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FABTECH 2017 Features Faster and Smarter Cutting, Forming, and Welding Processes

Jim Lorincz
By Jim Lorincz Contributing Editor, SME Media
Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering
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More than 45,000 people attended FABTECH 2017 at McCormick Place in Chicago. Photo: Butler Photography

The FABTECH logo may be new, but the results of FABTECH 2017 reflected the continuing commitment to advancing the technology of the forming, fabricating, welding, and finishing industries that the five sponsoring industries represent. “The manufacturing industry is entering a new age and experiencing an industrial revolution that is changing the way we manufacture,” said John Catalano, FABTECH show co-manager and SME senior director. “And in the midst of this, FABTECH is also evolving to stay at the leading edge of the industry. We are excited to launch a new logo that demonstrates the evolution of the FABTECH brand.”

“While we usher in a new visual identity, FABTECH remains committed to delivering a high-quality, innovative event experience,” added Mark Hoper, FABTECH show co-manager and FMA senior vice president of media and expositions. “The show will continue to meet the demands of the industry and showcase not only what’s new, but what’s next.”

And what’s next may already be here. Advances in manufacturing technology of all kinds—from hardware to software and productivity-enhancing ancillary equipment—could be seen in the booths of 1700 exhibitors who took up 750,000 square feet of exhibit space. They welcomed 45,000 plus visitors to Chicago’s McCormick Place, where FABTECH 2017 revealed that the metal forming and fabricating industry is well aware of the key trends in the metalworking industry. Automation, digitalization via Industry 4.0, and just about any way of lasing, punching, cutting, burning, and welding materials were highlighted in virtually every exhibit.

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The new FABTECH logo.

Targeting the Skills Gap

Panels of industry experts probed the key trends in metalworking manufacturing with well-attended discussions about the state of manufacturing, the potential of hybrid additive manufacturing, and innovative workforce development efforts to fill the skills gap in manufacturing. There are many more jobs—several million by various counts—that are going unfilled in manufacturing because there aren’t enough qualified candidates. STEM training of the young is the job of manufacturing companies, one prescient panelist said, especially since companies haven’t been as committed to doing the job in the past.

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Several panel discussions were featured at FABTECH. Photo: Butler Photography

Panelists agreed that the time for action by manufacturers is now to fill the growing skills gap between the metalworking jobs available and the pool of qualified candidates to fill them. In assessing the state of the industry, panelists pointed out the apparent disconnect between the high-tech reality of today’s manufacturing shops and the “smokestack” image of the past. Young people who attended FABTECH 2017 were able to see the truth of modern manufacturing. Panelists agreed that the next most important step is to communicate that to their parents and the schools at the earliest grade levels as possible.

Exploring AM

At the 3D/Additive Pavilion, a panel of experts examined the implications of this hottest of technologies. The panel, “Evolution of Additive Manufacturing and What It Means for the Fabrication Industry,” revealed the challenges in design, implementation, and—for this audience—the metallurgy behind the growth of AM.

“Additive manufacturing is an enabler—you can use it to make end-use products, tooling, or prototypes. It is now an alternative manufacturing process,” said Carl Dekker, president of Met-L-Flo Inc. (Sugar Grove, IL), a contract manufacturer utilizing AM. “It enables the evolution of technologies or products that would not be economically viable to go to production any other way, and gives them a chance to see the light of day. As those types of products proliferate, we will see more opportunities that we can’t even comprehend now.”

Dekker outlined how the technology has evolved. “We all called it rapid prototyping until we realized that we could make parts with it. If you are producing an object for final use, whether that use a jig, fixture, or a part, that is manufacturing,” he said.

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More than 1700 exhibitors featured their products and services at  FABTECH 2017. Photo: Butler Photography

Jon Riley, senior vice president, technology for the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (Ann Arbor, MI) pointed out that additive manufacturing of metal parts can be very cost effective, and companies are making them now. However, the extremely wide range of materials available to design parts makes using AM a huge unknown—especially for aerospace. “Airbus, Boeing, and GE all have the money to test and qualify additive processes, which involves making lots of metal parts,” said Riley. “It’s difficult for small companies to invest that kind of time and money to get data sets for the aerospace part approval process.”

