As additive manufacturing continues to make its way into a variety of industrial sectors, the Ford Motor Company has announced that it will be using the concept to press sheet metal into three-dimensional car parts.
According to Gizmag, the automobile manufacturer has developed an innovative way of using 3D printing and rapid prototyping to create what it calls "Freeform Fabrication Technology," or F3T. With car design often limited by the amount of time it takes to build a metal part or product, the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan, has taken a page out of the 3D printing playbook and built a CAD-controlled robot that can produce a prototype in hours instead of weeks.
While additive manufacturing relies upon a building of layers to create an item, F3T takes a flat sheet of metal and molds it into the required shape. It does this by using the information contained in the CAD file provided by the designers and, with the aid of specially-designed styluses, presses the metal into the specified dimensions. The entire operation is controlled by a robot, which interprets the instructions contained in the CAD and directs the styluses along repeating groove paths.
Engineers at Ford have revealed that while it may take weeks to build one prototype part, building an entire car takes months and can be financially prohibitive. In comparison, the relatively short period of time that F3T takes to create a part is believed to be around 60 times faster than the traditional die-casting methods employed by the majority of the motor industry, according to Tech News Daily, with analysts confident that it will allow the company to improve vehicle research and development processes.
Benefiting from a three-year $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Ford also believe that this energy-efficient CAD-centric technology could be used in other metal manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, transportation, appliances and even defense.
Open source software has been credited for bringing computer aided design to a wider marketplace, especially when considering how it has impacted the 3D printing and rapid prototyping industry. However, a Berlin-based videographer will be spending the next few months applying the concept to his life.
According to a recent article in The Engineer, Sam Muirhead has rejected the notion of products that fall under traditional copyright restrictions and is instead utilizing the myriad of open-source designs that are available online. Describing the year-long project as "part-test drive, part crash-test," Muirhead is using the time to create his own clothes and household objects, with the ultimate aim to discover how important open-source will be in a future powered by additive manufacturing.
Citing the example of SketchChair, a free software tool that allows designers to build their own fabricated furniture, Muirhead believes that consumers could adapt the basic seat provided by the open-source code and, theoretically create their own chair. With the concept already seen to be growing in various parts of the rapid prototyping industry, open-source is considered to be a vital barometer for the oft-predicted boom in CAD and simulation that will occur by 2016.
"Open design is about lowering the barriers of entry and democratizing the design process," said Muirhead, according to the news source. 'There have been some major challenges in undertaking this project. In some areas, there is definitely a lack of high-quality software and 3D computer aided design (CAD) tools. There is also a barrier in understanding exactly how to use 3D design systems…but I believe there will be a lot more options for mass customization in the future, and engineers will be vital to making this work."
There have already been some large-scale demonstrations of open-source, notably the construction designs that have been made available to the general public by WikiHouse which its creators believe will empower potential home owners to "design, download and print CNC-milled houses without formal skill or training." However, the building of a house is just one element of an increasing market sector, with the theory being that once users understand that they can potentially print anything, then the uses of not only open-source software but also paid-for products are endless.
"There is a new niche growing alongside the traditional areas of engineering," said Muirhead. "This is a new area for engineers and designers themselves to develop systems that allow people without a technical background to build the basic idea in their head."
A high-school graduate from Rocklin, California, has credited classes in computer aided design and SolidWorks software as the basis for his entrepreneurial ambitions, with the student now looking to apply his STEM skills to business advancement.
Pete Oxenham, a senior at Rocklin High School used the simulation software to design a tow hook that could be used on race cars, with the teenager already taking orders for the CAD-created prototype. Oxenham was one of several students who took advantage of a collaboration between the high school and the Center for Applied Competitive Technologies at Sierra College. Both academic institutions were keen to encourage interest in STEM - science, technology, engineering, math - education on the California campus.
According to sources at the college, the STEM Collaborative project is geared towards students who want to apply innovative solutions to what could be considered as real-world problems, with teachers ensuring that the projects are more than just a classroom exercise. In the case of Oxenham, he was keen to develop a product that could be used in the competitive world of auto racing but would also have practical applications beyond the track.
"I wanted to build a flexible tow hook that didn't modify the bumper and could be removed in 30 seconds," said Oxenham. "Once I got a tow hook that worked, I recreated the design in SolidWorks so I could save the plans and measurements."
Oxenham has already sold eight of his hooks, all of which were created at the in-house innovation laboratory on the high school campus using computer numerical control (CNC) mills supplied as part of the STEM collaboration. Sierra College has been working with local high schools since 2008, with the goal being to provide a definitive career path for students that want to further their technical careers in the local community, ideally gaining more experience or skills at the Sierra campus in Rocklin itself.
