Jan 8, 2016 | By Kira

Advanced manufacturing techniques—particularly for metal components—generally use one of two methods: subtractive manufacturing, where a block of material is cut down into the desired shape, or additive manufacturing, aka 3D printing, where the precise shape is built up layer by layer. Both provide advantages and disadvantages, but what they have in common is that in every case, a human must both input specific instructions into a program, and then oversee the production process and manually change those instructions in case unforeseen circumstances come up.

With advances in intelligent machining and robotics, however, the need for human intervention could soon be a thing of the past. A group of researchers led by Professor Shirase Keiichi of Kobe University—a specialist in manufacturing systems and machine tools, with a strong interest in autonomous and intelligent machine tools and intelligent CAM systems—has developed a prototype machine tool that operates like a 3D printer to manufacture precision-made metal components.

What makes the Kobe research team’s prototype machine stand out, is that unlike most 3D printers or machining cutting tools, this one can actually make its own ‘decisions’ regarding optimized machining processes by drawing from a database of machining information and cutting conditions.

According to the Graduate School of Engineering researchers, this development could speed-up the manufacturing of custom-made products, including dental implants and artificial bones. Keiichi also hopes that it will pave the way for the continued development of intelligent manufacturing systems that will reduce costs and shorten production times by reducing the amount of error and making production more efficient.

The project was carried out in an attempt to solve some of the problems that currently face metal manufacturing. One the one hand, metal cutting requires a huge amount of labor to create the programs that will guide the machines. In addition, once the machine-cutting process has started, the machines cannot make adjustments to respond to unseen problems, meaning that if there is a problem, the entire process will have to begin again from scratch.

Metal 3D printing is also an increasingly popular option for the industrial manufacturing of metal components, however the Kobe University researchers point out that metal 3D printing powder is prohibitively expensive, and does not always provide a high-quality surface.

Though the new machine is still a prototype, and its exact method has not been released, the researchers explain that it manufactures metal objects similarly to a 3D printer—meaning layer by layer, rather than by cutting away excess material. Most significantly, the prototype “marks a shift from providing machine tools with instructures to entrusting machine tools with the machining operation—a world first.”

As the researchers explain, all users need to do is prepare a 3D model and a material model of the component. The machine tool will then itself determine the optimum machining process using a database of machining information and cutting conditions, and automatically adapt its instructions accordingly.

The 3D printer-esque, machine tool prototype was developed as part of Kobe University’s ongoing research into intelligent machine tools, and was recently exhibited at Emo Milano 2015, one of the three largest international machine tool trade shows.

Furthermore, the protoype machine is one of three projects in the category of “Innovative design and manufacturing technologies” selected for the Strategic Innovation Promotion Program (SIP), a project headed by the Japanese Cabinet Office’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation. In June 2015, Kobe University drew on funding from the SIP program to establish the 3D Smart Manufacturing Centre, whose goal is to purse interdisciplinary research and business-academia collaborations, such as this promising development in intelligent, additive manufacturing systems.



Posted in 3D Printer



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