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The Future of the Metalworking Industry

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering
As the transition to Industry 4.0 picks up speed, connectivity is key to the future of the metalworking industry.

Manufacturing Engineering asked thought leaders at five companies for their views on challenges and trends facing the metalworking industry. Participants in this question and answer feature are:

  • Jan Andersson, global director, Tech Team and marketing, Greenleaf Corp., Saegertown, PA
  • Jack Burley, vice president of sales and engineering,
    BIG Kaiser Precision Tooling Inc., Hoffman Estates, IL
  • Brendt Holden, president, Haimer USA LLC, Villa Park, IL
  • Bill Obras, vice president of sales and marketing,
    Rego-Fix Tool Corp., Indianapolis
  • Marco Zwinkels, director of R&D technology platforms, Sandvik Coromant, Sandviken, Sweden

MANUFACTURING ENGINEERING: What do you see as the key macroeconomic trends affecting tooling and workholding from 2017 to 2022? How will the industry manage and profit from these trends?

Jan Andersson
Greenleaf Corp.

JAN ANDERSSON: There are clear trends that the economy is moving in the right direction. Some industries, such as aerospace and energy, are moving faster, but automotive is moving in the right direction, as well. That bodes well for tooling and workholding.

JACK BURLEY: The growth of Industry 4.0, or the Internet of Things (IoT), is a key trend and will have a profound influence on tooling and workholding as it relates to the flow of information to machine tools and engineers/operators. Sensors are becoming smaller and easier to install in all kinds of products—not just cars and appliances. Smart tooling and workholding will provide real-time feedback about problems such as vibration back to the machine control and send alerts to an engineer that adjustments need to be made. Smart factories will require all equipment and tooling to be Industry 4.0 capable.

Jack Burley
BIG Kaiser

BRENDT HOLDEN: Continued globalization will help manufacturing grow.Also, increases in global population and wealth will allow for more things to be manufactured and ultimately needed and purchased. The metalworking industry will grow and profit from these trends, but the key question will be which manufacturing companies will grow and profit? The companies that have prepared themselves and have adopted highly productive machining practices will benefit the most over the next five years, regardless of the parts of the world in which they manufacture their products or do business.

BILL OBRAS: In general terms, the industry will experience two key trends during the next five years—an acute need for skilled/trained labor and increased global competitiveness in terms of pricing. In turn, these trends will continue to drive the industry towards more machining automation, including such tasks as tool assembly and setup, tool life monitoring, automatic cutting parameter adjustments, in-process part inspection and real-time part-to-part corrections. With that said, there will also be further implementation of sensors and smart chip technologies that provide even more cutting and performance data and insight, thus allowing manufacturers to build valuable databases that can help optimize machining processes.

Brendt Holden
Haimer USA

The industry will also realize huge benefits through investment in automation as well as on the redistribution of human resources from the traditional machine operator to skilled programmers, cell designers, robotic experts and database management personnel. Such investments will help reduce part costs, improve yield rates and boost dimensional part consistency.

MARCO ZWINKELS: The dominant macroeconomic trends affecting the manufacturing industry are expected to be an extrapolation of current trajectories—slow economic growth in developed countries combined with the establishment of a middle class in developing countries and continued aging of developed country population.

Bill Obras
Rego-Fix Tool Corp.

This will drive air travel and automotive sales and needs in the medical industry. Globally, further tightening of environmental regulations will continue to push technologies in many areas, which will generate challenges and opportunities for the manufacturing industry.

ME: New toolmaking, toolholding and workholding technology will continue to drive productivity improvements. What do you think will be the key technology developments over the next five years?

ANDERSSON: One key trend is the change in work materials. Industries that have traditionally machined high-alloy steels are moving into stainless steels, and applications that use stainless steels are moving into nickel-based high-temperature alloys. Also, while Inconel 718 is still an important material in aerospace applications, many of those applications are moving to newer materials such as Inconel 718 Plus and proprietary high-temperature alloys.

Marco Zwinkels
Sandvik Coromant

Another change is that some traditionally forged components are being 3D printed or made out of powder metal materials, while higher-quality forged components are being made closer to near net shape. These changes demand new metalcutting strategies.

BURLEY: Additive technology is a new resource for designing and manufacturing parts. For example, there are multiple possibilities for making parts from steel that are lighter than solid aluminum due to the honeycomb cross sections achievable with additive. This will influence tool designs that require higher speeds and lighter weight.