"Sierra College has been instrumental in helping us build a lab in which we can teach both milling and turning on manual and CNC equipment, as well as rapid prototyping on our 3D printer, laser cutter and CNC router," said Dan Frank, one of the STEM teachers at Rocklin High. "Students develop design and programming skills using the latest versions of SolidWorks and Mastercam. Gaining the planning and critical thinking skills, having hands-on experiences and seeing how their projects can make a difference are keys to enticing students to consider STEM careers or starting-up new businesses."
CAMWorks, an efficient tool for CAM-based manufacturing within Solidworks CAM software, will be previewed during the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago, Illinois.
CAMWorks 2013 is an advanced CAD/CAM system and is the newest CNC programming solution from Solidworks, a provider of a variety of 3D software solutions. The new CAMWorks 2013 may be the most advanced system available. According to the CAMWorks website, the program can be used in the aerospace, medical and electronics industries, among others.
"CAMWorks is one of the fastest growing CAM products thanks to the faith demonstrated by our astute customer base who have harnessed the power of parametric, knowledge based machining to impact their bottom lines" said Sameer Kondejkar, senior director and business unit head at GTS.
The IMTS is the largest manufacturing show in the world, held every two years at McCormick Place in Chicago. The show features 1,900 manufacturing exhibitions and draws 100,000 visitors. A number of exhibitors will host learning sessions and small classes.
According to Products Finishing Magazine, the 2012 IMTS will draw 21 percent more visitors than it did two years ago. The news source reported that this year's exhibitors will focus on how their solutions fit into larger processes.
"IMTS 2012 is a great platform to share these success stories and seek opportunities to apply these best practices to help the manufacturing community at large to regain its vigor and competitive edge," said Kondejkar.
According to the IMTS website, 95 percent of last year's attendees were satisfied with exhibits, while 82 percent reported finding solutions to specific problems in manufacturing. The show's high success rate makes it an excellent platform to promote CAMWorks 2013.
As the technology continues to advance, more firms are turning to computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) applications to improve their operations.
A recent report from TechNavio highlighted the trend. The study found that the global market for CAM applications is on pace to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 6.54 percent between 2011 and 2015.
To a significant degree, the report attributes this growth to an increasing need among organizations for enhanced part-production visualization, as well as the rise of cloud-based CAM software. Dassault Systemes named as one of the preeminent vendors leading the CAM market.
However, the report noted that there a number of emerging threats to the CAM industry. Most notably, the rise of open source and pirated software may prove detrimental to growth.
Acknowledging the growing importance of CAM, a number of governments and nonprofit organizations have made efforts to educate individuals in the use of the technology. For example, the Columbian reported that Clarke County Skills Center students recently attended SolidWorks training classes at Pearson Field as part of an Aerospace Joint Apprenticeship Committee program.
While there have been some signs of recovery, the U.S. economy is still undeniably struggling. Unemployment remains high and many industries' revenues have dropped significantly. As CNN recently highlighted, certain companies are struggling in an uncommon manner.
Jobs and CAM
According to the news source, a number of factories in northeast Indiana are actively looking to hire new workers, yet are having trouble finding qualified applicants.
"The No. 1 comment I'm hearing right now from manufacturers in northeast Indiana is that 5 percent to 10 percent of jobs are going unfilled because of lack of skilled workforce," said Matt Bell, president of Corporate College, a unit of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, CNN reported.
The news source noted that welding, tooling and the use of computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) are among the skills taught at the 26 Ivy Tech campuses. Corporate College had approximately 25,000 manufacturing and business graduates last year, but the state likely needs more than 40,000 manufacturing workers to meet demand.
As RTV6, an Indiana affiliate for ABC, recently reported, Ivy Tech Community College is not the only institution offering CAM education. E.J. Daigle, director of robotics and manufacturing at The Dunwoody College of Technology, told the news source that enrollment is higher now than in any of the past 15 years.
Sandra Krebsbach, executive director of the American Technical Education Association, told the news source many manufacturing jobs now require computer literacy and proficiency in computer-aided design and other advanced skills.
Many job listings specifically state that applicants must be well versed in the use of SolidWorks CAM software and other, similar programs.
As RTV6 noted, starting salaries for manufacturing positions can be as high as $50,000 to $60,000 for skilled workers.
According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, CNC Industries Inc., a computer numerical control machining company, recently announced a multi-million dollar expansion at its Fort Wayne, Indiana, factory.
Although the changes, which include a $1 million building expansion project and the addition of between $3 and $5 million worth of equipment, were proposed more than four years ago, the source notes that the economic downturn temporarily shelved investment, and the recent improvement in the strength of the market has allowed CNC Industries to begin work on the planned expansion.
Officials at the factory said that once construction is completed, they expect to add between 20 and 40 new jobs annually for the next 5 to 10 years, according to the news source.
