More than 5,400 manufacturing professionals from around the country descended on the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston last week for the biennial HOUSTEX event, held February 26-28. There, visitors interacted with more than 280 exhibiting companies occupying 65,610 square feet of exhibit space.
Offering attendees an interactive experience engineered to educate, connect and solve, HOUSTEX 2019, produced by SME and AMT, built upon its legacy with a refreshed program of workshops, networking events, free educational presentations and an expanded show floor. Visitors had the opportunity to experience the latest—from additive manufacturing to robotics, machining centers to welding, and dozens of technologies in between.
One new feature this year was the SME ZONE, the “nerve center” for everything happening at the event. There, attendees could catch keynotes, panel discussions and industry experts at the theater, see the next generation of manufacturers at the Student Summit, network with fellow attendees and exhibitors during hosted events, and learn more about SME.
Not just looking to connect buyers and sellers, the show made education a priority, kicking off with a keynote on Feb. 26 on how to get started in automation and why, presented by Matt Tyler, president and CEO, Vickers Engineering, and Corey Carolla, vice president, corporate development, Red Rabbit Automation. Founded in 2017, Red Rabbit Automation is a spinoff of Vickers Engineering, Inc., Troy, Mich.
Right out of the gate Tyler quashed any lingering questions about the impact automation has on jobs, saying, “Robotics absolutely creates jobs.” While automation does reduce the number of manual laborers needed, Tyler highlighted the growth it creates in higher-value, better-paying technology-related positions. For Vickers Engineering, introducing automation to their operations produced a moderate increase in the number of employees, while payroll doubled.
Carolla, referencing his conversations with manufacturers big and small, noted that potential customers are not looking for automation, but workforce and quality solutions, which just happen to be solved with automation. He noted in the past, manufacturers solved problems by throwing people at it, but in a tightening labor market and with increased foreign competition, that is no longer a viable solution.
In the past, manufacturers needed high-volume, long-term manufacturing contracts to pay for the integration costs of automation, pricing many smaller and more custom manufacturers out of the needed technology. However, new advances are enabling automation solutions that are easily redeployed based on shifting needs—eliminating that barrier. In the end, Tyler and Carolla reinforced that for those looking to get into automation, an integrator should be your partner and not a vendor.
Continuing the focus on education, Mikhail Gladkikh, additive manufacturing supply chain leader, Baker Hughes (BHGE), presented Wednesday’s keynote on the use of additive manufacturing (AM), more commonly known as 3D printing, in the energy industry.
Gladkikh began by painting a picture of the demands on manufacturing for energy, from the 30 percent global energy demand growth expected by 2040 to the extreme environmental demands on downhole parts where pressures can reach upwards of 40,000 psi and temperatures can hit 500° F (260° C). All these challenges lead to a need for materials that possess “high-strength, high-wear resistance, high-erosion resistance, high-corrosion resistance and supreme fatigue properties.”
“Oil and gas, in fact, is more sophisticated than space exploration,” Gladkikh argued.
Energy parts manufacturing offers a trifecta of properties that make it especially suited for AM—low-volume, high-mix, high-value—with very little mass production. For Gladkikh, AM allows users to accelerate design innovation through a fully digital cycle (design, test and manufacture), increases product performance, simplifies the supply chain and simplifies production systems.
For BHGE, their first functional AM part was created in 2013. Since then, more than 6,000 parts have been produced and more than 200 parts qualified—including an additive drill bit for downhole operations. Despite these advances, requirements to truly realize AM’s potential in the energy sector, according to Gladkikh, include: larger and more robust machines; better modeling and simulation tools; improved machine learning and automation; advanced material development; increased regulatory acceptance and qualification; and comprehensive training.
Closing out his keynote, Gladkikh concluded with a quote by President Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”Other educational presentations throughout the event hit upon the Internet of Things (IoT), attracting and retaining new workers, blockchain technologies, hybrid manufacturing and more.
Many exhibitors introduced new products and explained advanced technologies at HOUSTEX, some of which are detailed here.
Allied Machine & Engineering Corp, Dover, Ohio, showcased its new 4TEX Indexable Insert Drill and AccuThread T3 Carbide Thread Mill—along with their Wohlhaupter brand’s NOVI-TECH module. The 4TEX indexable carbide drill features twisted coolant outlets, increased core strength and improves hole size and finish, according to the company. Four-sided inserts are designed use two sides in the center pocket and two sides in the periphery pocket. Allied stated users will see improved tool holder rigidity, longer tool life, increased penetration rates and lower torque requirements from the drill. Available in 12 mm to 47 mm diameters and capable of 2xD, 3xD or 4xD depth of cuts depending on the drill size.