He said a big step forward would be developing more information on metal additive materials through the technical committee process to make metal AM a more viable process for small to midsize companies.

Getting Smart

Attendees couldn’t escape how “Smart” with a capital S has taken over the discussion of connectivity from the shop floor to management to remotely located suppliers. Major machine builders demonstrated how processes can be monitored, orders tracked, and data collected and analyzed on a real-time basis. And advances in automation are needed to keep up with the blazing speeds today’s fiber lasers are capable of.

Artful Design

In a process you might call “Part to Art,” collaborators Albert Paley, renowned sculpture artist, and Jesse James, famed West Coast Chopper personality, used their talents to create two metal sculptures, each of which resembles a collage of metal parts. In a collaborative process, Paley and James each began creating one of the sculptures, then traded the sculptures, each of which was finished by the other artist. The sculptures will be auctioned by Wright Auction House in Chicago, with proceeds benefiting the five FABTECH co-sponsors—AWS, FMA, SME, PMA, and CCAI—in order to support grants and educational opportunities for the metalworking trades.

News from the Exhibit Floor

The forming and fabricating industry has never been short of precision engineered equipment, but the addition of smart communications for individual machines, machine networks with centralized data collection, and data monitoring for maintenance and troubleshooting has taken equipment to the next level. Plus, advances in conventional manufacturing technology continue to make manufacturers more productive.

Amada America Inc. held a press event that focused on both smart communications and traditional manufacturing technology. The company demonstrated new laser operations via a live video stream from its Schaumburg, IL, technology center to the Amada booth. Also at the press event, Mike Guerin, COO, detailed the company’s plan to expand its manufacturing operations in the US. The company is already manufacturing 16 lasers and six automation tower systems per month at its Brea, CA, plant. Amada America’s parent company in Japan recently announced that it will be investing $100 million in additional manufacturing operations in the US over the next four years. It will be building a new plant on the East Coast and will be expanding its tooling division in Buffalo, NY, adding on to that facility within a year. Also, the Brea plant will be expanded from its current 185,000-sq.ft. to 245,000-sq.ft. in Buena Park, CA.

At its booth, Amada America featured various technologies, including:

ENSIS 3015 RI 3kW Fiber Laser with Rotary Index: ENSIS technology automatically adjusts the laser beam’s properties to process thin-to-thick material without a lens change. The laser easily switches between flat sheet cutting to tube or pipe cutting in less than two minutes and processes round, square, rectangle, C-channel, and angle iron.

HG 1003 Press Brake with Automatic Tool Changer: The automatic tool changer loads even the most complex tool layouts within three minutes, and integrated bend sensor technology maintains consistent bend angle accuracy, according to Amada.

LC 2515 C1 AJ Punch/Fiber Laser Combination: This machine provides the combined forces of a 22-ton turret punch press with the speed and versatility of a 2kW fiber laser. A 44-station MPT (multi-purpose turret) includes four tapping tool stations to reduce secondary operations by enabling fabricators to cut, punch, form and tap on a single machine.

The Robotic Welding and Cutting Business Line of ABB (Auburn Hills, MI) demoed its Robotic Inspection System, which was developed through a collaboration between ABB and NUB3D, which develops digital, 3D inspection and quality-control solutions. ABB subsequently purchased NUB3D in February 2017. The robot-integrated inspection solution digitizes and simplifies quality control while improving cycle times, according to ABB. It consists of a 3D white-light scanning sensor mounted to the arm of an ABB robot, relying on the agility of the robot to provide the precise movements necessary for the sensors to access most areas of both simple and complex parts from the optimum angle.

The sensor technology records and compares geometric and surface data with digital CAD models, enabling automated inspection of manufactured parts and pieces, helping factories reduce cycle times while improving quality and reducing the risk of quality control errors. The turnkey inspection and quality-control system is ideal for automotive original equipment manufacturers, aerospace companies and customers in other sectors such as metals and plastics.

