jason Gillen.

This wasn’t going to be the typical steel-framed box sitting on a massive slab of concrete. The people at Glenmore wanted what Gillen terms a high-flow shop, one with a high degree of automation. Where many companies put up a building and then fill it with equipment, Glenmore chose the equipment first and designed the structure to go around it. Gillen knew this would maximize throughput while minimizing material handling, and give Glenmore the ability to keep up with increasing customer demand in Calgary’s challenging labour market.

After months of equipment shopping, spec comparisons and a trip to a small town east of Amsterdam, Glenmore chose the MSI (Multi System Integration) beam processing system from Voortman Steel Machinery. Based in Rijssen, the Netherlands-based company offers a wide range of system options, but Glenmore settled on a 40 in. saw, a three-spindle drill line and a robotic coper, all linked together by a series of automated material handling units. Giles Young, sales manager for All Fabrication Machinery J.V., the Western Canada distributor for Voortman, says this is the first system of its kind in this area.

“The Voortman VB1050 saw and V630 drill sit in one bay; downstream from that area is the V808 coper,” Young explains. “All the machines are fed by a series of material rollers and cross feed drag dogs. There are two cross transfer loading zones on the in-feed side of the system, so the beams can go through the saw/drill or straight to the coper. From the out-feed side, work is sent to a pair of staging areas inside the shop, for pick up by a side load forklift or crane for transport to the welding stations. It can also go to a third cross transfer area for loading onto trucks if welding isn’t required. All in all, it’s pretty awesome machinery.”

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/fabricating-technology/fast-track.html

The ROI of Robotics – Justifying robotic automation for your shop

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Luke Skywalker never questioned the need for a droid. George Jetson would have been stuck doing his own laundry without Rosie the Robot. And while it’s true that Austin Powers nearly succumbed to the evil Fembots, Captain Picard would surely have lost the Enterprise without help from Data, the ship’s android.

Making parts might not be a matter of life or death, but an increasing number of shops have learned that robots make the difference between success and failure. Robots don’t take breaks or call in sick, they don’t gripe about working late and they never ask for overtime pay. Given the right circumstances, robots are a real game changer.

But what are those circumstances? Turning a few million brake rotors each year certainly qualifies, as does welding endless miles of butt joints. No one would argue that robots are an excellent solution for high production volumes and repetitive manufacturing tasks, but most of us would never consider using one for the small lot size, high mix work typical of many shops.

Mark Eddy, president of robot integrator, Gosiger Automation LLC, says robots solve two basic manufacturing problems: low machine tool utilization and a general shortage of skilled labour. “Simply put, shops need to get more out of their capital assets as well as their employees. Robots allow an employee’s expertise to be amortized across a group of machine tools rather than one, thus utilizing their knowledge in a more efficient manner.”

Say the word robot and most shop people think job cuts. In Eddy’s experience, this is not the case. “I’ve never seen a situation where a customer actually let people go after installing automation. Most shops feel very responsible to their employees, and about the only time you see downsizing due to robotics is through natural attrition, meaning it’s not always necessary to replace people when they leave the company.”

Eddy finds that the companies who apply robots are forward thinking. They’re more productive, more profitable, and they use their people to perform data analysis, job planning and other challenging tasks that robots cannot do. This makes for happier employees, more parts out the door and fewer production surprises.

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/machining-technology/the-roi-of-robotics.html

TIC, TAC, PEG – The soup to nuts of indexable carbide inserts

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Machine shops make tooling every day. Fixtures are built, chuck jaws bored, vise jaws milled. Why not add indexable carbide inserts to that repertoire? Contrary to popular opinion, inserts aren’t made by Santa’s elves in the off-season. If you’re feeling adventurous, just follow these easy step-by-step directions and your shop will soon be shaving big bucks off its cutting tool budget.

First, you’ll need some tungsten. China or Russia’s a good place to shop for it, but Canada’s no slouch either, ranking third in the world’s tungsten production. Bring warm clothes, though: most Canadian tungsten is found in the Yukon. Once there, you might be lucky enough to mine some tungsten in its pure metallic form, but most is extracted from tungsten oxide, and requires additional processing.

Once you have a big pile of tungsten ore, you’ll need a ball mill to process it, a heavy-duty machine capable of grinding those rocks into dust finer than flour. That’s an important point, because the tungsten powder used in carbide inserts is made of particles just a few microns across.

Now that you have a suitable quantity of ground tungsten, it’s time to carburize it. Tungsten carbide is nearly as hard as diamond, but pure tungsten—that whitish rock you just dug out of the ground—is malleable enough to be drawn into filaments for incandescent light bulbs. It’s only through carburization that tungsten “mans up” into tungsten carbide.

The carburizing process begins by mixing tungsten powder with graphite. If you have a few thousand old pencils lying about, you might sacrifice them for their leads, otherwise you can buy graphite powder online for several hundred dollars a kilo. Don’t get any on your hands though, and be careful not to breathe it in. It’s nasty stuff.

