The new technologies

Every second year I visit the world’s leading international metalworking exhibition EMO – and I have done so for the last two decades. The exhibition always presents new ideas, advancements in current technologies and emerging developments. Without fail I always leave the exhibition bewildered and always ask myself what next?

As the Viewpoint in this edition says: “With the emergence of additive machining over a decade ago, the technology quickly became a prototyping marvel. As design changes were made, the result could be quickly visualised into a 3D solid part. Manufacturers also appreciated the tool because it enabled them to see potential process problems in the actual cutting of the part, meaning modifications could be made on the fly without part functionality being compromised. Lastly, for the estimators, this tool allowed substantially better quote preparation.”

The materials being used for 3D printing have also evolved. However, lets face it, we can talk all we want about the potential of 3-D printing – about all of the slick new machines, heavy-duty materials and the amazing things you can make with them – but potential doesn’t go far on the factory floor. For example the 3D-printed gun may have made the headlines, but it would have been useless at withstanding an explosion in practice.

Additive manufacturing and machining in the spotlight
Additive manufacturing systems for metals have made incredible advancements over the past decade, and the arrival of the new hybrid machines in 2014 have set the latest benchmark for the technology.

Last year DMG MORI launched its Lasertec 65 3D Shape, which allows highly compact 5-axis milling and laser texturing of 3D plastic injection moulding tools on one machine and in one setup. Likewise, Mazak Corporation introduced its new hybrid multi-tasking technology when it unveiled its new Integrex i-400AM. The value of adding a milling process to a laser sintering machine continued with the launch of two other machines. The Matsuura Lumex Avance-25 and Sodick’s new metal 3D printer, the OPM250L, are very similar hybrid laser sintering/high-speed milling machines.

Compared to CNC-machined components, most metal parts produced by additive layer manufacturing processes often require post-machining due to their sub-standard surface finish, and are subject to inferior production rates. Furthermore, the cost of metal additive manufacturing systems can be difficult for manufacturers to justify, even for high-performance components.

Now a brand new 3D printing technique working 100 times faster than conventional 3D printing, and making objects within minutes by simply lifting them out of a pool of resin, has been created by scientists from the University of North Carolina. The technique, which could transform 3D printing, works up to 100 times faster than current methods and produces objects that are considerably stronger.

As organisations recognise the competitive advantage that these new technologies offer, everything from optimised product designs to value optimisation through streamlined supply chains and reduced inventories, I am sure there will be other technologies launched that will be in big competition to traditional fabrication methods.