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Thoughts on Westec '90.

Thoughts on Westec '90

Based as we are in the Midwest, we annually travel to Westec - the Los Angeles machine tool show and conference - much like a child entering a toy store anticipating what's new. Because it's a unique metalworking culture - landing gear struts vs transmission cases, titanium vs cast iron - we're anxious to discover that unique system, practice, or piece of equipment that might be useful to our readers in the rest of the country.

The West Coast metalworking shops are generally smaller than those in the rest of the country and they work with smaller lot sizes. That's reflected in the number of small knee mills and machining centers shown. As far as exotic materials is concerned, we noticed a bit more non-traditional machining - from EDM to water jets, lasers, and even ultra-sonics - than we might have in Detroit or Philadelphia.

One technology we did notice coming on strong at Westec this year is digitizing, scanning a part or a model with a spindle-mounted probe or laser and converting that information directly into a CNC part program. The technology now can even take a convex part, turn the information inside-out, and produce a concave mold program. A few control builders such as DynaPath, Fagor, and GE Fanuc offer such an option. Machine tool builders demonstrating digitizing included Sharnoa, Lagun, Fadal, and Tree.

Digitizing is an obvious timesaver when programming complex shapes. The alternatives are expensive off-line computer-assisted programming, or sticking to the West Coast's tried and true copy mills. Of course, unlike the copymill, once a part has been digitized, you can run as many parts as you want.

The next step in electronic wizardry that will speed ideas into production came from Quadrax. Its system can transform a CAD designer's ephemeral electronic perception of a complex part into a solid model in a matter of hours. A visible-light 5-watt laser carves the part from a low-viscosity resin in one-tenth the time it could be machined.

Quality was also a focal point, not only in the show booths but in the conference rooms. Speculation was that as shops moved from Mil-spec contracts to civilian work - thanks to the Defense Dept cutbacks, which was top of mind among many of the visitors as well as exhibitors - they are being forced to re-examine their quality control efforts and consider SPC. This could be a function of larger lot sizes - when you ship 10 or less of anything, QC simply means mike every dimension - or it could be that even these smaller shops are implementing flexible automation such as small cells for family-of-part production and encountering new througput/quality considerations. Either way, they are obviously finding that once you can't "get your arms around" your quality requirements, both productivity and competitiveness suffer.

Even so, as is often the case, the more one looks for differences, the more things appear to be similar. Sure, there are special problems requiring tailored solutions. By and large, however, Westec '90 re-enforced the belief that producing the highest quality product at the lowest possible cost is a universal manufacturing objective and the formula for survival. It's also obvious after a turn through the show that the technology is available to produce quality and reduce cost. Whether we choose to invest in those technologies is the real question facing industry across the United States.
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:machine tool show and conference
Author:Modic, Stanley J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:editorial
Date:May 1, 1990
Previous Article:New machine tests transmission bearings.
Next Article:Mixed metal-forming signals.

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