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GF Machining Demonstrates New Technology, New Applications

Alan Rooks
By Alan Rooks Editor in Chief, Manufacturing Engineering
By Larry Adams Contributing Writer, SME Media

Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention, and this symbiotic relationship between need and solution was on full display at a recent two-day, two-location event hosted by GF Machining Solutions.

Over two days, new products were showcased, new uses for established technologies were examined, and problem-solving discussions were shared.

The company’s semi-annual Solutions Days, June 27-28, drew more than 250 visitors. The first day of the event was held at the company’s Lincolnshire, Illinois, facility. On the second day, activities moved to the company’s newly expanded Microlution division in Chicago, where attendees got to see sophisticated and high precision laser technology, according to Scott Fosdick, president-Americas, GF Machining Solutions. The Microlution machine tool building operation was rededicated on June 28 with a ribbon cutting ceremony, plant tour, and educational sessions.

Products displayed at the Lincolnshire event included a variety of EDMs, high-speed multi-axis milling machines, and laser equipment for machining, texturing, and additive manufacturing (AM), said Fosdick.

GF Machining’s semi-annual Solutions Days, June 27-28, drew more than 250 visitors. (Provided by GF Machining Solutions)

Among these technologies were four new products including:

  • Cut C 350, a $99,000 low-cost EDM, which along with the Cut C 600 that has an X-travel of 600 mm, brings optimizes cutting and easy programming at low price point. Featuring optimized cutting speeds and reliable accuracy, the new CUT C model also simplifies programming with its equipped AC CUT HMI 2 system and on-board EDM expert modules, according to the company.
  • ML-10, a high-end laser machining system from the Microlution division that is the big brother of the establish ML-10 and can produce very small holes even on large aerospace components.
  • Two AM-related products, the DMP Flex 350 3D printer, and the AgieCharmilles Cut AM 500 EDM for post-processing of parts by additive manufacturing methods. Building upon the company’s DMP Factory 500, which had its North American debut at IMTS 2018, the DMP Flex 350 features a 10.82 x 10.82 x 14.96″ working area, as well as 3D Systems’ additive manufacturing (AM) software, 3DXpert. With the addition of the upcoming AgieCharmilles CUT AM 500 machine, designed for the removal of build plates for additive manufacturing, the DMP Flex 350 is made to handle R&D projects and high-volume production alike.

With the laser-based 3D printer, the company now has three types of laser technology under an “advanced manufacturing” umbrella that includes laser cutters and surface texturing devices. The 3D printer, created in collaboration with 3D Systems, Rock Hill, S.C., builds upon the Factory 500 product introduced in 2018. It is designed to produce metal parts, and only metal parts—no plastic goods, says Fosdick. “We are involved only in metal 3D printing, and this is a very important technology going forward. It’s a game changer.”

Mike Lerner of GF Microlution making his presentation at Solutions Days on June 27. (Photo by SME/Alan Rooks)

High Speed Milling

The game changer moniker applied to several new technologies and production methods profiled by GF product experts.

For instance, Dante Payva, product manager for milling, said the company’s five-axis machines is perfect for companies looking to improve production or those migrating from three-axis machining. Three-axis machines require multiple setups, he said, and each additional handling adds to cycle times and increases error probability. The five-axis machines require fewer setups, and many parts can be produced in one clamping, said Payva, who gave a presentation entitled “Do More with Milling.”

Inherent in these machines, added Payva, is the “Mikron DNA –robust and precise machining.

“[With three-axis machining] you’re adding time and losing accuracy. For customers coming from the three-axis world, something like this [five-axis] technology is a game changer.”

The company’s milling portfolio is broad and consists of two brand-name technologies, including the Liechti brand of dedicated machines geared for aerospace and power generation. The second brand is the Mikron Mill brand, which comes in Models E (for efficiency), S (for speed), and P (for performance), and are available different sizes, with myriad spindles, tool changers, table options and other features.

One example that Payva pointed to is the Mill E 500 U and the 700 U range of gantry-style five-axis machines that feature an extra-heavy-duty machine bed for stiffness, a robust and high-precision axis and spindle, and a dual-drive rotary swivel table; collectively, these features delivers a high removal rate with high part precision.

Ribbon cutting ceremony at GF Microlution’s re-dedicated machine tool factory on June 28 in Chicago: (left to right) Andrew Honegger, Vice President Laser Micromachining; Scott Fosdick, President GF Machining Solutions North America; Stefan Dahl – Head of Advanced Manufacturing; Andy Phillip – Head of Laser Micromachining; Onik Bhattacharyya – Director of Sales and Business Development; and Alderman Nicholas Sposato, Alderman, 38th Ward of Chicago. (Photo by SME/Alan Rooks)

Another machine “coded” with this DNA is the Mill P 800, which can go from the milling to the turning mode in a matter of seconds. The technology combines milling and four-axis turning in a single clamping. Additionally, automated technologies can be incorporated. such as pallet changers, that “make 24/7 work output a reality,” said Payva.