HOLDEN: The integration of digital manufacturing, or Industry 4.0, is a key trend. It’s hard to predict the outcome, but I’ve heard of R&D efforts at major cutting tool manufacturers focused on sensor technology that will allow cutting conditions to be adjusted and maximized during manufacturing based on in-process cutting effects. Along those lines, a second trend will likely be shops and production facilities adopting complete modern programming techniques that lead to more aggressive machining and major productivity improvements. Finally, the move to greater consistency will continue and tooling setup will be an important part of that process. For example, more organized setup procedures will lead to consistent machining conditions. This will require equipment such as tool presetters, tool balancing machines, shrink-fit machines and shrink-fit toolholders.

OBRAS: The first development will be smarter and faster CNC machine tools with more advances in sensing and feedback technology that can optimize and adjust cutting parameters in real time. The second is continued advances in additive manufacturing that extend beyond rapid prototyping. We will see many more hybrid machines that combine additive and subtractive processes. These machines will reduce tooling and material handling costs while increasing productivity. New powder compositions will accelerate the acceptance of this hybrid technology. Finally, there will be more 3D printing of metal products for lower volume applications and those benefiting from unique part geometries and designs possible only via 3D printing. The cost of these systems should decrease as their speed and accuracy increase, making them well suited for high-volume applications.    

ZWINKELS: Not surprisingly, digitization of the manufacturing industry as well as additive manufacturing will be high on the agenda.

The use of presetters, such as this one from Haimer’s newly acquired Microset business unit, is on the rise. Automated tool presetting can be integrated with machine tool operations.

ME: Advances in tool materials have helped create cutting tools and toolholders that are stronger, more wear resistant and less affected by vibration, as well as workholding with improved rigidity and security. What do you see as the key advances in materials over the next five years?

ANDERSSON: We see a major expansion of application areas for ceramic tools. These tools have traditionally been applied at high speeds to difficult-to-machine workpieces such as nickel- and cobalt-based materials, hardened steel and cast iron. Today, new phase-hardened ceramic tools can be applied at lower speeds in those materials, but the use of the tools is also expanding to steels and stainless steels, both in turning and more so in milling, something that was simply unthinkable only a few years ago. With phase-hardened ceramics, natural grain growth within the material itself builds a structure that makes it many times stronger than other ceramics.

HOLDEN: Regarding milling, we will see a continuation of the development of ceramic and diamond endmills that allow better transfer of the chip and heat from the workpiece, particularly when cutting hard-to-machine materials. Secondly, coating advances will allow for improved cutting tool wear and part production. Finally, more accurate and better balanced toolholders and cutting tool combinations [a fully balanced tooling assembly] will produce less vibration at higher speeds and feeds, boosting productivity. There are toolholder technologies that, when combined with cutting tools, allow for optimized runout, rigidity, balance and tool security.

OBRAS: Key advances will be made in cutting tool coatings and materials designed to handle the evolution of new and more difficult-to-machine alloys. In relation to that, ceramic cutting tool materials will factor in greatly and continue to evolve at a rapid pace. On the toolholding side, advanced systems will provide higher clamping and cutting tool security, while further minimizing TIR and dampening vibration to maximize tool life. At the same time, these systems will provide ease of assembly, repeatability and longevity—all important to meet the demands of future automated systems.

ZWINKELS: Materials for cutting tools and toolholders will continue moving toward tailored properties on multi-scale levels through precise engineering of feedstock and processing techniques. This will open the door for further optimization of tool materials for ever more demanding operations.

ME: New coatings have been instrumental in creating cutting tools that perform better and last longer, particularly in difficult-to-machine materials. What are the key technology developments driving improved cutting tool coatings?

ANDERSSON: Tremendous strides have been made in coating technology over the past 20 years, but I think we will be seeing smaller, more evolutionary steps in the future. At the same time, there will be more holistic approaches to coatings that look at interactions between substrates, coatings, pre- and postcoating surface treatments and the application of micro-geometries that optimize edge-line conditions. By developing tool manufacturing strategies that include all these factors, you can accomplish more than with coatings alone. For example, pretreatment has traditionally been about adhesion of coating to the substrate, but now you can change the substrate to behave tougher and/or with more wear resistance.

