Hybrid Machine Tools
Additive manufacturing systems for metals have made incredible advancements over the past decade and the arrival of a new hybrid machine will set the latest benchmark for the technology.
Compared to CNC-machined components, most metal parts produced by additive layer manufacturing processes often require post-machining due to their sub-standard surface finish and are subject to inferior production rates. Furthermore, the cost of metal additive manufacturing systems can be difficult for manufacturers to justify, even for high-performance components. This historic feud between additive and subtractive technologies, however, could be about to end with the rise of hybrid machines.
TCT Magazine was invited to a preview of the newly developed concept machine at The Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) in Coventry. The MTC — which is supported by the UK Government's High Value Manufacturing Catapult — is a purpose-built facility for developing the future of manufacturing and has played host to a collaborative effort to combine additive manufacturing and CNC into a single hybrid machine. The results have been described as "game-changing".
The HYBRID HSTM 1000 concept machine is a world first in manufacturing technology, as the machine combines laser cladding, milling and probing all in one unit, potentially saving companies time and money, and streamlining the supply chain for more efficient production.
The machine is the result of more than five years of research and development. It began as a Technology Strategy Board- supported collaborative research project christened RECLAIM, initiated by the MTC's Net Shape & Additive Manufacturing Technology Manager Prof David Wimpenny, Jason Jones, CEO of Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies, and Development Director at Delcam Steve Hobbs. Its objective was to develop a hybrid additive and subtractive machine that could also be used for the automated repair of damaged high-value parts. Hobbs summarised the outcome by saying the project "unlocked a lot more potential".
MTC Net Shape & Additive Manufacturing Group Research Engineer Riccardo Tosi explained that the newly-unveiled machine is a follow-on effort from from the success of the initial RECLAIM project.
"The first project was a real success," Tosi said. "Its purpose was to repair high-value components and give them a second life if they got damaged. We remove the damaged material and put back new material to give the component a second life. A lot of people were very interested in this project."
Among those interested was machine tool manufacturer Hamuel Reichenbacher, which "immediately saw the potential of this technology," according to the company's Jürgen Bader.
The HYBRID HSTM 1000 machine was made possible by the collaborative efforts of four companies. The MTC provided the laser cladding head, parameter development and material science; Hamuel Reichenbacher - which is headquartered in Meeder, Germany - provided a large high-speed 5-axis HSTM 1000 mill-turn machine tool; Coventry-based Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies (HMT) - a new spin out company from the early RECLAIM research project - developed the patent-pending docking system to enable services to be coupled to the cladding head; and Birmingham-based Delcam provided adaptive CAD/CAM software, which coordinated and drove the milling, inspection and cladding throughout the process.
Although this system is fully capable of new component production, the early focus includes repair applications. Tosi explained that virtually any component can be put inside the HYBRID machine and can then be subject to all three processes, including probing - the inspection of a machine part. "This is the only machine that can do this," Tosi emphasised.
An exclusive open day held at the beginning of September at the MTC showed the HYBRID machine in action and included an exhibition of various successfully remanufactured components given their "second life" by the new technology. Examples included parts from the aerospace and power generation sectors, including an Alstrom compressor blade, a Tubeline underground train wheel from locomotive engineering and a Cummins turbocharge impeller demonstrating automotive applications.
The team is preparing to ship the huge, one-of-a-kind machine to the EMO trade fair for machine tools in Hannover this month, where the never-before-seen technology will be demonstrated in public for the first time.
"Not invention for its own sake"
The HYBRID system is not only capable of the automated repair of damaged high-value parts, but can be used to manufacture new components and customise standard parts for low-volume applications.
Prof Wimpenny and Technology Director at the MTC Ken Young both believe the UK can take a leading position in the development and use of HYBRID manufacturing systems.
"It is good to see a collaborative project like RECLAIM deliver something commercial. This is exactly what the Government set up the TSB for. Not invention for its own sake, but to develop wealth for the UK," Wimpenny stated.
"As a nation, we need to be pursuing this exploitation of inventive ideas. That's one thing we've been bad at in the past." Wimpenny continued that at EMO the team is anticipating
a positive reception, not least because the machine is offering the world of manufacturing something that has never been done before.
"Even though it's about additive manufacturing and extends that envelope, the HYBRID machine becomes something different. It's a complementary technology with a complementary approach to machining, cladding and investigation. This new technique could bring additive manufacturing to other companies' portfolios.
"The robustness you get with a machine tool coupled with the flexibility this system offers is what makes HYBRID HSTM 1000 a real game changer," the expert remarked.
Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies' Jason Jones explained: "From the outset, we wanted to make it convenient to combine complementary processes. Process change-over is now as easy as a CNC tool change."
The HYBRID HSTM 1000 will be unveiled at EMO Hannover, which runs from September 16th-21st and the team is confident the cutting-edge technology will attract companies from across a huge range of industries, while numerous international corporations have already expressed an interest in the new machine.