Reflections on the Manufacturing Technology Show

For decades we have had the Machine Tool Show in Chicago every two years.  Currently the show, formerly know as the International Machine Tool Show is now being re-branded as the International Manufacturing Technology Show.  And that’s a good thing.  They get to keep the same IMTS letters.

While the show has a long tradition of being predominantly – well – machine tools, there is more to manufacturing these days than just cutting metal.  And the new IMTS is all about it.  The show includes a lot of complementary technology from the traditional industrial controls arena; controllers, PLCs, HMIs, servo motors and motor controllers and specialty sensors.  These technologies are sometimes used to interface to machine tools or provide external features like custom load/unload capabilities.  These systems also help to deal with the whole question of how the machine tool integrates with the other machinery in a manufacturing plant.

The Factory of the Future that General Electric launched 40 years ago is now being revisited and reinvigorated by the tidal wave of technology that is bring all electronically controlled systems together.  The semiconductor industry implemented as OEE, Overall Equipment Effectiveness, which enabled that industry to become incredibly efficient and productive.  The concepts in OEE are being integrated into all facets of manufacturing to enable greater output and efficient use of assets.  Companies like HAAS, and others, are providing power dashboards which display production data and machine status to shop and manufacturing floor managers who can better manage their resources with these new tools.

IMTS was also home to the largest display of robot technology in one place at one time, tons of robots, literally. It is amazing to see the ‘machine tender’ application loading and unloading a machine and giving real credibility to the “Lights Out” manufacturing heralded by Fanuc and others years ago.  Even more amazing was the number of robots doing exotic work like plasma flame spraying metal dust and making 3D printed metal parts.

Mori Seki demonstrated 3D metal printing in a 5 Axis CNC machine.  A truly impressive process that forms the raw part taking full advantage of the 5 axis machine tools and then fine machining mating surfaces and critical geometries without having to remove the part and set it up on a different machine.  The materials available to be processed include not only stainless steel and titanium but the exotic hard alloys like Inconel, Hastelloy and Stellite.  Materials that are practically impossible to work with now become a ready option given the new process capability.

The next five years are going to be amazing.


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