As always the IMTS is just mind boggling. I went with another Acuity manufacturing specialist, Katie and we could not believe the sheer size. We spent 14 hours walking the halls of the mighty McCormick Place in Chicago. There were more than 2,300 exhibitors in over 1.3 million square feet of show space. Rumor has it that more than 115,000 people attended this year’s 5 day show. Believe me it was busy and amazing.
The best way to go into the IMTS is to have a plan on what to see rather than just wandering around the halls of the McCormick Place. Also, be sure to stay hydrated and wear comfortable shoes.
So let’s get to the important stuff, what did we see?
The biggest surprise was the amount of 3D printing that was at the event. I should call it what it truly is, additive technology. The term 3D printing does not give credit to the advancements this technology has made within the last few years. There is virtually no material that can’t be used in this process. Additive technology has moved from being a quick and simple prototype technique to being a true asset to manufacturing. Many machine tool manufactures have added the technology into their vertical or horizontal machines, combining them with conventional subtractive machining methods. This enables manufactures to remove and add materials as they see fit. It was amazing to observe a Mazak machine milling stainless steel and adding titanium turbine blades. The ability to combine two dissimilar materials in one set up opens up a whole new world of manufacturing strategies. If you haven’t looked into adding additive machining to your business strategy, give it some thought. This technology will give you options and could bring you new business that you would not be able to attract without it.
The second surprise was the amount of robotics and automation. The advancements within automation have been exponential over the past few years, even months. Years ago, robots were large, clunky machines that required hours of programming. They were super dangerous, so dangerous that they had to be caged. Automation was costly and had to be custom tailored. Today it’s modular, easy to implement, and very flexible.
We observed a few different robots that were simple to program teach easy to integrate into a wide variety of applications. Robots were working hand in hand with machines, measurement systems, other automation, and humans. Some robots were able to work “two-handed”—meaning multiple arms were performing work in a consecutive operation at the same station.
We saw a quite a few collaborative robots that utilize new safety sensor technology that allows the robot to work outside of a cage, stopping immediately if it would contact a human. No harm is done to the human and the robot resumes task once the human leaves the work space. Other advantages of robotics and automation are repeatability and the fact they are easy to monitor with the industrial internet of things (IIoT).
Another popular product at IMTS was software to help your business be more productive and profitable. From the complex, all-inclusive ERP systems to the small add on machine communication and control systems, IMTS had them all. IIoT data collection and analyzation software paired with maintenance managing systems helps tie your whole operation together from the customer order point to the monitoring of your quality, productivity, and machine maintenance. These data driven systems allow for instant adjustments and improvements for all aspects of your business.
Some of the things that stood out are:
Five axis machining is not only for aerospace anymore. Machine sizes are getting smaller, costs are coming down and software flexibility makes these machines more affordable for smaller shops.
Almost every manufacturer is offering automation and integration for their CNC machines. This can range from a two pallet changing system to systems with tens of palettes, loaded robotically, feeding multiple machines and even including inline measuring using vision or touch probing. All this allows you to operate your machines 24 x 7, achieving better utilization, quality and a quicker ROI.
That barely scratches the surface of what we experienced. Other notable things were MRI scanning of parts (Zeiss), Safe-Lock™ tool holders preventing tooling from being pulled out of holders (Heimer), or Water Jet technology that can cut the smallest of details, even be used to engrave or etch parts (Omax).
Even after being to the IMTS over ten years, it is still the most amazing show for manufacturers. This is not only due to new and amazing technology, but also to the fact that it is all about manufacturing. Even when we told the exhibitors we are not a manufacturing company, they welcomed us into their booth providing us with details and insight into what is happening.
We can’t wait until the 2018 show, and are already dreaming about what new technology will be on display and what manufacturers will be up to by then?