Hybrid machines, standard CNC

As the era of additive and subtractive machine tools emerges, today’s controls are well suited to handle the challenges, according to a provider of computer numerical controls (CNCs) and training.

By Randy Pearson September 1, 2015

With the emergence of additive machining (use of 3D printing to create actual parts) more than a decade ago, it quickly became a prototyping marvel. As design changes were made, the result could be quickly visualized in a 3D solid part. Manufacturing also appreciated the tool, as it enabled them to see potential process problems in the actual cutting of the part. Modifications could be made on the fly without part functionality being compromised. Lastly, for the estimators, this tool allowed substantially better quote prepping.

Production quantities

Then it happened—materials for 3D printing evolved at light speed, and the market quickly realized this technology had production potential. Making a short run of parts on such a machine became a reality. While 3D printing machines are still 5 to 10 years away from being everyday shop production units, according to the best industry sources, another development has seen the fusion of additive and subtractive technologies into a new generation of hybrid machines. 

In similar fashion, seemingly incompatible technologies such as laser metal deposition and chipcutting machines have emerged. This is fabrication and machining at its core. 

CNC connections

Patiently standing by, existing and standard CNC technology has been implemented on these machines. Whether the parameters involve laser gases, powdered metal deposition, inert atmosphere vacuum, or five-axis rotation of a milling head or rotary table, the function of the control remains nearly identical. With CNC technology, one control can run two varying technologies for fabrication and chipcutting, either on a one-channel or a two-channel unit, often in tandem with a robot head or gantry for part articulations.

At the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), this technology was introduced to the market at a time when running a lathe and a robot on the same CNC was already possible, without the need for a secondary programmable logic controller (PLC) or unique robot language commands.

A next logical step would be to create additive and subtractive technologies within the same machine. 

High-grade materials

It gets better—parts made from titanium, stainless, or disparate powdered metals are being built up, joined, machined, or otherwise processed on these machines today. Driven gears, for example, are now laser welded from machined and stamped components into one assembly.

The CNC, when controlling radically different machine operations, uses a modified set of code but not a different language, as was previously necessary with robotic integration. Since advanced CNC units carry a secondary channel, the commands easily can be set up there, if not incorporated into the main channel. It all depends on the complexity of the motion and total number of parameters being controlled. The simultaneous control and monitoring of laser metal deposition and five-axis milling functions present little challenge to the high-end CNC on the market today.

The next decade surely will be an exciting and game-changing time in the machine tool and fabrication world. Just remember, CNC is in control.

– Randy Pearson, is an international business development manager, Siemens Industry Inc., Drives Technologies, Motion Control-Machine Tool Business. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

[Editor’s note: Some additive manufacturing shops have rows of additive machines, producing parts that may or may not require additional machining prior to use, depending on the application. Additive machining price competitiveness with subtractive machining depends on complexity, material(s), and number of parts in the job.]

Key concepts

  • Computer numerical control (CNC) has the industry knowledge and power to serve hybrid machines with additive and subtractive machining capabilities.
  • Additive manufacturing is creating parts made from titanium, stainless, or disparate powdered metals.
  • CNC providers have prior experience integrating with robotic systems.

Consider this

Combining additive and subtractive technologies means sending a design for a complex digital part to a machine and receiving a ready-to-use titanium or stainless steel part.

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More about the author

Randy Pearson is an international business development manager for Siemens Industry Inc., Drives Technologies, Motion Control-Machine Tool Business. Pearson is a long-time veteran of the machine tool industry and has special interest in the many levels of training on CNC machine tools, which he conducts through the various seminars, workshops, and classes the company provides to machine tool builders and dealers at vocational/technical schools and on-site at shops, as well as at the Siemens training facilities around the U.S.


Link to additional 3D printing and additive manufacturing articles below.