The sensor is mounted to the arm of an ABB IRB 4600 robot, simulating the inspection of a metal component spot welded by an IRB 6700 Lean ID Robot. An IRB 2600 robot shuttles the part between the inspection and spot welding robots.

BLM Group (Novi, MI) introduced the 3 kW LT8.10 fiber laser tube-cutting machine, which provides precise laser cutting on a variety of materials for tube diameters up to 9.5″ (241 mm). The system is ideal for cutting highly reflective materials such as brass, copper and aluminum and it can process round, square, rectangular, and special shaped tube or bar and open profiles with ease. The system has a new compact and lightweight Tube Cutter 3D cutting head, making it ideal for tube cutting applications, including tilt cutting of thick-walled steel. Also on display was the SMART all-electric, 8-axis tube bending machine for small-diameter applications. The compact unit is particularly well suited for bending complex components with different bending radii and tubes pre-assembled with fittings, end-forms, and other features commonly used in the automotive and HVAC industries.

Bystronic Inc. (Elgin, IL) introduced its manufacturing execution system (MES) software to guide sheet metal products on the ideal path through the production process. Bystronic MES creates digital transparency across the added-value chain of sheet to metal production. The ByCockpit app provides real-time analysis and visualization of the data associated with sheet metal processing. Information about key indicators of machine performance are visualized. Bystronic continues to introduce more powerful fiber laser cutting systems. The ByStar Fiber in 8-kW and 10-kW power models are able to cut stainless steel, aluminum and mild steel as well as non-ferrous metals such as copper and brass.

Cincinnati Inc. (Harrison, OH) offered a new CPX300 high-definition plasma cutting table. It features a Hypertherm XPR 300 amp power supply, an 8-kW CL980 fiber laser with a dedicated air-assist system, and a new light source from its partner nLIGHT. On the additive manufacturing side, Cincinnati offers its SAAM (Small Area Additive Manufacturing) system and offers contract 3D printing services through its service bureau as a complement to its BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) system.

ESAB Welding and Cutting Products(Florence, SC) showcased its portfolio of welding products and announced that the company has agreed to acquire the welding wire operations of Sandvik Materials Technology, further expanding its stainless steel and nickel filler metal offerings. Heading the list of new welding technology is the Rebel EMP 205ic AC/DC, billed as the first true all-process portable welding system with AC and DC TIG, MIG, Flux-Cored and DC Stick in a portable 49 lb (22 kg) package. The Rebel EMP 285ic industrial welding package delivers strong output, enabling users to gain the productivity benefits of spray transfer welding with 0.045″ (1.1 mm) solid wires. ESAB’s Weld Cloud connectivity allows collecting data from its products with an eye toward productivity improvement and process tracking. Also shown was the DMX next-generation automated plasma beveling system and SmartBevel Technology, which simplifies automated plasma programming and accurate bevel cutting with minimal operator intervention.

Lincoln Electric (Cleveland) previewed the new $30 million Lincoln Electric Welding Technology & Training Center, which began operations in late 2017. The train-the-trainer school houses nearly 200 welding booths and expanded facilities for professional development—including for school instructors, industrial trainers, and welding design engineers. On display was the Power Wave R450 equipped with Lincoln Electric’s Waveform Control Technology. The portfolio of welding modes includes MIG, TIG, flux core, and advanced pulse modes specific for nickel, stainless and low- and high-alloy steel as thin as 0.6 mm. Rated for 450A at 100% duty cycle, the Power Wave R450 offers fast travel speeds, low spatter generation, and excellent gap bridging capability, making it well-suited for robotic power sourcing for automotive, heavy-fabrication, and general fabrication environments, according to the company. Engineered with Lincoln Electric’s ArcLink, a robotic communications interface, the Power Wave R450 provides simple plug-and-play capability with leading robot manufacturers including FANUC, Yaskawa, ABB, and Kuka.