You’ll also need a furnace, one capable of 1,600° C. Place the tungsten/carbon mixture on a ceramic pizza stone, stick it in the furnace, pump in some hydrogen and take a long lunch break. By the time you return, the graphite—which is really just a form of carbon—will have been “taken up” by the tungsten, atomically binding it to the tungsten particles. Tungsten carbide is born.

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/cutting-tools/tic-tac-peg.html

Taking Control – CNC builders bring new technology to bear in the battle for increased productivity

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For those too young to remember, mechanical cams were once used to control automated machine tools. Cams gradually gave way to electronics though, and by the mid-70s, toolmakers were learning how to program, giving up their shapers and bastard cut files in favor of Teletype machines.

These crude devices turned hand-typed instructions into a series of Morse code-like holes running down the length of a 1″ wide spool of paper, one frequently long enough to traverse the length of the shop and out the shipping door. Machine controllers with all the intelligence of a vintage Pac-Man game would then interpret these holes—or their absence—as the 1s and 0s needed to communicate with any digital device. Numerical Control (NC) was born.

Answer the question
The next generation of machine controls made its debut on the manufacturing floor around the time Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was contemplating his retirement plan, and by the late 80s, paper tape had largely gone the way of the slide rule. NC had evolved into CNC, the primary differences being onboard program storage, a CRT display and canned cycles designed to make machine programming simpler.

Like all things electronic, CNCs grew faster and more capable as the decades passed, and today’s machine controls are super-smart multitaskers that resemble those old tape machines like a smart phone compares to a rotary dialer. Modern controls boast data processing times best measured in nanoseconds, on-board program storage sufficient to handle the largest of files, and the ability to manage more simultaneous axes than players on a football pitch.

Machine builders have capitalized on this advanced control capability by adding their own proprietary software to otherwise standard controls—DMG MORI has its CELOS system, Mazak offers Matrix and Mazatrol SmoothX technology which debuted at IMTS, and Okuma has THINC-OSP. All are intended to make part programming easier, increase integration to third party systems and extend machine capabilities.

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/machining-technology/taking-control.html

Avoiding the Hurt – Staying safe and sane on the shop floor

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Manufacturing can be hazardous. Stamping presses slam, cutting tools slice, machine tools and forklifts show no respect for human flesh. Yet the risk of smashed fingers or a few stitches at the emergency room is nothing compared to the dangers of stress, depression and the constant worry of life as a worker bee. Simply put, a healthy workplace needs more than steel-toed boots and safety signs.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), the Canadian economy loses over $50 billion annually due to mental illness. Depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, are just some of the health conditions that keep 500,000 Canadians home from work each week, and cause more than 30 per cent of all disability claims.

Standards and Mandates
The Canadian government agrees. Funded by Health Canada, the MHCC has worked with the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group) and the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ) to deliver the standard CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013, or National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the National Standard).

As its name implies, the standard defines guidelines for employers wishing to create a workplace that promotes psychological wellness. Nitika Rewari, program manager, workplace, at the MHCC, explains the Commission’s recommendation “We were brought into existence to develop the first ever mental health strategy for Canada. Among other things, the strategy calls for creating mentally healthy workplaces and broad-based adoption of Standards to address the issue. The National Standard focuses on psychological health and safety in the workplace with a goal to prevent harm and promote psychosocial wellbeing in the workplace.”

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/quality-plant-management/avoiding-the-hurt.html

Ream Team – Cutting tool manufacturers weigh in on the benefits of reaming

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It was 1981 and I was setting up a Hardinge screw machine to turn some stainless steel fuel nozzles. The drawing called for a 1/4 in. (6 mm) blind hole nearly 2 in. (50 mm) in depth, with a +/-.0005 in. (.0012 mm) tolerance on the diameter. There was no chance of boring that deep, so I mounted a reamer into a Brookfield holder, floated it on centre, set the length and pushed cycle start. So far, so good.

Imagine my surprise when smoke came pouring out of the machine several minutes later, followed by an awful squealing as the reamer caught in the hole and spun. The workpiece was glowing orange like a tangerine by the time I hit the panic button. Apparently I’d drilled the starter hole a bit too small and the chips packed up in front of the reamer, causing it to seize. My boss was none too happy about the overnight delivery charge for new reamers, never mind the melted holder.

Despite this memorable experience, I’ve reamed thousands of holes since then, with satisfactory results. Much has changed over the years, however. Double-margin, coolant fed carbide drills offer such excellent hole quality that reaming is often unnecessary. And ultra-precise modular boring heads are a flexible option for the hole finishing needs of many job shops, eliminating the need for reamers of every size imaginable. Some might say these multi-fluted senior citizens are going the way of disco music and floppy disks

Reamers revival?
Far from it. Mike Smith, product manager for reaming, boring and tooling systems at Seco Tools Inc. says reaming is on the upswing. “We’ve seen double-digit growth in our reaming business over the last few years. Especially with larger work, where reamers are more cost effective than boring, it’s becoming increasingly prevalent.”

Read the rest: http://shopmetaltech.com/cutting-tools/ream-team.html