After 4 long, isolating and truly strange years, IMTS was back and in full swing after being absent in 2020 for COVID-related reasons. I was fortunate enough to have an entire day to explore the 1300+ exhibitors in the over 1.3 Million square feet of space at the McCormick Center in Chicago, Illinois. With so many exhibitors and conferences packed into IMTS, I planned by day and set out to Chicago. Here are among just some of the trends and major themes I saw during my time in the Windy City:
Automation, Automation, Automation!
Robotics, PLC’s, IOT Hardware, Smart-Connected Machinery and more were among some of the constant reminders for where Automation Technology is in the world. Programming these autonomous systems is seemingly becoming easier over the years, and smart-sensors are now widely available for shops to closely monitor vital aspects of their production facility and equipment. I’m also seeing more and more factory-floor automation these days, as companies of all sizes aim to do more with less, and increase shop efficiency.
This is my 3rd IMTS, and throughout the years, I’ve seen a continually expanding Additive Manufacturing Pavilion in the West Hall of McCormick Place. After many years of overcoming the initial “hype phase,” I am seeing true end-use applications for 3D Printing with both Metallics and Polymers, that much was reflected in the booths of all 3D Printing Exhibitors I saw while walking the aisles. Whether it’s tooling for initial prototyping, doing small lot runs of an initial concept, or doing full-blown production with Additive, it’s here to stay, and is proving itself to be a viable manufacturing solution. It’s exciting to see a variety of large corporations make significant investments into Additive for Fortune 500, combined with Venture Capital funds allocated towards US-based startups.
The South Hall (Largest Hall at IMTS) has always boasted an impressive scale of the world’s largest Machine Tool companies, along with millions of pounds of sophisticated machinery. While the CNC & Machine Tool industry has had a number of decades to mature, there is still much innovation taking place for a variety of Machinery and Equipment OEM’s across the globe. Combined with cutting edge metal cutting tools and software to fine tune predictability with CAD and CAM, the Machine Tool industry continues to evolve into a highly automated, precise means towards high-volume production.
Enhanced Tooling/Workholding for Additive & Subtractive Manufacturing
Long gone are the days where machinists use simple 3-Jaw Chucks or Manual Vises for Machining applications. Tooling & Fixturing is now to a point where Programmers, Designers & Machinists can work in true harmony thanks to innovations in design & capabilities thanks to today’s workholding companies. Additionally, new ways to make tooling, suchas Additive Manufacturing, are breaking down the barriers for traditional tooling design.
3D Printing is changing the way we view (and design) tooling, while enhanced material research and manufacturing methodologies have enabled expedited product development of superior workholding pieces for CNC, Welding, and other Fabrication methodologies. Today’s design & analysis/simulation software allows us to predict how our parts will hold up in real life, while modern prototyping methods enables us to quickly test & iterate our ideas in real-time.
Although the US is considered a laggard in the robotics space, I was pleased to see an immense presence of robotics for a wide array of creative real-world applications at IMTS. Anything from simple machine tending and parts changing, all the way up to ambidextrous multi-task systems capable of various shop floor operations, robots and cobots sprawled the McCormick Place at every turn. A number of robots also assist with warehouse supervision, raw material packaging/delivery, and other repetitive jobs to free up human workers for more productive tasks. Though we are likely several decades out from complete robot takeover, there were certainly a higher number of these mechatronics at IMTS, and a wider array of tasks that they’re now capable of completing.
OnRobot developed robotics specifically aimed at warehouse/factory floor automation
Ever-Growing Use Cases for Industrial Software
As computers have grown & adapted the way we live our lives, so too has the app-based software that has supported this digital transition. Strolling through the North Hall of the exhibitors, I saw a large presence of several ERP, PDM/PLM, CAD & CAM companies that have expanded their presence along with market share in more recent years. Though not all of these different software’s might not work in complete unison yet, there seemed to be a variety of 3rd party integrators present at the show to act as the “glue” to pull all of these various systems together.
While we’ve been disconnected from one another through the Pandemic, Manufacturers and Technologists alike were all able to gather in Chicago this September for a spectacular turnout at IMTS 2022. Exhibitors demonstrated an accelerated look into the future filled with Software-enabled production, Digitally-driven Manufacturing, and Equipment/Hardware to support our ever-evolving Global Supply Chain.
It’s fascinating for me, who’s only been involved professionally in Manufacturing Technology for just 6 years to see such a vast evolution with everything, via the IMTS show. I’m ecstatic for 2024 and what it will bring, oh, and for FormNext to be in the Windy City in just 3 years!
Throughout the years, machining has grown immensely and has become a standardized means of production for virtually every industry imaginable. What started as a labor-intensive process has transformed into a highly automated, sophisticated manufacturing process that can be run almost entirely without any human intervention, aside from the initial programming and setup.
