Platform-changing machining technology is making manufacturers more cost competitive
Manufacturers in North America must balance a multitude of issues to stay profitable. Increased competition from overseas manufacturing with its access to cheap labor, the reduced availability of qualified workers in the manufacturing trades, and tightening employee and environmental regulatory requirements, are but a few of the key issues challenging the wits of manufacturing executives today. Equally important is the struggle to shift into a new era of production – from high-volume, low-mix work, to an increasing growth of low-volume, high-mix short-run projects coupled with just-in-time ordering – which has placed high demands on all aspects of manufacturing.
Because of this increased level of change and instability in the manufacturing sector, the costs of traditional growth initiatives – such as adding floor space, capital equipment, personnel and overhead – present more of a significant risk today than in early times when the manufacturing environment was more stable and predictable. It is the job of operation’s management to assess these factors relating to the process of transforming resources into goods and services.
Capacity, and the underutilization of existing machining resources
Central to this is assessing production capacity – the maximum number of goods that can be produced over a given period under normal working conditions is the one barrier that every manufacturing business faces.
Capacity decisions affect production lead time, operating costs and the company’s ability to compete. Inadequate capacity can lead to the loss of customers and business. Excess capacity can drain the company's resources and prevent investments into more productive ventures. The question of when capacity should be increased, and by how much, is the critical decision. Failure to make capacity decisions correctly can be damaging to the company’s overallperformance, particularly when time delays are present in the manufacturing process.
One key area of poor capacity planning within manufacturing is the failure to fully realize the capability of existing machining resources. Instead, for many machine shops, the solution to increased capacity has been to add more equipment and workers, and extend valuable floor space. But the true production capacity of a machine tool is seldom fully realized by those responsible for assessing production volumes. This factor is so important that it can make or break the profitability of a machine shop. At the very center of this issue is the inefficiency of computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) toolpath generation, which plays a critical role in fully influencing machine production capacity.
CAM software permits companies to manufacture goods faster, more efficiently, and at a lower cost, by simplifying and streamlining the toolpath generation process. But even as CAM packages have continued to evolve over the past 40 years and expand their capability to process higher levels of throughput, they have done precious little to make more efficient toolpaths. Hence, a high level of inefficiency exists in conventional toolpath generation, despite the otherwise high-performance levels of modern CAM systems.
“Millions of manufacturers believe that the toolpaths native to their CAM systems are designed for optimum performance,” said Gregory M. Saisselin, Vice President of Worldwide Sales for Celertitive Technologies, a leading developer of toolpath generation software. “But they are not. Productivity is lost because the toolpaths actually prevent the machine tools from operating at their full capability. In the vast majority of cases, they are running, at best, at 50 percent of their productivity potential.”
Conventional toolpaths force a machine tool to drive a cutting tool along a path that repeatedly varies the material removal rate, with numerous requirements to start and stop, and with sharp directional changes. Machining loads become extremely high in such instances, yet make up a relatively small percentage of the overall toolpath length. But since milling parameters – such as spindle speed, feed rate, cut depth and cut width – must be set conservatively enough to allow the tool to survive these moments of brief, but intense tool load, it makes these parameters quite inefficient for machining the rest of the part. This results in unnecessarily long machining times, and significantly reduced productivity potential.
Science-based toolpath technology is transforming manufacturers’ machining productivity
For many manufacturers, using more efficient toolpaths to drive their existing machining equipment has proven to be a much more cost-efficient and workable solution to managing the variables of order size and improving production throughput, compared to investing capital into new machinery and the labor requirements to support it. Groundbreaking toolpath technology has helped manufacturers reduce costs, produce more parts, and lower project bids, while utilizing their existing equipment and infrastructure.
This machine-efficiency transformation is being played out in thousands of machine shops within manufacturing facilities in the United States and throughout the world. Spearheading this change is a science-based toolpath, called VoluMill, developed by Celeritive Technologies, Inc. for high-efficiency, rough-milling operations.
