Author Archive | Fletch

Web Marketing Your Machine Shop

Krixis consultingA lot of machinist types don’t really pay attention to their website, I find. Even fairly established shops will have a site, and pretty much forget it exists after it is up. In the modern marketplace, that is a big mistake. There are a lot of potential new customers out on the web, who just might want to drop a bunch of cash on your bench, but you won’t find them if they can’t find you because of your poor web marketing. It goes without saying that main way people shop these days is online. The same goes for industrial clients, as it turns out.

Here is some info from people who are focused on web marketing for industry: Machine Shop Customers First Stop, Your Website When I had my own shop, I found quite a few customers online. Or rather, they found me. Now, it doesn’t have to be super-complicated. A lot can be done with a WordPress blog (like this one). One key is to keep updating (whihc blogs make it easy to do). Keep letting people know all of the cool stuff you are out there doing. Er, in there, in the shop.

Versatile Robot End of Arm Tooling

One difficulty in using robotics in a shop is when you need a great deal of flexibility. Sure, if GM wants a robot, they are probably going to use it to do the same thing over and over thousands of times. They will use robot end of arm tooling systems specifically tailored to the dedicated operation, designed and implemented by the engineering team from the robot supplier. It’ll all work great (well, most of the time). But if you are a small job shop, where you need to change jobs frequently, the robot end of arm tooling can get to be a lot more complex. The gripper that works for one part won’t grab the next, and you spend a lot of time figuring out how to leverage your automation, rather than just making parts. Well, a company called Empire Robotics has come up with a super-cool (and super-versatile) solution. The basic concept is using sand in a rubber ball. Using air pressure, the sand is decompressed in the ball (the ball inflates slightly, making it softer). Then, when pressure is removed (the ball is slightly deflated), the sand goes into the “jamming phase transition of granular materials.” That is, it molds to the shape of the part you are trying to pick up, and grips it. Check out the video above. It sure looks like a very useful solution to robot end of arm tooling for gripping a wide variety of parts with minimal adjustment.

If the above demonstration wasn’t good enough, here is a Versaball system assembling Duplo blocks.

Some Good Tips on Using a Surface Grinder… and Zig Zag Papers

While a lot can be learned in machining from studying books, I have always found that one of the best resources is older machinists. They can explain a lot quicker how to get something done than you can read about a technique and try to figure out what the author was trying to say. They will also probably sprinkle in some insults about your dubious intelligence, which are good to save for later use. With that in mind, here is a good video primer on using a surface grinder to square a block, done by Don Bailey, owner of Suburban Tool in Auburn Hills, MI (near my hometown!).

Don sure does seem to know a lot about Zig Zags…. he doesn’t really LOOK like your typical Zig Zag user, though. But his advice to roll your doobs tight… no wait, I mean, to use cigarette paper as a good .001 shim on your surface grinder is good advice. Paper is very slightly squishy (there isn’t much to compress, obviously, but it will compress just slightly, especially when wet), so it can give you that “just enough” amount of shim on a surface grinder project.

Don also points out to go no more than .0005 on a surface grinder. Go too heavy, and you’ll load up the wheel too much, burn your material, break the wheel or at the least make it break down quickly, giving a bad, uneven surface finish, which is pretty much the opposite of what you want when using a surface grinder! Now, that advice is for your typical small surface grinder– larger ones no doubt can take much heavier cuts, as they are designed for that.

GE 3D Printing Part Approved by FAA For Flight | Additive Metal Manufacturing

This pretty much represents the state of the art for 3D printing right here: GE has gotten approval from the FAA to use a 3D printed part for retrofit on Boeing aircraft engines. The part does have some finish machining done to it, but the main structure of it is made by 3D printing. This represents a great leap forward in the use of 3D priniting technology, from limited use right to some of the most demanding application and testing procedures.

The real promise of the technology, which is demonstrated here, is the ability to make parts that would be difficult or expensive to make via other methods. In this case, the part isn’t unobtainable by more traditional manufacturing methods, but it might be costly to make traditionally. 3D printing allows the designers and engineers to work to the engineering needs of a part, with less consideration for the manufacturability of the part by traditional machining. This allows the design of some parts that might have been unmakable previously.

Read more on GE’s website.

3D Printed Car | Oak Ridge National Labs Shelby Cobra 3D Printing

Ok, while the car that Local Motors built using 3d printing at the IMTS show was pretty impressive, this car is officially bad ass. I can say official, because President Obama and VP Biden checked it out, so it’s official. Really. The folks at Oak Ridge National Labs (“We don’t just make things glow in the dark!”) are doing a lot of investigative work about uses for new manufacturing technologies, like 3D printing. As a test case, they decided to build a replica Shelby 427 Cobra for the Detroit Auto Show, which is still the largest show in the world, I believe. Video from their site.

Another interesting use of 3D printing technology they highlight briefly here is to make large molds and forms. In this case, they use one to make a carbon fiber hood layup form, I believe, but the application could be used in a lot of different industries. Vacuum forming, for example. The mold they make would have taken weeks and cost thousands of dollars, but instead, they made it in a few hours. Very impressive.

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