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Machine Tools For Toolmakers

Machine Tools for Toolmakers

Machine Tools for Toolmakers

A worker loads a massive workpiece into a Makino bridge-style V100S vertical machining center, said to cut cycle times and reduce handwork in large, complex specialty dies and molds. (Provided by Makino) America’s reliance on overseas suppliers appears to be dwindling. Much of this is due to the stubbed toe we experienced during COVID-19 and the subsequent supply chain catastrophe, a situation further exacerbated by the ongoing trade war with China. The resultant pivot toward domestic manufacturing, coupled with recent government initiatives such as the CHIPS and Science Act, creation of the Made in America Office and the American Jobs Plan, has put the country on the road to reshoring. Strong Industry Growth “From late 2020 all through 2021, the semiconductor industry was buying CNC machines at an unprecedented rate,” says Don Langley, western region sales manager for DN Solutions America Co., Pine Brook, N.J. (formerly Doosan Machine Tools). “These weren’t the traditional two-axis lathes and three-axis mills like you might expect—it was all advanced five-axis machining centers, multitasking lathes and pallet pool-equipped horizontals. Other industries are beginning to follow suit, and from what I see and hear, much of this is due to reshoring.” Integrated automation cells like the one shown here on DN Solutions’ DVF-4000 five-axis machining center are an excellent choice for unattended tool and die manufacturing. (Provided by DN Solutions) One of these industries is tool and die, the foundation for all forms of manufacturing. As with semiconductor, aerospace and medical, the materials here are typically tough and the tolerances are tight. These challenges help explain the push for more capable and inherently more complex machine tools. Dave Ward, product marketing manager for Makino Inc., Mason, Ohio, noted this fact in Manufacturing Engineering’s Soup to Nuts of Dies and Molds from earlier this year, suggesting that five-axis machining centers are more productive and accurate than their three-axis counterparts, and are ideally suited for this type of machining work. “We visit a lot of shops, and there are three main trends right now: five-axis, five-axis and automation,” he said. Tooling Trek: The Next Generation Unfortunately, it remains easier to build and buy machine tools than it is to find people to run them. Because of this, tool and die shop management is left in an awkward position—too much work and not enough workers—impeding growth. As with the domestic supply chain, however, efforts are being made to improve this situation. There’s the aforementioned White House Jobs Plan, which allocates $100 billion to workforce development, but it’s no secret that public schools, community colleges and universities throughout the United States—together with numerous machine tool companies—have made significant investments in training the next generation of manufacturing workers. Those who opt for careers in skilled trades will find manufacturing to be far different than what their parents experienced a few decades ago, and the tool and die industry is no exception. As Makino’s Ward and DN Solutions’ Langley point out, today’s world is increasingly one of automation and CNC machine tools that were only a fantasy when the bulk of veteran machinists were born. “The labor problem is part of it, but some is being driven by limited floor space and the high cost of real estate, especially out here on the West Coast where I work,” says Langley. “Having machinery that helps complete parts in one or two operations means fewer setups and fixtures, less work-in-process, greater flexibility and a much smaller footprint.” Five-sided machining centers, especially for larger parts, remain a popular machine tool choice in the tool and die market. (Provided by Mazak) Changing Directions Tool and die shops are also asking for machinery that supports faster metal removal rates, adds Brock Herbert, senior applications engineer with Florence, Ky.-based Mazak Corp.’s North Central region. “Obviously, there are extreme accuracy requirements to consider in this environment,” he says. “But depending on the workpiece, there’s often the need for high-spindle speeds, with controls and servo systems able to process huge swaths of code very quickly.” Again, much of this applies to aerospace and medical components, where complex sculpted surfaces and tough metals are commonplace. Tool and die raises this bar even higher with its extensive use of tool steels, often machined in the hardened state. On the flip side, though, there are also the graphite electrodes needed to EDM mold cavities and other part features, a material that presents its own unique challenges and opportunities. This includes the material’s relative softness, its fragility and tendency to chip, and the […]

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Daisie Hobson

Daisie Hobson is a Director at the Reshoring Institute and an engineer with many years of experience in manufacturing and project management.

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