With that said, technology is ever evolving and that combined with a more holistic approach may again result in great strides, pushing the limit of what we see as possible today.

BURLEY: Advances in new workpiece materials, such as those used in aerospace and medical components, require extended life from cutting tools. The only practical way to achieve this is through better tool coatings that cope with higher abrasive wear, improved coolant flow to the cutting edges, and higher speeds. Diamond-like coatings (DLC) are better than ever, with new technology that allows them be applied to a much wider field of carbide-cobalt content tools.

HOLDEN: Advances in tool coatings and edge preps allow for smoother cutting and have addressed the age-old challenge of removing heat from the material being cut and the cutting tool itself. New coatings are constantly being developed to address the issue of heat, especially in difficult-to-machine materials. Also, advances in the delivery and consistency of coolant, allowing it to hit the cutting tool edge, has allowed for improved cutting tool life and chip evacuation.

OBRAS: Advances will continue through the use of innovative carbide compositions and structures, the evolving use of ceramics, unique cutting tool geometries, and new and evolving coatings to meet the needs of current and future challenging machining applications.   

ZWINKELS: A variety of tool coating technologies will continue to be developed in parallel. Key to all technologies is the combination of competencies in materials science and in-depth understanding of manufacturing equipment and processes. Thereby, coatings can be tailored for application-specific needs.

ME: Advanced cutting tool presetters enable tool measurement to be automated and, in some cases, presetters can communicate directly with machine tools. What are the advantages of these types of systems and how are they being implemented in today’s manufacturing operations?

ANDERSSON: Automated tool presetting and process measurement equipment that is integrated into the machine tool can produce major process improvements, particularly with larger components, such as those in the energy sector. They can help control wear characteristics—primarily flank wear—which leads to better quality parts. With larger components, it may not be possible to complete the part with one cutting edge, and when presetters communicate directly with machine tools, that opens up opportunities to use identical sister tools where one picks up exactly where the other one left off.

The use of digital tool information is on the rise. For example, BIG Kaiser’s EWD EVO digital boring head was designed to aid the operator by synching the head with the company’s new smartphone and tablet app.

BURLEY: Production planning requires that all the tools for a job are located, set up and ready. With this data, end users not only have all the tools ready for the next job, they also know what jobs the machine could change over to if one or more of the required tools currently in use breaks or becomes otherwise unavailable. To accommodate such a large tooling inventory, machines can either have a large tool storage system, such as 300 or more, or automated tool racks can share tools over a line of machines and change into different machines automatically. In this kind of system, the tool measurement machine (presetter) can communicate with any machine or cell, with notifications going back and forth between the cell and the tool room to address requests for new tools.

HOLDEN: The transition to Industry 4.0 starts with machining environments that are highly consistent from day to day, part to part, month to month, and year to year. Tool presetting is vital to the beginning of this process. Once the toolholder assembly is preset, data can be sent directly to the machine tool (saving time and preventing potential machining mistakes) or it can be transferred to an RFID chip installed in the toolholder. Shops using these techniques have also found the presetting process to be a huge factor in reducing scrap during production. As companies move towards consistent, highly productive machining, the use of presetters will not be a luxury, but rather an absolute necessity.

OBRAS: There are many advantages to advanced presetters, especially those that help automate tooling setup as well as measure and record presetting parameters. Such advanced systems will fuel growth in automation as manufacturers strive to maintain global competitiveness. Advantages of presetter automation include cost savings due to reduced labor in tool setups, improved cutting tool TIR accuracy, reduced potential for setup errors or machine crashes, and improved precision—all of which lead to greater part-to-part consistency. Also, automated presetting systems provide better operator safety. However, the most significant benefit of these systems is the communication they provide between the toolholder/cutting tool and the machine tool. The resulting collection of high-quality cutting performance data provides baselining information and the ability to analyze and then optimize performance and productivity through adjustments of feeds and speeds, while considering tool cost versus tool life and performance.

ZWINKELS: Companies with a high focus on overall equipment efficiency (OEE) and lean manufacturing strive to optimize their productivity and quality through automating as many processes as possible. Systematic preparation outside of the machine helps to secure high machine utilization and low scrap rates. Linking the presetter directly to the machine reduces the risk for manual error and minimizes machine down time. Machining centers and multitask machines have worked this way for quite some time, but we see also more and more companies implementing this way of working together with quick-change toolholding on turning centers.

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