Designed for threading hardened or hard-to-machine metals, the AccuThread T3 machines only three threads at a time. According to the company this reduces tool pressure and increases the likelihood of tool survival. The solid carbide thread mills are available with imperial and metric shank options, feature an AM210 multi-layer PVD coating and come in UN and ISO thread forms. 2xD and 3xD depth of cuts are possible depending on size.
Wohlhaupter GmbH, Frickenhausen, Germany, a subsidiary of Allied Machine & Engineering, displayed its NOVI-TECH vibration-dampened intermediate module which the company says increases productivity, surface quality and process reliability in boring operations using long overhang tools. Featuring a viscoelastic mounted damper module, the NOVI-TECH allows machining diameters between 50-205 mm at up to 10xD.
Although it didn’t have any new products being showcased at the event, Mitutoyo America, Aurora, Illinois, featured its interactive table. With a catalog of more than 8,500 products, it’s hard to showcase the variety of tools available and their features. Mitutoyo’s high-tech solution involved an interactive touchscreen table that allowed attendees to browse a variety of product lines with easy-to-read access to specifications, key features, other products within the specific product family and even videos.
The company also showcased its MeasurLink software, which can collect data from a variety of its products, including digital gaging, multi-gage fixtures, CMMs, vision, surface, roundness and form systems. MeasurLink allows users to define what, how and where to inspect a part and allows tracking of demographic information. Version 9 of the software was released earlier this year and the company stated that upgrading from Version 8 or 9 is simple.
Lenzkes Clamping Tools Inc., Christiansburg, Va., has been helping manufacturers hold parts and raw material for more than 40 years. At HOUSTEX, it showcased three new products, Chain, Multi-Quick 60 S and Multi-Quick 100 S clamps. According to the company, its new Chain Clamp is the “easiest, fastest and safest way to hold round or cylindrical work pieces.” Built for repetitive work, the chain remains on the fixing elements and chain links do not need to be removed when clamping different sized parts.
Lenzkes’ Multi-Quick 60 S clamp offers both horizontal and vertical adjustable range with higher clamping pressure and low torque, according to the company. By redesigning and repositioning the pivot point, Lenzkes stated it can achieve up to 50 percent higher clamping force than the MQ60. Suitable for tapped holes or T-slots, the redesigned clamp has a flatter forged clamping shoe and larger heads on the fixing bolts. The Multi-Quick 100 S features similar improvements as the 60 S and the company claimed it can achieve up to 50 percent higher clamping force than their MQ100 and MQ106 clamps. Its integrated sliding plate allows greater horizontal adjustment and is also suited for tapped holes or T-slot set ups.
For Carr Lane Manufacturing, St. Louis, the focus at their booth was on precision. Its new Air Rest Buttons use pneumatic position control to detect proper workpiece loading in a machine fixture. A precision floating plunger is held within a threaded body the users installs in a fixture. A reamed hole, available in three diameters (0.1875″, 0.25″ and 0.375″ nominal), accepts any height of Carr Lane’s standard press-fit-type rest buttons. When the workpiece is properly placed, the Air Rest Button plunger fully retracts into the body, sealing off air flow and increasing overall pressure of the system, which can be read with an analog or digital pressure sensor, then tied into a PLC or control system.
Knowing your workpiece is properly loaded is great, but useless if you’re not actually holding it down. Carr Lane has that covered too, and while the company offers a wide variety of clamps, it was especially focused on its floating clamps during the show. Featuring independent bottom and top jaws, the position-flexible swing clamps offer 110° rotation to clamp and support the workpiece. With load capacity up to 1,800 lb, the clamps reduce the chance of deformation by first adjusting to the workpiece with light spring force before locking—providing additional support points and reduced machining vibration when used in conjunction with primary locators and clamps. This makes the clamps perfect for thin, light workpieces such as sheet metal, carbon fiber and aluminum, according to the company.
When you first think of automation, it’s likely that images of robots dance across your mind. Caron Engineering Inc., Wells, Maine, was at HOUSTEX showing that automation is more than that. The developers of CNC optimization solutions highlighted its newest Tool Monitoring Adaptive Control system—TMAC 3.0—and the latest version of ToolConnect, a new RFID tool identification and data management system.