Miller Electric Mfg. Co. (Appleton, WI) featured productivity-enhancing products, as well as welding innovations from sister companies: Hobart, Bernard, and Tregaskiss. Miller featured Hobart filler metals, along with Bernard Semi-Automatic MIG Guns and Tregaskiss Robotic MIG Guns during welding demonstrations. Miller solutions include welding information management solutions, safety equipment, welding automation and the following new products.

With ArcReach technology, operators can make parameter changes at the weld joint using the wire feeder or remote — without a control cord — resulting in less walking and more welding, as well as improved productivity, safety and quality.

The XMT 350 FieldPro power source is compatible with all ArcReach accessories, including ArcReach Smart Feeders, ArcReach SuitCase 8/12 feeders and stick/TIG remotes, to deliver remote control capabilities for stick, MIG, TIG, flux-cored, pulsed MIG and Regulated Metal Deposition (RMD) welding processes in construction and ship applications. In addition, ArcReach technology is available in more engine-driven welder/generators from Miller, including the Big Blue 600 Air Pak and the Trailblazer 325.

Murata Machinery USA Inc. (Charlotte, NC) introduced the LS3015GC fiber laser. It features an integrated flying optics system, enabling it to cut through both ferrous and non-ferrous materials, including steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, and bronze. The LS3015GC also offers a smaller footprint and upgraded drive system and is expected to be an economical laser-cutting solution. Murata demonstrated how its intelligent control system delivers condition uptime data and projects cost implications.

PFERD Inc. (Milwaukee, WI) displayed several new technologies, including:

COMBICLICK quick-change disc system, which provides lower workpiece temperature while improving both stock removal and disc life. Designed for use with coated abrasive, non-woven and felt discs, the COMBICLICK system consists of a specially developed backing pad with a locking mechanism. The threaded backing pad allows COMBICLICK discs to be used on most available angle grinders.

Miniature brushes from PFERD for cleaning and light deburring provide repeatable deburring and surface-conditioning results on a variety of materials, from hard alloys to soft aluminum. The lineup of wheel, cup and end configurations includes stem-mounted miniature brushes suited for precision applications required in industries such as electronics, medical, aerospace and jewelry.

TITANIUM cut burs are the latest addition to PFERD’s Carbide Bur line-up. TITANIUM cut is for machining hard titanium alloys (with tensile strength greater than 500 N/mm2). TITANIUM cut’s tooth geometry generates stock removal rates up to 60% higher than conventional cross-cut burs, according to the company. This results in a smooth milling action with reduced vibrations.

TRUMPF Inc. (Farmington, CT) was all about connectivity, especially with the direct interactive show floor link that it displayed with its Smart Factory in Hoffman Estates, IL. With 13 connected machines, digitalization provided the kind of communications transparency that enables sheet metal processors to realize real-time Industry 4.0 production-control.

For sheet metal processors, the production control system automates the 80% of all operations that consist of indirect processes, such as upstream and downstream job handling. It’s as simple for shops as creating an order digitally with a few clicks with fast processing of purchase orders and quotations. Software developed by TRUMPF’s AXOOM software unit provides the online capability to order and track parts quickly.

Weiler Abrasives Group (Cresco, PA), a provider of abrasives, power brushes, and maintenance products for surface conditioning, announced the expansion of its resin fiber discs (RFDs) offering to include five new products for varying performance requirements: Tiger Ceramic, Zirc and Aluminum, and Wolverine Zirc and Aluminum Oxide. These discs are designed to provide an aggressive cut rate and a smooth finish on tool steel, aluminum and any material in between. The products are said to be ideal for heavy stock removal, edge chamfering, weld blending, grinding, and surface preparation and finishing. Tiger Aluminum resin fiber discs are well-suited for grinding, blending and finishing. The discs reduce heat buildup to delay melting and prevent the disc from loading, resulting in higher cut rates, a long life and a superior finish, according to Weiler Abrasives.

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