Automation was a key consideration for Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Toyota Racing Development (TRD) when it turned to GF Machining to develop an automated machining cell, said Greg Ozmai, vice president of operations for TRD, who spoke at the event.

The cell developed with GF features seven Mikron machines and a rail-guided robot to load and unload pallets. The company builds 300 engines annually and produces parts ranging from 1-20″ (25.4-508 mm) with tolerances at or below 5 µm. The automated cell reduced component lead times, boosted capacity, and increased productivity by 22 percent, Ozmai said.

“One of the things we sought out was, ‘how can we gain a competitive advantage outside of just the direct focus on horsepower or engine reliability? How can we improve our supply chain so that we can give our engineers longer to develop products? How can we get our designs to the racetrack faster?’”

EDM Innovations

Similar questions were asked by Eric Ostini, GF Machining’s product manager for EDM, when the company developed its new EDM designed for additive manufacturing. Ostini, who delivered the presentation, “The latest innovations in EDM technology,” said he hit the road asking manufacturers already doing AM work what features they required.

“We were building the machine while we were on the road,” said Ostini. “[We] tried out every idea, and [asked ourselves], ‘how can we incorporate that into the machine?’”

The new machine is the Cut AM 500, a horizontally oriented wire EDM designed for processing parts that were additively manufactured. The AM 500 contains many of the features identified during Ostini’s travels, including the problem of what happens to AM material that is cut away during EDMing. Remnants would often fall onto the next part causing a short circuit, or the material would fall and could pinch the wire and cause a wire break, he says. “The way we designed this machine is that the parts drop away from the wire straight down. This eliminated those pinch points … that was one of the problems solved.”

Another AM-related problem is powder residue left over from the AM process, some of which is not apparent until material is cut away. A simple solution solved this problem. The machine uses molybdenum wire that requires a greater spark to cut faster. To create this spark, the dielectric solution used has a thicker viscosity that clings to the wire as it is pulled through the part. This action flushes the powder away as it travels.

Visitors tour GF Microlution’s rededicated machine tool plant on June 28. (Photo by SME/Alan Rooks)

The unit has also been designed for future automation gains. The table features clamping holes, and users can add a chuck system. “When the additive machines get more automated, you will be able to [automatically unload] the part and put the pallet right [on the EDM]. That will make setup a lot faster and a lot easier,” he said.

Precision Laser Applications

High precision and a quality surface are trademarks of laser machining equipment from the Microlution division of GF Machining Solutions, which is based in Chicago. The devices feature ultra-precise positioning and no HAZ during processing, which is critical considering it works on critical and critically expensive parts.

Microlution has its roots in micromachining with mechanical systems but has transitioned over the years to the point where now some 97 percent of its equipment features laser technology, according to Mike Lerner, head of sales for laser micromachining. His presentation was “Laser Micromachining: Where does it fit? And what’s new?”

The presentation did just that. He discussed how the ML-5 laser machining system has found new uses, and described the ML-10, its big brother, that is now expanding upon Microlution’s small-part roots.

Also discussed was the MLDS, a mass-volume production machine for fuel injection nozzles, and the MLTC, a Microlution tube cutter designed for cutting small, micro tubes that are primarily used in the medical industry. The accuracy and precision for this machine must be extremely good as some of the parts that it is charged with machining can cost upwards of $30,000 each.

A 2019 Corvette Z06 featuring fuel injection nozzles made on the Microlution MLDS. The car was on display at the Microlution plant. (Photo by SME/Alan Rooks)

The ML-5, which Lerner said is a “bread-and-butter” machine invented to machine fuel injectors in the aerospace industry, uses a femtosecond laser and a five-axis delivery system for scanning in a wide range of applications. The ML-10 has the same ability to drill very small holes, but into much large aero parts, such as cooling holes in turbine blades. “Every one of those blades has got like 500 cooling holes in it,” Lerner said.

In addition to aerospace applications, other industries, including electronics and the medical industry, are fast-growing segments for Microlution. Often, these applications are built on established technology and techniques.

For instance, a catheter manufacturer approached Microlution to see if its machines could produce very precise holes at the end of the catheter. These holes would be used to inject saline to cool the area undergoing treatment. When they saw the design, Lerner says it struck a bell.

“When we saw this part, we went crazy because it looks like a fuel injector, and we know all about that,” he said. “In fact, the machine is the same as the fuel injector, the geometry is the same as a fuel injector, and the requirements are the same as a fuel injector, but you’re doing a saline solution. So that’s what we did.”

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