"We're back in line and growing faster than ever before," said CNC Industries Vice President Steven Deam Jr.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, CNC programmer and operator employment in the United States is expected to increase by 4 percent by 2018. As CNC machining continues to evolve as a technology, the BLS notes that expertise and the ability to manage multiple machines will give candidates an advantage where jobs are competitive.
Despite high unemployment levels and the U.S. government supporting a resurrection of the American manufacturing industry, many companies have found it difficult to fill positions with skilled workers.
According to a recent Washington Post report, the United States has lost about 4 million manufacturing jobs during the past 10 years, but even with waves of workers seeking employment, the workforce still lacks a sufficient amount of employees with the desired skills to operate advanced machinery. The report said automation technologies like computer numerical control (CNC) machines have changed factory processes and transformed the job responsibilities of traditional manufacturing workers.
The source cited a recent Deloitte survey, which revealed as many as 600,000 manufacturing jobs are going unfilled, even with high levels of unemployment in the industry.
The report said CNC machines have enabled factories to manufacture products rapidly, for a fraction of the cost and with less man-power. However, while the technology reduces costs and improves efficiency, most older workers in the industry have insufficient training to operate such machinery.
"I came straight out of high school and found a job. But these days, you have to have some technical skills," Mark Miller, a 36-year-old working toward an associates degree in machine tool technology, told the source. " When I get out of here, the idea is to be able not just to run a machine but to program it."
CNC machining is a process in which programmers use a numerical code to dictate a factory machine's toolpath, increasing production speed and accuracy. Many manufacturing companies use advanced systems, in which computer aided design (CAD) and computer aided manufacturing (CAM) technologies form an integrated solution.
The manufacturing industry has a long and successful history in Connecticut, but new technologies are forcing the sector to educate an advanced workforce capable of operating modern machinery.
According to the Bridgeport News, Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport has been awarded part of a $17.8 million state-issued grant, which it will use to build the HCC Regional Advanced Manufacturing Center for Southwestern Connecticut. The facility will include a manufacturing lab, an engineering and design studio and a welding area, enabling students to learn advanced skills required in today's expanding manufacturing and engineering sectors.
"We see manufacturing as one of the growth areas in Connecticut," HCC president Anita Gliniecki told the source. "The college has conducted intensive discussion and research with local manufacturers and vocational technical school partners to bring this manufacturing center to fruition and increase the training and education opportunities for the residents of Southwestern Connecticut."
The center will feature advanced manufacturing technologies like rapid prototyping and computer numerical control (CNC) machines, two modern manufacturing processes companies are using to increase production speed, reduce costs and improve accuracy.
"Many manufacturers have told us that, even in this recession, they can't find the skilled workers that they need," said State Senator Ed Gomes, according to the Bridgeport News.
Connecticut is home to several innovative manufacturing companies, but the sector may need to embrace advanced technologies to keep pace with competitors. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 178,239 manufacturing jobs in Connecticut in 2008, down from 246,125 in 1998. The HCC facility is another sign the state's manufacturing companies and higher education institutions recognize the demand for employees with advanced skills. The Connecticut Community Colleges' College of Technology recently hosted a series of events designed to increase student interest in manufacturing.
The United States government has attempted to rejuvenate the country's once-prominent manufacturing industry with tax credits and worker training programs, two initiatives that may finally be paying off.
According to the Institute for Supply Management, U.S. manufacturing activity expanded in January at the fastest rate since June, marking the sector's 30th consecutive month of growth. The trade group's manufacturing index rose from 53.1 in December to 54.1 last month, largely due to a rise in new orders.
"This is a very encouraging report on manufacturing activity that shows particular strength in leading indicators," John Ryding, an economist at RDQ Economics, told the Washington Post.
The report said new orders and order backlogs both reached nine-month highs, indicating many manufacturing companies lack the resources and workforce to accommodate increasing demand. The news is likely well-received in President Barack Obama's administration, as the president recently announced his desire to increase jobs and production among U.S. manufacturing companies.
Many experts and government officials have recently discussed the need for a more skilled workforce, including employees with experience using advanced manufacturing technologies like rapid prototyping, CNC machines, 3D printing and computer aided manufacturing (CAM).
"We do believe that manufacturing punches above its weight economically," Gene Sperling of the White House National Economic Council told the New York Times in a recent report on U.S. manufacturing jobs. "Advanced manufacturing is critical to your innovative capacity as a country."
According to the New York Times report, U.S. manufacturers have added about 330,000 jobs during the past two years.
Last June, Obama launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), a national initiative designed to increase investments in innovative technologies that will result in quality manufacturing jobs and return the sector to global competitiveness. One of the AMP's objectives is to reduce the time it takes companies to develop and manufacture advanced materials used in products, a goal that processes like rapid prototyping and CNC machining may be able to help accomplish.