We spent the day yesterday at the International Manufacturing Technology Show at McCormick Place in Chicago. Don't worry, we never left the venue to roam the streets of the city. Used to love a weekend there but right now it's not a good place for that.
If you want to see about a bazillion square feet of the latest and greatest in CNC machinery and anything and everything else used to make.... anything, this is it (ends tomorrow, Sept. 16th). It's overwhelming but cool as hell. Everything from pocket CNC's from Taiwan to behemoth manufacturing stations from Italy, Brazil, Germany, USA, I mean-- you name the country with any kind of manufacturing / tech base and they are there. Israel has been a lesser-known player in this for decades-- their manufacturing culture is known for being willing to try radical new ideas and universally they wind up putting out something great, be it hardware or software. The Weapon Wizards
details it very well on the weapons side but it all applies to industry in general.
Hospitality is off the charts. I universally announced up front that I am not a good prospect for buying a million bucks worth of machine tools, but-- maybe because I was accompanied by a nineteen-year-old-- everyone was happy to take some time to explain their product's capabilities. Indeed I saw a group of young people whose badges said "future customer" and they were from a trade school in WI. Red carpet for them too! That shows a lot of fore-sight and smarts in the manufacturing tech industry.
You walk around for the first hour and after that the unbelievable becomes the ordinary, almost. "Additive machining", what most of us call 3D printing, has its own area. There was at least one CNC machine, albeit kind of a light-duty one, whose large base was 3D printed and then filled with concrete. Lots of 3D printing in titanium. Jaw injured in an accident? We'll scan your mandible and 3D print a model of it, then use the same data to 3D print a titanium brace that will be screwed on. First we'll test for fit on the model. Turnaround time, two days.
Of course, some of the more "within reach" stuff appeals also. Wells Index makes several varieties of Bridgeport-type mills. One is a virtual clone and parts will interchange. When I told them the head of my Bridgeport was a little noisy, they proposed selling me a new head-only, a two-hour drop in job. At $3600, tempting! Especially when it's a company that started in my home town.
"Foreigners"-- always of interest to me. A Spaniard explained how parts could be polished to a mirror finish in their tumbler that was much more than a tumbler-- there was a slight electrical charge running through the medial that causes a micro-spark with each impact of the media against the part. The convo turned to Spanish dirt bikes-- of which I've had several. This turned into an iPhone slide show of his extensive collection of Bultacos, Montensas, and Ossas, all immaculately restored or in the process. He rides in Vintage-class English Trials, as any good Spaniard ought to
, just as I did on my late teens (only back then, the word "Vintage" was, um, not yet in use).
An enthusiastic guy from the Czech Republic demo'd his product which although relatively low-tech and ground-level, was one of my faves-- a laser "gun" for cleaning parts. It plays a laser back and forth from a hand-held unit and it pretty much strips any kind of crud from metal parts. We saw it stripping paint in a 1" wide swath (oops, I suppose it was 25.4mm) from car-body metal, and cleaning the head of a V-8. Oil crust and sludge deposits went up in flames and bare clean metal was left behind. Springs, valve stems, and all; parts are not heated to where you can't handle them, hardly even warm in fact. The "gun" has a hookup for a vacuum system so you're not breathing all the removed, vaporized, contaminants.
There was a wire EDM making a 32" deep cut. Unheard of, at least by me. Roku-Roku, I've seen them before but there's something about watching a CNC run at 40,000 RPM spindle speed and feedrates that make all the action pretty much a blur. On a work piece that's already heat-treated. The resulting finish is astounding. Hass CNC as usual had one of the largest displays, they really know how to showcase their stuff.
The firearms industry was seen in many displays as much of this equipment is in use making gun parts. One of the most interesting gun-related things was the outfit that makes equipment for drilling and reaming, then button-rifling, barrels.
Good stuff and a worthwhile trip, only complaint was that the $5 a bottle of water didn't seem to taste as good as the tap water at home......