Using customized sensors, TMAC 3.0 monitors power, vibration or strain to predict and measure tool wear. In high-precision environments the ability to measure tool wear in real-time can mean the difference between a good part, time-consuming additional machining or wasted material. TMAC allows operators to visualize the actual cut, accounting for tool wear, enabling adjustments to run at optimum efficiency. The newest version of the system features a web-based UI capable of monitoring multiple processes or machine channels simultaneously with customizable user views that can be accessed from any device. Adaptive Control allows TMAC to override the machine tool feed rate automatically based on the cutting power load of the tool, optimizing the entire cutting process, extending tool life and reducing cycle times by up to 60 percent, according to the company. Caron claimed shops can be up and running with the system in less than a week, with typical installation time of one day or less and two days of standard training—an important characteristic for busy job shops.
ToolConnect is a retrofit hardware and software package designed to eliminate human error and reduce setup time for machine tools. Utilizing RFID tags embedded in tool holders, measurement data from a tool presetter is written to the RFID tag which is then read at a custom RFID read station at the machine. Tool offsets are automatically updated in the controller by ToolConnect and once machining is complete, tool life information is updated on the RFID tag. A new flexible UI design allows drag and drop setup of the overall process and can be displayed on any connected PC. Users are also now able to program ToolConnect remotely, eliminating on-site service calls for upgraded functionalities.
HORN USA, Franklin, Tenn., may not be from Texas, but its message at HOUSTEX was clear—we know oilfield manufacturing. In addition to its tooling products suitable for a variety of industries, the company displayed its oilfield solutions for high performance thread-cutting machines for feed pipes, case dimensions and couplings. According to the company, its tailored approach to the oil and gas market provides higher process reliability, reduced machining cycle times and longer tool life through practical, reliable solutions.
The company showcased a variety of its CVD-D tipped tools capable of drilling, turning and milling sintered carbide up to 2,200 Vickers hardness. Designed for machining CFRP and GFR composite materials, the tools can also be used on carbide and ceramic green compacts, sintered carbide and aluminum wrought alloys. Horn also promoted its portfolio of tools for gear cutting tooth geometries of module 0.5 to 30. A new skiving tool range further expands the company’s gear cutting capabilities for high-yield manufacturing of internal gear teeth, splines and other internal profiles, and external gear teeth with interference. Horn stated these tools offer users significantly shorter process times—by four to five times—compared to broaching and allows turning and gear cutting to take place in one set up. Tools are customized to the application and material being machined.
One of the greatest values offered by trade shows is seeing equipment in action. Chevalier Machinery, Santa Fe Springs, Calif., played its part with a vertical machining center and two CNC lathes running under power during the event.
The EM2040L high-speed VMC features a 10,000 rpm, 20 hp FANUC spindle servo motor and a 47.2″ x 20.1″ (1,199 mm x 511 mm) table capable of supporting 1,320 lb (599 kg). The high-speed linear ways offer X, Y, Z travel of 40.2″ x 20.9″ x 20.1″ (1,021 mm x 531 mm x 511 mm). Designed for large quantity machining, the EM2040L utilizes a CT40 BIG-PLUS tool holder and 24+1 arm-type automatic tool changer (ATC). The EM family of high-speed VMCs can be equipped with FANUC, Siemens, Mitsubishi or Smart controls, according to Chevalier.
In addition to the EM2040L, the company had two 45° true slant-bed CNC lathes with rigid box ways in operation—the FBL-500 series and FBL-460 series. Both machines feature a low center of gravity to increase access and ease workpiece changeovers, a torque tube design structure designed to handle greater stress without deformation and increase vibration damping and are equipped with FANUC 0i-TD controls. In addition to the long-bed L models onsite at HOUSTEX, offering greater cutting lengths, an MC model is available featuring live tooling functions to increase flexible machining capabilities. The FBL-500 shown sports a 60 hp motor and three-speed gearbox capable of 500 rpm, handles bar capacity of up to 12.5″ (318 mm), has a 12-station BMT-85 live turret, continuous C-axis and a 32″ (813 mm) four-jaw manual independent chuck. With bar capacity up to 6.3″ (160 mm), the FBL-460 has a 35 hp motor and two-speed gearbox capable of 1,500 rpm, has an available 1.25″ (38.1 mm) OD 10-station turret, A2-15 spindle nose and an 18″ (457 mm) hydraulic chuck.
HOUSTEX 2021 is set to return to Texas in two years, from February 23-25. Those in the Southwest and the energy industry will want to mark their calendars now. The latest technologies on display this year will be even more refined and there is no doubt we’ll see even greater manufacturing opportunities enabled by them. To stay abreast of the latest HOUSTEX developments, click here.