VoluMill is a true science-based toolpath technology that enables machine tools and cutting tools to operate at peak performance. It performs all of the complex calculations required to determine the best cutting strategy for any part. Its toolpaths drive cutting tools along a path that maintains a consistent tool load, has no sharp corners or sharp directional changes – the toolpath is smooth and flowing with no repeated stopping and starting. VoluMill keeps a constant step-over whenever possible, resulting in shorter path lengths than other approaches. This produces even machining loads with uniform chip formation, and excellent heat evacuation.
By avoiding sharp directional changes and controlling the rate of material removal, the toolpath enables the tools to cut faster and deeper, while greatly reducing stress. The toolpath evens the loads on machine tools and cutting tools, significantly extending tool life.
“This toolpath solution increases the productivity for any two-axis, three-axis or two-plus-three-axis rough-milling application” continued Saisselin. “It dramatically reduces machine cycle times, enabling the production of more parts per hour. This means increased profitability and increased asset utilization for the shop.”
Application universality is driving widespread manufacturer acceptance
Released in 2008, VoluMill has gained international acceptance within dozens of various manufacturing industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical equipment, heavy industrial, oil and gas, and consumer products. Many of the world’s leading manufacturers have embraced this new technology, thereby eliminating the costs and risks of traditional growth initiatives like adding floor space, equipment, personnel and overhead. Manufacturers are improving machining performance from 50 to 300 percent without the need to make changes to existing equipment and infrastructure.
“One factor that has pushed the acceptance of this toolpath technology is its adaptability,” explained Saisselin. “It can be used on any material, any machine, and in any industry. It is also CAM-system neutral. The toolpath solution can easily blend into any machining environment, without having to change CAM systems. This is a definite advantage for machine shops that would like to significantly improve their toolpath performance without complexity.”
World renowned machine tool and cutting tool manufacturers not only approve of VoluMill, they use it for their own production. It is integrated into seven of the world’s leading CAM systems, and consistently performs better than the native toolpaths.
“We use Siemens NX with the VoluMill plug-in,” said Chuck Shannon, with General Tool Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. “Tool life is dramatically increased due to the reduced load and heat on the cutter. We obtain higher metal removal rates than traditional cutter paths.”
Not all manufacturers are quick to accept this advanced toolpath technology, however. The biggest reservation is the initial disbelief that it could so significantly improve machining performance over their existing CAM systems.
“We were very skeptical of the time reduction and extended tool life,” said Jake Kopveiler, with Performance Tool and Die in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. “But after using it for a short time we were running at feeds ten times faster than before.”
The recognition that streamlining toolpath performance can significantly improve machine efficiency and production capacity has prompted a number of CAM software offerings following in the footsteps of VoluMill. None, however, have been able to keep pace with its market acceptance or its toolpath performance.
This is largely because Celeritive is the only company focused solely on science-based toolpaths engineered for bulk material removal. All of its efforts, supported by the company’s system designers and engineers, are singularly focused on developing and improving upon the best possible toolpath software.
“The introduction and industry acceptance of VoluMill is nothing short of revolutionary,” said Saisselin. “It has completely changed the way metal is cut. It throws out everything that has been done in the past, and has introduced a better system of toolpath generation.”
Game-changer for manufacturers
Although toolpath generation is but a component within complicated CAM systems, it is a very critical one that plays a vital role in machining. The benefits of an intelligently engineered toolpath technology in use within a manufacturing facility can have extensive implications. Increased machine capacity means a greater volume of finished parts can be produced in less time, which provides for greater flexibility to meet just-in-time delivery schedules. Increased machine capacity also delivers higher profit margins for manufacturing centers. It enables more competitive bids to be placed, even for projects not considered financially viable previously.
While many companies have reduced their in-house manufacturing capability, and outsourced their manufacturing and machining operations to out-of-country locations like Mexico and China to cut manufacturing costs and remain price competitive, a growing number have opted to not only retain, but expand their skilled manufacturing and machining facilities within the United States. For American machine shops, this new toolpath technology has a critical impact on these facilities’ ability to compete more successfully in price-sensitive North American and world markets.
This represents nothing less than a game-changing opportunity for manufacturers. Those companies that embrace this technological transformation in toolpath performance cannot help but emerge as leading players in their highly-competitive marketplaces.
Jim McMahon writes on automation advances in manufacturing.
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Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.