Who Says Drilling is Boring?
Certainly not the 13 executives Wood & Wood Products spoke with about important trends in the industry
BY BARRETT KILMER
Point-to-point boring machines are typically thought of as too slow for production work and multiple-spindle machines are typically thought of as too inflexible for multi-function tasks. So there's not much to talk about, right?
Wrong. Recent efforts on the part of manufacturers address the perceived shortcomings of each of these machines. Whether it is through improvements in bar code technology or increased machine integration, today's machinery makers are continually searching for ways to improve their clients' manufacturing capabilities.
Wood & Wood Products polled 13 leaders in the drilling and boring industry to uncover the hottest trends in the market. The recent developments pointed out by these officials challenge some notions people may have about point-to-point and multiple-spindle boring machines.
"I've been seeing Windows NT-controlled machine in five-axis point-to-points", Joel said, "and high-production throughfeed point-to-points able to do up to 4,000 to 5,000 panels per shift. The state-of-the-art in point-to-point isn't in these 'onesie' and 'twosie' machines that do one or two panels at a time, it's in high-speed point-to-point boring centers that automatically set up everything. Panels just run through and get drilled."
Joel also said he sees reduced materials handling as an important factor. "Machines that do horizontal and vertical boring, dowel inserting, etc., with material handling in a self-contained unit -- all controlled through Windows NT programming, bar code reading, anything you want -- are the future."
Speed and Flexibility
"More flexibility is demanded of the software in terms of what it can do and how it can be utilized in a broader sense with bar code reading and shop floor control," Kaminski said.
In addition, Kaminski noted changes in mechanical structure, as well as an emphasis on making point-to-points faster and more flexible. "We're starting to see a move toward a change in typical structures out there, which is more of single post and beam cantilever designed machine. That has gotten quite common in its design characteristics across the range of machines that we see from most companies. And also, I see some specialized equipment that will add more flexibility to doing larger quantities of work, still utilizing the philosophy of the CNC equipment."
Rethinking the Manufacturing Process
"There is a company in Florida that has a system like that that's running and doing a great job. They have taken that concept as well as automatic assembly and done the whole system where you have four or five guys putting 700 to 800 boxes together per day rather than 25 guys in several different areas doing different functions to the part. I won't say that technology hasn't gotten here -- it has -- but there's only a certain segment of the market over here that can realize it and use it. It's taking a while, but it'll get here."
The Industrial Age Makes Room for the Information Age
"The focus now is on how fast can you get information and how accurate that information is," Downey said. "Bar code labeling systems allow you to network for the office to the shop floor using design packages such as Cabnetware or Pattern Systems. No programming at the machines is necessary; operators simply scan the bar code label and run the part."
Downey said he also notices a trend toward smaller shops making the commitment to point-to-point technology and computer-aided integration. "The biggest growth as a percentage is occurring in the smaller shops. Larger ones that bought systems a number of years ago are upgrading by piecemeal," he said. "The smaller shops that are just getting into it now are buying entire systems. More and more, we don't just sell a machine, we sell two of them and the necessary software to link them together."
"We, like many others, are working on faster machines. Speed is not just travelling speed, but improvements in ramp speeds and ramp deceleration," said Gianni Cavassa, vice president in charge of marketing and sales for Greensboro, NC-based CMS North America. "Another thing is software to make it more user-friendly, easier to program and interface with all the various packages that are available in the industry such as Pattern Systems, Cabinet Vision, Cabnetware, etc."
Cavassa pointed out another important development that has come about as a result of the increased computerization. "More and more customers are used to flexibility from their machinery, so whenever a machine breaks down, the level of their frustration reaches the roof very soon. They rely on the suppliers to provide that technical expertise over the phone," he said, to solve problems quickly.
Rethinking Boring and the Machining Center
"We are seeing a large influx of people that have machining centers now going the next step and putting in horizontal drilling and inserting on a separate automatic machine that is also CNC-controlled," Walsh said. "The two machines in conjunction can, for the most part, speed up the process of the machining center, because horizontal drilling is the extremely slow part of that machine. I also see a lot of smaller customers going with machining centers that hadn't in the past -- two-, three-, four-man shops are now going to that type of equipment."
As far as nuts-and-bolts changes, Walsh said he sees "more and more of the middle- and large-sized customers are going to a little bit larger table areas in order to accomplish more work at one time on their workpieces.
"We're seeing a lot more people wanting to speed up the software end of things, as well, and have some sort of a bar coding or fast setup of the machine to utilize machine time more."
Faster Tool Changes
Davis also regarded increased table size as a significant trend, remarking that "instead of 10- or 10 1/2-foot machines people are going to 12- or 14-ft machines now. They are willing to pay the price to be able to run larger parts."
Davis went on to indicate that bar coding has finally begun to help users realize some of the potential that has been talked about in recent years. "It's always been a buzzword, at least in the past couple of years," he said. "And a lot of people are really starting to utilize that now."
Another thing that Hammersley pointed out is requests for automation in setup and automation in handling of parts as they come to and go through the machines. "There are a lot of things that can be done in the software that help an operator to set up things such as the manufacturing work cell that we've promoted quite heavily," Hammersley said. "The system, which point-to-point is a part of, uses a single software package to run a part through the entire factory. It scans a bar code which specifies machine, tooling, etc. It really helps out -- both the big guys and the smaller shops."
Woodworkers Want Windows
"We introduced at IWF two-dimensional bar code, which is similar to what a lot of the more sophisticated scanners are reading today," Park said. "Now we can imbed a complete program and routing information about a product in the bar code. For the user that means they don't have to worry about networking the office pc to the machine."
"The software innovation curve is a lot steeper than the mechanical curve," Park added. "But in response to market demand for more horsepower and greater speed and flexibility, there has been a general trend toward fixed-arm machines, where you hang the head on a fixed arm and the head runs back and forth. We're using rack-and pinion with Alpha gear boxes because of the faster processing speeds. The machine heads are moving at over 100 meters per minute (328 feet per minute). To maintain and control those kinds of speeds, you cannot use the ball screw, you have to use rack-and-pinion."
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