TRAK Machine Tools and their ProtoTRAK CNC are a perfect example of a technology that has rapidly developed over the years, turning completely manual mills into fully capable CNCs, as well as introducing their own CNC to the market with their DPM model bed mill machines.
CNC Milling Capabilities
While the ProtoTRAK is by no means a high-volume, production-oriented machine, it is just as useful as a CNC machine for high mix/low-volume applications for both milling and turning. The secret sauce for this piece of capital equipment comes from the patented ProtoTRAK CNC control which offers a variety of ways to set up and program your machining operations. Some will choose to write simple, geometry-based programs at the control with simple prompts and commands.
Others may take their CAD/CAM files and import them directly into the machine. For basic operations, the machinist can choose to run the machine manually by turning the X and Y handwheels.
ProtoTRAKs are commonly used by tool and die machinists and have been a trusted means of creating tooling for over 40 years. Prototyping, jigs, fixtures, low-volume production, and R & D can all be accomplished on these toolroom-style milling and turning machines. Aside from traditional milling and turning machines, the ProtoTRAK line also extends into the low-to-mid-volume machining market with some of its rigid and versatile machining centers for various 3 axis milling operations.
The DPM model milling machine is ideal for machine shops that work with parts of a variety of sizes and has a wide working envelope to accommodate both small and large components. Brushless servo motors and precision ground ball screws allow this 50 x 12 in. table with a Turcite coating to traverse at up to 400 IPM on the X and Y axes either with the touch of a button or a turn of the machine’s electronic handwheels.
Program On the Fly Programming a CNC Milling Machine is no easy task, but the ProtoTRAK takes the headache and guesswork out of this tedious process. For the most part, if you understand GD&T, blueprint reading, feeds, and speeds, you can run a ProtoTRAK. Simply setting a 0,0 point, telling the control where to move, and how fast to run the spindle, you can write simple programs at the control that are automatically converted to CAM files (G-Code) to have you up and running machining operations in just a few minutes.
Insert CAD Files
For most machine shops, the traditional means of programming involves taking a CAD model and feeding it into a programming software such as MasterCAM, which will generate a G-Code file. The ProtoTRAK control can receive such files, which can quickly be implemented into the control’s GUI and run with just a few simple setups needed.
Capable of Manual Machining
While this is a CNC machine tool, the ProtoTRAK offers the best of both worlds with its manual machining capabilities. This proves itself useful for the machinist who is trying to quickly set tool offsets, Z-heights, 0,0 datum points, and other operations that are tough to do with traditional production-style CNC machines. Skilled manual machinists might want to do simple operations by hand, eliminating the need to do any programming, and get straight to making chips on their machine.
CNC Cutting Simulation
For CNC programmers who want to see their parts run before hitting the “run” button, watching a computer simulation is a great means to verifying that your job will run smoothly. VeriCut offers a powerful, realistic video simulation for the machinist after all initial geometry and tool setups have been created.
A feature only available on ProtoTRAKs, the TRAKing feature is the sure-fire way of making sure your job will run smoothly. After programming the control and setting up your 0,0 point and tool offsets, TRAKing will allow the machine operator to “TRAK” through the initial run of that first run by use of the handwheels. By simply turning the electronic handwheels, the operator has complete control of the machine, able to run it forward and backward to make sure it clears the vise, clamps, or other work holding pieces.
While this machine is not equipped with a tool-changer, it offers a power drawbar to quickly change out the CAT40-style tooling. With the push of a button, the pneumatic drawbar quickly screws and unscrews the tooling in the machine for tool changes in under 30 seconds. An optional CAT40 tool cart will allow the operator to store up to 8 tools on the cart, which can be stationed right next to the milling machine for even quicker changeovers. Although the head remains in a fixed position, the machine operator can use a manual quill on this machine for setting tool offsets, performing manual drilling operations, and more.
Capable of 4-/5-Axis Machining
For added complexity, the ProtoTRAK Bed Mills allow a third-party rotary table to be hooked into the machine to an added “A-Axis” to extend from its initial 3-axis machining capabilities. Setup for this workholding device is fairly straightforward and prompts within the ProtoTRAK programming language allow the machinist to prompt when to rotate the rotary table and by how much.
This is a great add-on feature for shops that routinely face sophisticated geometries requiring more handling of the part than a Kurt Vise can handle. Your One-Stop Machining Powerhouse
What was once known by the CNC industry as a typical “toolroom mill” has now taken many forms as a means to high-mix, low-volume machining that can accommodate a wide variety of parts, materials, and machining operations all within 1 open-style machine.
For the aerospace and automotive world, having a repeatable and accurate machine tool is critical for today’s demanding aircraft, vehicles, space systems, and anything else that flies, orbits, or drives. Baker and its team of machining experts are extremely excited to leverage this machine for its tooling operations as well as production capabilities for the overflow that our larger VMCs might have from time to time.
To learn more about how our ProtoTRAK can help with your machining & manufacturing needs, get in touch with us today!