‘The Future of Manufacturing is Now.’

Coming off six days at IMTS, plus a weekend, I’m still absorbing all that I observed while walking the miles and miles of aisles at McCormick Place in Chicago.


Automation technologies could be seen from one end of IMTS to the other.


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Coming off six days at IMTS, plus a weekend, I’m still absorbing all that I observed while walking the miles and miles of aisles at McCormick Place in Chicago. I met so many people who were glad to show me around their booths. I asked what was new for moldmaking and before I knew it, my mind and my notebook were overflowing with information about all sorts of products designed to cut lead times and reduce costs. I wanted to provide a broad brush summary about the many exhibits I saw at IMTS.

The south hall of McCormick Place was literally buzzing with many machine tool companies, including Mazak Corp., Toyoda Machinery, Okuma America, Matsuura Machinery USA Inc., DMG MORI, Methods Machine Tools and Hurco, which demoed a variety of new CNC machines. Several introduced multitasking CNC machines that milled, turned and drilled, while some also featured hybrid machines that performed additive manufacturing in the way of laser sintering that could then be milled to a gleaming finish.

In the east hall, companies like Sodick Inc., Global EDM Inc., EDM Network Inc. and supporting companies selling carbide products, EDM filtration systems and more could be found along with CNC controls and CAD/CAM software companies. Each offered the latest iteration of its wares and automation was a very hot topic. Robots were everywhere in the east hall – actually they were featured in all four halls – many of them were collaborative (cobots) that work alongside operators and use sensors that told them when and where the operators were working so that they could stop, instantly, and avoid causing injury.

Speaking of sensors, machines, robotics, Olli the self-driving vehicle featured in the IMTS Ride Experience, and even some cutting tools employed them as part of customized controls and other digital equipment for automation management. Monitors were also widely used and many companies were introducing products that could be integrated with each other to compile valuable metrics that companies can use to make better business decisions and optimize production. These are all important aspects of Industry 4.0, Smart Manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things – whatever term you use, it was a frequent buzzword at IMTS.

Cutting tools and workholding solutions dominated the west hall at IMTS. As mentioned above, companies introduced cutting tools with sensors that help determine when sharpening or replacement is needed before the situation can take a grave turn. Through-coolant cutters were also offered as well as mills whose cutting edges could be changed out without having to remove the tool from the spindle. Iscar Metals, Ingersoll Cutting Tools, LMT Onsrud, Big Kaiser, Schunk Inc., OSG USA Inc. and many more suppliers could be found.

The north building at IMTS focused on additive manufacturing technologies and housed the latest in 3D printing equipment. Additionally, the Emerging Technology Center provided visitors the opportunity to see and experience examples of technologies that are in the development stages and will impact how we manufacture products in the future. I was amazed at the three “proof of concept” displays that were shown: An additive “bionic human”, showing how additive technologies are being used to develop medical implants and body parts; the AMIE project which features a partially additively manufactured shelter and vehicle that share an integrated energy system; and the Shelby Cobra sports car and US Army jeep, both created using additive manufacturing.

This summary is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reviewing everything that could be seen during IMTS, and one thing is sure: Our industry is moving fast. It’s evolving and changing. An executive from a machine tool exhibitor aptly stated that the future of manufacturing is now. I agree with him. If you were at IMTS, you know what he means. If you were unable or declined to attend, I strongly encourage you to come out to IMTS 2018, which will be held September 10-15 at McCormick Place in Chicago, to see for yourself how fast the industry is moving. Don't blink - you might miss it.

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