Hurco Manufacturing announced two big acquisitions today. They are taking over Milltronics, from Minnesota, and Takumi, from Taiwan. Purchasing these two companies should make for a big leap forward for Hurco. That, combined with Hurco manufacturing’s very easy to use control should expand Hurco’s horizons. Personally, I have never used a Hurco CNC, but my uncle has. He is also a machinist (and a much better one, at that), and used them quite a bit when he was a toolmaker. He always spoke highly of the controls.
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.
China has experienced a huge amount of growth in the last 30-40 years, due in no small part to their vastly-increased manufacturing capability. Some of that has been aided by currency manipulation and government intervention, but a lot of it has just been an increase in capacity. While that has brought more proseperity to China, it has also brought a huge amount of pollution, through a lack of environmental controls or ignored environmental regulations. There is hope that China can change, for their own sake, as well as the world’s. One child interviewed in this claimed to have never seen a star in the sky, which is just heartbreaking.
I haven’t had time to read this book yet, but I am hoping to soon. For now, I’ll mostly let NPR do the talking. Still, this is the kind of story I like: battling to keep manufacturing alive in America.
“We haven’t been on a huge growth spurt since the furniture factories started closing down [in the ’90s],” Macy tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies. “It’s better for the economy when we make things.” – Beth Macy
I couldn’t agree more. The book is the story of John Bassett III and his family’s Bassett Furniture Co., In Bassett, Va. The story is typical for a lot of manufacturing in America: production sent overseas in search of cheap labor. Bassett is different in that they company resolved to keep production here in America, which hasn’t been easy.
Looks like China is increasing their drone weapon capability. Add that to their increased aircraft carrier, sub, and advanced fighter aircraft technology, and China is becoming more and more of a potential threat. Certainly it is well within their rights to develop defense technology. My only concern is that America needs to keep working on its own technology. Allowing too much advanced manufacturing to go overseas is not, in my opinion, in our own best interests.