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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

IMTS 2014: Manufacturing Innovation and Much More

September 11th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

We just returned from three exhausting but exhilarating days at the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) 2014 in Chicago. This biennial, week-long exhibition and conference is by far the biggest manufacturing showcase in North America. As a matter of fact, it had over 110,000 registrants when we left the show at the end of its third day. IMTS occupies virtually all of the buildings at McCormick Place, covering millions of square feet, so you have to strategize how to see everything you want to see. It showcases just about anything you can imagine for manufacturing – metal cutting, abrasives, additive processes, CAD/CAM, controls, inspection – you name it, and it’s probably at IMTS.

IMTSTV – Live IMTS Coverage

MCADCafe conducted several video interviews that will be available for viewing in the very near future at The interviewees were a diverse group, everything from traditional CAD/CAM vendors, to software component suppliers, and even a reseller.

A few IMTS observations include:

  • Some of the larger machining centers, and they were physically large with large power requirements, can take weeks to set up and get running. Many of these machines are offered and sold at big discounts so they are dismantled, shipped, and re-assembled at a purchasing customer’s site after the show. We saw more than 40 machines with “Sold” signs on them – a good sign for a recovering economy in the manufacturing sector.
  • Bear with me for a somewhat sexist comment, but IMTS is largely attended by males who might stare at beautiful female, so-called “booth babes,” but take photos of the machines and the parts they are producing on the show floor.
  • Sales people are easy to spot on the show floor with flashy (some brightly colored) sport coats and legal pads and laptop computers under their arms, ready to make a sale.

The most interesting thing about IMTS is being around not just the CxOs, but the people who actually program and run the machines. The people who actually know how to make stuff, not just dream up grand marketing schemes that hopefully work. These are no nonsense, no BS people who really make this country go. These are the people who are proud, but don’t brag about what they know. These are people who haven’t forgotten where they came from. These are people who know who they are. No identity crisis here. These are the people I grew up with and still admire today because they can actually do and produce something tangible. These are very smart and capable people who “get it” and make it.

I’d peg the age range of the majority of IMTS attendees from mid-20s to early 60s. Granted, that’s a wide range, but we did notice a more pronounced younger demographic than at previous IMTS events. As for continuing to interest students to become involved with manufacturing in the future, the Smartforce Student Summit event at IMTS introduces educators, students and parents to new innovations in manufacturing technology. The Student Summit is designed to allow young people to interact with today’s manufacturing industry so that they can translate their STEM education into real-world results within high-tech and high-value careers. We found this to be a great idea that was enthusiastically embraced by student attendees and several exhibitors.

Smartforce Student Summit at IMTS 2014

For the pure “cool” factor at IMTS, the obvious choice for us was the Local Motors 3D printed car  – The Strati.

During IMTS, Local Motors built the world’s first 3D printed car, printed over the course of 44 hours then assembled by a team led by Local Motors with the historic first drive set to take place the morning of Saturday, September 13.

Local Motors is using the 3D printed car as a project for investigating Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM).

Using DDM, Local Motors is 3D-printing the bulk of the vehicle. However, mechanical components, such as the battery, motor, wiring, and suspension have been outsourced from several suppliers, and will be added to the vehicle, making it fully functional. Amazingly, the Strati is comprised of approximately 40 major parts; whereas Local Motors claims a typical, conventional car has in excess of 20,000.

Local Motors 3D-Printed Car – The Strati

The method being employed by Local Motors is especially interesting, because while DDM is a term that can refer to many processes, for this portion of it they are focused on investigating the use of a hybrid additive/subtractive machine that is being developed at Oak Ridge National Labs. This machine uses a large diameter extrusion head to 3D print objects at high speed, then on the same head it also uses a router to come back and machine surfaces to a more precise specification where required. This means that car-scale forms can be created relatively quickly and freely to machined precision, but without the necessity of forming tools. The challenges are to figure out what the best structure looks like, what materials should be used and when, and what is the best way to fasten to that structure, etc.

Among Local Motors goals for the project are that once the above questions have been answered, they have objectives that they will use that knowledge to:

  • Create the majority structure of a new vehicle using an additive/subtractive hybrid methodology.
  • Define this methodology enough to do an aesthetic study in how this vehicle could be styled.
  • Apply an electric powertrain to this vehicle and have the structure support it.
  • Demonstrate that this methodology could be more economical compared to other existing methods, with an early build happening at the IMTS show in 2014, and following up with creating a production level design after the show.

IMTS is a huge spectacle, and one that we always look forward to attending because, if nothing else, it is testament that manufacturing is still alive and well in the United States and North America.

Over the course of coming weeks, we’ll discuss several of the most interesting design, engineering, and manufacturing products, services, and methods we came across at IMTS.

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