EMO Hannover 2017: traditional machine tool’s days are not numbered

EMO Hannover

From 18 to 23 September 2017, international manufacturers of production technology will be spotlighting “Connecting systems for intelligent production” at the EMO Hannover 2017. The world’s premier trade fair for the metalworking industry will be showcasing the entire bandwidth of today’s most sophisticated metalworking technology, which is the heart of every industrial production process.

The fair will be presenting the latest machines, plus efficient technical solutions, product-supportive services, sustainability in the production process, and much, much more. The principal focus of the EMO Hannover is on metal-cutting and forming machine tools, production systems, high-precision tools, automated material flows, computer technology, industrial electronics and accessories. The trade visitors to the EMO come from all major sectors of industry, such as machinery and plant manufacturers, the automotive industry and its component suppliers, the aerospace sector, precision mechanics and optics, shipbuilding, medical technology, tool and die manufacture, steel and lightweight construction.

The EMO Hannover is the world’s most important international meeting point for production technology specialists from all over the planet. In 2013, the fair attracted more than 2,130 exhibitors, and around 143,000 trade visitors from more than 100 different countries.

The whole world is talking about 3D printing, additive manufacturing and generative multi-layer construction technologies. Nevertheless, this is a long way from meaning that the classical machine tool is going to be pensioned off.

Carl Fruth has meanwhile long since achieved his goal of “transferring competences in the field of multi-layer technologies into product manufacturing”: moreover, within the framework of a Technology Day featuring an in-house exhibition held in April 2017, FIT AG (Fruth Innovative Technologies) in the Upper Palatinate village of Lupburg, in addition to inaugurating a new office building also opened the “first additive factory“.

“The FIT factory is even on an international comparison unique in terms of manufacturing capacity and automation technology, and is intended to serve as a template for further additive manufacturing facilities of the FIT Group,”

to quote the firm’s founding father and Managing Board Chairman Carl Fruth. He is a pioneer of additive manufacturing – and a visionary for whom ten years ago it was already a certainty that multi-layer construction technology would in future be the norm in everyday production operations and the sales of milling machines or injection moulding machines would inexorably decline.

But that is still a long way from meaning that the days of the “mother of all machines (i.e. the traditional machine tool) are numbered. This is impressively confirmed by the innovations that will be showcased by the exhibitors at the EMO Hannover 2017. One of the impediments to the widespread adoption of additive technology in individualised mass production was described several years go by Carl Fruth himself as the “lack of production-suited manufacturing lines”. This has changed in the meantime. Carl Fruth puts it like this: “There are a large number of delicate seedlings: many of our customers would like to use additive technologies to manufacture replacements for existing components. But this is possible only in a very few cases. Usually, a new component has to be developed and very often the adjoining components of the system as well. Firstly, many companies are deterred by the outlay involved, and secondly, of course, you need specialised development competence for this new production technology.”

The need of new designer engineers

When traditional design guidelines no longer apply, a new generation of design engineers is needed, keen to embrace function-driven thinking. According to Carl Fruth, additive manufacturing means

“that in the design phase not only the geometry, but also the material properties and the component costs are essentially specified in full. This complexity necessitates specialised training and experience. Moreover, up to now there is no software tool in existence that provides all the requisite functions. So firms have to work with different, complex software tools. Very often, information is lost in transitioning from one tool to another. When you need up to eight iterations for developing a component, the substantial outlay involved is obvious.”

As is the case with other production technologies, additively manufactured components also require quality testing
As is the case with other production technologies, additively manufactured components also require quality testing. Credits: EMO Hannover

More technologies are sharing the market

The inevitable question of whether the conventional machine tool will soon be out of a job receives a differentiated answer from the AM expert:

“Components are manufac-tured in a process chain. That’s true today and will still be true tomorrow. Additively manufactured components, as is the case with other production technologies, too, require quality-testing: it’s immaterial in this context whether this means each individual component or every 50th one of identical components. So I don’t think existing technologies are going to be replaced.”

CNC-driven processes, he adds, are all very flexible in use, and all have a market of their own. The question is rather: “What share can each technology have of the cake as a whole?” The slice for the various additive production technologies is currently so small that it can only increase. Carl Fruth, however, also believes “that the cake as a whole for CNC processes is becoming larger, at the expense of tool-linked production technologies and other highly personnel-intensive processes. We’re looking here at a combination of different CNC technologies.”

Harmonised software solutions for additive manufacturing

A “new solution for additive manufacturing” has recently been premiered by Siemens PLM Software, the Business Unit for Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Cologne, an. It consists of an integrated software package for design, simulation, digital manufac-turing, plus data and process management. This enables a “generative design to be created automatically, on the basis of new functions for optimised topologies”. This frequently results in organic shapes that a design engineer would be highly unlikely to think of himself, and that would be very complicated or even impossible to manufacture using conventional production methods. Possible user target groups include the automotive industry, the aviation sector or medical technology.

Highly sophisticated integrated technologies for simulations and analyses enable a design’s behaviour to be calculated in advance.
Highly sophisticated integrated technologies for simulations and analyses enable a design’s behaviour to be calculated in advance. Credits: EMO Hannover

The “revolutionary solution” and its possible applications are explained by Peter Scheller, Marketing Director at Siemens PLM Software:

“What’s special about it is that this is a consistently harmonised platform. On the basis of our Convergent Modelling technology, we incorporate within our NX software for integrated CAD all the relevant product development steps for 3D printing, from scanning to the actual printing. In the field of 3D printing, there are already a whole lot of individual solutions in various niches, either from printer manufacturers or other vendors. The important step we’re now taking is the integration of all process steps into a platform with a central user interface, on which both the geometry and the print path generation are stored in a secure data format.”

In addition, within the framework of this strategy, Siemens PLM Software has unveiled plans for a new online collaboration platform providing an option for worldwide cooperation in the manufacturing sector. The declared aim is to render “on-demand product designs” and 3D printing production operations more easily accessible to a global manufacturing industry.

“In mass production environments,” says Peter Scheller, “3D printing has not yet arrived completely: it originated in prototyping, and so far has been predominantly used for this purpose. But we’re approaching a threshold here: the process is emerging from this niche; many companies are currently thinking about using it for mass production or have already introduced it for this purpose.”

When you think about an additive production process on an industrial scale, “from our point of view a process-reliable data format is extremely important, as a basis for enabling components to be dependably manufactured again and again in the same quality. So far there hadn’t been a platform of this kind, which is why we’re now providing one for our customers.” For industrial production operations, in particular, it is very important to have an exhaustive description of your components on file in digital form. This is essential for accessing this digital twin in the event of queries or cases of damage and investigating the relevant causes.

Source: press release from EMO Hannover