Machine tools? You ain't seen nothin yet!(straight talk)

Author:Modic, Stan

Over the years new ideas have emerged in the world of machine tools. In covering almost every International Machine Tool Show (IMTS) in Chicago and many in Japan and Europe since the mid-1960s, I've found most have fallen short on their promise to revolutionize metalworking manufacturing.

The exceptions that come to mind include punched tape, Kearney & Trecker's tool magazine that led to the machining center and, obviously, CNC. Lasers were the talk of one IMTS. They changed the punch press but a laser-machining center never got off the ground.

Perhaps the latest revolutionary development in machine tools came in the mid-90s with the debut of a parallel kinematics machine configuration. The Variax, introduced by Giddings & Lewis, was the talk of the show. It never caught on in the US, having fallen through the cracks when G&L bought Kearny & Trecker, the Variax developer. The parallel-kinematics design, however, according to Paul Sheldon, one of the developers of the Variax, is popular in Europe.

The latest wrinkle in shaping metal is the multitasking machine tool that combines milling, turning, and other processes in a single machine.

"The done-in-one philosophy has been widely accepted, and more tools that are a little bit unique and accessories that are more application-oriented are going to be added to machines so that the capability of doing more operations in one setup will continue to grow over time," says Brian Papke, president of Mazak USA.

The direction is that more processes (in addition to milling and turning) such as heat treating, induction heating, honing, boring, welding will start appearing on machine tools.

More technology coming

"There is still a lot of technology to be developed. The future will be ever more disruptive," says Paul Warndorf, vice president-technology, AMT--The Association For Manufacturing Technology.

"I do believe machines in the future will know what they are doing relative to their capability and communicate that information out to look at a program coming to it, analyze it, and communicate what it can and can't do in the program and what it can do faster and better than called for to improve its efficiency," Warndorf tells me, adding: "We'll have machines that may still be three-axis but that are smart machines that can talk to you."

Paul Sheldon, the cinematographer-turned-machine designer, agrees these things can happen, but only if we change the way we think about the metal-removal process and how...

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