Succeeding Through Automation and Production-on-Demand Solutions

Momentum is still building for manufacturing in North America.


Momentum is still building for manufacturing in North America. Market analysis shows indicators to support this. Now is the right time to invest in the future by making capital purchases, and manufacturers should work with knowledgeable machine tool suppliers who can offer solutions to current manufacturing challenges.

Today, there is a need for small-lot production, especially in industries such as aerospace, medical and energy. Much of mass production has moved overseas. Customers especially need fast, versatile solutions for complex, small-volume, high precision jobs. Affordable, integrated solutions for the whole manufacturing process are key.

As a result, customer demands for part-off complete, multitasking and five-axis machining capabilities are increasing. Manufacturers are also looking at minimizing costs and reducing setup time through more integrated solutions, including robotics and automation—solutions aimed at optimizing the entire production process, from introducing new materials to producing finished goods in one setup and handling.

The good news is that machine tool suppliers and integrators now have answers to meet these needs through an offering of production-on-demand solutions. These solutions feature short-run production techniques using advanced workholding, five-axis machining, automation and robotics, lights-out manufacturing, multitasking and pallet control/identification technologies. Using the right software and quality inspection are also important to increasing productivity for low volume, high precision machining.

The U.S. manufacturing industry has a challenging task of producing complex components in difficult materials to very precise tolerances at the lowest cost possible to be competitive in the global economy. Multitasking on-demand solutions are a very efficient answer to this challenge, resulting in minimizing machine downtime and maximizing profits.

Ten-minute change-overs can now be done with three-turret, three Y-axis multitasking turning centers. This is the latest technology in quick-change workholding, quick-change milling units and cutting tools. Also, multitasking platforms can be used to manufacture complex components by using large, 48-tool ATCs with five-axis capability to automatically load tool offsets and rearrange the tool magazine.

Even short-run production jobs are now excellent candidates for automation. Today’s automation cells allow for one part or multiple parts to be run and will provide unattended operation, opening up valuable resources and saving costs.

Integrated automation cells are being designed to allow shorter runs of dissimilar parts when the cell can “set itself up.” An integrated automation cell might include a turning center and a horizontal machining center, both being serviced by a robot. The robot is used to load and unload parts through both machines and will automatically change the workholding in both machines to accommodate different parts. Pallet identification allows the system to know which part it has and to change the system over for that part.

Machine tool suppliers are also answering manufacturers’ demands by offering turnkey solutions and lending their expertise during the machine tool selection process. This expertise may include applications engineering experience and setting up test cuts, allowing manufacturers to make informed decisions.

Today’s machine tool suppliers are not working alone. Suppliers who partner with industry experts in the tooling, automation, software, quality inspection areas and so on, can add important value for their customers. Customers can receive more efficient and profitable solutions when their suppliers work together because various experts can call on specific expertise they have accumulated over the years to examine different approaches to solving manufacturing challenges.

To see these solutions first-hand, manufacturers can visit their machine tool suppliers’ technology centers to test applications and see solutions in action, for customized training, or to view new manufacturing strategies. Ultimately, machine tool suppliers are striving to strengthen their customers’ experience through education and collaboration, providing meaningful ideas and knowledge on the latest machining technologies. When manufacturers have the tools to grow and prosper, they are well-positioned for the future.