Could This Machine Revolutionise Custom Engineering?
A machine which can make its own decisions may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but one developed in Japan can do just that.
Professor Keiichi Shirasi, based at Kobe University, has developed a prototype machine which can form its own manufacturing strategy when creating components for custom-built objects such as artificial bones or dental implants.
Custom-Made Plans for Custom-Made Parts
Unlike most machines that are currently used in precision engineering, Shirasi’s machine does not simply follow a set of pre-programmed instructions. These instructions are time-consuming, difficult to prepare and inflexible. The machines currently used for precision engineering cannot respond to unexpected problems or adjust the manufacturing process once it has begun. The programs must be custom-made for the machine, but the new prototype enables the plan to be made by the machine.
The CAPP System
Shirasi’s prototype takes information about the desired design and the desired material, and then uses a database of machining information to plan the strategy it will use. The machine is supplied with a 3D CAD model of the part required and also with a software model of the material to be used. The machine can then plan the most effective path for the tools and also the most effective cutting force.
Shirasi calls this the Computer Aided Process Planning (CAPP) system, and he believes it could revolutionise precision engineering by shortening production times and cutting the cost of manufacturing processes.
The Benefits to the Manufacturer and the Consumer
As well as being faster and more cost-effective than current precision cutting techniques, the CAPP system is potentially cheaper than 3D printing. The materials used in additive manufacture can be very expensive, especially the powders, and 3D printers are limited in the materials they can be used with. The CAPP prototype can be used to cut any kind of material and produces a good-quality finish – something which 3D printers sometimes fail to do.
Companies such as Sussex precision engineering firm http://www.sussexprecision.co.uk would be able to produce their custom-made, precisely engineered components more swiftly and at less cost to the customer, so they will be watching Professor Shirasi’s progress with considerable interest.
“Our final goal is the achievement of cutting process control and finished quality control, because current NC machine tools can only achieve tool motion control,” said Shirasi.